Are Americans Finally Turning Away From ‘Tough-on-Crime’ Era?

The victories of reform-minded prosecutors like John Creuzot in Dallas County last week could signal a “sea change” in public support for reductions in mass incarceration and the easing of sentencing guidelines, advocates and experts tell TCR.

Democrat John Creuzot, who defeated Republican incumbent Faith Johnson in the Dallas County District Attorney’s race last week,  had a campaign website that declared in big, bold letters, “It’s time to END Mass Incarceration.”

Republican Locke Thompson ran a successful campaign in Cole County, Missouri, with a campaign platform that included eliminating cash bail for low-level misdemeanors.

The victories chalked up by Creuzot and Thompson underlined a fact that has largely been overlooked in postmortems of this month’s midterms: the growing support of voters for genuine change in the criminal justice system regardless of their party affiliations—-and there is perhaps no clearer bellwether for how far voters think the needle should move on criminal justice reform than how they vote for local prosecutors.

While legislators run on a variety of issues, we are left with clear choices on a single subject in district attorney races: How will they handle the prosecution of crime?

In addition to the passage of pro-reform ballot initiatives and the election of pro-reform candidates to national offices, the outcome of some local district attorneys’ races last week represented encouraging signs for justice reform advocates.

“Prosecutors are the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system,” says Udi Ofer, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Campaign for Smart Justice, which worked to inform voters about where candidates stood on criminal justice reform.

He said that while gubernatorial candidates with platforms to end or reduce mass incarceration won 78 percent of the races and 71 percent of federal races, the district attorney results on Nov. 6 also continued to show a steady drumbeat toward reform in even the reddest parts of the country.

Ofer added that “95 percent of elected prosecutors are white men in the United States, but the prosecutors elected on Election Day in Dallas, Birmingham, Boston and St. Louis, were all black.”

In Dallas, Creuzot’s victory over Johnson, the county’s first female African-American DA, lent itself to a more nuanced interpretation.

During the campaign, Johnson touted her “tough on crime” stance, but, according to The New York Times, she also oversaw a program in which people with an arrest but no conviction could have their records wiped. She promised not to seek cash bail for those arrested with small amounts of marijuana.

Creuzot, however, appeared willing to go a step further, defining drugs more as a “public health problem” and pledging to cut incarceration by 15 percent to 20 percent by the end of his first term.

While there was a  “Blue Wave” in the Texas courts on Election Day, giving Democrats majorities on seven of the state’s 14 appeals courts compared with only three before, Ofer said the outcome of the Creuzot-Johnson faceoff was the most exciting in the nation.

“In the Dallas DA race, there was both a very contested primary and a very contested general election, and the candidate who ran on a platform of reducing incarceration by 15-20 percent won,” he said. “That’s a big deal,”

Added Ofer: “Even the Republican candidate who had not taken a criminal justice reform platform embraced it. It became a referendum on which candidate is better on criminal justice reform.”

In Jefferson County, Ala., pro-reform challenger Danny Carr become the district attorney after committing his office to stop jailing people for low-level marijuana offenses. Ofer said his stance was linked to a report showing that black people in Alabama were four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Locke Thompson

Locke Thompson, elected DA in Cole County, Mo..

Lucy Lang, executive director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that with far-right libertarian groups and reformers getting on the same page, politics is playing a smaller role in determining voters’ criminal justice stances.

Measures such as eliminating cash bail or changing marijuana policy, are not “going to drastically affect the problems of mass incarceration,” she told The Crime Report, but these kinds of changes are “starting to reflect the fact that people think differently about a prosecutor’s role.”

Ofer said the polling ahead of the Nov. 6 election indicated that voters were hungry for reform.

An ACLU poll, for example, found 78 percent of likely voters, including 71 percent of Republicans, were more likely to support a candidate who believes in criminal justice reform; 59 percent of likely voters said they wanted candidates who would reduce jail and prison populations; and 75 percent of voters said they were more likely to support candidates who pledged to reduce the criminal justice system’s racial disparities.

The results, he said, build on the gradual sea change that had already begun.

“This is a continuation, so it’s not a blip, it’s yet another milestone in the movement to holding prosecutors accountable for fueling mass incarceration in America,” he said.

Kate Pastor is a freelance journalist based in New York City. Readers’  comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Failed Referendum Spurs ‘New Conversation’ in Ohio on Drug Policy Reform

Although Issue 1, a criminal justice reform in Ohio that would have removed felony convictions for drug possession, failed 65 percent to 35 percent in the midterm election Tuesday, the conversation has now shifted, and more legislators are interested in treatment for drug users, rather than mass incarceration, TCR has learned.

Although Issue 1 , a criminal justice reform in Ohio that would have removed felony convictions for drug possession, failed 65 percent to 35 percent in the midterm election Tuesday, the conversation has now shifted, and more legislators are interested in treatment for drug users, rather than mass incarceration, according to experts contacted by The Crime Report.

“Even though the ballot initiative didn’t succeed, we created a huge new conversation across the state,” said J Bennett Guess, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio.

“Many opponents of issue 1 are coming out and saying we need more residential treatment. And they intend to act.”

For instance, Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, is working with two former political rivals – Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, a Republican, and Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein, a Democrat – to come up with new solutions.

Some of the proposed solutions include:

  • Reducing most fourth- and fifth-degree felony drug possession charges to a first-degree misdemeanor. Fentanyl, carfentanil and date rape drugs would remain felony offenses.
  • Stating a preference that those convicted of misdemeanor drug possession receive treatment and probation, but allowing judges to sentence offenders to county jail if needed.
  • Allowing those currently in prison for fourth- and fifth-degree drug possession convictions to ask a judge to have those sentences reduced. That would eliminate a felony on their record, which can be a barrier to work.
  • Expanding opportunities to seal past felony convictions.
  • Eliminating mandatory prison sentences for nearly all drug offenses. There would be an exception for those convicted of the major drug offender specification – sometimes referred to as the drug kingpin law – for running a large-scale drug operation.

Klein initially opposed Issue 1, citing his concerns that it would let certain felons out early and hurt drug courts trying to get people into treatment, but said he agreed with the overall goal, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Obhof said he will work with O’Brien, Klein and lawmakers to tackle more nuanced criminal justice reforms, starting in the coming months and continuing into the next two-year legislative session next year.

Ohio has long been considered “ground zero” of the nation’s opioid epidemic, thanks to the soaring number of opioid overdose deaths and the state’s position as a key distribution points for illicit fentanyl and heroin trafficked from Mexico and China.

Given the severity of the drug epidemic in Ohio, the failed ballot came as a surprise to many reform advocates.

Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman says he “did not expect that it would get crushed, going down to defeat 63.5 percent to 36.5 percent.”

Berman says Issue 1’s huge loss is startling given that Ohio’s Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown won re-election by 6 percent and its Democratic Governor candidate Richard Cordray, who endorsed Issue 1, lost by only four percentage points.

This means that a huge number of progressively minded voters decided to vote for liberal candidates and against Issue 1.

See Also: “Why Sentencing Reform Lost Big in Ohio.”

According to ACLU Ohio, some of the most aggressive opponents of the bill were judges.

For instance, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor contended that someone found with nearly 20 grams of fentanyl – enough of the dangerous opioid to kill 10,000 people – could no longer face prison time. Instead, they would face a misdemeanor and face a county jail sentence only after three offenses over two years.

It was clear the Ohio judges’ vocal opposition to Issue 1 influenced voters, said Bennett.

But, he said, they did so without offering any single new idea to solving the crisis. One of the things we need is new administrative guidance from the judiciary that will end the failed war on drugs and implement new responses instead, he proposed.

“We weren’t successful with constitutional amendment, but now is the time we will be successful through legislative action.”

