D.C. Nonprofit launches housing program for returning citizens

D.C. Nonprofit launches housing program for returning citizens

A DC based nonprofit, “Who Speaks For Me?,” has launched a pilot housing initiative for five women and LGBTQ+ returning citizens

“Incarceration renders you homeless,” pronounced Taylar Nuevelle, founder of the nonprofit program Who Speaks For Me?: “for every moment you are in a halfway house, a jail, a prison, you are considered homeless.” 

Nuevelle, a returning citizen herself, founded Who Speaks For Me? (WSFM) to disrupt the Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline and assist returning citizens from marginalized communities in their reintegration into society. The organization announced the launch of its new pilot program, Housing For All, which will provide individual apartments to five returning women and LGBTQ+ citizens. WSFM seeks to aid returning citizens who are amongst groups that are disproportionately impacted by obstacles to housing.

In a press conference on Nov. 2, representatives from WSFM shared news of the program’s launch thanks to a grant from a private foundation. The program will begin this month, with WSFM funding the cost of five apartment rentals for a year. 

This launch is part of a broader five year plan, which consists of WSFM’s purchasing of four D.C. buildings, each containing six to eight units of housing to be allocated for free to returning citizens who are unable to pay. Others who are in the financial position to do so will pay a low fee. This housing will be permanent, and WSFM intends to expand the Housing For All program beyond DC in the long term. 

“Millions of people with conviction or arrest records are routinely denied access to a safe place to call home because of their involvement with the criminal-legal system.”

Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), delivered a report on the research that the Coalition has done on barriers to housing for justice-impacted people. Yentel explained that “millions of people with conviction or arrest records are routinely denied access to a safe place to call home because of their involvement with the criminal-legal system.” 

NLIHC has concluded that unless the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and Congress implement reforms for housing screening policies in addition to providing increased resources for accessible housing, increasing numbers of returning citizens will be left without access to housing due to nationwide efforts to reduce the prison population. 

Nuevelle reflected on her experience applying for a government housing voucher. She had been without permanent housing for a number of months, but it had not occurred to her until she was asked how long she had been homeless for that her time spent incarcerated also represented time she had spent without a home. In actuality, Nuevelle was homeless for five years. “When we are taking people and putting them in cages, there are so many collateral consequences,” she shared. 

The press conference included a panel discussion with returning citizens who have been impacted by the difficulty of finding housing. Some of the women had experienced difficulties with other housing programs, such as Kalynn Helton, a Local Facilitator for WSFM’s Sharing Our Stories Writing Group

Helton described her experiences with program facilitators going through her belongings as well as being housed with a roommate who was living in poor living conditions. Panelists also shared their experiences of substandard facilities within the Rapid Rehousing program. 

One panelist cited a lack of advocacy as a major issue facing returning citizens: “when you’re marginalized, those that have privilege will tell you that you should take whatever they give you.” Instead, WSFM wants to provide returning citizens with clean, independent living opportunities. 


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Shaking off the dust

The United States Sentencing Commission’s four year interruption has left the circuit court system in disarray and many incarcerated people waiting to hear back on appeals. Its first meeting addressed the list of priorities it will tackle including The First Step Act.


Still locked out of the ballot box

 An estimated 4.6 million Americans are still unable to vote due to felony records despite reforms. This includes more than one in 10 Black adults in eight states – Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.

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D.C. Council votes in favor of new criminal code; state senators dispute D.A. Krasner impeachment; rising crime rates weaponized against reform candidates

justice from the frontlines: Nov. 7, 2022

new D.C. criminal code passes first vote

The D.C. Council unanimously voted to rewrite the city’s criminal code, but it must pass a second vote in two weeks time that is signed by the mayor in order to take effect. The bill contains reforms such as the elimination of most mandatory minimum sentences, the allowance of trial by jury in misdemeanor cases and a reduction in maximum penalties for certain offenses such as robberies. This reform would be the first “comprehensive modernization” of the code, according to Public Safety Committee Chair Charles Allen. The Washington Post (Nov. 1, 2022)

PA senators challenge Krasner impeachment

As crime rates in Philadelphia rise, State House Republicans have moved to impeach Philadelphia’s District Attorney, Larry Krasner. Dem. State Senators pushed back against this; Senator Art Haywood said that the concerns surrounding the rise in crime can be attributed to other factors including socioeconomic conditions and the availability of guns. Other state senators such as Democrat Nikil Saval support Krasner’s anti mass incarceration policies. Go Erie (Nov. 2, 2022)

weaponized crime rates

Republicans like New York gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin blamed rising crime on reform efforts by the Democratic state legislature. Zeldin criticized incumbent Governor Kathy Hochul for neglecting to do something about the “pro-criminal laws.” In reality, these laws consist of increased prisoner rights in the parole process, reduced juvenile incarceration rates and the elimination of cash bail for misdemeanors and non violent felonies. These policies coincided with the upheaval of the pandemic and necessary reforms cannot be blamed as an isolated cause for rising crime. NPR (Nov. 3, 2022)

prisons deny hunger strike 

On Aug. 22, individuals living inside maximum security prisons organized a hunger strike to protest unsafe living conditions. Inmates are experiencing mold exposure, which is causing painful lung problems. One inmate, Leonard Jefferson, who is incarcerated in Rhode Island Maximum Security Prison, described the living conditions as “the closest thing to hell on earth.” Jefferson estimated that over half of the maximum security population took part in the strike, but the Rhode Island Department of Corrections denied this, saying “there have been no actions to indicate a hunger strike.” Incarcerated people said this lack of acknowledgement makes it hard to prompt change. The Brown Daily Herald (Nov. 1, 2022)

justice reform pays off 

In 2017, Louisiana passed a series of criminal justice reforms. Some of these reforms included the lowering of mandatory minimum sentences and the shortening of the time period during which past convictions can be used to trigger the state’s harsh habitual offender legislation. Since 2017, the state’s prison population fell dramatically, with 2021 seeing 10,000 fewer people incarcerated than in 2016. To calculate financial savings, the prison population drop each month was multiplied by a per diem rate. Ultimately, the state saved approximately $150 million from implementing the reforms. The Louisiana Weekly (Oct. 31, 2022)

