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

justice on the frontlines: Oct. 24, 2022

juveniles imprisoned at adult prison

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

baltimore teens shot at high rates

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

inmates now a protected class

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

deaf man killed in jail

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

avoiding records for the rich

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

protecting pregnant women in jail 

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

injustice delivered

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

competency questioned, still executed

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

colon cancer kills incarcerated man

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

armed robots to be used as lethal shotguns 

pregnant inmate

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

mishandling nitrogen hypoxia documents

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

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supreme court rejects retrial request due to racism for Black death row prisoner, lack of medical examination kills incarcerated woman, covid relief funds bought police sniper rifles and bonuses, parkland shooter avoids death penalty

justice on the frontlines: Oct. 17, 2022

Rejected by Supreme Court 

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court turned away a Black death row inmate’s appeal for a new trial due several jurors expressing opposition to interracial relationships during his court case. Andre Thomas was convicted of murdering his estranged wife, their 4-year-old son and his 13-month-old step daughter. Thomas denied guilt. He gouged his eyeballs out twice and ate one of them. The prosecutors agreed he was in a psychotic state when he committed the murders, but Thomas was still sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Thomas’ lawyers argued that there was jury bias because three jurors said they were against interracial relationships during the jury selection process. NBC News (Oct. 11, 2022)

VA prisons could save $28M

A new report laid out recommendations for Virginia prisons to cut the cost of phone calls and basic goods. The report released earlier this month included feedback from various prison reform advocacy groups, incarcerated individuals, members of the Virginia General Assembly and others. The policy change could save the state more than $28 million annually. The report also recommends giving incarcerated people at least 120 minutes per day of no cost phone calls, making visitation video free, and increasing daily spending on prison food from $2.20 per person to $4.00 per person. State lawmakers ordered more information on the report ahead of the 2023 session where they may take further action on these recommendations. DC News Now (Oct. 10, 2022)

Supreme Court hears death row case 

Rodney Reed, whose claims of innocence drew millions of Americans to pay attention to his death row sentence, appealed to the Supreme Court last week to force Texas to test DNA evidence. A decision is expected sometime next year. Reed was convicted by an all-white jury in 1998 of the rape and murder of Stacey Stites, a 19-year-old white woman. Despite mounting evidence that her fiancé killed her, he has stayed on death row for decades. The supreme court is deciding whether Reed waited too long to ask for the DNA tests. The Intercept (Oct. 9, 2022)

cancer kills incarcerated women

An incarcerated woman died from cervical cancer which went undetected because she didn’t receive a Pap smear for 10 years while in prison. Niccole Wetherwell’s death highlights the lack of medical record upkeep by the Nebraska department of corrections despite a 2015 state law requiring that they update and complete medical records. Various proposals and attempts to create or acquire an electronic health record system as a solution have produced little progress. Omaha World-Herald (Oct. 12, 2022)

covid relief bought police sniper rifles 

The city council in Independence, Missouri reallocated $2 million in federal covid relief funds to police who spent it on sniper rifles, ballistic helmets and officer bonuses. Without federal guidelines, local jurisdictions spent covid funds where they chose. Because almost any spending can qualify as covid relief, police agencies are using the covid funds to fulfill their needs. Correctional institutions purchased body scanners, surveillance systems and built new prisons. The Marshall Project (Oct. 13, 2022) 

charges dropped

On Tuesday, Baltimore prosecutors abruptly dropped murder charges against Adnan Syed, the man whose case captured worldwide attention with the hit podcast “Serial.” The move caught the family of the victim and officials in Maryland by surprise. Charges were dropped due to other DNA on the victims shoes. The victims family didn’t receive a notice about the hearing and their attorney wasn’t offered an opportunity to be present at the proceeding. The Baltimore Banner (Oct. 11, 2022) 

death penalty avoided

The Parkland school shooter has avoided the death penalty after the jury rule for life in prison without the possibility of parole. The jury recommended this decision after a months-long trial to decide Nikolas Cruz’s punishment. Parents of the victims feel he doesn’t deserve compassion for what he did to the students. Prosecutors asked the jury to sentence the gunman to death because it was premeditated and calculated. CNN (Oct. 13, 2022) 

returning to the free world

Formerly incarcerated Texans are facing hardships to restart their lives after leaving prison. Without much help from the state, the Next Chapter program in Lufkin is stepping in to help recently released people to get back on their feet. The program helped like Maurice Watts to get a job without a college education. They helped him develop reading and communication skills. They also gave him a short-term loan for gas and food. The Texas Tribune (Oct. 12, 2022) 

arranging prisoner swap 

U.S. basketball star Britney Griner has been struggling emotionally, and she is worried that she may not be freed from Russian prison. One of her lawyers said that she is not in good condition. On Wednesday, President Biden stated that there has been no movement with the Russian president on her case. A White House official said that the administration was trying every available channel with Moscow to arrange a prisoner swap. If Griner’s appeal is unsuccessful, she will not be released. New York Times (Oct. 12, 2022) 

unannounced and without a warrant

Each year, child protective services agencies inspect the homes of roughly 3.5 million children without warrants, while only 5% of those homes have had children that are physically or sexually abused. New York City’s child protective service bureau showed up unannounced and without a warrant to search Ronisha Ferguson’s home after she was accused of inadequate supervision due to working long hours. They are being harmed rather than saved. Most of these children are forced to watch their moms and dads be humiliated, powerless and turned into second-class citizens in their own homes. ProPublica (Oct. 13, 2022)

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