D.C. police reform rollback. MD juvenile detention horror. MD police officer prosecution. execution recordings withheld.

justice from the frontlines: Mar. 13, 2023

police reform rollback

House Republicans put forward legislation aimed at reversing several police reforms in Washington, D.C following Congress’s recent measure blocking a separate D.C. crime bill. The reforms were enacted to increase transparency and limit the police union’s authority in disciplinary disputes. Among the changes were a prohibition on the use of neck restraints and more stringent limits on the police’s ability to disperse crowds. The Hill (Mar. 10, 2023)

juvenile detention horror

The Maryland Office of the Public Defender sent a letter to county leaders saying that children detained at Baltimore County Detention Center are locked up for 23 hours a day in rodent-infested cells that sometimes flood with sewage water, adding that the jail is not in compliance with federal laws governing juvenile detention. The office asked for the “immediate transfer” of detained youth to the Department of Juvenile Services. The Baltimore Sun (Mar. 10, 2023)

police officer prosecution

The Maryland Senate has approved legislation that would enable the attorney general to prosecute local police officers who are found to be criminally responsible for causing injury “likely to result” in death or killing someone. The proposed legislation would allow the attorney general to have exclusive authority over the prosecution of the officer or request that the local state’s attorney handle it. The Daily Record (Mar. 9, 2023)

families fight for justice

Families of 13 inmates who died at Southern Regional Jail gathered at the West Virginia State Capitol to demand a federal investigation into inhumane treatment and deaths at the jail and other local prisons. Bishop William Barber II and the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign supported the families in presenting a petition to Governor Justice. WV Metro News (Mar. 10, 2023)

petitions skyrocket

Virginia’s Fairfax County courts have simplified the process for record-sealing petitions due to an increase in caseload, no longer requiring a court hearing for those seeking expungement. Since March 2022, the court received 701 petitions, up from 211 the previous year. Virginia’s recent law has made it easier to seal or expunge misdemeanors and certain felony convictions, with automatic sealing for eligible charges set to begin in 2025. FFX Now (Mar. 7, 2023)

execution recordings withheld

The Virginia Department of Corrections now possesses at least 35 audio tapes documenting executions between 1987 and 2017. However, the department has refused requests to release them, citing security, privacy and personal reasons. The tapes, which offer rare insight into a secretive process, came to light when NPR aired stories that prompted the Virginia Department of Corrections to ask for four tapes in the possession of the Library of Virginia to be returned. NBC Washington (Mar. 7, 2023)

in other news

The US Justice Department opposes a bipartisan proposal to limit judges’ ability to impose longer sentences based on alleged crimes, even if a unanimous jury has acquitted the defendant of the same allegations. Reuters (Mar. 7, 2023)

After Congress blocked the new D.C. criminal law, similar efforts to bypass local governance are taking place in other states, primarily led by Republicans. The Marshall Project (Mar. 11, 2023)

The Justice Department has found that the Louisville Metro Police Department in Kentucky engaged in a “pattern of discriminatory and abusive law enforcement practices.” The report found broad patterns of discrimination against Black people and those with behavioral health problems. The New York Times (Mar. 8, 2023)

A bill in Texas proposing a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for anyone who uses a gun while committing a felony has drawn criticism from both criminal justice reform advocates and gun rights groups. The Texas Tribune (Mar. 9, 2023)

community board

Biden blocks DC reforms; Fairfax streamlines record expungement; VA parole board faces transparency; W. VA approves campus carry

justice from the frontlines: Mar. 6, 2023

Biden blocks DC reforms

President Biden is willing to sign a Republican-sponsored resolution that would nullify the new DC criminal code laws. Biden’s willingness comes amid growing concern over rising crime in DC and across the US. The revisions passed by the DC Council aim to redefine crimes, change criminal justice policies, and rework how sentences are handed down. The Republican-controlled House believes that the city’s changes would contribute to rising crime and make it easier for some criminals to get out of prison. The bills backers says the reform will reduce the impact of the criminal justice system on minority groups. PBS NewsHour (Mar. 2, 2023) 

lawmakers push school policing

Four D.C. lawmakers have proposed legislation that would reverse a measure to remove police officers from schools by 2025. Council member Vincent C. Gray and others are backing the measure, citing concerns about safety. Critics of the bill claim that the presence of school resource officers leads to increased distrust of law enforcement and can cause student arrests. Although the proposed legislation may face obstacles, proponents of the bill argue that trained officers play a crucial role in school communities and public safety. The Washington Post (Mar. 2, 2023) 

Fairfax streamlines record expungement

Residents in Fairfax County no longer need to appear in court to expunge their criminal records. Petition for record expungement can be filed through paperwork, which will be reviewed weekly. Virginia has some of the most restrictive expungement criteria in the country, but the General Assembly passed a law in 2021 that would automatically seal non-convictions and some convictions in 2025. The new policy is the latest push to change the county’s criminal justice proceedings led by Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano. The DCist (Mar. 3, 2023)

