Still locked out of the ballot box

Still locked out of the ballot box

 An estimated 4.6 million Americans are still unable to vote due to felony records despite reforms

 

Despite eight states reforming their laws regarding felony disenfranchisement since 2020, two percent of the voting-age population will be unable to vote this election cycle, according to a new report from The Sentencing Project. Key findings include: 

  • One in 19 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.5 times greater than that of non-African Americans.

 

  • More than one in 10 African American adults is disenfranchised in eight states – Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Virginia.

 

  • The report conservatively estimates that at least 506,000 Latinx Americans or – or 1.7 percent of the voting eligible population – are disenfranchised.

 

  • Approximately 1,000,000  women are disenfranchised or over one-fifth of the total disenfranchised population.

"4.6 percent million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, a figure that has declined by 24 percent since 2016, as more states enacted policies to curtail this practice and state prison populations declined modestly."

On Tuesday, The Sentencing Project held a virtual press briefing to discuss the release of their new report, “Locked Out 2022: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights Due to a Felony Conviction.” Speakers discussed findings of the report, trends in felony disenfranchisement and how these findings will impact the upcoming midterms.

The new report, updates and expands on the 2020 report, “Locked Out 2020: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights Due to a Felony Conviction,” done by the Sentencing Project. 

Credit: The Sentencing Project

“It’s gotten much harder to estimate the number of people and the rates of those disenfranchised because each of these policies is quite a bit more nuanced than it has been in the past so we present these estimates with some humility,” Chris Uggen, lead author of the report said. 

Terrible racial disparities remain because of this issue. According to the study, about 5.3 percent of the Black voting age population remains disenfranchised and 1.7 percent of Latinx population remains disenfranchised.

Avalon Betts-Gaston, project manager for the Illinois Alliance for Reentry and Justice, spoke virtually at the press conference about her experience of being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to a federal prison for four years and how voting affected her after her sentencing.

“To lose that voice and that ability to parent my children was devastating to me,” Betts-Gaston said.

“Prior to that time I had been very active as a voter, I was making sure I was researching candidates,” Betts-Gaston said. She also describes coming from a family who was always involved and informed voters and how her grandfather made voting a big production in her family.

Betts-Gaston

“To lose that voice and that ability to parent my children was devastating to me,” Betts-Gaston said. 

This election year, there has been some concern about the impact of voting bans on people with felony convictions. 

“In reporting this issue one of my concerns is in the two weeks leading up to the election this concern or talk about ineligible voting can deter people from exercising their rights,” Uggen said. 

“So I think it’s very important to tell the whole story and explain that indeed people do have the right even when they may face some intimidation. We have to let people know in states where you are indeed eligible, that you are eligible.” 

“This is a national intimidation in my opinion, a national intimidation effort for those with arresting conviction records,” Betts-Gaston said.

There have also been concerns about what is next for voting in specific states, such as Florida. In Tuesday’s press briefing, a question was asked about if the voter suppression tactics are  a deterrent for the formerly incarcerated community, specifically in Florida. 

The Sentencing Project

“Because Florida is the current center of attention with regards to this issue, it is having that chilling effect on other states, especially in southern states,” Betts-Gaston said. 

"We should not have to do any of those things, our vote and voice should never be taken from us and that is where I’m moving and that is the direction our country must head." Betts-Gaston said

Betts-Gaston discussed how people shouldn’t forget about the people who have been prosecuted for this issue and serving time for voting. She describes it as “sending a clear message.” 

“This is a national intimidation in my opinion, a national intimidation effort for those with arresting conviction records,” Betts-Gaston said. 

Betts-Gaston said, “ When society was no longer able to just outright ban  [people of color] from voting, they came up with creative ways to do that and that was through the criminal punishment system.”

In addition to the report, the speakers expressed what needs to be done in order to move forward and combat this issue. 

“We need to get beyond the language of saying that somehow a felony disenfranchisement should be part of the punishment, we need to have that conversation,” Betts-Gaston said. 

“It does not serve any societal benefit. For that reason we should not be doing it. We should not have to prove that we paid our debt to society. We should not have to do any of those things, our vote and voice should never be taken from us and that is where I’m moving and that is the direction our country must head into because we have to start having real conversations.” 