New Mexico buys private prisons

At a cost of $217 million in rent over the next 20 years, the state of New Mexico has recently acquired three private prisons under the leadership of Gov. Michelle Lijan Grisham. Presently, the population of incarcerated people is trending down while rent costs are trending up. New Mexico has historically relied on private prisons, with a report from the Sentencing Project finding that 45% of inmates were held in private prisons in 2020. Advocates of state control believe that the states can more closely monitor safety conditions inside. Others believe that the prisons should have been closed altogether. Searchlight New Mexico (Nov. 3, 2022)

justice still absent

Fifty years ago, two students at Southern University were killed during a campus protest. Denver Smith, who may have tried to make sure his sister was safe and Leonard Douglas Brown, who wondered what the crowd was gathered for, were killed by a deputy with no involvement during the protest. With the 50th year anniversary approaching after the shooting, a 10-month examination by the Louisiana State University Cold Case Project, provides a much clearer picture of one of the most troubling episodes in race relations in Baton Rouge. Louisiana Illuminator (Oct. 30, 2022)

prevention program failed 

In July 2021, Advance Peace, a gun violence prevention program, was supposed to launch in New York City but after months of poor planning and miscommunication, the program has been quietly scrapped. Devon Boggan, founder of Advance Peace, received calls from reporters to comment on the plans of the launch but this was news to him. Boggan typically gets involved early when a new city wants to use his model but it’s been more than 19 months since New York Officials have made progress. The Trace (Nov. 1, 2022) 

Gun cases dismissed 

Federal prosecutors expect to drop dozens of felony gun and drug cases involving officers on a violent crime squad in the D.C. An ongoing investigation raised questions of officers credibility because officers were seizing guns without making arrests, and possibly lying on reports. Due to this, seven officers in the 7th district in D.C. have been placed on administrative leave or desk duties. Bill Miller, a U.S. attorney’s office spokesman declines to say how many cases have been dismissed. The Washington Post (Nov. 1, 2022)

sentenced to life over $14

For two decades, David Coulson spent time in jail for stealing $14. At the time of the offense, in which he took change from an unlocked garage, he was living on the streets, struggling with drug addiction and mental illness. Despite his health crisis, Coulson had no violent crimes on his record, the judge ordered that he be locked up for life, saying he could be released after 35 years. Coulson was released last month. His release was unusual but his punishment was not. The Guardian (Nov. 2, 2022) 

guilty on sexual assault charges 

Federal prison transport guard, Rogeric Hankins, pleads guilty to violating detainee’s civil rights by sexually assaulting her, in court on Tuesday. Corporation, picking up people who were arrested for out-of-state warrants and transporting them back to the jurisdiction. Hanking picked up a victim from Olympia, Washington to take her to St.Paul, Minnesota and as he was transporting her, he stopped at a gas station in Joplin, Missouri, and took her in to use the bathroom and after that Hankin led her to the men’s bathroom and told her to go to the furthest stall from the door. No sentencing has been set, though Hankins faces up to 10 years in prison. Fox News (Nov. 1, 2022)

In other news, Hae Min Lee’s family again asked the Maryland Court of Special Appeals for redo of Adnan Syed hearing;

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Shaking off the dust

Shaking off the dust

The renewed Sentencing Commission has six months to amend years worth of outdated guidelines concerning the compassionate release of incarcerated individuals

The United States Sentencing Commission returned to business after four years without quorum. The slate of entirely new Commissioners, an “unusual” yet “exciting” position for a federal agency to find themselves in, unanimously voted on Friday, Oct. 28, on the adoption of a list of priorities to be submitted to the federal register. Among these priorities are, crucially, the implementation of the First Step Act 2018 into the sentencing guidelines. 

The United States Sentencing Commission is a bipartisan judicial agency responsible for establishing and amending sentencing guidelines. With various circuit courts interpreting the guidelines as binding law, the Commission heavily impacts the state of nationwide criminal justice and sentencing reform. The Commission’s four year interruption has left the circuit court system in disarray. 

The most novel and important feature of the First Step Act 2018 was the allowance of incarcerated individuals to submit their own motions to the courts for compassionate release, without relying on the Bureau of Prisons to do so. This was a watershed moment in the history of sentencing reform; during the COVID pandemic, nearly 4,000 inmates were able to successfully apply for release. However, as the Act was never reflected in updated sentencing guidelines, judges in some circuit courts neglected to apply the guidelines to cases of compassionate release filed by individuals. 

The meeting began with a jolting reminder of the work that has to be done: the adoption of the minutes from the most recent meeting on Dec. 13, 2018. This passed unanimously and was followed by a report of the Commission Chair, Mississippi District Judge Carlton Wayne Reeves. Reeves was confirmed on Aug. 4 alongside his six fellow commissioners: Laura E Mate, Claire McCusker Murray, Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, Candice C Wong, Judge Claria Horn Boom (joining by phone), and Judge John Gleeson (also joining by phone). 

"It will be up to the Commission to craft a new applicable policy statement which is aligned with The First Step Act. The Commission is faced with a decision of whether to maintain the discretion that many judges currently have to determine what constitutes extraordinary and compelling reasons, or to constrain it.”

The second and only other item of the agenda was the vote to adopt and register the Commission’s proposed priorities into the federal register. These priorities will guide the Commission in the process of submitting guideline amendments to Congress, which must be done by May 1, 2023. The implementation of the First Step Act 2018 is at the top of the list. This is critical for individuals seeking compassionate release, but also for those looking to meet the “safety valve” criteria. 

The safety valve is a provision which allows certain incarcerated individuals serving mandatory minimum sentences to be released sooner than their sentence provides for. The criteria to be eligible for the safety valve used to be that individuals have no record of criminal history. The First Step Act changed this, allowing individuals with more than one criminal activity points to be eligible. 

Judge Reeves also named the implementation of the bipartisan Safer Communities Act as a priority. This firearm legislation was signed into law in July and would increase penalties for certain firearms offenses. He also acknowledged the conflicts occurring between circuit courts as something the Commission wants to resolve: “the likelihood of compassionate release motions succeeding [has depended[ on the circuit or district in which they were filed. This suggests courts could benefit from clearer guidance from the commission.” Some advocacy groups are concerned about the possibility that the Commission will limit judicial discretion moving forward. 

The tentative policy priorities were released to the public on Sept. 29, and the Commission received over 8,000 comments through the public comment deadline of October 17. Judge Reeves cited his gratitude for this “incredible” feedback. Among those to have submitted public comment on various policy points was FAMM (Families against Mandatory Minimums), a nonprofit advocating for sentencing and criminal justice reform. 

In their letters to the Commission, FAMM recommended the implementation of the FSA 2018 provision for individual compassionate release filing in addition to the maintenance of “judicial agility.” They stated,“now that defendants can file their motions directly in court, courts need the tools to be able to respond when confronted with extraordinary and compelling reasons not addressed in the policy statement.” 

In a public panel, General Counsel of FAMM, Mary Price, expressed, “it will be up to the Commission to craft a new applicable policy statement which is aligned with The First Step Act. The Commission is faced with a decision of whether to maintain the discretion that many judges currently have to determine what constitutes extraordinary and compelling reasons, or to constrain it.”

"I hope the Commission brings an open mind to the lessons of the past four years. Most notably, regarding compassionate release, that no guideline can fully predict the future, and yet judges have proven their ability to use their discretion in compassionate release motions to decide what is truly extraordinary and compelling.” 