Megan Hadley is senior staff writer for The  Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Florida Restores Voting Rights to Formerly Incarcerated in a ‘Ballot Cast With Love”

The measure was among numerous  criminal justice-related initiatives on gun control, police training and marijuana approved by voters Tuesday. One big standout: Ohioans rejected an amendment to keep low-level drug offenders out of prison.

Floridians voted overwhelmingly Tuesday in favor of an amendment that will restore the right to vote for most convicted felons upon completion of their sentences, including prison terms, parole and probation.

“We showed that every ballot cast was a ballot cast with love,” Desmond Meade told the Orlando Sentinel, president of Floridians for a Fair Democracy and champion of the Amendment 4 initiative.

“We showed what can happen when we come together along the lines of humanity and reach each other where we’re at. That’s what happens when we transcend partisan lines and bickering, when we transcend racial anxieties and when we come together as God’s children.

While most formerly incarcerated people are rejoicing that Florida voters overturned the state’s 150-year-old constitutional voting ban, many others are feeling left behind, as the Amendment excludes restoration for those convicted of murder and sex crimes.

Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, was convicted of murder in 1987 and spent nearly 20 years in prison.

“No one involved in the campaign for Amendment Four has said anything along the lines of ‘this is just the first step.’ They’ve all been pretty clear that this is it and that they’re done if the amendment passes,” Wright told The Crime Report.

Wright claimed money played a big role in excluding those convicted of murder and sex crimes from the initiative.

“No one is going to spend $16 million to re-enfranchise 80,000 murders and sex offenders,” Wright said.

Before Tuesday, the only way a person with a prior felony conviction could vote was through the state’s clemency system, spearheaded by the governor. Now, at least 1.4 million residents in the state have the opportunity to participate in the election process again – or for the first time

Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia joined Florida in felony disenfranchisement, which dates back to the Reconstruction Era when many politicians sought ways to prevent African Americans from voting after the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870.

More Crime and Criminal Justice Ballot Results

Initiative-1639 in Washington State, the only state gun-regulations measure anywhere in the country, passed— effectively banning people under 21 from buying semi-automatic assault rifles and increasing background checks for those types of weapons.

Background checks will include a local law enforcement check of the most up-to-date local court, criminal and mental health records, and the completion of a firearm safety training course. New standards will be created for holding gun owners accountable if children or other prohibited people injure themselves or others with an insecurely stored firearm.

Also, in Washington voters approved initiative-940, requiring law enforcement officers to obtain violence de-escalation and mental health training to help officers resolve conflicts without using physical or deadly force.

In Oregon voters opted against Measure 105, which would have repealed the state ‘sanctuary law that would have forbade state and local law enforcement agencies from using public resources to arrest those whose only criminal violation is that they are illegally in the United States.

Louisianans voted yes to bar convicted felons, from seeking or holding public office until five years after completing their sentences. Voters in the state also voted to require an unanimous verdict of a 12-member jury for a felony conviction. The previous Jim Crow-era law allowed convictions when at least 10 of the 12 jurors agree.

In Colorado slavery can no longer be used as a punishment for any crime as voters opted to remove such language from the state Constitution. Article II, Section 26 of Colorado’s constitution has historically read there “shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,”

Now it will read “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.”

Colorado District Attorney Dan Rubinstein opposed it as it could eliminate court-ordered community service.

“With most low-level offenses carrying jail, fines and community service as the only sentencing options, I fear that this action will result in more low-risk offenders filling our jails and would disproportionately incarcerate indigent offenders who lack the ability to pay fines,” Rubinstein recently said in a statement to KKCO 11 News.

The amendment was on the ballot two years ago but failed to pass due to confusing language.

Ohio Rejects Issue 1

In Ohio, though a recent poll showed that a near majority of voters supported Ohio State Issue 1—the proposed constitutional amendment that would change Ohio law to keep low-level drug offenders out of prison and promote more treatment of drug addiction—about 65 percent of voters rejected the amendment.

Ohio is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths.

Ohio chief Justice Maureen O’Connor called the proposed amendment a disaster, arguing that “Ohio may end up with some of the most lenient drug crime laws in the nation if this proposed constitutional amendment passes,”

Voters in Michigan approved legalizing recreational marijuana while those in North Dakota voted against it. Medical marijuana is now legal in Utah and Missouri.

Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Nevada expanded the rights of crime victims to their state constitutions in separate amendments. Some proposals would enshrine the right of crime victims to receive to receive timely notification of changes to the offender’s custodial status; others call for the right to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings or any process that may result in the offender’s release; and the right to restitution.

The ACLU has called Marsy’s Laws unconstitutional.

J Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern

from https://thecrimereport.org

A Pre-Election Primer: Criminal Justice and the Midterms

Victims’ rights, gun violence  and—no surprise— marijuana legalization are among the criminal justice issues appearing on state ballots in next month’s midterm elections. Here’s why you should pay attention to the outcomes.

Victims’ rights, firearms restrictions, civil rights for returning citizens, mandatory mental health training for police—and, once again, marijuana legalization— are all on state ballots for next month’s midterm elections.

While the list of criminal justice issues represents a lower number than in previous election cycles—they make up only a small percentage of the 157 initiatives presented to voters in 37 states this November—the outcomes could have a major impact on justice systems in some key states, such as Washington and Florida.

And some observers believe they could have national resonance in the political landscape shaping up for the presidential race in 2020.

“I can’t say [criminal justice] is playing a bigger role than previous elections,” said Robin Olsen, a senior policy associate who works on criminal justice reform at the Urban Institute. But, she adds, justice issues will continue to play a “big role” in many congressional and gubernatorial races as well as ballot initiatives across the U.S.

Unlike the 2016 federal election, when tough-on-crime rhetoric and warnings of a surging national crime wave stoked partisan battles, the pre-election debates on justice are more narrowly focused on issues of local concern—even as they reflect the same deep ideological divisions affecting the country over the past two years.

That underscores what is likely to be one key takeaway of the midterm vote.

While criminal justice remains fundamentally a state and local issue in the U.S., the midterm vote will shape and influence the bipartisan coalition for federal justice reform in the next Congress, according to Holly Harris, executive director of the Justice Action Network, a bipartisan national lobby group for federal and local justice reform.

Noting that widespread popular support has fueled justice reform initiatives in some 30 states over the past decade, Harris said “criminal justice reform issues poll very well,” with voters especially concerned with the rising number of opioid overdose deaths and mass incarceration.

“If I’m an incumbent in this election cycle, I would be concerned with not supporting criminal justice reform,” Harris told The Crime Report. “The American people are frustrated with Washington’s inability to move forward (on federal legislation), even as states have passed criminal justice bills.”

Here’s a snapshot of some of the most significant initiatives on state ballots next month, and why they matter.

Gun Control at the Grassroots

Probably the foremost example of the interplay between national justice concerns and local issues is gun violence, which some commentators have called the defining issue in many congressional races.

According to a poll conducted by Global Strategy Group for Giffords PAC, a group that backs stricter gun laws, Democrats’ advantage over Republicans in competitive swing House districts increases from a three-point lead to a 10-point lead when they focus on gun violence prevention.

guns

Shooter at a gun club. Photo by Peretz Partensky via Flickr

That’s one reason why former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control advocacy group, Everytown for Gun Safety, is investing $5 million in a digital ad campaign targeting 15 “Red to Blue” House races. And, fueled by the widespread emotional sympathy for the student survivors of the Parkland, Fl., school shooting, who have crisscrossed the country lobbying for greater restrictions on firearms, the issue continued to pick up traction this fall.

A bellwether battle is shaping up over Initiative 1639 in Washington State, which would ban people under 21 from buying semi-automatic assault rifles and increase background checks for those types of weapons. Background checks would include a local law enforcement check of the most up-to-date local court, criminal and mental health records, and the completion of a firearm safety training course.