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NUMBERS

Still locked out of the ballot box

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

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Mass incarceration punishes kids too

Mass incarceration punishes kids too

new report shows the devastation families face because of mass incarceration 

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.

 

The study reports that half of people in state prisons are parents to minors, leaving 1.25 million kids to cope with the fallout.  According to research done in state prisons, children of incarcerated parents face formidable cognitive and health-related problems throughout their development.

 

“If you have a parent that was incarcerated while you were growing up, you’re more likely to end up incarcerated yourself,” said Wanda Bertram, communications strategist for the Prison Policy Initiative. “There’s clearly a generational aspect to this.”

 

This causes challenges for parents, especially women when it comes to parenting behind bars. A survey of prison inmates by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that women are more likely than men to be a parent of a minor and more likely to have lived with the child prior to imprisonment.

 

“If you grow up and you have an incarcerated parent, you don’t have that source of support, you have one less person to help you get your first job, or find your first place to live, and even help you get connected with the healthcare system,” Bertram said.

 

“All things that we know help keep people on a stable path to adulthood and thus keep them out of the criminal justice system.”

 

While these children go through difficult times, it can be hard to find where they will go depending on if they have other family or not. The report found that 71% of children either stay with the other parent or step-parent, 13% stay with the grandmother and/or grandfather (4%) or another relative (5%). So far a small percentage of  parents reported that their child has been incarcerated. “About 3,400 parents in prison report their minor children are in the foster care system,” according to the report.

 

“Foster care is not a very good system, there’s lots of problems with it,” Bertram said. “It tends to frequently tear people away from their families.” Bertram added that trauma can lead to behaviors that are often criminalized such as skipping school.

 

Even if incarcerated parents try to stay in touch while behind bars, barriers like visitation policies and distance make it logistically and economically difficult.

 

“As a result of this, people have to rely on other means of communication such as phone calls, video calls and mailing options,”  Bertram said.

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Racial disparity on incarcerated people declined 40% since 2000

Racial disparity on incarcerated people declined 40% since 2000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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UPenn study reveals bail reform successfully reduces number of people imprisoned

UPenn study reveals bail reform successfully reduces number of people imprisoned

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Paul Heaton, University of Pennsylvania Quattrone Center

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

Overall, the data revealed that after the injunction: 

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

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

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

The data ultimately found that, following the injunction:

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

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

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

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New report finds rise in arrests didn’t slow an explosion of meth use and overdose deaths across America

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New report finds rise in arrests didn’t slow an explosion of meth use and overdose deaths across America

From 2015-2019, the data studied showed arrests rose in 40 out 43 states by an average of 80% in each state, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ new report

By LJ Dawson
By LJ Dawson

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

Despite a rise in arrests for possession of meth, both the use of meth and subsequent overdose deaths skyrocketed from 2015-2019, according to a new report from The Pew Charitable TrustsThe report found that arrests for meth possession increased by almost 60% across the country while people using meth rose by 37% and overdose deaths more than doubled.

Earlier research from Pew showed that drug arrests overall did not drop from 2009 to 2019 despite lower arrest rates for cannabis. This was due to higher rates of arrest for meth. This inspired them to look deeper into drug use by type of substance across the country, according to Tracy Velázquez, senior manager for safety and justice programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

 

“This is not a problem that because you live in a state that hasn’t traditionally had a big meth use problem you can ignore,” Velázquez said.

 

The Pew analysis found that more than 2 million people used meth in 2019, the most recent data available, and half of those users qualified for substance use disorder, meaning that meth use significantly impacted their ability to function. In 16 states, at least 1 in 100 adults used meth in 2019.

 

“Meth use is growing across the country, overdoses are growing across the country, and policymakers and states that have not traditionally thought about it as a problem they need to deal with, they need to start thinking about dealing with it,” she said.

“Lacking other tools to deal with this growing meth problem, communities are hoping that they can arrest their way out of it."

Tracy Velázquez, senior manager for safety and justice programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other studies and reports show that overall drug use and overdoses continue to rise since the pandemic. Preliminary data reported 1 in 3 drug overdose deaths nationwide involving meth in 2021, compared with 1 in 4 in 2019.