FAMM’s Deputy General Counsel, Shanna Rifkin, told The Des: “I am pleased that the Commission has finalized the priorities. But now the real work begins in negotiating the contours of the amendments to the guidelines. The way these amendments shake out will significantly impact federal sentencing practices, and I hope the Commission brings an open mind to the lessons of the past four years. Most notably, regarding compassionate release, that no guideline can fully predict the future, and yet judges have proven their ability to use their discretion in compassionate release motions to decide what is truly extraordinary and compelling.” 


Judge Reeves said that the Commission would work toward the May deadline in a “deliberative, empirically based, inclusive manner.” The Commission received and will take into consideration comments from District Courts, members of Congress, federal public defenders and criminal defense lawyers, the Department of Justice and Homeland Security and other executive agencies, dozens of advocacy organizations and probation officers and many individuals who are currently incarcerated and their families. 

Justice Reeves concluded his report saying that in the course of these considerations, the Commission “may disagree,” but “will not be disagreeable.” Following this meeting, final notice of the priorities will be entered into the federal register as the Commissioners continue work on the amendments.


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Bail industry gets away with murder, costing defendants and citizens alike

An investigation was published indicating that six NYC bail bond companies were using fake trade names in order to continue operations without being shut down by state officials for large amounts of debt. The ability of agencies to continue to profit off of the bail system despite state laws that allow officials to suspend agencies owing large sums of money is the sixth loophole emphasized by the report.

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Mass incarceration punishes kids too

The arrest of a parent can be traumatic and severe for children whose parents are incarcerated, causing emotional, physical, educational and financial well-being difficulties. According to a  new study, kids of incarcerated parents are likely to become incarcerated themselves.


left to die

new report finds ten of thousands of people over fifty who are sentenced to life without parole face increasingly grim conditions

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Doctor charged with prison manslaughter; New Bureau of Prisons Chief promises change; Manhattan DA prosecutes domestic violence victim he ran on protecting; Texas DA supports man on death row; LA kids prison investigation finds serious sexual and physical abuse

justice from the frontlines: Oct. 31, 2022

doctor charged for death of inmate 

A San Diego doctor has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of Elisa Serna, a 24-year-old woman who collapsed in prison. A nurse who walked away from Elisa after she collapsed was also charged last November. Both medical professionals face accusations of criminal negligence as they failed to perform their full duty of care. A state auditor recently published a report revealing that San Diego County jails have one of the highest death rates in California. US News (Oct. 26, 2022)

prison chief promises reform

Colette Peters, the new Chief of the federal Bureau of Prisons, has pledged to enact reforms within the agency, including changes to hiring practices, increased transparency and accountability for employees who are guilty of sexually assaulting inmates. In her former role as Oregon’s prison director, Peters oversaw a decrease in Oregon’s prison population. Peters said she looks to hire prison staff who are interested in preparing inmates for reintegration into society. AP (Oct. 24, 2022)

nonviolent offenders stuck in cycle

A new investigation from The Marshall Project reveals that the majority of repeat defendants in Cuyahoga County’s court system are not violent offenders but rather people suffering from addiction and mental illness. Police in the area refer to these defendants as “career criminals,” but the problem is more complex than meets the eye. Data revealed that less than a third of cases involving repeat offenders involved a violent offense. Advocates are calling for alternatives to incarceration, as these individuals have fallen into a cycle of recidivism that is difficult to escape. The Marshall Project (Oct. 26, 2022)

district attorney switch-up

Then-candidate for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg took to Twitter to share his support for Tracy McCarter, a victim of domestic abuse who was charged with the murder of her violent ex-husband. After winning his election in November 2021, Bragg is now prosecuting McCarter despite having the power to drop her charges. Bragg cites plea deals he has offered McCarter and attempts to reduce her charges as signs of the understanding he once demonstrated on the campaign trail, but a Color of Change petition reveals that many people are disappointed in Bragg’s lack of legal support for McCarter. Jezebel (Oct. 26, 2022)

Texas DA believes Areli Escobar is innocent

A Texas State judge ruled that the scientific evidence which led to Areli Escobar being placed on death row is not accurate. District Attorney José P. Garza, despite initially wanting to defend Escobar’s conviction, reevaluated his case. When the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals took the case, Garza urged the court to give Escobar a new trial. His plea was unsuccessful, but Garza maintains Escobar’s innocence in advance of a potential hearing of the case by the Supreme Court. The allegedly mistaken DNA evidence had been crucial to the jury’s initial decision to convict Escobar. The New York Times (Oct. 24, 2022)

police reform stalled 

More than two years after the murder of George Floyd, violent crimes continue to increase causing police reform to be stalled. In the midst of the pressure, elected officials pledged sweeping changes to how officers operate and how they’re overseen. Elizabeth Glazer, one of New York’s leading experts on criminal justice, looked into why police reform has stalled. Glazer found that there’s a kind of built-in conservatism about the importance of maintaining the police and the movement coincided with rocketing rates of increase in shootings. She also found that “defund the police,” was really a lost opportunity. It was viewed as an existential threat to police departments and could’ve been a chance to reshape their roles in a way that focused on their core strengths and to begin to give back to other professionals the responsibility to deal with the homeless and mental illness. ProPublica (Oct. 24, 2022)

drug reform and diversion on ballot

The demands of a reform group in Hays County have become focal points in the upcoming DA race and a “Reeferendum” in Central Texas. The organization Mano Amiga has helped turn this November’s elections into a referendum on both marijuana decriminalization and pretrial diversion. Activists within the organization have gathered enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot this year that would end citations and arrests for possession of up to four ounces of marijuana in the city of San Marcos. After years of pushing for this to be on the ballot, the time has finally come. Local and state police unions haven’t taken a public position on this year’s referendum to decriminalize marijuana possession but they have endorsed Puryear, the GOP nominee to replace District Attorney Wes Mau. Bolts (Oct. 21, 2022)

missing and murdered

On Oct. 22, New Mexico had a Missing in New Mexico Day event in Albuquerque which was designed to bring law enforcement face-to-face with families searching for their missing loved ones. Two mothers, Rose Yazzie and Vangie Randall-Shorty talked directly with Raul Bujanda, the FBI special agent who leads the Albuquerque field office, and they outlined not only the timeline of the investigation but significant errors they’ve viewed during the process. Yazzie told Bujanda that it took the Navajo Nation Police more than two weeks to complete a missing report for her daughter and Randall-Shorty discussed months long delays in finding out the circumstances around her son’s death. They are both seeking information about their children’s cases but want law enforcement to come up with a strategic plan to find Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives. Source NM (Oct. 24, 2022)

kids locked up and abused

An investigation into a juvenile facility that imprisons Louisiana children revealed over 60 suicide attempts in two years and over 90 escape attempts in the last three. One escaped girl hoped to be taken to a “big jail.” The escapes and suicides are a result of repeated physical violence, sexual assault and psychological torment, the investigation found. Despite years of documented failing, the state regulators have never fined or punished the facility or threatened its contracts. Local law enforcement was described as “largely dismissive” of sexual-abuse allegations. The New York Times (Oct. 30, 2022)

extension on localizing parole 

Back in July of 2020, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser asked Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton for legislation wresting control of the District’s parole system from the federal government. But today, D.C. remains in the same position with no agreement on a path forward for a new parole system. Congress had a closed-door meeting saying it would take about two years to get done. The holdup has an impact on Black D.C. residents, who data show are overrepresented in the parole system. The longer the delay, the more prison time can result for those in jail for technical violations, losing their jobs, housing and gains they may have made. The Washington Post (Oct. 25, 2022)