The initiative, modeled in part after Connecticut’s strict gun laws, also proposes creating standards for holding gun owners accountable if children or other prohibited people injure themselves or others with an insecurely stored firearm.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), the country’s leading anti-gun control lobby group, has so far spent one-tenth of what it had spent during the 2014 midterms, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission,  but it has thrown its heavyweight support behind opponents of 1639.

The initiative is a “fraud being perpetrated on the good people of Washington State,” the Washington Arms Collectors, a member of the coalition fighting 1639 wrote in a statement provided to The Crime Report by the group’s director of operations, Wayne Rankin.

“They will tell you it’s about public safety, but it will do nothing to stop a single crime,” Rankin added. “This initiative has nothing to do with assault weapons and is directed only at our good citizens who already pass multiple background checks before owning a firearm.”

According to a mid-October poll, some 59 percent of registered voters now support the initiative.

Curbing Police Misconduct

Washington state is also the stage for another ballot battle fueled by concerns over police use of force. Initiative 940, which bears the ungainly title of “Police Training and Criminal Liability in Cases of Deadly Force,” would require law enforcement officers to obtain violence deescalation and mental health training to help officers resolve conflicts without using physical or deadly force.

The measure, if passed, would create a good faith test to determine when the use of deadly force by police is justifiable, and it would remove the requirement currently on the state books that prosecutors show that a law enforcement officer acted “with malice” to be convicted in a deadly force incident.

police

Photo by Carl Wycoff via Flickr

The so-called “Deescalate Washington” initiative has divided many former allies in the cause of police reform. Some community groups prefer to wait for what they hope will be more effective legislation under consideration by state lawmakers—effectively putting them in the same camp as police groups who oppose the initiative.

Although deescalation training is now widely accepted by national police organizations like the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and is already part of the training for major city police agencies like the New York Police Department,  some police see such mandates as another step in efforts to handcuff  law enforcement.

“They purport that 940 is about training, which is nonsense,” Seattle Officer Mike Solan, president of the Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs and the campaign manager for the Coalition for a Safer Washington, told local media.

“Its true intent is to make political prosecution of police officers.”

A poll in February showed more than two-thirds of Washington voters were in favor of an earlier version of I-940.

Supporters place it in the wider context of the national movement to hold police accountable and tackle implicit bias in law enforcement.

“We have heard so many stories of loss and violence over the years, particularly in communities of color and with people with disabilities, Tim Reynon and Kim Mosolf, members of the Deescalate Washington group, wrote in the Seattle Times.

“In Washington, African Americans and Latinos are killed by police at vastly disproportionate rates; Native Americans at a rate higher than any other group.”

Immigration Opponents Target Sanctuary Laws

Immigration is one of the most emotional issues of the midterm elections in the wake of President Donald Trump’s hardline stance on immigration and the separation of families at the borders. Almost 13,000 migrant children are detained in federally contracted shelters, reaching a record high, The New York Times reported last month.

Many states and cities have established themselves as “sanctuaries” where local enforcement refuses to assist federal immigration authorities in identifying and detaining undocumented immigrants. In response, Washington has threatened to cut off federal law enforcement funding to jurisdictions that don’t go along with its get-tough policies.

immigration protest

Los Angeles march for immigrant rights, 2013. Photo by Molly Adams via Flickr

A major challenge to the sanctuary concept is now playing out in Oregon, where a proposed Measure 105 would axe a 31-year-old law passed with bipartisan support barring state and local police agencies from assisting in federal immigration enforcement.

“If Oregon’s sanctuary law gets repealed, it could become an even larger part of the Republican Party’s agenda as the GOP looks to the 2020 presidential race and beyond,” said Oregon media commentator Conrad Wilson.

Both supporters and opponents also see the measure, in effect, as a referendum on President Trump’s immigration policies, and commentators say the results could have national implications, according to governing.com.

“We need to win this campaign—and win it big—so we don’t see similar measures like it popping up [across] the country,” Peter Zuckerman, a spokesman for the “No on 105” campaign from Oregonians Against Profiling was quoted as saying. “By voting no, we can show that Oregon wants no part in the immigration policies of [U.S. Attorney General] Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump.”

A recent poll of likely Oregon voters from the Hoffman Research Group of Portland found that just 31 percent support repealing the sanctuary law, while 50 percent oppose repeal.

One group fighting against the proposal is Causa, an immigrant rights organization.

“Immigrants or people perceived to be immigrants would be especially harmed by [the proposal], but [it] would make us all less safe,” Andrea Williams said, Causa’s executive director.

“Trust is the foundation of good policing. But when police play the role of federal immigration agents, many immigrants will be too afraid to call them, cooperate with them or show up to testify.”

Oregonians for Immigration Reform—the organization that worked to get Measure 105 on the ballot—has been identified by The Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

But Jim Ludwick, the organization’s communications director, rejects the designation.

“We support environmentally sustainable legal immigration,” Ludwick said. “We want to control crime and congestion in an already congested nation, but [opponents of the proposal] want open borders, and they call anybody who supports the rule of law as a hate group.”

Battling the Opioid Crisis

 Each day, more than 115 people across the nation die after overdosing on opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and a  recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal found that ads mentioning the opioid crisis have aired more than 50,000 times in congressional and gubernatorial races across 25 states, compared to 70 times just four years ago.

There has been an increased push to treat instead of punish those battling opioid addiction, as more Americans view prescription drug addiction as a disease.

opioids

Photo courtesy US Department of Agriculture via Flickr

In Ohio, which is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths, a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution, placed on the ballot as State Issue 1, will provide a test case of whether such ideas have traction with voters.

State Issue 1 mandates that criminal offenses of obtaining, possessing, or using any drug such as fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, and other controlled substances be classified as a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

The proposal also calls for reduced sentences for incarcerated individuals—except for those imprisoned for murder, rape, or child molestation—by up to 25 percent if they participate in rehabilitative, work, or educational programming.

A recent poll showed that a near majority of voters support the amendment. However, some of the measures most power opponents, including the chief justice on the state’s supreme court, warn that it could backfire.

“I believe as a result of this amendment, should it pass, people will die,” said Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

Supporters, however, say it’s long overdue.

“There is so much investment in punishing people and locking them up in prison cells and so little investment in the healing that people need to transform their lives,” said Stephen Johnsongrove of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center.

Marijuana, Again

Turning to other drug-related issues, the movement for marijuana legalization continues to gain traction. This fall, voters in Michigan and North Dakota will decide whether to legalize recreational weed, and Missouri and Utah voters will weigh in on medical marijuana use. If all four measures pass, it bring to 43 the number of states where some form of marijuana use is legal (32 medical marijuana and 11 recreational).

marijuana protest

Photo by Chris Yarzab via Flickr

Missouri actually has three separate propositions related to medical marijuana on its November ballot, offering voters a menu of policy choices. The proposed constitutional Amendment 2 would allow state-licensed physicians to recommend medical cannabis to patients with qualifying condition, and exact a 4 percent tax (the revenue would be used for providing healthcare to veterans).

Amendment 3 would also legalize medical cannabis, but would carry a 15 percent sales tax on sales of the drug. Proposition C, not a constitutional amendment, would  legalize marijuana prescriptions to patients with qualifying conditions, with a tax of 2 percent.

The Utah medical marijuana initiative, spearheaded by the Utah Patients Coalition, has run into opposition from the Utah Medical Association, which warns it would become a gateway to recreational use.

“Foremost, citizen initiatives are a terrible way to decide what is and is not medicine,” Mark Fotheringham, the association’s vice president of communications, told The Crime Report.

