D.C. Homicides Surge to a Decade-High. Change in D.C. Pretrial Detention Laws. Virginia Extends Youth Detention Stay. W. VA Closes Legal Gap on Stalking Crimes

justice from the frontlines: May 15, 2023

D.C homicides surge to a decade-high

Homicides in the District of Columbia have risen by 9% compared to last year, reaching the highest level in the past decade, with 76 deaths so far. The city has implemented a multi-pronged approach to tackle the issue. However, recent shifts in focus towards the role of police and the courts have ignited debates on effective solutions. The DCist (May 10, 2023)

Change in D.C. pretrial detention laws

MPD police in DC.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser plans to introduce legislation detaining more people charged with violent crimes pending trial to address concerns about repeat offenders fueling crime spikes. The proposal, announced during a Public Safety Summit, aims to revise existing laws allowing pretrial release. The DCist (May 10, 2023)

Children behind bars

Maryland has one of the highest rates in the country of prisoners sentenced as children, with a significant racial disparity, according to a report by Human Rights for Kids. Of the 1,132 prisoners in Maryland who were incarcerated as children, 90% are people of color, with 81.3% being Black. The Baltimore Banner (May 10, 2023)

‘Characteristics of an Armed Person’

Following a Baltimore Police shooting that critically injured a 17-year-old, concerns have been raised about the police phrase used to justify the initial interaction. The officer approached the teen, believing he ‘displayed characteristics of an armed person’. However, community members argue that such phrases are used to justify stops based on hunches and contribute to harassment. The Baltimore Sun (May 12, 2023) 

Lengthening lockdown

The Board of Juvenile Justice in Virginia quietly approved new guidelines that extend the length of stay for youth in the state’s juvenile correctional center. The guidelines went into effect on March 1st. Critics argue that the extended stays do not contribute to public safety and can increase recidivism. The Richmond Times-Dispatch (May 7, 2023) 

$2.4 Million for active shooter response training

Virginia’s ALERRT program, which trains first responders and civilians to respond during active shooter emergencies, has received $2.4 million in funding. The program provides evidence-based training to law enforcement agencies and civilians statewide. WUSA 9 (May 11, 2023) 

W. VA closes legal gap on stalking crimes

West Virginia has closed a stalking loophole with the signing of Senate Bill 132 into law. The bill, which went into effect on May 2, officially recognizes stalking as a crime in the state. WBOY (May 8, 2023)

Study group for developmental patients

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) is addressing concerns regarding the placement of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in state-run mental hospitals. Senate Bill 232 was passed to create a study group focused on recommendations for IDD patient diversion from prisons, jails, and court-ordered placements. The Parkersburg News and Sentinel (May 8, 2023)

in other news

Incarcerated individuals across the United States face higher prices for staple items such as peanut butter, soap, coffee, and toothpaste, while prison suppliers and departments of corrections profit from unregulated markups on items. The Marshall Project (May 2, 2023)

The White House has released a strategic plan to support rehabilitation and reentry of incarcerated individuals, while President Biden commuted sentences for 31 nonviolent drug offenders. ABA Journal (May 5, 2023) 

The Supreme Court’s ban on split-jury verdicts in serious crimes has resulted in divergent approaches, with Oregon reevaluating cases while Louisiana prosecutors resist, leaving prisoners affected by an unequal system and exacerbating racial disparities. NPR (May 14, 2023) 

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D.C. Jail Residents denied Life-Saving Care. Virginia’s Circuit Court Backlog Leaves Individuals Behind Bars. W. VA State Police Faces Disturbing Allegations

justice from the frontlines: May 1, 2023

D.C. Jail Residents Denied Life-Saving Care

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee filed a class action lawsuit against the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC) for failing to provide adequate medical care to residents of a D.C. Jail. The lawsuit details how residents with serious medical conditions miss life-saving medication and wait months or years for medical attention. The suit seeks a court order to improve the jail’s medical care system, ongoing monitoring and enforcement, and compensation for damages. The DCist (Apr. 26, 2023)

VA’s Only Private Prison Future Uncertain

MPD police in DC.

The Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) is considering whether to renew its contract with GEO Group to run the Lawrenceville Correctional Center, the state’s only privately operated prison. The current contract, which has been in effect since August 2018 and ends on July 31, has cost the company $4.3 million due to persistent staffing shortages. Virginia Mercury (Apr. 26, 2023) 

From Postponements to Prolonged Incarceration

The backlog of cases in Virginia’s circuit court system has worsened during the pandemic, leading to individuals being jailed for extended periods. Factors contributing to the backlog include case continuances, multiple trials, and a lack of available court dates. The pandemic further disrupted trials, leading to postponements and a surge in plea bargains to secure release from jail. The Virginian-Pilot (Apr. 27, 2023)

