Mayor Bowser’s Crime Bill Would Increase Youth Pretrial Detention Despite New Evidence of Effective Alternatives

Mayor Bowser’s Crime Bill Would Increase Youth Pretrial Detention Despite New Evidence of Effective Alternatives

A new report found that alternative-to-incarceration programs are more effective than detention for youth who commit serious offenses. Mayor Bowser’s new crime bill would increase youth pretrial detention, despite this evidence.

The Des Staff
The Des Staff

This article was written with the assistance of AI. It was edited by a real person to ensure accuracy.

Mayor Bowser’s new crime bill, proposed this month, would likely increase youth pretrial detention. The bill would make it easier for judges to detain youth who are accused of certain crimes, including gun offenses and violent crimes. 

A new report from The Sentencing Project adds depth to Bowsers new crime bill and its focus on youth detention. The Washington based criminal justice think tank found that six alternative-to-incarceration program models effectively reduce recidivism and improve public safety for youth who have committed serious offenses.

The report, “Effective Alternatives to Youth Incarceration: What Works With Youth Who Pose Serious Risks to Public Safety,” found that these programs are more effective than incarceration in preventing youth from re-offending, and they also cost less.

“The evidence is clear that incarceration is a failed strategy for reversing delinquent behavior, damages young people’s futures, and disproportionately harms youth of color,” Richard Mendel, Senior Research Fellow at The Sentencing Project and author of the report, said in the press release. 

“The evidence is clear that incarceration is a failed strategy for reversing delinquent behavior, damages young people’s futures, and disproportionately harms youth of color."

The six program models identified in the report are:

  • Credible messenger mentoring programs: These programs use former offenders to mentor current offenders, providing them with guidance and support.
  • Advocate/mentor programs: These programs pair youth with an advocate who provides them with support and guidance, as well as connecting them with resources in the community.
  • Family-focused, multidimensional therapy models: These programs provide therapy to youth and their families, addressing the underlying issues that may be contributing to the youth’s behavior.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: This type of therapy helps youth to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors.
  • Restorative justice interventions: These interventions focus on repairing the harm that has been caused by the youth’s offense, rather than punishing them.
  • Wraparound programs: These programs provide a comprehensive range of services to youth, including therapy, education, and job training.

These programs are effective in reducing recidivism rates for youth who have committed serious offenses. A study of a credible messenger mentoring program in New York City found that 77% of participants did not get arrested in the year after enrolling in the program.

The report also found that these programs are more cost-effective than incarceration. For example, a study of a cognitive behavioral therapy program in Baltimore found that the program saved the state $1.5 million for every $1 million spent on the program. It recommends that state and local governments expand funding for these programs.

Critics of Bowser’s bill, which focuses on youth detention instead of these alternatives, say it would disproportionately impact youth of color and would do more harm than good. They argue that pretrial detention is harmful to youth, as it can lead to further trauma, educational disruption and mental health problems. Supporters of the bill argue that pretrial detention can help to prevent youth from re-offending and can protect the public from dangerous criminals. 

The bill is currently being reviewed by the D.C. Council. It is unclear whether the bill will be passed into law. To read The Sentencing Project’s report, click here.


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

Uvalde Police Department (from Facebook), did not keep kids safe.

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.

By Jessica Pishko
By Jessica Pishko

Pishko is a journalist and lawyer based in Dallas, TX. She writes Posse Comitatus, a Substack focused on sheriff's departments. Subscribe to Posse Comitatus here

Just after turning 18, a young man from Uvalde, Texas – a mostly Latinx community outside of San Antonio – legally purchased two AR-15-style rifles. 

On the morning of May 24, the last week of school, he shot his grandmother, then drove to Robb Elementary School, crashing his car. He ran into the school shooting at bystanders, exchanged gunfire with a school resource officer, shot at two other law enforcement officers who were there, then then entered the school and, after barricading himself in a classroom, proceeded to shoot and kill at least 19 children and 2 adults and wounded countless others, almost all of whom appear to have been inside that single classroom. (He also provided updates on social media.)  For an hour. 



Nearly an hour later, off-duty Border Patrol officers (from a special SWAT-style unit known for excessive violence) arrived at the school, got a key from the principal to the classroom door, then entered the classroom and killed the young man. In the meantime, parents were at the school, breaking windows to rescue their children. (Some of the law enforcement officers who were there went to save their own kids.) Law enforcement officers themselves called it a “failure.” Onlookers say that the police seemed “unprepared.”



In a cosmic sense, the shooting is inexplicable. It is also dreadfully common – as is the inadequate police response. So, it’s hard to blame people for some of their public responses, from a sense of mourning, to a desire to lift up the name of the victims (adding them to an ever-increasing list), to invocations of “good” and “evil.” Of course, America kills children all the time – at home and abroad, actively and passively – but, speaking as a parent, there is still something specifically horrible about school shootings.


The calls have already come to increase police presence in schools and fortify school buildings so that they become fortresses. Influenced by America’s history of wars abroad, right-wing politicians, Christian nationalists, and gun influencers argue that bringing counter-terrorism military methods to the people will bring a measure of safety. But who are these people protecting and who are they fighting?



The answer is depressingly obvious. In the wake of the Buffalo shooting where an admitted white supremacist went into a grocery store on a weekend afternoon with the intent to kill as many Black people as possible, the response from law enforcement was crickets. The Eerie County Sheriff, which includes Buffalo, made a requisite comment about “evil,” but there was no real response from the police, no calls to fortify Black neighborhoods, no pictures of officers shaking hands with Black residents.


That’s because law enforcement knows their purpose, to defend the racial hierarchy. Sheriffs are happy to see their own neighborhoods as a battleground, their tactics are of counterinsurgency. The gun industry, the gun lobby, politicians, and the social influencer class all know that firearms are to protect people from the coming race war. So they will double- and triple-down on guns and more guns because it serves their purpose, cements their popularity, and maintains the social order that creates so much violence.


In contrast, all across the country sheriffs’ offices blasted out their intent to protect schools and children (“trip wires” and “man traps”), to increase patrols, and to use their government-subsidized military weaponry to pretend to defend the country’s alleged most precious resource, children.

During a scheduled campaign fundraiser, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said, “The reality is, as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse.” Later, he was even more pointed in his racism, saying, “I hate to say this, but there are more people shot every weekend in Chicago than there are in schools in Texas. And we need to realize that people who think that, well maybe if we just implement tougher gun laws, its gonna solve it. Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis. And so, if you’re looking for a real solution, Chicago teaches that what you’re talking about is not a real solution. Our job is to come up with real solutions that we can implement.” (The mayor of Chicago shot back that Abbott can’t even keep the power on.)


Senator Ted Cruz, not to be outdone, called for “hardening school security” and increased armed guards.

It’s interesting that the only gun control measure politicians (and Elon Musk) can even somewhat agree on are so-called red-flag laws, which mostly target people who display signs of being mentally ill, because everyone, even sheriffs, can agree that “madmen” are the one group of people universally hated by everyone. Democrats, I believe, circle on this as a compromise tactic because most people agree with the idea (even sheriffs), It just doesn’t really address the root of the problem.


And, in probably the most inane response, a sheriff’s deputy from Tarrant County, Texas, went to an elementary school and gave a presentation that included photos of AR-15s as part of a “career day” presentation.


Their blustering even hides the obvious, which is that the police – and definitely sheriffs – cannot protect us.


Indeed, the entire apparatus – law enforcement officers, lawyers, judges, legislators – are to blame as they seem happy to execute people by firing squad so long as it is in secret, but when children are murdered, they pretend that they prevent – not create and protect – violence.    