 

And the meth people are using is deadlier. Overdose deaths more than doubled from 2.1 to 5.6 per 100,000 people. Part of this is due to meth contaminated with fentanyl. Deaths involving fentanyl more than quadrupled from 7% to 31% over the five years.

On average, meth possession arrests rose almost 80% across the country. They more than doubled in nine states and rose in 40 out of 43 states. Ohio, Illinois, New York and Nevada lead the country with increases over 200%. 

 

“Lacking other tools to deal with this growing meth problem, communities are hoping that they can arrest their way out of it,” Velázquez said.

 

Previous research shows that increasing arrests for drug possession does not lead to a reduction in drug use. Velázquez said there is no reason to think that targeting meth use through arrests would work this time around. She said that they hope the report encourages the federal government to develop and research novel treatments such as a Narcan, which counteracts opioid overdoses, for meth overdoses.

 

Velázquez also pointed to harm reduction strategies which address underlying mental health issues that spur self-medicated illicit drug use and also attempt to reduce the risk of drug consumption such as supervised drug use sites. 

Tracy Velázquez, senior manager for safety and justice programs at the Pew Charitable Trusts

“We feel that it’s a sort of an inflection point, where how we address the issue of meth use going forward can make a big difference in what this looks like, five years from now,” Velázquez said.

 

“I am hopeful that substance use disorder is seen as a health issue that isn’t someone’s fault. It’s not a personal failing, but rather a result of both their own biology and environment.”

 

Read the full report here.

credit: Pew Charitable Trusts
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Drugs

A 4/20 Tale of two countries

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

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Incarcerated people are more likely to be sick and less likely to receive care

New survey from the Prison Policy Initiative reveals chronic lack of care before and after incarceration

Summary By: LJ Dawson & Natalie Mattson
Summary By: LJ Dawson & Natalie Mattson

The Study's Critical Points

People who get locked up are more likely to be dealing with chronic health issues and less likely to receive care than the general population. Being incarcerated also creates additional health issues due to the poor conditions of jails and prisons.

 

Often not the worst but the most vulnerable people end up in prison. The same factors that lead to run-ins with law enforcement often mean these people are not able to access regular health care before they get locked up.

 

People inside face many barriers to care whether they deal with substance use disorders, mental health needs, disabilities and even pregnancy.

 

According to a new report released by the Prison Policy Initiative, state prisons do not meet their requirement to provide for the essential needs of people they incarcerate.

 

“As a result, people in state prison are kept in a constant state of illness and despair,” Lee Wang, the author, wrote.

 

The survey found that 80% of people in state prisons diagnosed with hepatitis C still have it despite it being highly treatable. “Reflecting the unwillingness of state prison systems to provide appropriate treatment, even at the expense of public health,” Wang wrote.

 

Half of people in state prisons didn’t have insurance when they were arrested compared to a mere 8%of the general population that does not have insurance. Over a quarter of people coming to prison also have a chronic health condition. These conditions like diabetes, which a higher number of inmates have than the general population, are exacerbated by poor care and food inside prisons.

 

Women and native people face the highest rates of mental illness. More than half of people in state prisons have some sign of mental health issues, according to the report. The report points to policy failures: the government “[…] chipped away at the social safety net and accessible community-based treatment for years, while spending on the carceral system has increased.”

 

The lack of community based solutions to substance use disorder also funnels people into prisons where they lack access to treatment. Half of people in state prisons who have a history of drug use also have one or more mental health issues. A large number of people inside also have a disability, 40% nation wide and 50% of women in state prisons.

 

The report suggests that stakeholders should improve the actual conditions of incarceration that make people sick  or sicker, create better oversight and move older people out of prison permanently.

 

“Finally, while this should be obvious, addressing bad policy and creating better prison policies must not come at the expense of non-carceral, community-based solutions,” the Wang wrote. “States must curtail their reliance on police, jails, courts, and prisons as solutions to social and public health problems.”

VISUAL Breakdown

Above: A graphic depicting that one in five people in prison have gone without a single healthcare visits since being locked up.

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Nearly 150,000 incarcerated mothers spent mother’s day apart from their children​

Many are incarcerated awaiting trial simply because they can’t afford bail.

We go to the Prison Policy Initiative for an insight into mothers in prison. Below are excerpts from the study.

