Monthly Archives: December 2016

“Training and Experience”

The Washington Post publishes an in-depth examination of search warrant procedure in Washington DC that argues warrants based solely on officers’ “training and experience” were ineffective – that is, the police discovered nothing illegal – 40% of the time. In comparison, warrants for which police do more investigative work appeared to bring better results.

Attorney Alec Karakatsanis, of the nonprofit group D.C.-based Equal Justice Under Law, said warrants that rely on training and experience as justification for a search subject the black community to abusive police intrusion based on flimsy investigative work. In the past two years, he has filed seven civil rights lawsuits in federal court challenging D.C. police’s practice of seeking search warrants based solely on an officer’s training and experience.

“They have turned any arrest anywhere in the city into an automatic search of a home, and that simply cannot be,” said Karakatsanis, who spent three years studying the issue, starting when he worked at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia. “It would work a fundamental change in the balance of power in our society between government agents and individual rights.”

Expanding College Opportunities for Currently and Formerly Incarcerated Californians

Read “Degrees of Freedom” – a 154-page report from the Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at Berkeley and the Stanford Criminal Justice Center Law on higher education opportunities for current and former prisoners in California. The report profiles existing programs and identifies recommendations for growth and sustainability, highlights challenges and successful strategies, and makes concrete recommendations for future programs.

More than 50,000 individuals will be released from California’s prisons in the next two years, and thousands more will be released from county jails. That is 50,000 individuals in need of reentry services and support over the next few years. Without intervention, many of them will return to custody. As the report says:

“College can stop the revolving door: a recent RAND study shows that participants in prison college programs have 51 percent lower odds of recidivating than those who do not participate and, after release, the odds of obtaining employment are higher for those who participate in education.”

“Ex-Prisoner Advocate” NY Times story

A former lobbyist convicted of bribery, Richard Lipsky served a 3 month sentence and then became an advocate of criminal justice reform, particularly focussed on barriers to employment for former prisoners.

But when a labor union expressed interest in retaining him as a consultant on such issues, he found himself blocked by one of those barriers: a law barring people convicted of certain crimes, including bribery, from advising unions until 13 years after their release.

The story is here:

Young Adults in the Justice System

The Justice Policy Institute has published a study, “Improving Approaches to Serving Young Adults in the Justice System,” addressing the needs of the 18-24 year old population in America’s prisons – 20% of that total, compared to 10% of the total population. The study calls for more community-based and collaborative approaches, largely outside the formal justice system:

“The approach should be developmentally appropriate, individually tailored, and seek to reduce individuals’ justice system involvement and the collateral consequences that typically flow from contact with the justice system – all philosophical goals of the juvenile justice system. Convening participants also called for increased system and interagency collaboration to leverage public dollars so that young adults can get the schooling, housing, job training, and health care they need.”


Reentry Services in DC

The Washington Post story “It Does Not Have To Be This Way” covers a report by the Council for Court Excellence, a nonprofit that advocates for improvements to the city’s criminal justice system. According to the report, 1 in 22 adults in the District are “under some form of correctional control,” including jail or probation. Prisoners are often housed in federal facilities as far away as the West Coast, and those  returning face a variety of challenges that returning citizens elsewhere simply do not confront, particularly given the situation on the ground in DC, an expensive city where many jobs require a college education. More than 1 in 5 employed returning citizens lack stable housing when they return to the community, and those who were unemployed were even more likely to stay in homeless shelters or on the street.

The recommendations in the report include establishing an ombudsman position focused on D.C. correctional issues, limiting halfway houses charges for “subsistence fees,”having correctional facilities help returning citizens apply for housing up to 90 days before release, and passing legislation preventing landlords from discriminating against those with criminal records.

The District’s “ban the box” law, which prevents employers from screening out job applicants based on criminal convictions, isn’t sufficient, the report says.”You can ‘Ban the Box,’ but you can’t ban Google,” said one returning citizen.

Death Row Inmates Disproportionately Mentally Disabled

A study by the Fair Punishment Project (an initiative of Harvard Law School) of death row inmates in Oregon shows two-thirds of death row inmates possess signs of serious mental illness or intellectual impairment, endured devastatingly severe childhood trauma, or were not old enough to legally purchase alcohol at the time the offense occurred.