The Rights of the Formerly Incarcerated

Since the last presidential election, a movement to champion the civil rights of returning citizens has expanded steadily from “ban the box” measures aimed at striking questions about former convictions from employment applications to ending employment and housing restrictions and restoring the right to vote.

Florida

Photo by Joelk75 via Flickr

One of the last holdouts to that movement has been Florida. Amendment 4 on the state’s ballot is an effort to rectify that.

But surprisingly it is running into opposition from both sides of the ideological divide.

The amendment would automatically restore the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions upon completion of their sentences—excluding those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense.

The exclusions are one reason why some prisoner rights advocates are pushing back against it.

“We oppose these divide-and-conquer type tactics that single people out based on offense category,” said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News and director of the Human Rights Defense Center, who was convicted of murder in 1987 and spent nearly 20 years in prison.

“If you look at other movements—like the LGBT Movement—they didn’t leave anybody behind. Right now, you can be a gay serial killer on death row and still be able to marry the person of your choice.”

Given that Florida’s vote in the national elections has historically been decided by a narrow margin of voters, the expected number of new voters—some 1.5 million people—has focused the attention of both parties.

That’s why, although Amendment 4 was originally backed by Republicans as well as Democrats, there are now signs of blowback from some GOP strategists who, thinking ahead to the presidential election in 2022, worry that it will put into play a large number of voters who are likely to vote Democratic.

A September survey shows that the ‘yes’ votes have a strong edge.

Politics and Crime

Taking a different tack entirely, a proposed amendment to the Louisiana constitution would prohibit convicted felons from seeking or holding public office until five years after the completion of their sentences, unless pardoned.

That would effectively tweak a 2016 court ruling in 2016 which allowed convicted felons unlimited rights to seek and hold a public office in Louisiana.

Supporters of the measure say it is intended to restore trust in the political system.

“I think there is a certain amount of integrity that is necessary in the political world to develop trust of the people,” said Republican state Sen. Conrad Appel, who sponsored the legislation that put the proposal on the ballot.

Some commentators say the prime motivating factor behind the amendment is to counter Louisiana’s notorious record for political corruption

“We as elected officials want the voters’ faith and trust,” Appel said. “We have to earn that trust, and if we violate it, we should not be in a position to throw it back in your face.”

The earlier court ruling in fact overturned a long-term precedent which required convicted felons to wait at least 15 years before seeking public office.

Ending Jim Crow Juries

But another Louisiana amendment is aimed at bringing the state’s court system in line with the rest of America. The proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 in Louisiana calls for jurors to reach a unanimous verdict, rather than just a majority 10 of 12 jurors, to convict people charged with felonies.

jury

Photo by Patrick Feller, via Flickr

The current system represents a last holdout of Jim Crow-era laws that were passed across the south in response to the post-Civil War movements to enshrine full citizenship and voting rights for African Americans.

Critics say the “split jury” system continues to be a source of shame for the state, and a monument to white supremacy.

According to a review of nearly 1,000 Louisiana felony trials from 2011 to 2016, by the Advocate newspaper, about 40 percent of convictions by 12-member juries had one or two holdout jurors. Black defendants were about 30 percent more likely to be convicted in non-unanimous verdicts than white defendants, the newspaper found.

If the Louisiana measure passes, Oregon will be the only other state that doesn’t require a unanimous verdict for conviction.

Victims’ Rights

Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Nevada are proposing to expand the rights of crime victims to their state constitutions in separate amendments. Some proposals would enshrine the right of crime victims to receive to receive timely notification of changes to the offender’s custodial status; others call for the right to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings or any process that may result in the offender’s release; and the right to restitution.

The effort is aimed at expanding the reach of a 2008 California statute called Marsy’s Law, formally known as the Victims Bill of Rights Act, and it worries the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues that such statutes would undermine due process.

Marsy's Law

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Marsy’s Law is named for Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas, a University of California-Santa Barbara student killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. California legislators were moved to act after her mother, Marcella Leach, encountered the accused killer in a grocery store. Supporters said Leach should have been warned that he was released on bail.

Her story “is typical of the pain and suffering the family members of murder victims have endured,” says the website put up by supporters of the original California measure.

“She was not informed because the courts and law enforcement, though well-meaning, had no obligation to keep her informed.

“While criminals have more than 20 individuals rights spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, the surviving family members of murder victims have none.”

The ACLU says the law is well-intentioned, but ultimately unconstitutional.

“Marsy’s Law is premised on the notion that victims should have ‘equal rights’ to defendants,” the ACLU says on its website. “This…is a seductive appeal to one’s sense of fairness. However, the notion that victims’ rights can be equated to the rights of the accused is a fallacy.

Gabriel Ware

J. Gabriel Ware

“It ignores the very different purposes these two sets of rights serve.”

Some victims’ rights advocates have argued that victims would be better served by more funding for victims’ services, such as programs that help victims of sexual violence.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Imprisoned U.S. Jihadists Called a ‘Ticking Time Bomb” by ISIS Expert

Unless U.S. corrections authorities develop specialized reeducation programs, Americans imprisoned for terrorist-related offenses will threaten U.S. domestic security when they are released, a journalist who wrote a book on ISIS warned Monday. Joby Warrick said Europeans have a better approach.

American jihadists now imprisoned for terrorist-related offenses short of murder—meaning they could be released in the near future—represent a “ticking time bomb,” according to a Washington Post expert on ISIS.

Joby Warrick, the author of Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2106, said they should be a source of deepening concern because no specialized programs appear in place to reform or re-educate them.

That’s in contrast to the approach of prisons in Western European countries like Belgium and even Saudi Arabia, where officials have prioritized changing the mindset of jailed Jihadists, using family members and imams to point them in a better direction, Warrick told an audience at John Jay College Monday.

“It could be a ticking time bomb,” Warrick said,  noting the lack of programs designed to work with currently imprisoned U.S. Jihadists.

According to a recent report by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism,  an estimated 300 Americans attempted to join the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria, including a small number who rose to senior positions. Twelve have returned home, but none has yet carried out an attack in the U.S.

The report said about 50 Americans were arrested as they tried to leave the country, and never made it out of the U.S.

Despite widespread hopes that military defeats in Iraq and Syria had extinguished the terror group, “ISIS is holding on and rebounding in some ways,” said Warrick, who likened the group  to the Ebola virus in its ability to seemingly disappear only to lash out again with virulent fury.

The Pentagon and the United Nations estimate there are still 15,000 to 30,000 ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq, even though thousands of them were killed in battles and targeted bombings in the last few years.

Disturbingly, ISIS draws on a “seemingly limitless pool of volunteers willing to commit atrocities,” Warrick said.

While the U.S. has shown itself effective in keeping hardcore ISIS fighters out of the country, homegrown murderers who claim ISIS influence are partaking in a “crowd-sourcing Jihad” in which “anybody can join,” he said.

According to Warrick, would-be terrorists don’t need to receive direct instructions from ISIS or any hands-on training whatsoever. In fact, instructions such as how to steal a truck and use it to kill maximum numbers of innocent people are available on the Internet, he pointed out.

For all of the efforts to stamp out ISIS-sympathizing sites on the Internet, the terrorists are resourceful and relentless in getting their message out.

“A new magazine just came out last week,” Warrick said. “It’s like whack-a-mole.”

Historically, ISIS in the Middle East has drawn much of its strength from people being imprisoned together and radicalizing one another, to emerge into society intent on causing maximum violence.

The founder of ISIS, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, set himself on his ultra-violent path while in prison in Jordan.

Warrick said the death of King Hussein in 1999 ironically freed the man who became Jordan’s most dangerous citizen as part of a general amnesty. He began gathering followers as he traveled between Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.