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Shapiro vs Mastriano: The future of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system

Shapiro vs Mastriano: The future of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system

The Des compares where the candidates for PA Governor fall on criminal justice

Today, Pennsylvanians will cast their votes for the new State Governor. The state, and nation, has a close eye on the gubernatorial race. The role, currently occupied by Democrat Tom Wolf, consists of the enforcement of state laws in addition to the powers to convene the state legislature or approve or veto the bills it passes. A number of partisan issues, most prominently abortion rights statewide, will be definitively determined by this election. Also at stake is the future of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system. On the ballot, voters will be presented with a choice for Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro or Republican candidate Doug Mastriano. In the swift run up to election day, The Des brings you a complete breakdown of how these two candidates compare on all-things criminal justice.

How can each candidate’s criminal justice policies be described in one sentence? 

SHAPIRO: Smart (and tough)-on-crime reformist

MASTRIANO: Heavy on prosecution, light (or non-existent) on reform 


Have the candidates promised criminal justice reforms?

SHAPIRO: Shapiro says if elected, he will pursue reform, something Pennsylvania is in “critical need” for. He describes the “false” choice between “public safety and common sense, comprehensive criminal justice reform” as something he refuses to accept.

MASTRIANO: Mastriano’s campaign website makes no promises for criminal justice reform. However, his voting history reveals he is in favor of police reforms. Read below for more information regarding Mastriano’s position on law enforcement and policing. His policy proposal does say he wants to strengthen certain regulations.

If so, what kinds?

SHAPIRO: Shapiro enacted several reforms as Attorney General. Read more below on how Shapiro’s past actions reflect his current promises. As Governor, Shapiro is proposing seven reforms he hopes to implement: 

  • Probation and reform parole: Shapiro cites the $101 million of taxpayer money that goes towards incarcerating people who have committed only technical violations, rather than new crimes. He wants to reinvest this money into different programs targeted at “getting violent criminals off our streets.”
  • Funding indigent defense: Shapiro wants to introduce state funding for legal representation for indigent Pennsylvanians, something he pursues in his previous role as Montgomery County Commissioner. Pennsylvania is currently the only state giving zero dollars to public defense programs. 
  • Opposing mandatory minimum sentences: Shapiro will continue to oppose this policy, which has not been in use in PA law since 2015. 
  • Reform of the “felony murder rule”: Shapiro says he will legislate against this rule so that those who have committed murder do not automatically receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole. 
  • Geriatric parole: Shapiro cites concern for both members PA’s aging prison population and for the taxpayer money that funds the consequent medical expenses. Given that inmates over the age of 65 have the lowest risk of recidivism, Shapiro wants to give elderly inmates opportunities to apply for geriatric parole. 
  • Abolition of the death penalty: Shapiro vows to never sign a death warrant and to legislate against the death penalty. 
  • Legalizing marijuana: Shapiro wants to legalize recreational marijuana and expunge the records of anyone serving time for nonviolent marijuana charges. He says he will allocate the funds from incurrent tax benefits to support minority ownership within the marijuana industry. 

MASTRIANO: Mastriano has not promised reform; he does want to “keep violent criminals behind bars where they belong” and “strengthen penalties for repeat offenders and those convicted of violent crime.”

Have the candidates made policy choices that will have an indirect effect on criminal justice?

SHAPIRO & MASTRIANO: Pennsylvania, and specifically Philadelphia, has long been an arena for a phenomenon known as the school-to-prison pipeline. The pipeline reflects the movement of children, usually from underfunded schools, into the juvenile justice system. Interestingly, both candidates have stated they will implement similar educational policies. 


Both candidates want to either increase school funding or ensure “well-funded schools,” respectively. School funding increases can have a positive effect on narrowing the school-to-prison pipeline. However, both candidates want to introduce a policy of school choice, which would allow parents to choose the public institution they would like their children to attend, rather than being limited geographically. This could have an adverse effect on educational inequality and the school-to-prison pipeline, as school choice policies have been correlated with increased inequality between schools. 

What are the candidates’ views on law enforcement and policing?


SHAPIRO: Shapiro is pro-police and wants to hire more police officers throughout Pennsylvania. He describes his position as two fold: Pennsylvanians have a right to “be safe and feel safe.” Shapiro says that being safe represents the need for increased law enforcement presence, but feeling safe refers to the need that all citizens feel that the police will keep them safe regardless of factors like race. In a campaign launch press conference, Shapiro says he will ensure people feel safe through seeing “police that are from the community, that are properly trained, that work hand in hand with our community groups to keep us safe, and that understand they’ve got to get out of their patrol cars, walk the beat, learn the names of our children and talk to the people who really run the neighborhood.” Shapiro does not provide concrete policy choices which would ensure that his new camp of police officers would work with community groups to prevent abuse by police. His campaign website says Shapiro is calling to “immediately hire officers to fill open roles, and invest in recruitment and training to ensure you can count on law enforcement to respond in an emergency.” 


MASTRIANO: Mastriano’s campaign website says he will “support law enforcement by ensuring they have adequate funding,” and that he “won’t hesitate to assist local law enforcement with State Police and National Guard to protect law-abiding citizens and businesses during periods of mass unrest and riots.” Mastriano was photographed in attendance at the January 6 insurrection, but claims to have left before the riot broke out. While Mastriano does not outline any concrete policing policies, as a Pennsylvania House Representative, he voted in favor of three bills pertaining to policing. HB 49 authorized that school police may make arrests on school premises; SB 1205 prohibited the use of police chokeholds; HB 1910 established new training requirements for police officers. These requirements include training on interacting with individuals of diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds; implicit bias training; recognizing and reporting child abuse; and annual training on the use of appropriate force. 


How will the candidates allocate funding for the justice system? 


SHAPIRO: Shapiro’s proposed policies include increased funding for police training and the “appropriate” funding for police more generally. He also wants to allocate more state funds towards indigent defense, or criminal defense services such as public defender programs. His criminal justice plan includes the funding of mental health and various other specialty courts to try those suffering from mental illnesses. 

