Will the Mass Bail Out Movement Prod Reforms?

Last October’s well-publicized bailout of 105 New Yorkers who were awaiting trial is now history. But a volunteer who participated says it underlines why changing America’s pretrial detention system should be a high priority.

It was called an irresponsible experiment or even lunacy, but the “mass bailout” organized last fall in New York City by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights (RFKHR) can claim some success.

The month-long Mass Bail Out Movement (MBO) last October attracted widespread press attention, as well as 1,200 volunteers and about $2 million in funding support to underwrite early release for 64 adult women and 41 high-school-aged males from the city’s Rikers Island facility and other county jails.

mass bailout

About 1,200 volunteers participated in the Oct. 18 mass bailout event. Photos courtesy Revolve Impact.

There are no plans to do it again, in New York City at least, but the effort to awaken Americans to the need for rethinking pretrial detention, and more specifically bail, is only just beginning.

The event was “a single, time-limited, collaborative action,” said Sierra Ewert, a Program Director at RFKHR, adding it was intended to “call attention to the unjust and inhumane system of money bail, model alternatives to pre-trial incarceration, and increase the pressure to close Rikers and pass the structural reforms needed to end wealth-based detention and unjust pretrial incarceration.”

That may sound over-ambitious, but the organization plans to work with coalitions such as #FREEnewyork led by Just Leadership USA and the #CLOSErikers campaign, as well as share lessons learned with partners engaging in bail outs as a tactic.

Updated reports on those bailed out are still pending as their cases remain open.

But critics are wasting no time to judge the results of the MBO and downplay the significance of what actually happened. The New York Post called attention, for example, to the numbers of those bailed out who did not show up for their court dates.

These are the facts that observers tend to focus on. They are tangible, measurable, and a means through which the movement can be either praised or condemned.

But focusing on the individuals affected is the wrong way to look at what happened last year.

The target is the system itself—and the issue at the top of the agenda for all Americans is to reform how individuals awaiting trial are handled by our justice system—an effort which is now getting broad bipartisan support across the country.

See also: “End of Pretrial Growth Era in Sight, says Advocate

I was one of the volunteers for MBO, and my experience underlines why this movement demands expansion.

I spent a morning at the Brooklyn House of Detention, a nondescript building in Brooklyn, N.Y., situated on Atlantic Avenue, one of the borough’s main streets. With its windows covered in black paint, the building sits across from a Michaels store, an outlet of a retail chain that sells yarn, beads and other accessories to hobbyists.

It makes for an ironic counterpoint, as if the first stop for those recently released will be to pick up yarn for their knitting project later that day.

I waited in the room where individuals wait for surety forms to be processed or for released inmates to receive their belongings. Uncomfortable and horribly lit, against one wall of the room there’s a wooden bench. Lining another one are three school-like plastic chairs, one of which has a black shoelace that has collected enough dust to suggest it had been there for some time.

The stride and demeanor of each person who walks into the room makes obvious which window is being visited.

The woman bailing someone out keeps her friend on speaker phone during the 45 minutes she waits for her bail to be processed. She clutches a white crinkled envelope, struggling to manage holding her phone, purse and Mountain Dew. A few hundred-dollar bills peek from inside the envelope. It seems like she’s done this before.

But few in the room are able to adopt the woman’s seemingly nonchalant attitude.

There’s a young man, for instance, who is growing increasingly frustrated as he waits. He has a job interview at 12:00 pm, and it’s already 11:00. He paces the small room as the woman behind the property pick-up window dispassionately tells him no, he cannot have his driver’s license back at this time.

The woman posting bail does not look up as he begins to raise his voice. She speaks louder into the phone so that her friend can hear her clearly. After some time he leaves with no ID and a cancelled job interview, exasperated and too frustrated to contest further.

A few minutes later she is called to slip her white envelope under the window and leaves too.

The room is quiet, apart from the sound of shuffled papers coming from the two women sitting behind their respective windows that stand less than six feet from each other. Sunlight streams through the window of the door and the warmth feels out of place.

A Symbol of Freedom and Imprisonment

This room is a symbol of freedom and imprisonment: a space where one can come to free their loved ones from the jail of poverty as well as the place where those same loved ones come to collect their belongings.

And long after the mass bailout movement has ended, the anomalous existence of this room keeps on.

New York City’s pretrial population averages about 7,500. Over half of this demographic is unable to afford bail.

The MBO was a reminder that poverty is criminalized in this country.