VA parole board faces transparency

Virginia’s Parole Board will have to hold public hearings and provide more information to attorneys and inmates involved in cases as part of a new parole transparency measure that was approved by the Virginia General Assembly. The Parole Board would no longer have immunity from transparency rules that apply to most government bodies. The legislation, which the governor is reviewing, would require more frequent and detailed reports, making more of its investigative information available, and striking the Parole Board’s FOIA exemption from state law. The Virginia Mercury  (Mar. 1, 2023)

Baltimore intervention program succeeds

Roca, a nonviolence intervention program for 16- to 24-year-olds in Baltimore, is making a positive impact on its target population with a focus on teaching emotional control to those from violent and traumatic backgrounds. A new study released by Roca Baltimore indicates that participants in the program are seeing lower recidivism and arrest rates, more connections to employment, and improvements in mental health assessments. The group has purchased a building in Baltimore and plans to expand into Baltimore County while continuing to train juvenile services workers and Baltimore Police officers through its Roca Impact Institute. The Baltimore Sun (Mar. 2, 2023)

MD Republicans push crime measures

 MD state Republican caucus members are pushing crime-fighting measures in the General Assembly. They’re focusing on initiatives to make gun theft a felony, increase sentences for repeat gun offenders, and allow minors between the ages of 10 and 12 to be charged with gun crimes. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Ivan Bates is also receiving bipartisan support for his proposal to lengthen jail time for illegal gun possession from three to five years for people between the ages of 18 and 20. WBAL TV (Mar. 2, 2023)

W. VA approves campus carry

W. VA Governor Jim Justice signed a bill allowing people with concealed carry permits to bring firearms onto public college and university campuses. The law takes effect in July 2024 and bans open carry on campus. Exceptions are allowed in certain areas and institutions can regulate firearms in residence halls. The presidents of the state’s largest institutions of higher learning opposed the bill, and a public hearing last month saw almost all speakers oppose it. PBS NewsHour  (Mar. 1, 2023)

in other news

New York City has agreed to pay $21,500 each to hundreds of protesters who were “kettled” by police during 2020 protests against the killing of George Floyd. The legal settlement could cost the city between $4 million and $6 million. The New York Times  (Mar. 1, 2023)

A report from the Council on Criminal Justice, finds that a disjointed and haphazard system of programs and a lack of awareness are partly to blame for a staggering number of veterans getting arrested or otherwise having to deal with the justice system. Military.com  (Mar. 2, 2023)

The U.S. Marshals Service suffered a security breach on February 17, compromising sensitive information including law enforcement sensitive information, administrative information, and personally identifiable information, according to senior US law enforcement officials. NBC News (Feb. 27, 2023)

community board

DC and MD push for more Police. Lawsuit filed against DC police for 2020 George Floyd protests. Deaths behind bars rose 50% in pandemic year one

justice from the frontlines: Feb. 27, 2022

Call for more police

Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray introduced a bill to increase the Metropolitan Police Department’s force to 4,200 officers. The bill authorizes the mayor to fund recruitment and retention efforts without additional Council approval and requires MPD to deploy officers to neighborhoods with high levels of violent crime. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson criticized the bill, stating that it won’t get far and that the police department struggles to get applications. Washington City Paper (Feb. 23, 2023)

Sued for civil rights violations

A civil justice organization has filed a lawsuit against the D.C. police for violating demonstrators’ rights to free speech and assembly during the 2020 racial justice protests. The police used excessive force with stinger grenades, foam or rubber bullets, and flash-bang devices against peaceful protestors. The lawsuit claims that Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and then-D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham authorized the police to attack peaceful protesters. The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for medical expenses and pain and suffering, and punitive damages against each unnamed D.C. police officer. The Washington Post (Feb. 22, 2023)

To be heard

Terrence Richardson, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1998 for the intent to distribute crack cocaine, was granted an appeal by the Virginia Supreme Court. Prior to the drug case, Richardson was charged with the murder of a police officer but acquitted by a jury. However, federal prosecutors referenced the murder in the drug case against Richardson, resulting in his life sentence. Richardson’s attorney called the court’s decision to hear the appeal “a significant victory” for his client’s efforts to prove his innocence. ABC News (Feb. 24, 2023)

W. VA protest high number of jail deaths

Activists with the Poor People’s Campaign are calling for a federal investigation into West Virginia jails following a rise in the number of reported deaths. There were 13 reported deaths at the Southern Regional Jail in 2022 in comparison to over 100 deaths in the state’s total regional jail system in the past decade. They are planning rallies in Beckley and Charleston. WV Public Broadcasting (Feb. 23, 2023)

Democratic MD Gov. to rebuild state police

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore announced several initiatives to invest in public safety and rebuild the state police force. The governor ordered all public safety agencies to produce “After Action Reports” to promote transparency and accountability. Additionally, the governor announced $11 million in funding to support the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center, which will expand staffing, conduct training, and invest in technology infrastructure. The Southern Maryland Chronicle (Feb. 24, 2023)