MASTRIANO: Mastriano’s plan entails the provision of “adequate” funding for law enforcement. He also says he will support funding for “additional prosecutors in high-crime areas.”

What crimes are the candidates paying special attention to? 


SHAPIRO: As Attorney General, Shapiro took a special interest in “ghost guns.” He wants to close a loophole in the law that renders these “ghost” guns untraceable. Ghost guns are made when separate parts are purchased and then assembled. Shapiro investigated this phenomenon by sending an agent to a suburban Philadelphia gun show, where he was sold a ghost gun kit, assembled it, fired it, and took it back to New York. 


MASTRIANO: Mastriano has not explicitly focused his policy proposals on any one crime. Notably, he does want to criminalize abortion (read more below) and ban chartered flights or busses into Pennsylvania with “illegal immigrant passengers.”

Actions speak louder than words. How have the candidates already shown how their policies might be implemented?

SHAPIRO: Shapiro’s background is in law; he has served as Pennsylvania’s Attorney General since 2017. The Pennsylvania Government website defines Josh’s previous role as Attorney General as having the responsibility “to represent victims of crime and abuse; defend individual rights; and hold the most powerful interests accountable to the law when they rip off or harm Pennsylvanians.” In his own words, as AG Shapiro “enacted bail reform for non-violent and low-level offenses,” “led the bipartisan coalition to create a statewide Police Misconduct Database,” and “directed our Agents to stop using chokeholds and end the use of no-knock warrants.”


When he served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (2005-2012), Shapiro voted YES for: 

  • Establishing the Special Juvenile Victim Compensation Fund HB 2572 06/30/2010
  • Expungement of Criminal Records and Juvenile Records HB 264 07/14/2009
  • [Intellectual disability] consideration in murder cases HB 698 06/12/2006


MASTRIANO: Serving in the Pennsylvania Senate since 2019, Mastriano has voted YES for: 

  • Prohibition of premature release of an individual who has committed a violent offense while imprisoned HB 146 07/06/2022
  • Increased penalties for fleeing the police on foot SB 814 10/26/2021
  • Established new guidelines to reduce probation sentences SB 14 07/15/2020
  • Establishes new training requirements for police officers HB 1910 06/30/2020
  • Prohibits use of police chokeholds SB 1205 06/24/2020
  • Authorizes school police to make arrests HB 49 11/21/2019 


How do the candidates address inequalities within the justice system?

SHAPIRO: On his campaign site, Shapiro says “we must address the reality that Pennsylvania’s justice system disproportionately impacts people of color.” Black residents make up 12% of the state population yet account for 46% of incarcerated people. Shapiro offers a vague solution of investing in public safety while “pursuing smart criminal justice reform that will address those inequities, restore trust, and make our communities safer.” See above for more information on Shapiro’s proposed reforms.

MASTRIANO: Mastriano does not mention inequalities within the justice system.

Are any policy points surprising?

SHAPIRO: Shapiro’s hard-on-crime stance is not standard for a democratic candidate. Recent polls have shown that the majority of voters prefer Republicans over Democrats when it comes to fighting crime and maintaining public safety. Shapiro’s approach may distance him from the rest of his party, but counters the idea of Democrats as weak on crime.

MASTRIANO: While not conceptually surprising, Mastriano’s pro-life stance is extreme. Mastriano is vehemently anti-abortion and has urged murder charges for who women who violate abortion bans. He introduced a Heartbeat Bill which would prohibit abortion from the moment a fetal heartbeat was detected, which would criminalize women and doctors who violate it. 


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Overdose Deaths Behind Bars Rise as Drug Crisis Swells

Even if Alabama’s prisons and jails are especially overrun by drugs, death, and violence, their problems are not unique in the U.S. Within three weeks this spring, incarcerated people died of overdoses in Illinois, Oklahoma, New York, and the District of Columbia.


New report debunks 2020 youth crime wave

politicians and pundits are peddling youth gone wild but a new report says the most recent data doesn’t support their claims and harsher sentences won’t stop crime

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Bail industry gets away with murder, costing defendants and citizens alike

Bail industry gets away with murder, costing defendants and citizens alike

New study reveals bail bond companies profit off of defendants yet often rely on law enforcement to do their job

Analyzing multi-jurisdictional evidence and research, the Prison Policy Initiative has released a report showing that the commercial bail industry exploits legal loopholes in order to avoid paying forfeiture when defendants fail to appear in court. The report, written by Wendy Sawyer, indicates that this lack of accountability is an issue in at least 28 states and argues that the problem is in fact likely nationwide due to flaws inherent in the industry at large.

The Initiative identifies six major loopholes that allow bail bond companies to discharge their duty to ensure court appearance to local law enforcement, meaning that it is not just the defendant who is paying but also the taxpayer. The full amount of the bond is intended to be forfeited by bail companies to the courts in cases of non-appearance, but collated data shows that this is rarely the case. The Prison Policy Initiative deems the system to be “broken,” advocating instead for alternatives to cash bail programs.

Bail bond companies in California accumulated debts from unpaid forfeiture fees totaling between $100 million and $150 million statewide from 2001-2004

Notably, bail bond companies in California accumulated debts from unpaid forfeiture fees totaling between $100 million and $150 million statewide from 2001-2004. More recent analysis in a 2016 Santa Clara Law writeup found that at a minimum bail companies should be forfeiting ‘tens of millions’ of dollars to California counties.

The process of forfeiture triggered by a failure to show is long, and the report identifies six loopholes that have both legal and practical grounding and allow bail companies to avoid payment. The first loophole is mechanical: local officials frequently do not pursue forfeiture payments due to the complex bureaucracy required. When officials do pursue forfeiture, bond companies are granted a second loophole in the form of a long grace period and a third in the form of very strict deadlines. 

The fourth loophole results from a practice known as “‘double supervising.” Defendants who have posted bail will also be supervised by pretrial services mandated by courts. This means that the bail bond companies who are meant to ensure appearance in court can shed this duty, relying instead on tax-funded pretrial services to do so. 

The fifth loophole is present in the majority of states in the form of legislation allowing bail bond companies to seek remission on their payments. So, even where bond agents do pay forfeiture fees, they may be able to get it back. The report cites a Florida audit, which found that 23 out of 25 cases in which a bail company paid its fees only after the grace period had already elapsed were still given remission. 

In 2017, an investigation was published indicating that six NYC bail bond companies were using fake trade names in order to continue operations without being shut down by state officials for large amounts of debt. The ability of agencies to continue to profit off of the bail system despite state laws that allow officials to suspend agencies owing large sums of money is the sixth loophole emphasized by the report. 