While the young man who was waiting for his papers may have received a temporary reprieve, he still missed his job interview—making his chances of escaping the poverty that was a factor in his brush with the law slim.

He missed what might have been his first and best chance at moving past his incarceration. And he missed it because, as the woman behind the window impatiently explained to him, he did not have the paperwork or parole officer’s permission to get his driver’s license back—as if a driver’s license is correlated to crime, as if the woman behind the window and the parole officer assigned to him had the right to withhold his identity.

Olivia Heffernan

Olivia Heffernan

Immediate freedom may be bought in this small room, but the residual consequences of being justice-involved remain bleak.

The MBO made clear that the status quo can be challenged. But it will take a lot more than one-time events to end the injustices visible in that room, and beyond that, to end a system of money bail and pretrial detention that harms everyone it touches.

Olivia Heffernan is a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), where she studies human rights law and journalism.  She also works part time at the Marshall Project and the Columbia Justice Lab. Visit her website at: livheffernan.com.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Pays $280K Settlement for Rikers Anti-Gay Attack

According to a press release from the victim’s attorney, Thomas Hamm, a visitor to the Rikers Island facility, was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs. Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst.”

The City of New York was ordered on Wednesday to compensate a visitor to Rikers Island who was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs, according to a press release from the victim’s attorneys.

“For decades, the corruption and abuse at Rikers Island targeting incarcerated LGBT people—most of whom are black and brown—has gone unchecked. We are hopeful this resolution will make it harder for this kind of discrimination and brutality to continue,” said David B. Rankin, Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP Partner and Lambda Legal’s Co-Counsel in the case.

Rikers

The Rikers Island jail complex in New York City . Photo by David Oppenheimer via Flickr

According to the federal lawsuit, Thomas Hamm was visiting his boyfriend at Rikers in 2014 when two corrections officers on duty ordered them to stop holding hands, while other visitors were embracing their loved ones, calling them “faggots” and saying “you’ll burn in hell” before abruptly ending the visit.

As Mr. Hamm was leaving, the two officers grabbed him, repeatedly punching and kicking him, the complaint alleges. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where he was diagnosed with facial fractures and head trauma.

The lawsuit also contends that supervisors tried to cover up the beating by accusing Hamm of provoking the attack, and arresting him. The charges were later dismissed.

Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst”despite efforts from lawmakers and officials to address the longstanding history of brutality and corruption at the facility.

“Women and men have reported being forced to strip down to their underwear, show officers their genitals, suffer through inappropriate touching of their breasts and genitals, and undergo cavity searches—even though these searches are directly in violation of Department of Correction (DOC) policy,” said the study.

Rikers, the nation’s second-largest jail after the Los Angeles County facility, has been the center of heated controversy over conditions inside the complex and alleged “torture” of inmates by guards. A commission headed by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman recommended closing Rikers, and in August Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to close the facility by 2027, replacing it with a “modern community-based jail system that is smaller, safer, and fairer.”

This summary was prepared by TCR Depuity Editor-Investigations Victoria Mckenzie.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Pays $280K Settlement for Rikers Anti-Gay Attack

According to a press release from the victim’s attorney, Thomas Hamm, a visitor to the Rikers Island facility, was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs. Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst.”

The City of New York was ordered on Wednesday to compensate a visitor to Rikers Island who was beaten by two corrections officers hurling anti-gay slurs, according to a press release from the victim’s attorneys.

“For decades, the corruption and abuse at Rikers Island targeting incarcerated LGBT people—most of whom are black and brown—has gone unchecked. We are hopeful this resolution will make it harder for this kind of discrimination and brutality to continue,” said David B. Rankin, Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP Partner and Lambda Legal’s Co-Counsel in the case.

Rikers

The Rikers Island jail complex in New York City . Photo by David Oppenheimer via Flickr

According to the federal lawsuit, Thomas Hamm was visiting his boyfriend at Rikers in 2014 when two corrections officers on duty ordered them to stop holding hands, while other visitors were embracing their loved ones, calling them “faggots” and saying “you’ll burn in hell” before abruptly ending the visit.

As Mr. Hamm was leaving, the two officers grabbed him, repeatedly punching and kicking him, the complaint alleges. He was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, where he was diagnosed with facial fractures and head trauma.

The lawsuit also contends that supervisors tried to cover up the beating by accusing Hamm of provoking the attack, and arresting him. The charges were later dismissed.