Beyond Hidden Cameras, Allegations Multiply

More allegations have emerged against the West Virginia State Police beyond hidden cameras in the women’s locker room of abuse, harassment, and sexual misconduct. Additional allegations have also surfaced including improper sexual relationships with instructors, physical assaults, and evidence of a cover-up. WOWK (Apr. 26, 2023) 

Eight Years After Freddie Gray’s Death

Freddie Gray’s death eight years ago brought attention to racial injustice and police brutality in Baltimore. While the movement has faded, grassroots initiatives have emerged to address community needs. Redevelopment is underway at Mondawmin Mall, and the Baltimore Police Department has made progress in complying with a federal consent decree. Maryland also passed the Police Accountability Act, promoting officer accountability and transparency. The Baltimore Sun (Apr. 25, 2023) 

Adnan Syed Appeals Conviction

Adnan Syed, of the “Serial” podcast fame, has requested a Maryland appeals court to reconsider his reinstated conviction and sentence. Syed’s attorneys argue that the court failed to require the presence of Hae Min Lee’s brother at a crucial hearing. The Baltimore Banner (Apr. 26, 2023) 

in other news

The Justice Department’s second-highest-ranking official, Lisa Monaco, called for the eradication of sexual abuse in federal prisons during a nationwide training for prison wardens. This comes after AP investigations uncovered flaws within the federal Bureau of Prisons, including a permissive culture that enabled abuse. AP News (Apr. 26, 2023)

Bipartisan legislation introduced aims to strengthen oversight of federal prisons, including provisions for a prisoner hotline to report misconduct, federal watchdog inspections, and response plans. ABC News (Apr. 26, 2023)

California and Texas face challenges in their juvenile justice systems, with California’s Attorney General criticizing the unsafe conditions in Los Angeles County facilities, and Texas lawmakers considering an overhaul to address abuse and mismanagement. The Marshall Project (Apr. 15, 2023) 

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is taking action to terminate seven employees for failing to conduct proper checks on a 16-year-old boy who died by suicide in a prison cell. Despite a history of suicidal behavior, Joshua Keith Beasley Jr. had been transferred to the adult prison system. The Texas Tribune (Apr. 25, 2023)

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More gun violence hits DMV; W. VA trooper placed video camera in female trainee locker room; Congress blocks DC police reform bill

justice from the frontlines: April 24, 2023

More shooting victims in Baltimore

Baltimore police are investigating a quadruple shooting in the Charles North neighborhood, all four men hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Police are searching for witnesses and cordoned off the area. The Baltimore Banner (Apr. 17, 2023)

House attempts to block DC police reform

MPD police in DC.

The House passed a resolution blocking a police accountability package in Washington, D.C. which includes a ban on chokeholds, access to officer disciplinary records and body camera video. This comes after Congress passed a resolution a month ago that overturned a D.C. law lowering penalties for certain crimes. NBC News (Apr. 19, 2023) 

Baltimore officer charged with assault in arrest

Baltimore police Officer Kevin Hilton has been indicted on second-degree assault and misconduct charges for shoving a handcuffed man into a patrol car despite his screams of pain. The man informed police that he had undergone knee replacement surgery and couldn’t bend or lift his leg. The officer has been suspended from his duties. The Baltimore Banner (Apr. 19, 2023) 

transgender women sues Baltimore jail system for prison rights.

Lawsuit filed for the poor treatment of transgender people in MD

A transgender woman Chelsea Gilliam filed a lawsuit against the state-run Baltimore jail system. She claims the jail placed her in an all-male dorm, allowed other detainees to sexually assault her and harass her. Her allegations echo the stories of others who testified before Maryland lawmakers to change the policies surrounding how transgender people are treated in prisons and jails. The Baltimore Banner (Apr. 19, 2023) 

Grand jury refuses do indict

A Fairfax County, VA grand jury did not indict a police officer who fatally shot 37-year-old Timothy McCree Johnson. Johnson was killed after being chased by police through a mall where he allegedly stole sunglasses from a store. Johnson’s family’s lawyer called the shooting an “execution.” Johnson’s mother believes her son would not have been killed if it weren’t for racism. The DCist (Apr 18, 2023)

Good time credits in VA go to court

The Virginia Supreme Court will hear two cases filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) challenging the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) over a reversal on earned prison sentence credits. The ACLU alleges the policy change was unlawful because it was not applied retroactively. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear both cases. The Virginian-Pilot (Apr. 20, 2023) 

W. VA state trooper placed camera in female trainees locker room

A second notice to sue the West Virginia State Police was filed by an attorney on behalf of five women who were training at the State Police Academy during the time a camera was discovered in the women’s locker room. The notice follows a state Department of Homeland Security investigation that revealed a senior state trooper placed the camera before March 2016, and that other troopers destroyed evidence in the form of a thumb drive containing video from the camera in the women’s locker room.  WV Public Broadcasting (Apr. 20, 2023) 