However, al-Zarqawi did not become a notorious terrorist until Colin Powell showed al-Zarqawi’s photo and a “tree of terror” in a 2003 United Nations hearing to establish support for an Iraq invasion, saying al-Zarqawi proved a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.

“He created a Jihadist celebrity,” Warrick said, ensuring that money, volunteers, and weapons flowed al-Zarqawi’s way.

“He would not have existed without us, without America,” Warrick said.

Colin Powell has since conceded that his UN speech was an “intelligence failure.” In a 2016 interview he said he remembers making “passing references” to al-Zarqawi. In fact, Powell mentioned him 21 times at the UN.

Al-Zarqawi successfully established his group, initially called Al Qaeda in Iraq, with its trademark of hands-on barbaric brutality such as beheading victims on camera, as Osama Bin Laden watched uneasily. The link between the two groups was never there, he said.

“In reality, even Al Qaeda was afraid of him,” Warrick said.

Following al-Zarqawi’s death in a U.S. drone strike in 2006, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has emerged as the most recent leader of ISIS. Since 2016, the U.S. State Department has offered a reward of up to $25 million for information or intelligence leading to his capture or death.

“He’s a bit of a hermit,” Warrick said.“The Russians thought they killed him a year ago, but he showed up a few weeks ago in a vide.

In it, al-Baghdadi promised the world that the caliphate is in excellent shape and “America is becoming an exhausted country, bled dry by terrorism.”

The fact that Al-Baghdadi lives in hiding shows that he has learned from ISIS’s recent history in Iraq, said Warrick. By taking territory, the group had established a “fixed address” for strategic drone bombing and military assaults, which led to its ultimate defeats in Iraq.

Moreover, with its lack of organizational skills and tendency to turn potential allies into enemies, ISIS has serious systemic weaknesses, Warrick said. The worst thing that could happen is if ISIS and the more coolly strategic Al Qaeda join forces, which some reports say is happening in the West African country of Mali.

“That’s a worrisome scenario,” he said.

The best way for the United States to oppose ISIS is to not abandon allies, Warrick emphasized.

For example, the Kurdish forces that fought ISIS are now getting minimal support from the U.S. “We owe everything to the Kurds.”

“We must invest in the future,” Warrick said. “If we fail, we guarantee we will be hearing from [ISIS] in the future.”

Nancy Bilyeau is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Taking a Leap’ to More Humane Incarceration

TRUE, a pilot program at a maximum security facility in Connecticut, offers prisoners a path back to normalcy, with educational programs and schedules they help devise. It’s one of several innovative experiments in changing correctional practices that reformers hope will change the face of U.S. prisons.

“We’re taking a leap,” said Scott Erfe, the warden of the super-max Cheshire Correctional Institution in central Connecticut.

The inmates seem to agree the leap is worthwhile.

In a live-streamed interview Wednesday, young men who have been living most of this year in a special, insular unit where they can choose their own clothes, prepare their own meals, develop case plans with goals for education and employment, and are encouraged to have visits and contact with family, said the program had given them new confidence and changed their lives.

“I want to make true changes in myself and help others make changes,” said Chris Belcher, one of the young men taking part in the TRUE program at Cheshire.

“A mentor once started crying when she was visiting, and it immediately just made me feel that someone actually cared about me. That makes a big difference. Being able to become vulnerable meant a lot to me. It helped me keep doing what I’m doing.”

A prison mentor, TRUE resident Jermaine Young, agreed.

“It’s about teaching (an inmate) to be a human being again….If you’re treated like an animal long enough, you’re going to start acting like an animal.”

The TRUE program, supported by the Vera Institute of Justice, is one of a handful of experiments around the U.S. to change correctional practices.

Dannel Malloy

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy. Photo by Graham Kates/The Crime Report

“We tend to look at prison as a punishment vehicle and we should exact the highest possible price,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said at a John Jay conference Wednesday that featured the livestream broadcast from Cheshire.

“If we could change that dynamic in the United States, then we would have less crime, lower rates of recidivism, and we could really turn lives around.”

The conference was held to highlight a major report issued by Vera Wednesday, entitled “Reimagining Prison,” which called for transformative changes in both correctional practices and prison design.

“The fundamental experience of people who currently live and work behind prison walls remains one of isolation and hardship, of which the public is generally and wrongly tolerant,” said Nicholas Turner, Vera’s president.

“We’ve lost generations to a modern incarceration system, designed to degrade and dehumanize and to extend racial oppression. But a radical change is possible—and, in some places, it’s already here.”

In Connection, before being accepted into TRUE, many of the men, aged 18 to 25, lived 22 hours a day in their cells in a super-max long nicknamed “the Rock.”

When asked why Cheshire was chosen for the TRUE unit, co-developed and sponsored by the Vera Institute, one staffer said that family members being able to get to the prison, located in central Connecticut, was a factor. Some 58 men have participated, working with 12 mentors along with prison staff.

“Corrections is a black and white world,” said Erfe, the Cheshire warden. “TRUE is in the gray area.”

(L-R) inmates Jermaine Young, Chris Belcher, Cheshire Correctional Institution Warden Scott Erfe . Photo courtesy John Jay.

There have been no incidents of violence in the TRUE unit since it launched 18 months ago, and the program is expanding to a women’s prison in Connecticut and a jail with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office in Massachusetts.

At the conference, Cheshire’s warden and other staff talked about the need to develop new ways to incarcerate people—and to change the sometimes toxic dynamic between staff and prisoners.

“I’ve seen for myself a staffer working 20 years, getting his retirement, but unable to even enjoy it because of all the deep stress,” said Erfe.

karol mason

John Jay President Karol Mason and Vera President Nick Turner. Photo courtesy John Jay

In her opening remarks, John Jay President Karol Mason praised the education emphasis in the TRUE unit and running through the Vera report.

In John Jay classes taught to prison residents, she said, when a teacher asks a question, “every hand goes up.”

The idea for TRUE was born from a visit to Germany by Connecticut correctional leaders and Vera Institute officials. They said they were struck by the fact that human dignity within the German prisons is paramount, often attributed to the country coming to terms with its creation and perpetuation of the Holocaust.

Recidivism rates are far lower in Germany than in U.S.

“Vera’s whole concept on how to reimagine prison was spurred by a trip we took to Germany,” confirmed Turner.

“We saw that their system was rooted in human dignity and not dehumanization. That came from confronting their original sin. We have to do that here. We haven’t.”

In the U.S., more than two million people are behind bars—the vast majority in state and local prisons.

The recent prison incident in South Carolina that left seven dead, as well as prison strikes across the country the 2016 and 2018 protesting inhumane treatment, serve as tragic wake-up calls that something is fundamentally wrong in American prisons,” according to the report, noting the historic timeline of an American prison policy that has been overtly built on slavery and the Jim Crow system.

For a summary of the report, please click here.

Nancy Bilyeau is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Teaching Inmates to ‘Be Human Again’

TRUE, a pilot program at a maximum security facility in Connecticut, offers prisoners a path back to normalcy, with educational programs and schedules they help devise. It’s one of a several innovative experiments in changing correctional practices that reformers hope will change the face of U.S. prisons.

“We’re taking a leap,” said Scott Erfe, the warden of the super-max Cheshire Correctional Institution in central Connecticut.

The inmates seem to agree the leap is worthwhile.

In a live-streamed interview Wednesday, young men who have been living most of this year in a special, insular unit where they can choose their own clothes, prepare their own meals, develop case plans with goals for education and employment, and are encouraged to have visits and contact with family, said the program had given them new confidence and changed their lives.

“I want to make true changes in myself and help others make changes,” said Chris Belcher, one of the young men taking part in the TRUE program at Cheshire.

“A mentor once started crying when she was visiting, and it immediately just made me feel that someone actually cared about me. That makes a big difference. Being able to become vulnerable meant a lot to me. It helped me keep doing what I’m doing.”