MD Juvenile corrections under new leadership

The Maryland Senate has confirmed Vincent Schirald to lead the state’s Department of Juvenile Services. Schiraldi, a former commissioner of New York City’s Department of Correction, was the only governor nominee to be confirmed without unanimous approval. Republicans expressed concern that Schiraldi focuses too much on rehabilitation at the expense of accountability. However, Democratic lawmakers supported Schiraldi, with Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith calling his record “sterling” but also cautioning that Maryland needs accountability for the department and its new secretary. The Baltimore Sun (Feb. 22, 2023)

in other news

Deaths in state and federal prisons across America rose by nearly 50 percent during the first year of the pandemic. The New York Times (Feb. 19, 2023)

A prison in Georgia has a program called GBT that teaches incarcerated people how to transcribe braille. Filter Magazine (Feb. 16, 2023)

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine introduced the EQUAL Act, a bipartisan legislation that aims to eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and apply it retroactively. ABC News (Feb. 23, 2023)

in other news

Deaths in state and federal prisons across America rose by nearly 50 percent during the first year of the pandemic. The New York Times (Feb. 19, 2023)

A prison in Georgia has a program called GBT that teaches incarcerated people how to transcribe braille. Filter Magazine (Feb. 16, 2023)

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine introduced the EQUAL Act, a bipartisan legislation that aims to eliminate the federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine and apply it retroactively. ABC News (Feb. 23, 2023)

community board

Congress blocks D.C. laws, again; VA aims to end solitary; MD police accused of using quotas.

justice from the frontlines: Feb. 13, 2023

canceling solitary confinement

credit: adobe stock

The House and Senate in Virginia are considering a bill to limit the use of solitary confinement to 15 days in a 60-day period. However, the bill has divided the two houses and has undergone changes, such as the removal of the 15-day limit, at the request of the Virginia Department of Corrections. The use of solitary confinement has been criticized for being a form of torture and violating prisoners’ rights. A select group of delegates and senators will now meet to compromise on the bill and if unsuccessful, the push for solitary reform will fail for the year. ABC News (Feb. 8, 2023)

Compassion for elder prisoners

Queens House of Detention, New York

Maryland’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard testimony on Wednesday in support of legislation to improve and enhance medical and geriatric parole for the state’s incarcerated elderly population. Research by the Justice Policy Institute found that the recidivism rates of people 60 and older who are released from corrections in Maryland is about 3% and nearly eight out of 10 individuals serving the longest prison terms are Black. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Shelly Hettleman, seeks to not only improve and streamline the state’s medical and geriatric parole system but also show compassion for older inmates. The legislation is cross-filed in the House of Delegates and is supported by Del. David Moon and Del. Sandy Bartlett. Maryland Matters (Feb. 9, 2023)

MD police on shaky ground

Maryland State Police supervisors have been accused of using a points-based system similar to a ticket and arrest quota, which was banned in the state over 15 years ago. Leaked internal documents revealed a “goals and expectations” memo detailing the number of traffic stops, citations, warnings, arrests and other metrics that would meet the agency’s monthly expectations. Delegate Robin Grammer, an Essex Republican, has introduced legislation to tighten the state’s ban on ticket and arrest quotas for law enforcement. He claims the documents are proof that “politicized law enforcement” still exists. The Baltimore Banner (Feb. 8, 2023)

Congress blocks D.C. autonomy, again

The Republican-controlled US House has voted to block two local bills in D.C. with support from several Democrats. The two bills, one allowing noncitizens to vote in local D.C. elections and another revising the city’s criminal code, have now been sent to the Senate. The broad support from both parties to block the bills dealt a blow to local officials who had asked Congress to stay out of the city’s affairs, but the number of Democratic defections show that D.C. may not find as much support from congressional Democrats. The Washington Post (Feb, 9, 2023)

D.C. metro gets more police

D.C. Metro will pay D.C. police officers overtime to increase patrols at five rail stations during rush hours. The increased police presence is an aim to make the Metro safer and build rider confidence after three recent shootings. The patrols will begin this week and continue through June. Two officers per station will conduct joint patrols. Metro is tapping extra resources because its transit police force is understaffed, but there are similar issues in the city’s normal police force. DCist (Feb. 8, 2023)

W. VA tackles mental health and justice

The West Virginia Senate passed a bill to create a study group focused on the over-representation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the criminal justice system. The group will recommend ways to divert these individuals from prisons and state hospitals and provide plans for care, treatment, and placement in the community. The bill must now be passed by the House of Delegates. The Parkersburg News and Sentinel (Feb. 7, 2023)

in other news

A new podcast from reporter Trevor Aaronson details the story of an FBI informant who infiltrated the racial justice movement in Denver.

too old school: ‘Only in Mississippi’: White representatives vote to create white-appointed court system for Blackest city in America

unbelievable ruling: Alabama AG: ‘Pain related to difficulty’ from execution IVs not cruel, unusual punishment

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