And why should law enforcement be required to protect any of us when the reality is that their violence is only intended to uphold a social order that benefits only certain people in society? The rise of Christian nationalism has made it clear that what powerful pollical factions of this country want is a Christian ethno-state where bodies are policed in order to assure the reproduction of heteronormative, self-sustaining family systems while the apparatus of the state itself is allowed to dwindle to a shriveled husk, no longer able to ensure that water is drinkable or that children have food to eat.


Police cause more violence. They kill residents of communities. They kill and abuse their family members (and children) more often than non-police. They even kill themselves because causing violence to others in a systemic way is bad for the human psyche. Therefore, the solution to violence can never be more violence – violence will always be in service to white supremacy.


On the left, I noticed an intense desire to analyze the police in Uvalde and how they failed to protect children (and white people’s disappointment in discovering that’s what police do). It’s true, of course, but also a symptom of policing in general, as Alex Vitale told The Intercept:


Instead of marshaling a robust preventative intervention, we wait until the problem expresses itself as a mass killing, and then we microanalyze the police response…This is a completely backwards way to approach the problem. Because policing is an inherently inadequate response to these things. By the time the shooting starts, the police intervention is going to be reactive. People will already be dead.


More analysis of how to “better” police response just plays into the hands of those who want more violence.


Meanwhile, the right is arguing for the closure of public schools. It’s a bit ironic given how the same coalition is not willing to pay teachers a living wage, ensure children have homes, or support COVID mitigation measures. But, of course, this has been part of their plan all along, a desire to return to segregated communities and white Christian nationalism. In a way, it’s the logical endpoint of their war on the rest of us — horde resources, bunker up, and send soldiers to protect the order that they have always wanted.



This article was first published in Posse Comitatus and republished with permission.


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She Said Her Husband Was Abusive. A Judge Took Away Her Kids and Ordered Her Arrest.

Kevin Serna for ProPublica

She Said Her Husband Was Abusive. A Judge Took Away Her Kids and Ordered Her Arrest.

The judge in Julie Valadez’s custody case found her disruptive, questioned her credibility and put out a warrant for her arrest. A rare appellate victory is now giving her case a fresh look, but Valadez still is fighting for her four children. This story was originally published by ProPublica.

By Meg O'Matz
By Meg O'Matz

Megan O’Matz is a reporter at ProPublica, where she covers issues out of Wisconsin.

After the judge in her Wisconsin divorce case ruled that her ex-husband — a man who had sought treatment for anger and alcohol issues — would get legal custody of and equal time with their four children, Julie Valadez vowed to fight back.


But in every key ruling that followed, the Waukesha County Circuit Court judge overseeing her case, Michael J. Aprahamian, found Valadez’s concerns about her ex-husband not credible and her actions unacceptable. Aprahamian took away her ability to co-parent her children. He held her in contempt four times. And after Aprahamian ordered her arrest, she braced herself for jail.

Valadez, whose accusations of domestic abuse had led to her husband’s arrest, ran through a string of attorneys and represented herself at times. Eventually she found a Milwaukee civil rights attorney to represent her, along with a public defender, and enlisted the help of a Washington, D.C., legal service for domestic violence survivors.

And in recent weeks, with a pair of rare appeals court victories and Aprahamian’s decision to remove himself from the case, Valadez has found reason to hope that better days are ahead for her and her children.

Appellate reversals in these kinds of cases are unusual, in part because of the time and money it takes to pursue them. Valadez’s case provides a window into the largely unexplored world of family court, the appeals process and the problems encountered by women who say they’ve been victims of domestic abuse.


A common concern in these situations is that family courts will favor shared custody even if one parent says the other is abusive, sometimes misapplying the law and forcing long, expensive legal battles. ProPublica reported in September on another woman’s lengthy family court ordeal, which also took place in Wisconsin’s Waukesha County, but before a different judge. That story explored how Wisconsin courts, in working to give fathers equal parenting rights, often fail to deal with the complexities that arise in these cases and downplay women’s concerns about their own safety and that of their children.

State systems, according to women’s advocates, often put mothers who survived domestic violence at a disadvantage, liable to be seen as noncooperative when the court seeks some sort of compromise.

Valadez, believing that her case was being mishandled, went to great lengths to be heard while also fending off accusations that she was unruly or was somehow failing to do what’s best for her children.


Then, late last year, Valadez won her state appeal challenging Aprahamian’s custody decision on the basis that Ricardo Valadez, her former husband, had not completed the legally required treatment for domestic abusers. In its rebuke, the state Court of Appeals in Waukesha County found Aprahamian had “failed to explicitly apply the proper legal standard” required in cases involving domestic abuse.


The court stated in its Dec. 29 opinion that the judge “read words into the statute that are not there” and “ignored words that are there.” It ordered Aprahamian to reconsider the Valadez decision.


In the wake of that ruling, a January court session drew several spectators from the community: mothers who wore “#Julie4Change” T-shirts, a reference to a website Julie Valadez set up to bring attention to her legal quest.

But from the bench, Aprahamian declined to immediately alter the custody arrangement. The two sides were ordered to appear in court again at a later date.


“Why do we have to wait that long?” Valadez whispered to her attorney.


Weeks later, in early February, Valadez won at the appellate level again, as the court found that the judge had erred when he held her in contempt for emailing him after he had told her not to, failing to sign a release of records and refusing to undergo a psychological exam.


The contempt charges were a reflection of the tense atmosphere inside the court and how Valadez’s own actions have come under heavy scrutiny.

Ricardo Valadez’s lawyer has said that Julie Valadez has made unsubstantiated claims against her ex-husband and undermined the relationship between father and children. Guardians ad litem appointed by the court to determine the best interests of the children also have generally favored her ex-husband and supported the idea that Julie Valadez is being unreasonable. The judge, meanwhile, described her as disruptive and unwilling to follow his instructions.


Aprahamian has since acquiesced to her request for a new judge and is now off the case. He said he could not discuss the case with ProPublica. Ricardo Valadez, through his attorney, also declined to comment.


The victories have given Julie Valadez a measure of satisfaction, but they have yet to produce the desired effect: She’s still separated by court order from her four children, ages 8 to 16. The next hearing is set for Thursday.


“It’s been torture,” Valadez said of the legal battle that’s been going on since 2018 and now includes more than 800 documents. “I don’t even know what will happen to our family; it’s truly horrifying.”


Alcohol, Outbursts and a Fractured Marriage

Julie Valadez was a bride at 19 and a mother at 21. Her husband was 27 when they married. He studied to become a pastor and also sold life insurance.


They had three more children over their 16-year union, and Julie spent her days taking care of the brood and doing volunteer work. Two of the children are autistic, and she primarily handled the doctor’s appointments and school schedule and arranged for help from behavioral therapists, life-skill helpers and outside specialists.


In court papers, she described enduring her husband’s intimidating and violent outbursts, property damage, verbal insults and alcohol abuse. In about 2014 she took refuge for a couple of days at a domestic violence shelter, her husband acknowledged on the witness stand. She then returned home.


The Valadez marriage hit a breaking point in December 2017 when, according to a criminal complaint, Ricardo Valadez came home drunk, yelled and cursed at his wife for being on her cellphone and smashed an iron to pieces. Officers with the City of Waukesha Police Department found him “visibly intoxicated,” handcuffed him and took him out of the house.

He was formally charged months later, in May 2018, with one count of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor classified as domestic abuse. It later was downgraded to a municipal ordinance violation after he started participating in counseling.