MD prisons severely understaffed

A new report by AFSCME Maryland Council 3 warns that Maryland prisons are facing a staffing crisis that threatens public safety due to “alarming levels of mandatory overtime, burnout and dangerous working conditions”. The union estimates that Maryland’s adult prisons would require the hiring of 3,417 new officers to reach safe staffing levels. The shortage has led to a higher number of violent assaults and other issues that have affected prisoner well-being and services like visitation and medical appointments. The Baltimore Banner  (Apr. 20, 2023) 

in other news

Officials involved in the 2019 shooting of Jacob Harris have been found to have made inconsistent or false statements, while Harris’s friends are facing murder charges; his father, Roland Harris, continues to fight for justice. The Appeal (Mar. 14, 2023) 

The Supreme Court ruled that Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed can seek post-conviction DNA evidence to prove his innocence in the 1998 murder of Stacey Stites. CNN (Apr. 19, 2023)

The Justice Department urges state and local judges to reduce fines and fees charged in their courts that disproportionately affect the poor, juvenile offenders, and people of color, calling the practice discriminatory and damaging. The New York Times (Apr. 20, 2023) 

community board

Gun violence at D.C. funeral; A new DMV non-profit hopes to stem shootings; VA Gov. takes away ex-felon voting rights

justice from the frontlines: April 17, 2023

Third mass shooting this year hits D.C.

In the third mass shooting in D.C. this year, four people shot, one fatally, at a funeral. Police Chief Robert Contee said several individuals were targeted, although authorities are unsure why. The shooter or shooters have not been identified. The DCist (Apr. 11, 2023)

Peace for D.C.

The non-profit organization Peace for DC aims to reduce shootings in Washington, D.C., by using “community violence intervention” methods, which seek to reduce violence without relying on police and the traditional criminal justice system. The program is also a diversion from the street teams of violence interrupters. The DCist (Apr. 11, 2023)

Held for 34 years for three murders one man could see release

Phillip Clements, who was convicted of murdering three people, is seeking to be released from prison after serving 34 years of his five consecutive life terms. While the victims’ family members are against his release, both prosecutors and the defense argue that Clements has clinically been deemed a low risk to society, has been substance-abuse-free for 20 years, and deserves a second chance. A decision is expected on May 8th. The Washington Post (Apr. 8, 2023)

AG’s team up

D.C. Attorney General Brian Schwalb aims to partner with his counterparts in Virginia and Maryland to form a regional response to the city’s gun violence issue. The proposal was in response to a letter from Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, who demanded action after a Virginia woman was murdered in her D.C. hotel room. WUSA9 (Apr. 14, 2023)

Youngkin limits the restoration of voting rights 

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is facing a federal lawsuit after slowing down the process of restoring voting rights for the formerly incarcerated. While Virginia is one of a small number of states where it’s up to the governor to decide whether people who’ve convicted felony offenses regain their right to vote, the last three governors had streamlined the process, but Youngkin has not specified his criteria for restoration. Critics say this is following a legacy of disenfranchising Black voters. NPR (Apr. 14, 2023) 

Forced exposure

A woman is suing the Portsmouth sheriff and a deputy after being forced to expose her genitals, along with at least one other female detainee, to prove they were menstruating at Portsmouth City Jail in May 2022. According to the lawsuit filed by Danaesha Martin, the deputy ordered the detainees to expose themselves as a condition of obtaining sanitary products. The Virginia Mercury (Apr. 11, 2023) 

W.VA whistleblower comes forward

West Virginia State Police Cpl. Joseph Comer came forward as the author of a five-page anonymous letter alleging wrongdoing within the department. The letter, sent to Governor Jim Justice, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and state lawmakers, alleged sexual assaults, thefts, and other misconduct. WBOY 12 (Apr. 12, 2023)

An end to pot stops

Maryland lawmakers passed a bill that prohibits police from using the smell of marijuana alone as a source of reasonable suspicion or probable cause for a stop or search. The Daily Record (Apr. 12, 2023)

in other news

New York City plans to deploy security robots, GPS launchers, and Boston Dynamics’ “DigiDog,” which was previously criticized and pulled from service, in its continued efforts to enhance public safety, according to Mayor Eric Adams. The New York Times (Apr. 16, 2023) 

A new plan for police and court system reform in Jackson, Mississippi, implemented by the predominantly white state legislature, was met with opposition in the primarily Black capital city. The New York Times (Apr. 10, 2023) 
The Army allowed soldiers charged with violent crimes to leave the military rather than face trial. When the soldiers leave the Army with a negative discharge, they avoid possible federal conviction and have little record of the allegations against them. Propublica (Apr. 10, 2023)

The eight Akron, OH officers who shot and killed Jayland Walker last summer won’t be criminally charged. A jury found that the officers actions were justified. The Akron Beacon Journal (April 17, 2023)

An 84-year-old white Kansas City, Missouri man was charged with two felonies on Monday after he allegedly shot a Black teenager who walked up to the wrong house to pick up his twin brothers. Reuters (April 18, 2023)

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