Earlier this year, the Jail’s Action Committee released a report maintaining that conditions for visitors to Rikers “continue to be discouraging at best and traumatizing and violent at worst”despite efforts from lawmakers and officials to address the longstanding history of brutality and corruption at the facility.

“Women and men have reported being forced to strip down to their underwear, show officers their genitals, suffer through inappropriate touching of their breasts and genitals, and undergo cavity searches—even though these searches are directly in violation of Department of Correction (DOC) policy,” said the study.

Rikers, the nation’s second-largest jail after the Los Angeles County facility, has been the center of heated controversy over conditions inside the complex and alleged “torture” of inmates by guards. A commission headed by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman recommended closing Rikers, and in August Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to close the facility by 2027, replacing it with a “modern community-based jail system that is smaller, safer, and fairer.”

This summary was prepared by TCR Depuity Editor-Investigations Victoria Mckenzie.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Justice Reform Subverted by Politics, says Bill Moyers

When prosecutors and judges are turned into vote-seekers, efforts to develop more humane approaches to punishment and law enforcement suffer, the veteran TV journalist said in an interview aired on CUNY’s “Criminal Justice Matters” program Tuesday. He charged that the Trump administration’s “tough on crime” rhetoric has made things worse.

Political “ambition” and rhetoric have subverted efforts to reform the U.S. criminal justice system, says veteran TV journalist Bill Moyers.

“No other nation in the world permits its justice system to be organized around political ambition,” Moyers said in an interview aired Tuesday on CUNY-TV, the public network operated by the City University of New York.

Moyers said the practice in many jurisdictions across the country of electing judges and prosecutors clouds serious debate about challenges like prison reform by appealing to the kind of “tough on crime” rhetoric that appears to win elections—but is often unrelated to fact.

“You get political appeals, not the appeal of data and reason brought to bear,” said Moyers, who was most recently executive producer on “Rikers: An American Jail,” a hard-hitting documentary about New York’s troubled detention facility.

Moyers told Stephen Handelman, host of the monthly “Criminal Justice Matters” program and editor of The Crime Report, he believed there was a rising public awareness of the need for justice reforms in both “red states and blue states.”

But he added there was also a need for more public service journalism that could provide the facts required by the public to weigh the variety of options for change, especially at a moment when President Donald Trump and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions are arguing that the only way to deal with criminals “is to lock’em up and throw away the key.”

Moyers, who served as a special assistant to President Lyndon Baines Johnson when the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice was established in 1965, warned that many of the principles established in the commission’s landmark report were in danger of being reversed by the new administration.

LBJ

President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Photo by manhhai via Flickr.

Recalling that LBJ had once told him that “A man’s judgment is no better than his information,” Moyers said the commission’s first challenge was to gather data on operations of the justice system that until then had never been tabulated on a national level.

“Data is the backbone of reform (and) in 1965 we had no national data on crime,” Moyer said. “We did not consider criminal justice as a system. Even LBJ believed that the federal government had nothing to do with local justice.”

After exploring the relationship among police, prosecutors, courts, and corrections, the commission report, released in 1967, developed recommendations aimed at making the prison system “less venal and the justice system more efficient,” said Moyers, whose 40-year career as a public broadcaster earned him 46 Emmys and nine Peabody Awards.

His groundbreaking public affairs series have included NOW with Bill Moyers (2002-05), Bill Moyers Journal (2007-10), and Moyers & Company (2011-15).

Moyers said such an approach was still crucial to helping raise public awareness of the need to develop further solutions to problems such as prison overcrowding or bail reform.

Editor’s Note: In March, a bipartisan group of Senators introduced legislation to create a national justice commission, the first nationwide review of the justice system since the LBJ commission 50 years ago.

Moyers described his Rikers film, released last year, as an effort to bring people face to face with the stories of those suffering from the “culture of brutality” in many jails across the country.

While “brilliant reporting” by journalists has exposed the patterns of violence that have made Rikers a notorious example of that culture, Moyers said he wanted to let former inmates speak directly to the camera, “unfiltered” by journalists, to bring those issues home.

He said that he hoped the film would prod authorities to undertake the reforms suggested by a New York City commission, chaired by former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman—including replacing Rikers with smaller facilities situated in the neighborhoods where many of the offenders came from.

“Until you see the person who is suffering (from the system), you can’t understand it on an emotional and conscientious level,” he said.

At the same time, he called journalists to concentrate on policy and data, rather than be deflected by the political rhetoric.