At one point, Ricardo Valadez described his therapy sessions in criminal court, saying: “I cried, and I dealt with my alcohol issues. We dealt with my anger issues. We dealt with, obviously, my whole life changing, no longer in a marriage and seeing my children as much as I wanted to see my children.”


He added, “I continue to do counseling just because I want to improve myself as a person. I want to be a better dad, obviously providing for my children.”


He pleaded no contest and paid a fine.


By then, Julie Valadez had filed for divorce and secured a restraining order against him, describing incidents of stalking, harassment and violence, according to court records. “He always has threatened me if I was to ever leave him,” she wrote in her request for the restraining order. “He has said a number of times that he would kill me; and if I was ever with someone else, he’d kill them.”


At one point during the divorce, Valadez said, she abandoned her home and moved with her children to a protected address under Wisconsin’s Safe at Home program.

Wisconsin’s family law prizes cooperation between exes, but the law anticipates that interaction between parents in abusive relationships can present a dangerous, if not lethal, situation.


The law instructs court-appointed attorneys for children, called guardians ad litem, to investigate possible domestic abuse in families and then advise judges on their findings. A 2021 study by the University of Wisconsin, however, found that guardians ad litem typically don’t have enough resources for evidence collection or expert help, and they lack training about domestic abuse.


Julie Valadez has argued in her case that the initial guardian ad litem did not investigate the abusive dynamics in her marriage; she alleged that a second such attorney, appointed later during the appeal, dragged her and her ex back into court over parenting issues after the custody decision, even though neither parent had filed a motion requesting circuit court intervention about the children.


As the case wore on, Julie Valadez exasperated the court officials, including the guardians ad litem and the judge. Aprahamian deemed some of her allegations about her ex-husband “vindictive and picayune.”


As a result of her complaints, police arrested her ex-husband twice for allegedly violating the restraining order — once after he sent her reproachful electronic messages about money and once after he stepped inside the house when she wasn’t there to bring a child to a school bus. Ricardo Valadez was not prosecuted for entering the home and was found not guilty of violating the restraining order for sending the messages.

Kurt M. Schuster, Ricardo’s attorney, accused Julie in court filings of creating an unsettling environment for her children. “I don’t think she’s capable of putting her children’s best interest above her own,” Schuster said in an interview.


To Julie Valadez, the notion that she has benefited in any way from the custody battle is laughable. For instance, she said, she took a huge financial hit when she left the large house that her husband was making payments on for an apartment she had to pay for.

“It was a disaster for me,” she said. “I lost everything.”

A Skeptical Judge

The Valadez divorce trial, in early 2020, lasted five days.


Julie Valadez testified in detail about her allegations of abusive behavior by her husband. She recalled one incident in which she said he was “very drunk and being aggressive verbally and physically” as they struggled over car keys and another in which she said he grabbed her arm “to the point where it hurt and left red marks.” She testified that he threatened her, saying she would regret leaving him and he would “make me pay for this.”

She described for the judge outbursts by her husband where, she said, he punched holes in the walls of their homes. “He had punched them next to my head or he kicked a hole in the wall,” she said in court.


While on the stand, Ricardo Valadez refused to answer certain pointed questions about his wife’s allegations of domestic violence, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The questions included: “Isn’t it true you have physically hurt Miss Valadez?”


Aprahamian issued a 34-page decision in April 2020.


He agreed with recommendations by a court-appointed social worker and the first guardian ad litem that the couple exchange the children weekly. The handoffs were to be done at a police station.


Shared legal custody, however, was a different matter because of questions whether the former spouses could cooperate (although the social worker thought it unwise for either of them to act without the other’s input). Julie Valadez argued that a restraining order she obtained in 2018 against her husband made communicating with each other problematic and that she alone should have legal custody.


Aprahamian made note in his ruling of Ricardo Valadez’s 2017 arrest. Referencing incidents that spurred the divorce filing, the judge wrote that there was a “pattern of domestic abuse occurring coincident to the initiation of this case.” But he said he would not take into consideration Julie Valadez’s other accusations.


“The Court does not find credible Ms. Valadez’s other allegations of abuse and battery, including uncorroborated allegations of sexual abuse, physical abuse, stalking and property damage,” Aprahamian concluded.

The judge acknowledged that Ricardo Valadez, whom he described as an alcoholic, had lied to the court about his sobriety. Still, he wrote, “As a general matter, the Court found Ms. Valadez not credible.”


“She was evasive in answering questions and repeatedly asked to have simple, straightforward questions repeated prior to answer,” Aprahamian ruled.


For example, asked by the then guardian ad litem Katherine J. De Lorenzo if she believed she could cooperate with her ex-husband if awarded joint legal custody, Julie Valadez said at trial: “I have been cooperative.”


“Can you answer the question?” the judge asked.


“If I would be cooperative, is the question? Can you repeat your question?” she replied.

De Lorenzo obliged but warned: “Try and listen to my questions. They’re pretty simply stated, Ms. Valadez.”


Valadez said in an interview that in this and other similar instances she merely was trying to make sure she understood what she was being asked.


Aprahamian concluded that Ricardo Valadez “likely would put his children’s interests above his own.” He ruled that Ricardo should have sole legal custody, giving him control of decision-making on major issues in the children’s lives, though he was instructed not to change the kids’ school or doctors.


For Julie Valadez, the ruling was a harsh blow. She worried about how her ex would manage all the special services the children needed and about his drinking and anger issues.


“It was just a dangerous situation,” she said. “To me it seems obvious.”


She first undertook handling her own appeal in June 2020 but later had assistance from Washington, D.C., attorney Jay C. Johnson, acting as pro bono co-counsel with DV LEAP, a nonprofit that seeks to help victims pursue appeals in cases involving domestic violence.


Judges have wide discretion in custody cases and appeals are rare, said Elizabeth Vogel, DV LEAP’s managing attorney. Many litigants in family court don’t have a trial attorney, discover it’s hard to find an attorney to pursue an appeal and face short deadlines to file challenges.


DV LEAP saw merit in Julie Valadez’s case because the judge had recognized a pattern of domestic abuse but had concluded wrongly that her husband still had satisfied conditions for custody despite not receiving adequate counseling.


“Julie’s case is, sadly, such an excellent example of how judges take liberties in their reasoning to get around statutes that are meant to protect survivors,” Vogel said.


The Court of Appeals agreed that Ricardo Valadez was not entitled to sole legal custody because he had not shown he had successfully completed state-mandated treatment for batterers from a certified program.


Also, though Aprahamian required “absolute sobriety” from Ricardo and ordered the exchange of children at the police department, the appellate court ruled he did not make the safety of Julie and her children a “paramount concern” in determining who the children would live with, as required by state law.


Reversing the judgment by Aprahamian, the appellate court sent the case back to family court for reconsideration.


After the favorable appellate court ruling, Johnson tweeted that the decision “sets strong precedent for domestic abuse victims who are seeking custody of their children.”

Appealing to a Higher Court

During the year and a half that the case was on appeal, Vogel said in an interview, Aprahamian appeared to subject Julie Valadez to “an extreme level of retaliation” through his multiple rulings.

That’s not unheard of. Women across the country have told ProPublica that family courts have not only overlooked their allegations of domestic abuse but have acted to punish them by taking away much or all of their time with their children for making what the court considers to be false, or minor, allegations of abuse.


When these women openly complain, file motions or defy the court orders, judges can view them as mentally unfit or hold them in contempt.


In Valadez’s case, tensions between her and the judge never seemed to abate, and along the way she lost the ability to regularly see her children.