A prison mentor, TRUE resident Jermaine Young, agreed.

“It’s about teaching (an inmate) to be a human being again….If you’re treated like an animal long enough, you’re going to start acting like an animal.”

The TRUE program, supported by the Vera Institute of Justice, is one of a handful of experiments around the U.S. to change correctional practices.

“We tend to look at prison as a punishment vehicle and we should exact the highest possible price,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said at a John Jay conference Wednesday that featured the livestream broadcast from Cheshire.

“If we could change that dynamic in the United States, then we would have less crime, lower rates of recidivism, and we could really turn lives around.”

The conference was held to highlight a major report issued by Vera Wednesday, entitled “Reimagining Prison,” which called for transformative changes in both correctional practices and prison design.

“The fundamental experience of people who currently live and work behind prison walls remains one of isolation and hardship, of which the public is generally and wrongly tolerant,” said Nicholas Turner, Vera’s president.

“We’ve lost generations to a modern incarceration system, designed to degrade and dehumanize and to extend racial oppression. But a radical change is possible—and, in some places, it’s already here.”

In Connection, before being accepted into TRUE, many of the men, aged 18 to 25, lived 22 hours a day in their cells in a super-max long nicknamed “the Rock.”

When asked why Cheshire was chosen for the TRUE unit, co-developed and sponsored by the Vera Institute, one staffer said that family members being able to get to the prison, located in central Connecticut, was a factor. Some 58 men have participated, working with 12 mentors along with prison staff.

“Corrections is a black and white world,” said Erfe, the Cheshire warden. “TRUE is in the gray area.”

There have been no incidents of violence in the TRUE unit since it launched 18 months ago, and the program is expanding to a women’s prison in Connecticut and a jail with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office in Massachusetts.

At the conference, Cheshire’s warden and other staff talked about the need to develop new ways to incarcerate people—and to change the sometimes toxic dynamic between staff and prisoners.

“I’ve seen for myself a staffer working 20 years, getting his retirement, but unable to even enjoy it because of all the deep stress,” said Erfe.

In her opening remarks, John Jay President Karol Mason praised the education emphasis in the TRUE unit and running through the Vera report.

In John Jay classes taught to prison residents, she said, when a teacher asks a question, “every hand goes up.”

The idea for TRUE was born from a visit to Germany by Connecticut correctional leaders and Vera Institute officials. They said they were struck by the fact that human dignity within the German prisons is paramount, often attributed to the country coming to terms with its creation and perpetuation of the Holocaust.

Recidivism rates are far lower in Germany than in U.S.

“Vera’s whole concept on how to reimagine prison was spurred by a trip we took to Germany,” confirmed Turner.

“We saw that their system was rooted in human dignity and not dehumanization. That came from confronting their original sin. We have to do that here. We haven’t.”

In the U.S., more than two million people are behind bars—the vast majority in state and local prisons.

The recent prison incident in South Carolina that left seven dead, as well as prison strikes across the country the 2016 and 2018 protesting inhumane treatment, serve as tragic wake-up calls that something is fundamentally wrong in American prisons,” according to the report, noting the historic timeline of an American prison policy that has been overtly built on slavery and the Jim Crow system.

For a summary of the report, please click here.

Nancy Bilyeau is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Trump Border Crackdown Opens ‘Black Hole’ in Protection for Immigrants

Human trafficking and organized crime have increased since the administration toughened immigration policies, a John Jay conference was told Tuesday. That’s made both legal and illegal  immigrants—particularly women—vulnerable to exploitation, speakers said.

President Trump’s crackdown on immigration is fueling increases in human trafficking and boosting organized crime, a John Jay conference was told Tuesday.

The militarism on the border has increased extortion and kidnapping activities by the Los Zetas Cartel, now considered the most dangerous of Mexico’s crime cartels, against individuals trying to reach the U.S. from the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, said Sarah Stillman, a staff writer at The New Yorker who covers immigration and criminal justice issues.

And the vulnerability of undocumented workers has been aggravated by White House rhetoric that paints them as security and crime threats to Americans,  Stillman said in a keynote address at the one-day conference on  “Immigration Enforcement & Human Trafficking Under the Trump Administration,” sponsored by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Research.

“There are legal black holes in protection and enforcement—and there are also black holes in public empathy,” Stillman said in the day’s keynote address.

The explosion of crime associated with immigration, in which the line between smuggling and human trafficking becomes ever more blurry, was compared to the U.S.’s Prohibition of the 1920s by more than one panelist yesterday, evoking the period when making alcohol illegal fostered a crime explosion and thriving underground.

“When you criminalize people, you make them more vulnerable,” said Renan Salgado, senior human trafficking specialist at the Worker Justice Center.

Since Trump took office, immigration advocates and journalists have reported a “tangible chilling effect” for women in particular, ranging from drops in women reporting domestic violence to police for fear of becoming targets of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, particularly in cities like Houston and Los Angeles.

In one example, Asian women working in New York City massage parlors are reportedly unwilling to report sexual assaults, robberies, or predations by their employers for the same reason.

In her New Yorker story published earlier this year, “When Deportation Is a Death Sentence,” Stillman reported on the struggle of survivors of domestic violence seeking safety in the U.S.  or undocumented youths who, as she wrote, “were granted relief from deportation under President Obama, only to have their status imperiled by his successor.”

She wrote: “Still others are asylum seekers from Central America, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere, who have fled gangs, climate crises, and armed conflicts, and were then misinformed or turned away by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, some of whom have been emboldened under President Trump.”

“We could be deporting people to their deaths,” said Stillman at yesterday’s conference. She is working to obtain more statistics—no easy task–with the Global Migration Project at Columbia Journalism School.

For immigrants who enter the country on visas or through other means but do not have legal status—which legal experts said yesterday is harder than ever before to obtain—any brush with law enforcement could lead to detention that lasts for months and deportation.

Even attempts to work with the criminal justice system or obtain services are fraught with peril, the conference was told.

In the New York City borough of Queens,  a flurry of arrests of women working illegally at massage parlors led to an outcry over unfair targeting, and a special court was set up that redefined the women as victims rather than criminals.

In the Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens, some of the women from mainland China are offered a deal to take part in a number of counseling sessions in order for charges to be dismissed.

New York City advocates for the women said Tuesday that ICE agents had in several cases come to the human-trafficking intervention court to grab their clients as they arrived or left.

Because of the stigma of immigration and the fear of being picked up, employers are exploiting their undocumented workers in a host of ways: someone not being paid their wages or all of their wages, pressured to stay in abusive conditions or live in squalor while performing migrant work, or tricked or defrauded of their savings.

Labor trafficking and abuse can take place in mansions as well as massage parlors, restaurants, or farms.

One woman from the Philippines who endured a harrowing experience as the nanny and domestic of wealthy diplomats described her life in detail to audience members yesterday.

Edith Mendoza, who had a visa, signed a contract for 37 hours a week of work, at a salary of $10 an hour, before she arrived at the six-bedroom Westchester County estate of Pit and Mareike Koehler, German diplomats.

Very soon, she was told she would have to work from 6 a.m. to midnight, caring for the couple’s four children under the age of 11, cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. For over a year, she tried to perform the impossible workload, all the while living in an unheated storage room above the garage.

“I wanted to give my family a better life,” said Mendoza, 52, the mother of two children living in the Philippines.

“The contract I signed was a fraud, a lie,” Mendoza said. Before she quit she was forced to work roughly 90 to 100 hours a week, earning about $4 per hour with no overtime or overtime compensation.