The report cites a Florida audit, which found that 23 out of 25 cases in which a bail company paid its fees only after the grace period had already elapsed were still given remission. 

The streamlining of various research projects into identification of these six loopholes prompted the Prison Policy Initiative to conclude that both the current law and procedural practice absolve bail bond companies of responsibility when defendants do not appear in court but give them credit when they do. The report paints a picture of a collective, exploitative industry operating regularly in more than 40 states. 

The Initiative ultimately recommends that the traditional cash bail system be abandoned and replaced with a non monetary system. This would involve providing all defendants with pretrial support where appropriate. 

At an institutional level and in order to prevent the phenomenon of “double supervision,” the report says that pretrial service agencies should stop supervising defendants who have been released on cash bail. A stricter adherence to consumer protection law by bail bond companies, meaning that agents would follow policy guidelines that are currently being ignored, is also stressed. 


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The number of women behind bars continues to rise in U.S.

Just because prison overpopulation is usually discussed in regards to males, America also has a glaring problem of over incarcerating mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and grandmas. There are currently 108,000 women in prison in the United States — accounting for nearly 30% of the world’s incarcerated females.

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Fighting for a second chance

When Dontrell Britton returned from federal prison to his mother’s DC apartment in 2017, he didn’t have tens of thousands of Instagram followers or over 400 thousand TikTok followers on his team like he does now.


These Colors Don’t Run (At Least Not Fast Enough)

In the devastating aftermath of the mass killing at a Texas elementary school this week, questions swirl around the police response, or lack there of, while an 18-year-old slaughtered children, we turn to Posse Comitatus.

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imprisoned pregnant women may get more protection from bill; death row man killed despite mental health concerns; police to use robots armed with shotguns; B-More teens shot at high rates; LA men in prison for almost 30y found innocent

justice on the frontlines: Oct. 24, 2022

juveniles imprisoned at adult prison

Under pressure from officials, following the escape of nearly two dozen juvenile inmates from Bridge City Center for Youth in New Orleans, Governor John Bel Edwards relocated ten youths to the Louisiana State Penitentiary. Juvenile justice advocates and the transferees’ families are protesting the move, which would house minors in the same place as adult inmates on death row. State officials say the move is temporary while the Youth Center is renovated, and the youths will be kept in a separate building 1.5 miles from the rest of the penitentiary. Opponents to this move have cited the Penitentiary’s history of violence and alleged poor medical care. US News (Oct. 18, 2022)

baltimore teens shot at high rates

2022 has been a historically deadly year for teenagers in Baltimore. 71 children, the majority of whom were 16-17 year old Black males, were killed by gun violence this year. One third of the shootings took place in the Eastern District of the city. Deputy Mayor Anthony Barksdale said the city had recognized the high rates of youth shootings and is trying to find ways to prevent it. Barksdale said the presence of “ghost guns” – guns which are bought in parts on the internet and assembled at home – is contributing to the violence. Gun violence now kills more children than car accidents nationwide. The Baltimore Banner (Oct. 17, 2022)

inmates now a protected class

The Atlanta City Council has voted to include former inmates as a protected class of people. The decision means that former inmates cannot be denied opportunities for employment or housing on the basis of their incarceration. Bridgette Simpson, co-founder of a nonprofit that helps convicted people reintegrate into society, said that one in eight people in Georgia are impacted by the justice system and may fall into this protected class. The ordinance is predicted to lower recidivism rates throughout the city. Atlanta News First (Oct. 17, 2022)

deaf man killed in jail

A deaf man named Javarick Gantt was killed inside the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center. Gantt was arrested without bail on a warrant for violating probation, a decision which his friend Anthony Taylor did not understand. Taylor and Gantt’s mother expressed concerns about the way Gantt was housed with other inmates. Kirsten Poston, president of the Maryland Association of the Deaf, questioned the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services’ (DPSCS) compliance with a court settlement outlining proper accommodations for people who are deaf. DPSCS Intelligence and Investigative Division detectives are currently undergoing both criminal and administrative investigations into Gantt’s death. The Baltimore Banner (Oct. 19, 2022)

avoiding records for the rich

Court diversion programs offer defendants the opportunity to avoid a criminal record through various forms of restitution, including community service acts. However, this more appealing option comes at a high cost: literally and metaphorically. Courts set high fees for diversion programs, meaning wealthier defendants can avoid a record where others may not be able to. Diversion programs mean that justice systems cater differently to those in different financial situations. Advocates such as Joanna Weiss, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, believes diversion should be free. NPR (Oct. 17, 2022)

protecting pregnant women in jail 

A bipartisan senate bill introduced by Democrat Amy Klobuchar and Republican Susan Collins layouts improved care for incarcerated pregnant and postpartum women and their babies. If this act – called the Protecting the Health and Wellness of Babies and Pregnant Women in Custody Act – is passed, federal facilities would be mandated to provide access to medical and mental health services in addition to education for women in regards to parental rights as well as physical needs like lactation consultation. Under the act, pregnant women would not be placed in solitary confinement in their last trimester. Dr. Carolyn Sufrin said the bill could replace varied state standards with one national standard of care. 19th News (Oct. 17, 2022)

injustice delivered

On Wednesday, three Louisiana men incarcerated for over 28 years were found wrongfully convicted of murder. Bernell Juluke, Kunta Gable and Leroy Nelson were originally found guilty of the second-degree murder of Rondell Santinac in 1996, who died from a drive-by shooting. Newly uncovered evidence linked the original police investigation to an officer who was found guilty of murder conspiracy and endemic corruption. Prosecutors unveiled additional evidence of innocence, involving the credibility and testimony of the lone eyewitness to the shooting. Officers Len Davis and Sammie Williams were the first officers present at the scene of the shooting two minutes after the shooting and before any of the officers dispatched by 911 operators arrived. This made the court believe that they were following a pattern where they covered up for drug dealers they provided protection for. The Guardian (Oct. 20, 2022)

competency questioned, still executed

The state of Oklahoma executed Benjamin Cole, who was sentence to death for murdering his young daughter. His case caused a debate over if he should’ve been executed or not due to battling from schizophrenia and being severely mentally ill. His attorney said his mental illness led him to kill his daughter. Oklahoma state law makes it illegal to execute someone found to be insane. Cole was the second death row inmate put to death in a series of more than two dozen executions scheduled in the state of Oklahoma. CNN (Oct. 20, 2022) 

colon cancer kills incarcerated man

The Office of Inspector General for the Justice Department is launching an investigation for the death of Frederick Bardell. Bardell was convicted in 2012 of downloading child pornography from a shared website and sentenced to 151 months in federal prison. While in prison Bardell died due to colon cancer. In 2020 and 2021, Bardell filed a motion for compassionate release arguing he had advanced from cancer but his motion was denied by U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton. The government opposed Bardell’s motion arguing that it was not definitive that Bardell had cancer. Reason (Oct. 17, 2022) 