Aprahamian appointed a new guardian ad litem, Molly Jasmer, in September 2020 to interact with the appellate court and represent the children’s best interests.

In April 2021, Jasmer filed a 38-page brief with the appellate court outlining why Aprahamian’s ruling was correct. The brief was also signed by Ricardo Valadez’s attorney.

A month earlier, Aprahamian had taken away Julie Valadez’s parenting time with her second oldest child, then 13, after she didn’t make the boy available to meet with Jasmer. Because the judge had already ruled on custody a year earlier, Valadez questioned Jasmer’s involvement.


Jasmer declined to comment for this story.


Valadez contested the no-contact order not just in family court but in a suit she brought against Aprahamian and Jasmer in federal court in June 2021. That suit was dismissed.

“From my standpoint, it’s not personal,” Aprahamian said of the federal suit in a July hearing on the Valadez custody case. “It’s like ‘The Godfather.’ This is just business.”

Less than a month later, Aprahamian issued a bench warrant for Julie Valadez’s arrest for failing to comply with his directive to sign over certain records and undergo a psychological exam requested by Jasmer. At the same hearing, he suspended her parenting time — in effect, preventing her from seeing any of her children except under limited, supervised circumstances.


Her attorney at the time, Will Green, was taken aback. “Holy cow,” he said in court.

“Am I saying she is going to cause harm to them intentionally? That’s not what I’m saying,” the judge explained. “I’m finding she’s taken steps that are not in the best interests of the children and continues to do so.”


The judge had expressed frustration, for example, with Valadez bringing her children along with her when she served Jasmer with the federal suit.

Psychological testing is widely used in custody cases when there is a concern about a parent’s fitness.


The use of such tests, however, can be unwise when there’s a history of abuse, according to the Domestic Abuse Guidebook for Wisconsin Guardians Ad Litem. Abuse victims, it notes, may reasonably show symptoms associated with a large range of mental health difficulties, such as anxiety, paranoia, trouble sleeping, frequent worry or blaming others for their problems.


Ricardo Valadez was not asked to undergo such an exam.


“I was found to be a fit parent,” Julie Valadez said of the initial custody order. “I was never found to be an unfit parent. They had provided no valid reason for me to have a psych eval.”


Aside from some therapy sessions together, she said, she hasn’t had any significant time with her one son for nearly a year and her other three children for several months.


Valadez avoided jail when the Waukesha County public defender’s office got involved and persuaded the Court of Appeals in September 2021 to quash the bench warrant and stay the jail term during her appeal of the custody decision.

She received additional help when, last fall, William F. Sulton, a Milwaukee civil rights attorney, agreed to represent her.



“The case is so unusual in that the judge tried to put her in jail,” Sulton said. “So I really believe she was at risk of losing her liberty.”



Said Sulton: “Unfortunately, the court system does not treat unrepresented people with the respect that they deserve. And so it is not uncommon to see judges and other lawyers singling out, with draconian measures, people who are unrepresented.”



In reversing Aprahamian earlier this month, the appeals court found that the type of contempt the judge used was “punitive” and not lawful — except in one instance when the judge used it to preserve order in the court when he took issue with Julie interrupting him. It vacated the three other contempt rulings.



Getting those rulings took months of perseverance, as Valadez chased down transcripts, switched attorneys, filed court documents and appeals and studied the intricacies of Wisconsin law and court procedures. She believes her appeals exacerbated tensions inside Aprahamian’s courtroom.



“They didn’t want this,” she said. “It’s a big deal to get reversed like they did.”

At the crux of the appellate court’s ruling in the custody case were the counseling sessions Ricardo Valadez attended as a result of his criminal case and Aprahamian’s decision to accept those as proof of rehabilitation even though they weren’t certified by the Wisconsin Batterers Treatment Providers Association.

Aprahamian’s replacement will now have to rule on custody and other related issues. Sulton said in an interview that the latest treatment program completed by Valadez should be disregarded because it came too late and is inadequate because there is no proof it reduces violence.


Still to be determined is when Julie Valadez can be an active mother to her children again.


“I just want to get my kids back,” she said. Their Christmas gifts, she said, are still waiting for them, by the fireplace in her apartment.


Who’s Electing Judges in the Cleveland Area? Not Those Ensnared in the System

Who’s Electing Judges in the Cleveland Area? Not Those Ensnared in the System

In Cuyahoga County, voting patterns have resulted in mostly White judges deciding the fate of mostly Black criminal defendants

By Rachel Dissell, Ilica Mahajan, Anna Flagg and Wesley Lowery
By Rachel Dissell, Ilica Mahajan, Anna Flagg and Wesley Lowery

This story is published in partnership with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit newsroom covering the U.S. criminal justice system. You can learn more about Testify or subscribe to follow our Cleveland reporting here.

Few people in Cuyahoga County wield as much power over as many lives as the 34 elected judges who preside over felony cases. These Common Pleas judges consider the cases of thousands of people a year, making decisions about bail, plea deals and sentencing. They determine who feels the full weight of the law and who receives leniency. 


But when it comes time for residents to vote those judges in — or out — of office, the people with the most at stake often don’t cast ballots.


Take Ward 5, a majority Black area about three miles east of Cleveland’s downtown Justice Center. In the past six years, an unusually high proportion of defendants listed the ward as their home address — the second-highest in the county. Yet just about a quarter of the ward’s registered voters marked a ballot for a judge in 2020. To put that into perspective, Ward 17 saw more than half of its registered voters cast a ballot for judge in 2020.


Attorneys, academics and people who have experienced the system firsthand offered fundamental reasons for low turnout: a glaring lack of useful information about how the courts operate and the individual track records of judges themselves, compounded by a deep distrust of the entire criminal justice system. That’s also what more than 40 residents told us in interviews conducted by the Cleveland Documenters, a group that pays people to attend local government meetings and gather civic information.


Christopher Thorpes, a community activist and lifelong resident of Ward 5, told The Marshall Project even though he has worked on political campaigns, he doesn’t vote for judges. Residents tell him, he said, that they know firsthand how unfair the system is, so why should they legitimize it? “Nobody wants to vote for a person who might end up locking them up,” he said.

Black residents of Cuyahoga County are arrested and sent to prison at disproportionate rates. To understand what role the court system — and its elected judges — play in these lopsided outcomes, The Marshall Project collected and analyzed more than six years of court data.


The Marshall Project spent months using tools to “scrape” the court records, one case at a time, from public internet dockets to assemble a database. We also compared defendants’ home addresses with county elections data to understand which voters were casting ballots in judicial races. We intend to use these analyses to answer questions we’ve gathered from community members and explore the points where injustice warps the system.

Here’s what we found:

  • Court outcomes worsen existing racial disparities. Though Black people make up only about 30% of the county’s residents, almost two-thirds of the people who are arrested by police and charged with felonies by prosecutors are Black. Then, after judges impose sentences, state records show three-quarters of people in state prisons convicted in Cuyahoga County are Black.
  • Individual judges make a big difference — for example, some judges almost never send defendants to prison for common charges like theft and low-level felony drug possession, while others incarcerate 30% or more.
  • While Cleveland residents make up two-thirds of defendants in the court, votes from the city account for less than a quarter of those cast in judges’ races. That means the vote in the predominantly White suburbs in judges’ races effectively carries three times the power of the vote in the majority Black city.

Voters have more power than they may think. If everyone who showed up to vote had cast ballots for judges as well, that could have swung the outcome in 9 of 15 contested judicial races since 2016 — without turning out a single additional voter.