Eventually Mendoza’s health broke down, with dizziness and weakness caused by such heavy labor, but her employers would only give her part of Sunday off, never a weekday when she could see a doctor. When she pleaded for medical attention, the Kohlers said she would be fired immediately for taking a weekday break, and Mendoza feared losing her visa.

Through friends she met at her church, Mendoza finally got in contact with Damayan Migrant Workers Association, and was able to extricate herself from the Westchester house. In 2017, Mendoza and her predecessor, Sherile Pahagas, filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeking $368,402.94 in damages, including the wages they say they are owed, plus interest and attorney’s fees.

A judge later dismissed the case because the Kohlers have diplomatic immunity.

Riya Ortiz, lead organizer and case manager for Damayan, said diplomats in America are known to seek out Philippine domestics and then exploit them, using their protection from U.S. law enforcement to shield their abuses.

“I lost all the dreams I had,” said Mendoza, in tears. “I became their victim.”

Nancy Bilyeau is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

How Drug ‘Therapy’ Helps Philadelphia Inmates Recover from Opioid Addiction

A new program that provides opioid-dependent inmates with small drug doses to help ease their withdrawal when they leave prison shows promising results in Philadelphia. So why do so many U.S. corrections authorities resist medication-assisted treatment?

During more than a decade of IV drug use, 34-year-old Ana Vasquez, a homeless IV drug user, has kicked heroin nearly a dozen times in Philadelphia jails, most recently in late November 2017 after she was arrested during a buy-and-bust operation with a single $5 bag of powder cocaine in her possession.

The crime is considered so minor that, even prior to the election of Philadelphia’s new reformist District Attorney Larry Krasner—who ended cash bail for most low-grade misdemeanors this year―Vasquez would have been processed through police headquarters and released to the street on her own recognizance not more than 72 hours after her arrest.

But under Philadelphia’s unique and controversial “detainer” system―which requires that defendants on probation who violate the terms of their supervised release be held without bond until they’ve had a hearing before the judge who originally sentenced them―it would be the middle of January before Vasquez was finally released from Riverside Correctional Facility (RCF), Philadelphia County’s only exclusively female jail.

From there, she hitched a ride seven miles south, back to her home in the city’s Kensington neighborhood, where she spent her first night of freedom braving the frigid weather by getting high on heroin and cocaine.

“No matter how many times you detox in jail, it never gets any easier,” she said, in an interview shortly after her release. “It’s horrible. No one wants to leave their cell [and] you got at least half of the people on the block going through it, vomiting, diarrhea, not eating or sleeping.

“Sometimes they would give us ‘comfort meds’ as they call it, but in reality they don’t do shit.”

So it was a surprise when I got a call from Vasquez last month, a few days after she’d been arrested once again—this time on a more serious felony charge of possession with intent to deliver heroin—and she sounded, well, buoyant.

“They got us on subs,” she said, referring to the drug buprenorphine (an opioid agonist sold under the brand name Subutex). “You believe that? They dose us every day. It took a couple days to get adjusted to it but really, I feel great.

“This is a great program.”

The program Vasquez is referring to provides the option of medical detox from opioids or maintenance using genetic buprenorphine to every incoming inmate suffering from opioid dependency. It was quietly launched as a pilot in February at RCF; and on Aug. 13 it was expanded to encompass all inmates entering the Philadelphia prison system.

“We make such an investment to help people while they are in the system,” said Bruce Herdman, the Chief of Medical Operations for the county’s Department of Prisons.

“It doesn’t make sense not to help them after their release.”

Evidence has long demonstrated that treatment using opioid agonists like buprenorphine and methadone are the best way to do that. Agonists stimulate the same receptors in the brain as illicit opioids. But their long half-life makes them suitable for replacement therapy because they attenuate cravings for 24-36 hours (compared to just four to six hours from the combination of heroin and fentanyl commonly sold in Philadelphia).

Among other things, this reduces the compulsion that comes from the need to constantly redose.

It also keeps people alive long enough to benefit from recovery. Just a week in jail without opioids can reduce a dependent individual’s tolerance enough that the dosage they were accustomed to when they were arrested could be fatal.

Herdman says that research shows inmates kept on agonist therapy in jail are two-thirds less likely to die of an overdose in the early weeks of their release than those who lose their tolerance while incarcerated..

Under Philly’s new program, inmates with opioid dependencies are given a single 8 mg dose of buprenorphine once a day (half the average recommended dose in most outpatient programs). The drug is dispensed as a crushed tablet to make it harder to divert.

Prior to release, those who choose to continue treatment are assigned to a clinic or physician in the community, ideally with minimal, if any, gap between doses. When the program started, it avoided that issue by providing a few days of medication or providing a short-run prescription to hold patients over. But the jail had to put that policy on hold because of limited resources.

Herdman acknowledges his team is still working up the learning curve.

“We found that we could not scale that practice, the logistics are so difficult,” he said. “The volume here is the biggest challenge, the sheer burden of the size. We send 200-some people to court each day and people are released 24 hours a day seven days a week.

“We had to train eight additional doctors to qualify for the federal waiver [needed to prescribe buprenorphine] just to keep up with intakes.”

Dr. Jon Lepley, Chief Medical Officer of Corizon—which is contracted to provide health care services to Philadelphia’s jails—helped pioneer the program in partnership with the prison system after learning about the disproportionate number of inmates who overdosed and died soon after leaving jail.

“Historically, when someone came in they would receive a nursing assessment and if they presented with opioid withdrawal symptoms they would be detoxed with ‘comfort meds,’ like clonidine, promethazine [an antihistamine] and loperamide [Imodium],” said Lepley.

“But attitudes really started changing after Mayor Jim Kenney’s Opioid Commission released its report last year recommending that county inmates be offered the option of medication-assisted treatment. That was a turning point.”

Before launching the program, Herdman and Lepley consulted with officials at Rikers Island in New York City, which started offering heroin-addicted inmates methadone maintenance in 1986. The jail added buprenorphine as an option in 2008.

According to Jonathan Giftos, the Clinical Director of Substance Use Treatment at Rikers, the jail treated 4,000 inmates using methadone or bupe last year, and 70 percent of program participants are on long-term maintenance.

Unlike Philadelphia, Rikers (which has had plenty of time for trial and error) has no dosage cap—inmates are provided an individualized dose and can choose which medication works for them. When they are released they receive either seven days of medication or a 14-day prescription until they see a physician.

It’s also the only jail with a federally licensed Outpatient Treatment Facility onsite, meaning that it prescribe and dispense methadone without needing to contract with one of the city’s already overburdened clinics.

“It’s really rewarding to provide people with evidence-based treatment while they are at such a vulnerable point in their lives,” said Giftos. “For decades the standard of care at other jurisdictions was to provide no medication.

“But now I think we are seeing a new standard of care emerge as more jails are looking at the data and success rates of methadone or bupe provided in a correctional setting.”

However, that needle is moving extremely slowly—given the number of victims who come in contact with the criminal justice system. Despite their proven effectiveness, demand for opioid agonist therapies by jails is virtually nonexistent.

In one randomized study, researchers reviewed 81 requests for proposals (RFPs) for contracted jail healthcare services in 28 states and found that only 11 requested MAT; and all but three limited its use to pregnant women—who can suffer severe complications from improperly managed detox.

As I’ve previously reported, it’s estimated that two-thirds of inmates entering jail have a diagnosable substance abuse disorder, yet few jails even provide basic medical care for managing withdrawal, let alone allow for ongoing maintenance treatment.

Fewer than 10 percent of America’s 3,300 jails offer any medication-assisted treatment at all, let alone long-term agonist maintenance. Instead the roughly 200 jails, that provide MAT to inmates opt for the opioid antagonist naltrexone (sold under the brand name Vivitrol), which simply prevents individuals from feeling the effect of opioid drugs.