armed robots to be used as lethal shotguns 

pregnant inmate

Oakland police officers have been pushing and advocating for language that will allow robots to kill robots under certain emergency circumstances. The Oakland Police Department is in discussions over the authorized robot use policy. Some observers say the plan for robots to be armed contradicts itself because, “it’s billed as a de-escalation facilitator, but they want to keep it open as a potential lethal weapon.” Lt. Omar Daza-Quiroz, who represents the department, says they are still having conversations and doing more research. The department assurance that a shotgun-toting robot would be subject to departmental use-of-force policy did not satisfy critics. The concern is that police would be rolled out and robots would take over when police decided to use lethal force. The Intercept (Oct. 17, 2022)

mishandling nitrogen hypoxia documents

The Alabama Department of Corrections was slammed by the federal judge for mishandling an execution. Alabama wanted to execute convicted murderer Willie B. Smith III, but Smith’s attorney had filed a challenge claiming that Smith, who’s intellectually disabled was not provided a required explanation to opt out of the nitrogen hypoxia – a paper form distributed to all death row inmates at Holman Prison. The form distributed wasn’t an official Alabama Department of Corrections form and due to that they weren’t required to follow ADA guidelines. Alabama Political Reporter (Oct. 19, 2022) 

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Racial disparity on incarcerated people declined 40% since 2000

Racial disparity on incarcerated people declined 40% since 2000

While racial disparity in America’s prisons remains high, the gap is narrowing

A new report, Justice Systems Disparities: Black-White National Imprisonment Trends,  published by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), reveals that while Black adults are still imprisoned at a significantly higher rate than white adults, the racial disparity both in state imprisonment and in arrest rates has fallen between 2000 and 2020. 

In 2000, Black adults were imprisoned at 8.2 times the rate of white adults. This figure fell 40% to 4.9 times in 2020. The research concludes that the remaining disparity is the result of racial differences in offending rates and longer prison time served by Black adults convicted of violent crimes. As such, the report indicated that racial imprisonment disparities will persist without a decrease in both the disparity in violent offending rates and the disparity in prison time served, in addition to the reduced influence of criminal history in sentencing decisions. 

In 2000, Black adults were imprisoned at 8.2 times the rate of white adults.

The report, written by Georgia State Professors William J. Sabol and Thaddeus L. Johnson, credits half of this decrease to a reduction in the number of Black individuals incarcerated – specifically a 75% drop in the disparity of drug imprisonment – and the other half to growth in the Black adult resident population in the United States. 

In addition to imprisonment rates, the racial disparity in arrest rates fell steadily between 2000 and 2020, and was eliminated entirely in the case of non-fatal violent crimes by 2019. The arrest disparities still found in the case of property and drug crimes were found to account for the majority of the remaining disparity in prison admissions. In turn, the disparity in admission rates accounted for the majority of the gap in general imprisonment rates. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 15% decrease in the population of state prisons, this drop did not impact the rate of racial imprisonment disparity in 2020. Professor William J. Sabol said that the greatest period of change occurred in the first five years of the data, from 2000 to 2005, during which half of the decrease in racial disparity occurred. 

While the disparity in general decreased for all crimes, racial disparity in the length of stay in prison increased. In 2020, Black adults served an average 0.7 years longer than White adults, whereas in 2000 Black adults served an average of 0.2 years longer. 

Assistant Professor Thaddeus L. Johnson said that while the trends the data shows are promising, a lot of work still needs to be done “to move our nation toward a justice system worthy of widespread trust.” 

The CCJ will release additional reports documenting the rate of disparities in Hispanic and female correctional populations. 


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A 4/20 Tale of two countries

Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates. The increasing number of states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana has not reduced national trends in racial disparities, which remain unchanged since 2010.

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UPenn study reveals bail reform successfully reduces number of people imprisoned

UPenn study reveals bail reform successfully reduces number of people imprisoned

a reduction in conviction of people charged with misdemeanors did not impact public safety

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice analyzed the effects of bail reform on the number of people imprisoned for misdemeanors. The August findings provide answers to many pressing questions about the future of bail reform.

Amidst criminal justice reform pressure and pushback as crime continues to rise since the pandemic, a new report showed that implementing cash bail reform, which allows low-level offenders to wait for trial from home rather than from jail, did not increase crime but instead preserved public safety and caused less strain on public resources. Accused people who the reform affected also were convicted less and served less jail time

In fact, data three years out from the injunction suggests an overall decrease in crime rates. 

Heaton hypothesized that the reform would have the effect of reducing guilty pleas, conviction rates, the likelihood of a jail sentence and average sentence length, and either not increasing or possibly reducing future contact with the criminal justice system. In order to answer these questions, the study compared misdemeanor defendants released within 24 hours with a control group of people charged with state jail felonies. 

State jail felonies are low level felonies, and so members of this group are similar to defendants charged with misdemeanors, except that their pretrial detention was not affected by the injunction. Upwards of 55,000 cases were plotted for the year of 2017, with the injunction coming into effect about half way through the year. 

Image: Paul Heaton, University of Pennsylvania Quattrone Center

The data reveals a stark jump in the release rate for misdemeanor defendants immediately following the injunction, proving that the injunction successfully reduced pretrial detention. 

Overall, the data revealed that after the injunction: 

  • Guilty plea rates fell by 15%
    9% of defendants avoided conviction
  • The likelihood of jail sentences fell by 15%
  • Average sentence length decreased by 8 days

A concern often raised by proponents of pretrial detention is that pretrial release could increase rates of re-offenders. However, the study showed that this is not the case. The number of new cases filed for each defendant years after initial filing did not increase. In fact, data three years out from the injunction suggests an overall decrease in crime rates. 

In fact, data three years out from the injunction suggests an overall decrease in crime rates. 

The data ultimately found that, following the injunction:

  • There was no increase in future contact with the criminal justice system after 1 year
  • There was a 6% decline in new contact with the criminal justice system after 3 years
Image: Paul Heaton, University of Pennsylvania Quattrone Center

This study marks an important moment in the ongoing public debate on if and how bail reform should be introduced. Jurisdictions across the country have to balance the interests of defendants and under-resourced county jails with the general public’s safety. Heaton calls the results of the study an “assurance” for these jurisdictions; public safety does not have to be sacrificed in order to reform misdemeanor bail policies. 

In fact, bail reform can improve public safety, all while keeping low level offenders out from behind bars. The Harris County experiment has succeeded, and moving forward, counties can expect positive outcomes from implementing similar bail reforms. 