Judge Brendan J. Sheehan, administrative judge of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, said there’s no straightforward way to determine the role of judges in sentencing disparities. “A wide variety of variables then comes into play with each case,” he said. “Simply put, there is a unique story behind each sentence that raw data cannot capture.


”Cuyahoga County’s voting patterns have resulted in mostly White judges deciding the guilt or innocence of the county’s mostly Black criminal defendants. Of the 34 judges currently on the bench in Cuyahoga County, 30 are White and four are Black.


The disparity in power between county and city voters creates a big problem, because few judges on the ballot understand the experiences of people who appear in court — often people of color living in the city, said Erika Anthony, who co-founded Cleveland VOTES.


“Essentially, our bench is dominated by White, Westside Irish Catholic individuals,” Anthony said, referring to the county’s long tradition of electing judges with the same Irish and Italian surnames, like Gallagher and Russo.

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 07: Christopher Thorpe, resident and community activist at a pubic rest area at the corner of E. 40th Street & Central Ave. December 07, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (CREDIT: Amber N. Ford for The Marshall Project)

Ohio, like most states, allows voters to elect its judges. Twice, in 1938 and 1987, attempts to switch back to an appointment system have appeared on the ballot, only to be soundly defeated.


But even after fighting to keep the right to elect judges, county voters consistently show up less often for judicial elections. Many judicial races in Cuyahoga County aren’t contested — 20 of the 35 county-level criminal court judicial races since 2016 had a single candidate. That often results in less participation in those elections and easy victories for incumbents.


“It’s almost impossible to vote out a judge,” said Jerry Primm II, who has managed and consulted on judicial campaigns and said there is an unwritten rule among local Democrats to never challenge a sitting judge. “And they know this. They’re keenly aware. They know they have that job for 30 or 40 years, depending on what their age is.


”Every voting precinct in Cuyahoga County — as they do largely across the country — sees a drop off in voting in judicial races. In November 2020, 29% of county voters marked their ballot for president, but not for judges. In a precinct in Cleveland’s predominantly Latino Clark-Fulton neighborhood, nearly half of voters who cast ballots in 2020’s presidential election left the judicial races blank. In contrast, in a precinct in the Ludlow neighborhood in suburban Shaker Heights, slightly more than 13% didn’t vote for judges.


It just isn’t possible for many voters to keep track of the multiple candidates and judges’ races, experts and civic leaders say.


A 2013 report by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association concluded “it is hard to conceive how even the most industrious and conscientious voter could possibly collect enough information to make informed decisions” — noting that the county has nearly 100 judicial elections each six-year period, with every voter eligible to pick judges at the local, county and state level.


“Voters kind of lose heart after a while,” said Lawrence Baum, emeritus professor of political science at Ohio State University. The sheer number of judicial races and the fact they fall to the bottom of the ballot increases fatigue, he said, and sends voters on “a desperate search for relevant information.


”State and local nonpartisan groups have stepped up efforts in recent years to give voters more information on judicial candidates, Sheehan said.


“I want as many people as possible who are eligible to vote to do just that,” Sheehan said. “We should pursue all avenues to get those voters the information they need to make informed choices.”

Fred Ward and team in KHNEMU Lighthouse Center during a meeting for Building Freedom Ohio in Cleveland, OH Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021 (Photo/Daniel Lozada)

Still, more than half of the 46 city and county residents interviewed by Cleveland Documenters said there wasn’t enough information available to help them decide which judges to vote for.


Those who voted for judges said they did research using campaign ads, news articles or websites like or, which rates candidates based on interviews with local bar associations. Often, those sources didn’t answer specific questions they had about candidates or measure how current judges were doing their jobs.


“I would like to know their records of how they sentence, and how strict they are, or how lenient they are, or if they are more prejudiced one way or another way,” said Sara R. Jackson, 79, of University Circle.


“There needs to be an unbiased committee, organization, agency or something that looks at their record –– reviews the judge’s performance,” said Donna Speigner, 56, of Warrensville Heights.


The chasm between who experiences the county’s criminal justice system and who elects its judges is most stark in Cleveland’s 7-V precinct, which includes the 350-bed men’s homeless shelter in a former metal sorting warehouse on a treeless stretch of Lakeside Avenue.


The downtown shelter makes this a unique voting precinct — many of the county’s people experiencing homelessness list it as their address both in court records and on voter registration forms. The precinct had by far the highest share of criminal defendants in 2018 and 2020 of any in the county, and also contributed one of the lowest shares of votes cast in judicial races.


About 80% of those homeless throughout the county are people of color. They also are highly likely to face the justice system, often for so-called poverty crimes, like falling asleep on a public bus, said Molly Martin, of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.


But despite their frequent contact with the justice system, Martin said homeless residents may not pay close attention to local races for powerful justice system players such as judges and county prosecutors. (The last time there was a contested county prosecutor’s race, in 2016, it garnered even fewer votes than the average judicial race.)


“If folks don’t have a consistent phone, or are living in survival mode, they’re not thinking about the election,” said Martin, who has helped lead voter registration efforts across the city during recent election cycles.


But not all areas with substantial numbers of defendants have low rates of voting for judges. There are pockets in Cleveland and the suburbs that are home to more court defendants but also vote for judges at above-average rates.


The Clark-Fulton neighborhood is home to St. Rocco, a century-old church built by working-class Italian immigrants, known for producing lawyers and revered judges, like Salvatore Calandra, who sat on the municipal court for a quarter of a century.


Today, voters in the precinct where the church stands no longer turn out in force to elect judges. Nearly half of voters in the precinct who cast ballots in last year’s presidential election left the judicial races blank. More than 1 in 20 adults in this precinct appeared before a judge between 2019 and 2020, one of the highest rates in the county.

Latinos now make up more than half the population in the neighborhood; residents speak Spanish in most of the corner stores. County voters got access to bilingual ballots about a decade ago, but only after the U.S. Justice Department threatened to sue the county’s Board of Elections.


Still, many residents are new to participating in elections for city council, mayor, and judicial races, said Selina Pagan, director for the Young Latino Network. Many likely “don’t even realize that they have power to shift these dynamics within our court system” by voting for judges, she said.


Cleveland’s Latino communities are not a monolith, she said. Puerto Rican residents often voted at much higher levels on the island, but may not feel a part of democracy in Cleveland, she said. Residents from Guatemala, Colombia or Mexico sometimes live in households with family members who are applying for U.S. citizenship or who are undocumented and can’t vote, so that habit isn’t naturally passed on to children.

Pagan sees this dynamic in her own family. “I still have to jump through hoops to talk about this stuff with my family because it’s exhausting to them,” she said. “They don’t have any hope in the system.


”Few judicial candidates prioritize campaigning in the community, which is mainly in Ward 14, perhaps because of the historically low turnout, Adam Davenport, a neighborhood planner, said.


“I’ve been working in the neighborhood for over ten years, and I’ve had maybe two judges make active efforts to come to block clubs,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a judge, maybe one, that had any campaign literature in Spanish.”


Thorpes said judicial candidates also rarely show up in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood, a majority Black stretch on the near east side of the city, which is thick with low-income housing complexes. He theorized that’s because voter turnout is historically low — less than 5% of registered voters in Central turned out in November’s mayoral election. That lack of engagement means fewer chances for residents to learn about the roles judges play in the system. Or to size up how the sitting judges have treated members of their community.

“If you want my vote, you need to get out. And you know what? Even let the people do a survey on you,” Thorpes said.

Common Pleas Judge William Vodrey, elected in 2020 after his second run, said he tried to campaign “anywhere I thought I might find voters,” whether the most affluent or the poorest neighborhoods in the county.