Summary By: Natalie Mattson
Summary By: Natalie Mattson

The Study's Critical Points

  • 58% of all women in U.S. prisons are mothers

 

  • 80% of women in jails are mothers, 55,000 women who are pregnant when they are admitted to jail.

 

  • An estimated 58,000 people every year are pregnant when they enter local jails or prisons.

 

  • Roughly 570,000 women living in the U.S. had ever been separated from their minor children by a period of imprisonment as of 2010.

 

  • An estimated 1.3 million people living in the U.S. had been separated from their mothers before their 18th birthdays due to their mothers’ imprisonment, also as of 2010.

 

  • The 1.9 million women released from prisons and jails every year have high rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness

VISUAL Breakdown

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Only 138 commutations have been granted since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020​

It took nearly 100 days into his second year in office for Biden to act on his promise and grant clemency to a single person. We go to the Prison Policy Initiative for an examination of states’ and federal government’s use of commutations, which reduce a person’s sentence.

Below are excerpts from the study.

Summary By: Natalie Mattson
Summary By: Natalie Mattson

The Study's Critical Points

April 26th, 2022: President Joe Biden commuted the federal sentences of 75 people convicted of “nonviolent” drug charges. The President has the executive power to grant commutations and other forms of clemency.

  • Many of the people receiving these commutations had already been released on house arrest due to COVID-19.
  • As of April 1st, 2022, there were around 15,000 applications for a commutation of sentences.
  • 10% fewer people were released from state and federal prisons in 2020 than 2019.
  • Compared to recent presidents (excluding President Obama), Biden’s commutation of 75 sentences is high. Presidential commutations were historically more common.
 
Prison Policy collected data on the commutation process of eight northeastern states.
 
  • 210 commutations were granted from 2005 to mid-2021 across all eight states.
  • 1 out of every 10,000 sentenced and imprisoned people across these states is granted commutation each year, an average of 13 people per year.
  • Connecticut had a 2.2% commutation grant rate from 2016 to 2017.
  • 24 people were granted commutations in Maine from 2005 to mid-2021.
  • There was no data on any commutations granted in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or Vermont from 2005 to mid-2021.
  • 2010 was the last time a person has been granted a commutation in New Hampshire.
  • 37 out of 14,735 commutations have been granted in New York since 2005.
  • 7 commutations were granted in Pennsylvania between 2005 and 2018.

VISUAL Breakdown

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People can face felony murder charges for people they didn’t kill in 14 states

Since 1985, 11 people have received the death penalty for their participation in a felony where their co-defendants committed a homicide. We go to the Sentencing Project for a study for a study on felony murder.

Below are excerpts from the study.

Summary By: Natalie Mattson
Summary By: Natalie Mattson

The Study's Critical Points

VISUAL Breakdown

Resources

A 4/20 Tale of two countries

Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform. Racial Disparities in Arrests Persist Even in States That Legalized or Decriminalized Marijuana.We go to the ACLU for a study on weed related arrests

Below are excerpts from the study.

Summary By: Natalie Mattson
Summary By: Natalie Mattson

The Study's Critical Points

  • The overwhelming majority of marijuana arrests — 89.6% — are for possession only.

 

  • Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession, notwithstanding comparable usage rates. 

 

  • The increasing number of states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana has not reduced national trends in racial disparities, which remain unchanged since 2010.

 

  • In every single state, Black people were more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in some states, Black people were up to six, eight, or almost 10 times more likely to be arrested.

 

  • In 31 states, racial disparities were actually larger in 2018 than they were in 2010.

 

  • Montana, Kentucky, Illinois, West Virginia, and Iowa were the states with the highest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates. 

 

  • In legalized states, arrests for marijuana sales also decreased greatly from 2010 to 2018 (81.3%).

 

  • Sales arrest rates also dropped in decriminalized states, although to a lesser degree (33.6%).

 

  • Marijuana possession arrest rates have dropped by approximately 15% from 2010 to 2018, resulting in a decrease in the national arrest possession rate, from 250. per 100,000 in 2010 to 203.88 per 100,000 people in 2018.

 

  • Marijuana arrests also accounts for more arrests than for all violent crime combined. In 2018, 43.2% of all drug arrests were for marijuana offenses. 

VISUAL Breakdown

Resources