Moyers was named last week by John Jay College and The Crime Report as the 2018 Justice Media Trailblazer, an annual honor recognizing individuals in the media and media-related fields who have made a major impact on the justice debate.

He will receive the award at a dinner at John Jay College in New York on Feb. 15, 2018.

Judge Lippman will introduce him.

The dinner is open to the public, but advance reservations are required. Information about the dinner is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Bill Moyers Named The Crime Report’s 2018 ‘Justice Trailblazer’

The annual award, which honors individuals in the media or media-related fields who have advanced national understanding of the 21st-century challenges of criminal justice, will be presented at a John Jay College dinner Feb. 15. Moyers was most recently executive producer of “Rikers,” a documentary on New York’s troubled jail facility.

Bill Moyers, a legend in broadcast journalism for four decades, has been selected as the 2018 Justice Media Trailblazer, an award given annually by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Crime Report to honor individuals in the media or media-related fields who have advanced national understanding on the 21st-century challenges of criminal justice.

Most recently, Moyers was the executive producer of Rikers: An American Jail. The riveting documentary brings viewers face to face with men and women who have endured incarceration at the country’s largest jail facility. Their stories, told directly to camera, vividly describe the cruel arc of the Rikers experience—from the shock of entry, to the extortion and control exercised by other inmates, the oppressive interaction with corrections officers, the torture of solitary confinement, and the challenges of reentering civil society.

RIKERS, which won a 2017 Robert F. Kennedy journalism award, is a production of Schumann Media Center, Inc. and Brick City TV LLC, in association with Public Square Media, Inc.

“Bill Moyers has been honored in many venues for his journalism, but the John Jay Trailblazer award is a way of recognizing the impressive contribution he has made in bringing longstanding issues of incarceration to the forefront at this time in our history, and in setting a standard of excellence for other journalists writing on criminal justice,” said Stephen Handelman, Executive Editor of The Crime Report.

“Through him, we are also honoring his documentary team, along with the men and women who bravely shared their experiences at Rikers.”

Moyers, who began his television career in 1971 after serving as deputy director of the Peace Corps and special assistant and press secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson, has been responsible for groundbreaking public affairs series, such as NOW with Bill Moyers (2002-05), Bill Moyers Journal (2007-10) and Moyers & Company (2011-15). Among his many honors, he has won 36 Emmys and 9 Peabody Awards.

Moyers, the fifth recipient of the annual Justice Media Trailblazer, will receive his award during a dinner on the evening of Feb. 15, 2018 at John Jay College, which will also recognize the winners of the annual 2017-2018 John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Prizes for Excellence in Criminal Justice Journalism. The dinner is the highlight of the 13th annual John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Justice in America.

The winners will be announced in January, 2018.

Previous Trailblazers were: Van Jones of CNN; David Simon of The Wire; Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black; NPR’s Maria Hinojosa, producer of Latino USA; and New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb.

Former New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman will introduce Moyers at the dinner, which will be emceed by NY 1 News anchor Errol Louis and hosted by John Jay College President Karol Mason.

To purchase a seat or table at the Trailblazer dinner, visit: https://jjaycuny.thankyou4caring.org/events/2018TrailblazerAwards

from https://thecrimereport.org

NYC Jail Report Reveals Use of ‘Restraint Desks’ for Inmates

On Rikers Island, young inmates sit for hours with feet shackled to their desks in a cell block for the jail’s most violent detainees. It is considered a humane alternative to solitary confinement.

On Rikers Island in New York City, young men sit for hours with feet shackled to “restraint desks” in a cell block for the jail’s most violent inmates, reports ProPublica. The school-like desks, outfitted with chains and locks, are located in specialized cell blocks called Enhanced Supervision Housing units. In the most secure levels, inmates who have committed violent infractions can leave their cells for a minimum of seven hours every day, but must be locked to the desks for much of that time. Officials said they created the units as a more humane alternative to solitary confinement, but a new report from the New York City Board of Correction suggests they may have traded one problematic practice for another.

The report focused on the lives of young adults in these units, which opened first to older inmates in 2015, and a year later, to inmates under 22. It found that inmates often weren’t told how long they’d have to live in the specialized housing units. Some stayed for as little as two days; others, several months. The units are broken into levels, the most secure of which use desk restraints. The board found that many young adults were not given a hearing to determine whether they needed to live in such a restricted environment.

from https://thecrimereport.org