It was easier to do, he said, in places with already active Democratic ward clubs, most of which are in the suburbs. (Vodrey said he does remember attending one information session in Ward 5, which includes Central.)Vodrey said he sent out some campaign mailers in Spanish and Arabic. “I don’t know how many voters that might have reached,” he said. “But I thought it was important to meet people where they were at.


”Residents in Central have some of the most pressing reasons to care about which judges are elected. About 1 in 8 residents faced charges before a judge in the past six years, and that experience ripples out into the community, to their families and friends. It’s hard to expect people who are returning from incarceration or who have encountered police or courts to act alone to change the system, said Fred Ward, a founder of the Formerly Incarcerated Individuals Necessary Political Action Committee, which started interviewing and endorsing judicial candidates a little over a year ago.

It can be discouraging, he said, when formerly incarcerated residents see judges who they’ve found to be unfair get political endorsements and major party backing. “They don’t feel like they have a voice,” he said. Ward said that can shift with collective action. Ward’s PAC campaigned against Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell, who lost two bids for the Ohio Supreme Court, based on his decision to acquit Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo.


The officer stood trial after he and other officers fired 137 bullets into a car following a 2012 police chase, leaving two unarmed people, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, dead. Ward’s PAC also pushed for Issue 24, a police accountability ballot initiative that passed in November.


“People in power only care about two things,” Ward said. “Whether you have the capacity to keep them in power or whether you have the capacity to take them out of power.”

Testify is The Marshall Project’s investigation into Cuyahoga County’s Criminal Courts. Learn more about this project and how to contact us directly. Have questions? Attend our office hours on February 3rd or February 8th.


Thousands of prisoners caught in broken clemency system as Congress pushes Biden to make change

Thousands of prisoners caught in broken clemency system as Congress pushes Biden to make change

Biden has yet to process thousands of applications, members of Congress introduced the FIX Clemency Act to speed up that process

By Jared Sellick
By Jared Sellick

Sellick is a journalist and writer based in Tampa, Florida.

Congress Members and the president rode into office last year on the promises of passing serious criminal justice reform. But as the months passed, a slow walking administration and procedural hurdles led to growing frustration.


As even heralded policy agendas like Build Back Better, a social spending bill meant to address child care, drug pricing negotiations and green energy, and the rest of the President’s proposed agenda is left behind by the political grindstone in the Capitol, criminal justice reform seems to be falling ever further into the background.


However, a component of criminal justice reform can be implemented by the White House without a single vote from Congress. As of Feb. 2, 18,233 clemency petitions await processing at the Department of Justice. Many of the inmates sending these clemency petitions are non-violent drug offenders. 


If Congress is indeed incapable of passing any criminal justice reform legislation in the next year before the midterms the pardon power of the Presidency may be the President’s best bet at making a difference when it comes to mass incarceration. 


If the Biden administration takes up the challenge of processing this large backlog of clemency requests, he could make a difference in thousands of families’ lives. 


“If you had a fully staffed office of Pardon Attorney who was committed to reviewing petitions and you had a president who said ‘I want 100 petitions on my desk at the end of each month,’ I think we’d see better output,” the President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), Kevin Ring, said. 

Clemency is a power given to the President in the U.S. Constitution to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States.” Presidents are able to end imprisonment for people in the federal system. 


In 2021, the Biden Administration’s Justice department received 191 petitions for pardons and 2,952 petitions for a commutation of sentence, according to The Office of the Pardon Attorney. Among those petitions, zero were granted. The Biden administration rejected 63 pardon petitions and 1,128 commutation sentences in the year 2021.


A commutation of a sentence means the president only reduces the time served rather than completely wiping a record clean whereas a pardon completely exonerates a person of a crime. These pardons are often used after a sentence is already complete as well to clear the record of the ex-inmate. 


But the clemency process is slow and haphazard, as Trump demonstrated with his 143 pardons from Lil Wayne to Stephen Bannon in the waning hours of his presidency while in comparison, most inmates and their families wait years for their claim to even be processed much less granted. During the Trump Administration among the 10,109 clemency petitions filed,  7,498 were closed without presidential action and 98 clemency petitions were rejected. There were 94 clemency petitions granted. 


President’s have taken radical moves with the Pardon power before. During the Carter Administration, the President pardoned all draft dodgers of the Vietnam War. In theory this cleared the record of hundreds of thousands of young men, though the vast majority of draft dodgers were never charged. 

On December 10th of 2021, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) and Rep. Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY) announced legislation to attempt to expedite the clemency process called the Fix Clemency Act.

At the legislation announcement, Rep. Bush spoke directly to the incarcerated people that are impacted by the lack of urgency in the clemency system, “You are not inmates, you are not convicts or felons […] you are people who are incarcerated, people who deserve the right to vote, people who do not deserve to die behind bars, people with families who depend on them and people who need us to care, center and protect them.” 

These members of Congress are calling for a new, independent clemency board to replace the current Department of Justice process. The proposed board, which would be appointed by the executive branch, would be run by experts in behavioral health, rehabilitation, and reentry. 

The legislation would aim to expand access to the applications for clemency and would ensure that all applications would be reviewed within 18 months of the time they were submitted.

The board established by this legislation would have the power to compel federal judicial officers and federal agencies to give information that may be relevant to an applicant’s case.

The board would consist of nine members and would have to contain at least one individual who has been incarcerated in the past, one individual who has been directly impacted by crime, an individual who has served on a Federal defender organization and an individual who will represent the Department of Justice. 

The bill would have no ability to ensure that an incoming president would have to abide by the board that was created. Kevin Ring explains, “One concern we have about some of these bills is how prescriptive they get about the process the president needs to follow. The President can do what he wants. He can use a board, not use a board, or use existing systems,” he said.

“I’m not sure it’s congress’s job to tell them how to review these or what the process should be. I think that’s the President’s job. So, I appreciate the spirit of it and I think we’re all pushing in the same direction,” Ring added. 

Since the bill’s introduction on Dec. 9 2021, it has picked up little traction. Since its introduction, it has received 20 sponsors in the House of Representatives. The bill is currently in committee.


This legislation is a small part of a greater promise from all levels of the Democratic party to reform the American criminal justice system and like much of the Biden campaign’s agenda, its progress has been slowed by infighting and bureaucratic hurdles.


The obstacles are often cited by the Biden administration as the reason these agenda items cannot pass. Even without the implementation of this legislation, the Biden Administration could be more proactive with clemency applications.


“We want to see more clemency grants given and that would probably benefit from a better process,” Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said. “But I think what we lack is political will.” He thinks that the lack of political will to grant clemencies is a bigger problem than the process. 

“There’s a lot of focus among people about moving it out of the Department of Justice and into the White House, and I think that sounds great, move it to NASA for all I care, just get a President that wants to grant these things,” Ring said.


Presidents have been proactive in granting clemency in the past. The Obama Administration granted 1,715 commutations and 212 pardons, the majority of which took place at the tail end of his presidency. 


“Had he dedicated the resources to doing that throughout his eight years, he could have gone through the whole backlog,” Ring said.


Members of the Democratic Caucus in the house have made their requests for the President to take dramatic executive action for nearly a year. On Feb. 18, 2021, 35 members of Congress signed a letter requesting the president to pardon all Federal non-violent cannabis convictions.


But a year into his presidency Biden is not ramping up the number of clemencies he is granting. Perhaps he will have a similar blitz during his lame duck session like his predecessors did, but it is unlikely the administration would review every outstanding clemency application. 