There is little data on the effectiveness of naltrexone for long-term success at preventing a relapse on illicit opioids (and to be fair, there’s not a whole lot on buprenorphine either, which wasn’t even an option for heroin addicts until 2002).

Although, a recent study found naltrexone is as effective as a daily oral dose of buprenorphine at preventing relapse after six month, the accuracy of that conclusion is undermined by the fact that more than a quarter of participants were unable to endure the required period of abstinence (up to four days) to even start taking Vivitrol.

But even if the data were sound, relapse prevention is just one measure of success.

Tens of thousands of human beings suffer needlessly through painful withdrawal while incarcerated in county jails, including people like Vasquez, whose entire criminal history is a reflection of a DSM-classified medical disorder. An untold number of them die in the process.

All of them would have a chance to be alive and in recovery today, if the municipalities where they perished had the political will and compassion to spend a fraction of the money treating their symptoms that they’ve shelled out in wrongful death lawsuits.

Philadelphia’s program will provide the option of treatment to thousands of potential inmates this year for just $500,000 out of the prison budget, according to Herdman.

As I recently reported, the ACLU is currently suing jails in three states—Washington, Massachusetts and Maine—for failing to provide appropriate treatment to detoxing inmates.

christopher moraff

Christopher Moraff

Dr. Lepley says Corizon will begin including medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine as a standard protocol in its jail contracts. But that does not mean the facilities will be required to employ it. And the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections told The Crime Report that it will begin piloting SUBLOCADE, the first once-monthly injectable buprenorphine formulation for the treatment of opioid use disorder, with a target date of November 2018.

According to DOC spokesperson Susan McNaughton, the immediate goal will be to use the drug to detox incoming inmates, but the long-term goal is to offer ongoing maintenance.

Christopher Moraff is a freelance writer who covers the intersection of policing, drug use and civil liberties for The Crime Report and other publications. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Would a Resentful Justice Kavanaugh Derail Juvenile Justice Reform?

The furor over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct as a 17-year-old raises questions about how he would rule on key juvenile justice cases if he is confirmed by the Senate, a John Jay College conference was told Thursday.

The furor over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct as a 17-year-old raises questions about how he would rule on key juvenile justice cases if he is confirmed by the Senate, a John Jay College conference was told Thursday.

“I bet you [Kavanaugh] is going to be pretty pissed off about how we all tried to derail his nomination with something he did when he was 17,” said Elton Anglada, president of the Juvenile Defender Association of Pennsylvania.

Anglada said that if Kavanaugh were asked to rule in cases that required the Court to re-examine previous rulings establishing that youths under 18 could not be held legally responsible for criminal acts, based on scientific findings about adolescent brain development, he might be tempted to turn his current critics’ words against them.

A procedural vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination is scheduled Friday, in the aftermath of an FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct brought by three women when he was a student at Georgetown Prep and Yale University. The investigation reportedly could not corroborate the allegations. If the procedural vote passes, the full Senate may vote on the nomination as early as Saturday.

In several landmark rulings, the Court has steadily chipped away at previous legal precedents that allowed individuals to receive the death penalty or life-without-parole sentences for crimes they committed as minors. The justices ruled in Roper v Simmons (2005) that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty for a crime committed by a child under the age of 18, reversing a 1989 Stanford v Kentucky ruling that allowed juveniles aged 16 years or older at the time of their crimes to receive the death penalty.

Then, in Graham v Florida (2010) the Court found that sentencing juveniles to life without the possibility of parole for a non-homicidal crime is also a violation of the U.S. constitution, ruling that individuals who committed such crimes as minors could be released based on “demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”

Two years later, in Miller v Alabama, the Court ruled it was unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to mandatory life without parole.

All three cases were the product of long, hard-fought campaigns by justice reformers to incorporate into U.S. jurisprudence findings by numerous psychologists and behavioral experts that adolescents were unable to take responsibility for their actions or to understand the difference between right and wrong.

They represented significant achievements in what was an historic effort to use modern science about brain development to transform how young people were treated in the criminal justice system.

But they were not necessarily settled law, Anglada said at the John Jay conference, which was organized to examine “Unfinished Business” in juvenile justice, for journalists selected as reporting fellows by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay.

Editor’s Note: The Center on Media, Crime and Justice publishes The Crime Report.

According to Anglada, who also serves as assistant chief of the Juvenile Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the 5-4 decisions were ultimately carried by now-retired Justice Anthony Kennedy (whose seat Kavanaugh has been nominated to fill).

Kennedy wrote majority opinions for two of them—Roper v. Simmons and Graham v. Florida, in which he cited research that found juveniles to be less mature and possess less of a sense of responsibility for their actions than adults.

“These cases are going to go back up to the Supreme Court,”Anglada predicted. “And I think about myself standing in front of Kavanaugh three or four years from now arguing that you shouldn’t revisit Graham, Miller and Roper and my client should be treated differently because he’s a juvenile, and we don’t want to hold a juvenile responsible for his entire life for something he did 35 years ago.

“Say that to Brett Kavanaugh with a straight face and see what answer you get.”

Other speakers at the conference noted that juvenile justice was returning to a “rehabilitative and therapeutic model” after an era in which one-dimensional punitive strategies dominated the approach to youthful criminality.

Farewell to the Era of ‘Super-Predators”

The era was driven by a false narrative of the emergence of youthful “super-predators” responsible for a wave of violence, fanned by media sensationalism and several academics, said Michael Umpierre, a senior research fellow at the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

But since the beginning of this century, a “developmental approach” based on the notion that punishment should be developmentally appropriate for adolescents has been “taking hold across the country,” Umpierre said.

“The developmental approach embodies the recognition that adolescents are different than adults and from children too,” he added, noting that the number of juveniles now locked up in prison was half that of a decade ago.

Researchers, advocates and legal experts told the conference that significant juvenile justice challenges remained—most importantly the racial and ethnic disparities that affect authorities’ responses to juvenile misbehavior—and they warned that federal support for addressing those disparities was now in doubt.

Marsha Levick

Marsha Levick, Juvenile Law Center

“It’s impossible to talk about youth justice without talking about race,” said Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, noting recent decisions by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection (OJJDP), to stop collecting data on disproportional minority impact, and return to a more punitive language in addressing juvenile misconduct.

“What we measure is what we worked on, and if we’re not collecting data on racial disparities, then we can’t address them.”

Michael Harris, senior attorney for the National Center for Youth Law, said white federal and state policymakers still took a narrow, biased view of young African-American and Latinx offenders as “other people’s kids.”

“They don’t think about how to treat kids as if they were their own kids,” he said, noting that 58 percent of young people detained in juvenile facilities were African American, although African Americans represented just 16 percent of the U.S. juvenile population.

Kim Dvorchak, executive director of the National Association of Counsel for Children, said that despite reforms enacted by state legislatures —some 70 pieces of legislation in at least 36 states have enacted major reforms in areas ranging from raising the age of adult jurisdiction to removing youths from adult prisons over the past decade—there were still major shortcomings.

“Florida has prosecuted 7,800 children as adults in the name of public safety,” she said.

Added Levick: “We need to talk about the way the system continues to screw kids.”

Yet future reforms in juvenile justice may now be held hostage by a new Supreme Court Justice embittered by what he regards as an effort by liberal reformers to wreck his nomination, according to the Philadelphia Defender’s Anglada.

“The doctrine of adolescent development is the most positive advance (in juvenile justice) we have seen since 1998, showing that juveniles have the capacity for change,” Anglada said.

 “I don’t think that’s going to play well for adolescent development cases when they come up in front of the court (if Kavanaugh is approved as the ninth Justice).”

This story was prepared from reports by J. Gabriel Ware, Nancy Bilyeau and Stephen Handelman of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org