The study of the 35 inmates in Oregon was based on  legal pleadings and opinions, trial testimony, media reports, and interviews with legal experts in Oregon  familiar with the individuals on death row.


Diversion…at a price

This NY Times article, “After A Crime, The Price of a Second Chance,”  looks at adult diversion programs run by prosecutors (as opposed to drug courts or mental health courts where a judge is in charge). They put together information on the statutes and fee schedules in 225 diversion programs in 37 states and interviewed more than 150 prosecutors, defense lawyers, defendants and experts.

The conclusion: because prosecutors have wide latitude to design the programs, different jurisdictions have different rules, resulting in substantial inequities for defendants.

“Diversion is intended to relieve overburdened courts and crowded jails, and to spare low-risk offenders from the devastating consequences of a criminal record. It mostly applies to nonviolent cases that make up the vast majority of crimes — offenses like shoplifting, drug possession and theft. There are now diversion programs in almost every state.

But an examination by The New York Times found that in many places, only people with money could afford a second chance. Though diversion was introduced as a money-saving reform, some jurisdictions quickly turned it into a source of revenue.

Prosecutors exert almost total control over diversion, deciding who deserves mercy and at what price, The Times found. The prosecutors who grant diversion often benefit directly from the fees, which vary widely from town to town and can reach $5,000 for a single offense. In a country where 27 million households make less than $25,000 a year, even $500 can be prohibitive.”

Felony Disenfranchisement Report

From the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and The Sentencing Project, “Free The Vote“- a succinct and important summary of the felony disenfranchisement issue. The NAACP, because felony disenfranchisement laws have a disproportionate impact on African Americans at the state level. An estimated 6.1 million Americans who have been convicted of a felony are denied the right to vote, and 1 in 13 African Americans of voting age are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, more than four times the rate of non-Black Americans. Put another way, more than 7.4% of the Black American adult population is disenfranchised compared to 1.8% of the non-Black population. Other facts and figures from the report: –

  • Only Maine and Vermont do not restrict voting on the basis of a felony conviction—and allow individuals to continue to exercise the right to vote from prison by absentee ballot.
  • In Florida, more people with felony convictions are disenfranchised than in any other state, with black disenfranchisement rates exceeding a fifth (21%) of the adult black voting age population. Similar data comes out of other states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.
  • Prison-based gerrymandering exacerbates the negative effects of felony disenfranchisement by counting incarcerated people as residents of largely white rural areas where prisons are predominately located. The racial disparities in incarceration thus result in greater political influence and increased economic resources for the largely white rural areas, and a corresponding loss of resources to the urban communities from which incarcerated people of color generally reside.

Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership

LAARP” is network of public, community and faith-based agencies and advocates working on the successful reintegration of previously incarcerated men and women back into their communities:

“The mission of the Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership (LARRP) is to support the development and implementation of a comprehensive, culturally competent, and effective community reentry system, by providing a strong community voice in public policy and funding decisions; by serving as a convener of reentry service providers, advocates, and other stakeholders; and by building capacity across the county to meet the needs of the reentry community.”


Locked Up for the Holidays

In Oklahoma, the “Santa Claus Commission”  gives each of the 400 offenders in the state’s residential detention facilities and group homes a duffle bag and a holiday stocking with candy, stationery, toiletries, and a $9 gift card. Staff also distribute holiday cards and throw holiday parties.

In Louisiana, incarcerated juveniles get gift bags — with pajamas, body wash, candy and chips.

In Maryland, youths can earn a pass for good behavior to go home to celebrate Christmas. Last year, when the family of a girl who’d earned a pass could not come pick her up, a Department of Juvenile Services staff member drove her home.

According to Pew Charitable Trusts, as a result of research showing that incarceration of lower-risk teens leads to higher recidivism rates, the number of youths held in residential facilities around the country has dropped by more than half, from 108,800 in 2000 to 50,800 in 2014, according to one-day counts by the OJJDP.