The administration has been proactive in other regards, for instance the Department of Justice allowing prisoners to remain on house arrest if they were granted such accommodations due to covid. When it comes to clemency, President Biden has conformed to the status quo which leaves over 18,000 inmates waiting in prison for their applications to be processed.


“With his clemency authority, President Biden has a powerful tool available to him to reduce the federal prison population and to rectify the injustices created by the criminal legal system,” Pressley argued at the event announcing the FIX Clemency Act.


Christmas inside: a lifer’s look into how the holiday behind bars has changed

LJ Dawson created with assets from Spark

Christmas inside: a lifer’s look into how the holiday behind bars has changed

Over a million people in America will celebrate Christmas inside, we hear from one man in Pennsylvania

By Karim Diggs
By Karim Diggs

Karim has been incarcerated for 45 years in Pennsylvania prisons. He is an acclaimed legal prison scholar who has helped many prisoners find freedom in case appeals. He wrote about #BLM in August, and covid in May.

As a young man entering prison in 1976, my holidays were the most miserable while in the Philadelphia County Prison. While in Holmesburg Prison, I cried at night while laying in bed feeling like I was the loneliest man on earth thinking about how much my wife, family and friends were living without me. My thoughts surrounded the pain and suffering my wife had to endure.


We always had joyful loving times together and our newborn son was born Dec. 17, 1975. Holidays were my time to send cards and gifts to all the family. Once arrested, I continued sending cards to everyone with a note. There are really great artists in prison, and they are hired to make special cards and music boxes with candy inside. 


Sending cards every holiday would keep me happy and a part of the happiness associated with thanksgiving and Christmas, would also be receiving a lot of cards and even gifts. In the 1970s and 1980s we were allowed to have our families order and send clothing and certain gifts from stores. It was good for families to maintain some form of normal contacts that maintained some form of humanity. One compelling way I was able to have some sanity were the holiday events in the prison. Groups would come and perform. Also we had in house singing groups and that was part of the system of allowing prisoners to have some sense of being part of a community. Making phone calls, writing letters and dreaming about another day all played a part in my good health and sanity.

Additionally the meals were made in traditional holiday food and well cooked. At that period, the food was not processed and artificial. The institution used to give us holiday bags of goodies and a quart of Eggnog, but times changed.

The numerous colleges and teachers from the institution would bring holiday treats to the classes and have small holiday parties, and share poems, tell stories and sing.

These small acts of kindness and community gatherings were useful in maintaining peace and hope in prisons. It was not strictly about control but mental health. Humans function better when they feel connected to the national society. Holidays connect all of us, including prisoners.

The system has changed. We know longer have community groups bringing us their talent and fellowship.

Depression is at the highest I ever seen in my decades in prison. Covid only enhanced the mental strains and illnesses associated with depression and loneliness. The prison population is getting older each day, and more men are dying, getting more sick and existing without hope. Broken dreams and a broken heart contribute to disease and early death. For me, seasonal holidays remain a part of my joy and hopes. I think of my blessings and above all the joy of communicating with audiences and people such as you all.

With Warm Holiday thoughts, 

Karim Diggs 


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Punished and not let out

Pete with his granddaughter.

Punished and not let out

Struggles with alcohol landed this Montana man in the justice system, but what kept him there? 

By Pete Leek
By Pete Leek

Pete lives in Montana.

[Pete’s wife interviewed him. This is a summary from the full audio that is available to listen below. Pete has been reluctant to share his story due to fear of retaliation through parole, but he is now sharing hoping that his story will encourage change.]

"He felt like his defense lawyer was against him from the beginning"

Pete Leek’s addiction to alcohol eventually landing him in Montana’s State Prison. He was convicted of aggravated assault after threatening his ex-girlfriend in a drunken altercation. He started drinking at a young age after his mom kicked him out. He drank to drown out the pain, “It drowned [out] all my pain and everything I had growing up as a child. So I just kept drinking.” It cost him relationships with loved ones and his children, and then sent him to prison. He felt like his defense lawyer was against him from the beginning, scaring him with a maximum sentence of 150 years if he did not plea despite him having a completely clean record – minus killing a gopher on a ranch as a minor which was thrown out only after he spent over two months in jail.

He received 20 years with ten suspended. “Prison sucked,” he said. “It’s nothing but kids.” He was sent to Montana’s sole private prison, a CoreCivic facility. He said the medical care and food was horrible – chicken with feathers in it.  “They’re just money swindlers,” he said of the private corporation.

Pete said there were financial inconsistencies with a dog program from the Montana Inmate Well fair Fund that he believes originated from prison officials stealing money from the fund.

He was assaulted while in prison – kicked in the head 15 times – but simply stayed in his cell for a month to recover so he could avoid being thrown in solitary. The prison put three bunks to one cell which made it so crammed some inmates would act out just to go to solitary to be alone.

"When Pete got out after ten years, he was shocked"

After being denied parole twice, when Pete got out after ten years, he was shocked. The last time he saw people wearing yoga pants was when spandex raged in the eighties. “I almost passed out a couple times when I was in Walmart because my anxiety had me really freaked out.” He wants private prisons like the one in Montana where he experienced poor medical care and dental treatment to disappear.

“I wasn’t the monster they thought I was. It was just a bunch of alcohol."

Listen to the full interview here.


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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.

More Voices of Justice To Come

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.


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.


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.

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A wife’s fight to free her husband before it’s too late

A wife’s fight to free her husband before it’s too late

Over 130,000 cases of COVID-19 inside — a COVID-19 update

By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

Marsha Brewer holds a sign she made for a vigil outside of the Colorado prison her husband is held in. Jim is at high risk for COVID-19, but CO’s Gov. Polis has refused to extend executive orders that could release more people held at risk. Read more from me here: Colorado Springs Indy

“These jails and prisons are basically tinder boxes for infectious diseases that could be easily transmitted, usually via respiratory route,” Carlos Franco-Paredes, an associate professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, said.

Franco-Paredes listed the main reasons that jails, detention centers and prisons transmit COVID-19 at higher and more deadly rates than other places:

  • Poor ventilation in facilities

  • Close and tight spaces increase the R number (the number of people one infected person successfully passes the virus to)

  • Increased susceptibility to the virus compared to the general population

“[Incarcerated people] don’t have a choice to shield from the pandemic. And if you don’t do enough to protect them then… it’s the fault of the system.”

The Marshall Project is tracking cases in inmates and staff nationwide for each state:

Credit: The Marshall Project

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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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Redemption denied

Redemption denied

A Colorado woman’s search for clemency after 30 years inside

By Robin Farris
By Robin Farris

Robin Farris writes from prison at Denver Women's Correctional Facility

“We shall Overcome” epitomized the racial climate during the 60s. When these words were spoken, two questions arose: which class of people did “we” include, and what is inferred by “shall overcome?”

To me it meant that we shall overcome racial inequality, gender biasing, poverty, anti-Semitism, mass incarceration, disproportional prison sentences among African Americans, hatred, and all forms of discriminatory ideologies, and that to overcome any obstacles impeding forward progress we must take on a collective attitude. From the anguish of a single voice, “I can’t breathe,” emerged a new diverse generation of protesters this summer. This message traveled globally to affirm a 21st century intolerance toward racial injustice.

The death of George Floyd followed the disproportionate infliction of disturbing events upon African Americans. This form of systemic racism includes incarceration. African Americans must first jump over hurdles of prejudice when confronting the judicial system. The perspective of African Americans in this country follows those individuals into the courtroom. This stereotype typically assumes certain lifestyle choices like being a drug dealer, a prostitute or dependent on social assistance.