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Biden cannabis pardons free no one in Feds for Cannabis crime; FBI reports inaccurate crime statistics; NYPD illegally sends innocent people to Rikers; man remains in prison for 30+ years despite evidence of innocence; reformist Alex Friedmann sentenced to prison for guns stored in walls

justice from the frontlines: Oct. 10, 2022

AL inmates continue historical strike

Despite a Department of Justice investigation and multiple years of litigation, people incarcerated in Alabama are striking statewide against inhumane prison conditions including poor medical care, violence, retaliation, dilapidated prison living conditions and low staff. The Governor called their demands “unreasonable.” She has refused to work with the DOJ to improve the prisons and instead courted private prison companies for new facility contracts as a solution. Strikers are facing reported retaliation and starvation HuffPost (Oct. 7, 2022)

POTUS pot pardon frees no one from prison

Biden has pardoned approximately 6,500 people convicted of “simple” cannabis possession, a low level offense that excludes the trafficking or sale of marijuana. This includes currently in federal prison. Most people are incarcerated on distribution and other charges as well as possession. Biden has urged state officials to follow his lead. Biden cited the disproportionate rate at which Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for marijuana use, calling the convictions “needless barriers.” The Guardian (Oct. 6, 2022)

FBI arrest data incomplete and inaccurate

A million-dollar crime statistics reporting system known as NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System) produced a data set for 2021 that was fragmented and inconsistent with reports of drug-related crime rates nationwide. The FBI released multiple documents through its “Crime Data Explorer,” each listing a conflicting number of drug/narcotics offenses. The data was provided by only 19 states who transitioned to the system fully, and 31 other states who have not yet completed a full transition. Marijuana Moment (Oct. 5, 2022)

tribal courts power increased to charge non-Natives

Congress has passed a new law that allows tribal courts to file more charges, including sexual abuse, trafficking, stalking and obstruction of justice, against non-Native defendants. This expansion of jurisdiction empowers 31 tribal nations to address violence against women and children on tribal land. The law was included as a section of the Violence Against Women Act. Previously, tribal courts only had jurisdiction over non-Natives who committed acts of domestic violence. The Oklahoman (Oct. 3, 2022) 

ACLU against E-carceration

People undergoing pretrial proceedings, probation, parole, or immigration proceedings are all commonly monitored electronically through a GPS. In a new report, the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for this to end. Co-author of the report Ayomikun Idowu called the electronic monitoring “e-carceration.” The GPS system tracks people’s whereabouts and prevents movement more than a few hours from the wearer’s home. The ACLU said that going to work or seeing family can be impossible. If a person fails to comply, they can be imprisoned. The Davis Vanguard (Oct. 3, 2022) 

missing search warrants

Mississippi state rules mandate that no-knock search warrants are returned to courts to be accessible to the public. However, many are not available, leaving victims of no-knock warrants in the dark. Almost two-thirds of Mississippi county courts prevent public access to search warrants. Some search warrants, however, never left the police station. These documents are protected by a public records exemption that benefits law enforcement agencies. Breonna Taylor was killed when police entered her home armed with a no-knock warrant, inspiring nationwide scrutiny of the policy. However in many cases, this scrutiny raises questions that remain unanswered without lack of access to official documentation.  ProPublica (Oct. 4, 2022) 

illegal detention at Rikers

A lawsuit filed by four people currently detained on Rikers Island says that the New York City Police Department and Department of Correction has been taking people straight to Rikers Island without bringing them to court, violating state law. NYPD detained Paul Philips, and several others in similar situations, on the basis of an old open bench warrant, which is typically issued when someone does not turn up to court. However, the warrant was no longer open, a fact which was made known to the NYPD. Despite this, Philip and his co-plaintiffs were detained illegally on Rikers Island. Hellgate NYC (Oct. 4, 2022) 

solitary confinement suit settled

Prison reform advocate Alex Friedmann has settled a lawsuit he brought against the Tennessee Department of Correction after being placed in solitary confinement despite not having received a conviction. Friedmann was placed in a solitary cell walled with steel plates under a ‘safekeeper’ order which allows pretrial inmates to be detained in state prisons. The terms of the settlement mean that prison officials will individually assess safekeeper inmates, who will be allowed to participate in hearings to determine where they will be kept. Both safekeeper and regular inmates can appeal a decision to be kept in solitary confinement. The Toronto Star (Oct. 3, 2022) 

reformist sentenced to prison

Alex Friedmann, who just earlier this week settled a solitary confinement lawsuit with the Tennessee Department of Correction, has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for vandalism. Friedmann, a criminal justice advocate, was found guilty of vandalizing Davidson County Jail, causing $250,000 worth of damage. Friedmann planted guns in the jail, claiming a gang rap in jail earlier had led him to do so to protect himself. Friedmann has a history of advocating for prison reform. News Channel 5 (Oct. 6, 2022) 

Minnesota DOC violates ADA

The US Department of Justice found that the Minnesota Department of Corrections has violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by denying the right of incarcerated disabled individuals to enroll in General Educational Development (GED) program opportunities or to apply for modifications. The DOJ has asked that the Minnesota DOC resolve this civil rights violation by notifying inmates about the reasonable modifications available to them and allowing them to apply for and receive modifications for GED courses and exams. The Department of Justice (Oct. 3, 2022) 

solitary confinement reform ignored

A new solitary confinement reform called the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act was meant to create therapeutic “residential rehabilitation units (RRUs)” in prisons. Under the Halt Act, these units would allow prisons to place inmates in a humane space as an alternative to standard solitary confinement. However, state prisons are neglecting to uphold the standard for RRUs set in the HALT Act. Instead, inmates have been cuffed, chained, and shackled whilst inside the “therapeutic” rooms. New York Focus (Oct. 5, 2022) 

innocent man imprisoned

In 1991, an intellectually disabled man Charlie Vaughn confessed and pleaded guilty to the murder of Myrtle Holmes. In 1995, Vaughn, illiterate himself, had a fellow inmate write a letter to a federal courthouse on his behalf, requesting to be released from custody. He made his request on the basis that he had not received proper legal representation and was wrongfully convicted of murder. Vaughn’s petition was dismissed. In 2015, evidence surfaced that linked another suspect to the murder, but not Vaughn or two others who had been jointly convicted for the same crime. These two men were freed; Vaughn was not. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act says that prisoners only have one chance to be federally reviewed. Vaughn’s 1995 letter meant that he had used up his one chance and remains imprisoned today. Radley Balko (Oct. 5, 2022) 

city pays for killing by police

Daniel Prude was killed in Rochester New York by police officers who placed a hood on his head and pressed it into the pavement. The killing, which took place in March of 2020, sparked protests throughout the community. Prude’s family filed a lawsuit against the city of Rochester, who settled the suit for $12 million. The settlement means that the city does not admit liability for Prude’s death, but the Prude family’s lawyer told The New York Times that he hoped the case would lead to further investigations into police brutality. The New York Times (Oct. 6, 2022) 

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