In 1991, I was sentenced to forty years in prison. But I am not a stereotype. I am a college graduate, and prior to my arrest, I was a group home counselor. I am also one of two African American women who have been incarcerated the longest in the state of Colorado — the last thirty years I have been incarcerated. 

"I am not a stereotype"

The origins of maltreatment against African Americans began centuries ago when slaves arrived on this continent. African’s Indigenous language became a concern for slave traders. Therefore it was concluded that all slaves should be silenced. The fear was their vocal protest, spoken in a language not understood by their capacitors. 

To prevent any uprising against enslavement, a device was created to silence those disembarking from slave ships. A crude metal clamp was fashioned with a locking mechanism. This device affixed around the mouth securing their lips shut. A practice referred to as muzzling. We witnessed the continuation of this practice as a Black man was face down on the pavement, straining to speak the words “I can’t breathe.”

In 1991, during my trial, the District Attorney instructed me to rise from my seat. My height, weight, and additional physical attributes, were displayed for the Caucasian jury. I felt dehumanized as if I were a slave placed on a block before auctioning began. I was left speechless.

Racial silencing enacted four hundred years ago is actually a modern day outcry for justice. Prison is not a social media like free speech environment. I’m determined to have my voice heard. Women sentenced to large amounts of time rarely reoffend which is often overlooked when reviewing requests for clemency. I have applied for Executive Clemency for a second time faced with this obstacle. Colorado has never selected a Black woman for clemency. Former Colorado Governor and current U.S. Senate candidate, John Hickenlooper, could have chosen to speak for those unable to do so by granting my clemency. He did not. 

The past cannot be the only catalyst for change. Inequalities taking place today should be a new inspiration for protest. Equal scales of justice must be restored. I am aware of the enormous variables that must be considered when determining who will be granted clemency. The highest level of rehabilitation must be met. Rehabilitation is synonymous with restoration.

Prison is a justified consequence for my actions. Three decades of incarceration has changed my soul. During the last three decades I have educated myself in juvenile law, computer aided drafting and business technology.

"Three decades of incarceration has changed my soul"

I was granted an academic scholarship from the University of Colorado Boulder. I’ve earned accreditation in counseling, totaling over 2,000 hours. Additionally, I was awarded numerous certificates signed by former District Attorney Council members. I pray my future allows me to return to usefulness outside of prison.

Whether it is said, “We shall Overcome” or “Black Lives Matter,” when the truth is finally realized will I be allowed to speak?


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A prisoner’s journey for freedom in the 21st century and the #BLM era

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What does America’s future look like to a legal scholar who has spent 45-years in prison

Karim Diggs has spent the last 45 years in prison. He is an acclaimed legal prison scholar who has helped many prisoners find freedom in case appeals. He wrote this essay for The Des this July.


PEOPLE from every part of the world came to America voluntary except Africans – we were forcefully made slaves. The distinction is important because this distinction was and still remains the defining trait that sets us apart from everyone else that came to America for a better life. Why must African Americans, after 400 years , the descendants of slaves, fight and debate the natural rights to be free?

Europeans under chains, guns brought Africans to the shores of this land to do the hard labor. The trauma had to be complete, before the American Experiment could even possibly work. 

If, one is to understand the level of violence and terror used to convince the weak European men to allow the shackles to be unlocked, we may be able to see how these four centuries of constant oppression by European Americans continues in 2020, and why a prisoner after 45 years still struggles for freedom and a safe place to breathe.

America’s Trauma

Psychological damage would naturally be a result from an entire life under dehumanization tactics systems, laws and rules established in law, religion and a heart full of hate. With the traumatic neuroses endured throughout the brutal status as a slave added to another 150 years of terror under the color of law, it is a miracle that one African American is sane or a productive human being.

The European believes they have a God given right to enjoy freedom and prosperity and to assign limits of freedom to others. This privilege is taken for granted by most European Americans consciously or unconsciously. The fact is society dictates this special place. Institutions reflect white supremacy.

A major flaw in every area of the freedom struggle is the failure to recognize the designer of slavery. The repression not only harmed the African but it polluted the white man’s mental health. 

This is Jane gifting products. Credit: This is Jane Project

His 400 years of violence against Black’s made the society addicted to violence as sport. This is why it’s so natural for a white police officer to kill Black’s all over America, and he is able to laugh at the video showing the violence.

There has to be a description of slavery, made so vivid that the descendants of slave owners can appreciate the effectiveness of the intended damage against Black people that was done.

At that stage the nation can evolve to the next step on working on some cures and substantial changes. The psychological trauma did not simply create hell on earth for the slaves, but it turned the slave owners and a nation into a system that was drowning in inhumane forms of violence. 

The Injustice System

The entire justice system is built on white domination and the thirteenth Amendment continues the slavery system. The argument whether “Black Lives Matter” is a testament that the same wicked mind that designed slavery still needs to be replaced by an inclusive system not made under white supremacy. 

There can never be a just system when the foundation was corrupted from the beginning. It is more problematic when only white folks developed and fashioned the system. These police, judicial and prison systems have been operated by white men for centuries.

Every aspect of the criminal injustice system carries the relics of slavery. It does not make much difference what the race of the public official is, he or she is shackled as the slaves were. There is no breathing room to change the culture, tradition, and character of the various institutions. 

America is sick. Many sick people do not know they are sick. There is far too much shame with mental illness. I am not speaking about individual mental illness, but the collective body that makes the country suffer the ills of a slave nation.

The BLM society of people is long overdo and we need to continue to seek ways to reform America. A few rule changes will not remake systems that are a haven for racists who hide behind the color of law. Systems are operated by human beings.

The prolonged institution of slavery continued in such a violent form that African Americans had to create ways to survive and escape unspeakable terror and violence. My grandparents had to come north for a better life. Unfortunately, the north and other parts of America inflicted the same forms of repression and violence. 

After all the injustices, the Black people still were not bitter and had no hate. This example of a divine character made white supremacy even more adamant to make life miserable for Black people. After slavery, the brutal, sadistic prison industrial complex was born.


It has taken a black man in slave handcuffs on the ground asking the police what is this all about and if he could get some air to breathe and then calling his Mother.

Do we continue to operate as business as usual? We need to get involved with change. It is time we design the type of world we want for our future generations. 

We the Black men have an obligation to ourselves to stop dehumanizing ourselves and sabotaging our struggle for freedom in this world. Yes, economic depression is driving the violence. And drugs has been our introduction to capital because nobody has or will give a Black man funds to enter the business world. This historical prevention to stop us from taking care of our family and community, is just the reason we should bind together to eventually conquer the abject poverty and discrimination we do not deserve.

 My 45-years of imprisonment has enabled me to see ,feel, study my own humanity and how I must become a new person within the world I did not design. In my journey, I have concluded we are collectively able to change the course in history and change the mind set, and in turn remake the society we are in.

The first change, must come from within each Black man. The sisters are there waiting on us! She has always been there and will continue to be. We have let her down, and she still champions our cause. She, too, was on the same slave ship, and she endured all the other indignities that captured women got in the hands of pirates.

We cannot continue to be led by old men sitting in all the halls of power. It is time to suggest to those in power that the Constitution is not the greatest document ever invented by mankind. We have to stop acting inferior. Harriet Tubman said she could have freed more, but they did not believe they could be free. 

We are able to make contributions. We built this place called America. We were the miracle, if not, why such determination to keep us a slave? We are the prize. Everyone knows this is evident but you.


Read more of Karim’s writing here.


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