Category Archives: Prison

Investigation Into How U.S. Prisoners Are Hurt Or Killed On The Job

Chain Gang Cuisine: The Bitter Taste of Prison Labor in Your Pantry

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/amendment-t-prohibits-prison-labor-and-court-ordered_b_580a6fd4e4b0b1bd89fdb20b

Journalists Margie Mason and Robin McDowell reported on a large-scale investigation into prison labor. In short, prisoners who are hurt or killed on the job are often being denied the rights and protections offered to other American workers. Their article discussed an  AP investigation into what has become a multibillion-dollar industry that often operates with little oversight.

“These prisoners are being placed in dangerous jobs, sometimes with little or no training. They pick up trash along busy highways, fight wildfires, and operate heavy machinery. They work on industrial-sized farms and meat-processing plants tied to the supply chains of some of the world’s most iconic brands and companies. But incarcerated workers and their families often have little or no recourse when things go wrong.” ~Journalists Margie Mason and Robin McDowell, Associated Press

Here are takeaways from the latest installment of AP’s investigation:

PRISONERS ARE AMONG THE MOST VULNERABLE U.S. WORKERS

Under the law, prisoners aren’t classified as employees. As a result, businesses can exclude them from workers’ compensation benefits, along with state and federal workplace safety standards. They cannot protest against poor conditions. They cannot form unions or strike. Some also can be punished for refusing to work, including being sent to solitary confinement. Finally, many work for pennies an hour – or nothing at all.

DANGEROUS JOBS, LITTLE OR NO TRAINING

Prisoners work in poultry plants, sawmills and in industrial factories. In many states, laws mandate that they be deployed during disasters and emergencies for dangerous jobs like hazardous material cleanup. They’re also sent to fight fires. Unfortunately, prisoners who are injured on the job and decide to sue can face nearly insurmountable hurdles. These challenges include finding a lawyer willing to take the case.

IT’S ALL LEGAL

A loophole in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed after the Civil War makes forced labor legal, abolishing slavery except “as punishment for a crime.” Today, nearly 2 million people are locked up in the U.S. Our prison population is the largest in the world. Interestingly, more than 800,000 prisoners have some kind of job. Many serve food inside facilities. Others work outside for private companies, including work-release assignments. They’re also employed at state and municipal agencies, and at colleges and nonprofit organizations.

My opinion? The findings are gut-wrenching. They point to a complex web of labor where prisoners in the United States are exploited for their work. These individuals, often paid mere pennies or nothing at all, toil under conditions devoid of basic human rights protections, contributing to the profits of some of the largest food corporations in the world.

Prison is a terrible place. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

During COVID-19, Prison Inmates Died at 3.5 Times The Rate of the Free Population

COVID-19: Authorities must protect health of detainees, staff and ultimately surrounding communities

Photo courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross

According to the Marshall Project, during the COVID-19 Pandemic, people in prison died at 3.4 times the rate of the free population. The elderly were hit the hardest. A national study gives the details.

THE STUDY

Over 6,000 incarcerated people died in the first year of the pandemic, researchers found. This data numbers they collected from state prison systems and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. the overall prison mortality rate spiked at least 50%, and potentially exceeded 75%, with roughly 50 or more people dying per 10,000 in prison in 2020.

The virus hit older generations especially hard, the study’s data shows. Not all states shared counts by age. But in the eight states that did, death rates for people aged 50 and older rose far higher than for others. The data reaffirms how much more vulnerable older prisoners are to the virus.

At the same time, incarceration rates dropped during the first year of the pandemic, but not because an extraordinary number of people were released. Despite a range of advocates calling for releases — particularly for older adults, who have higher health risks and statistically lower chances of committing a crime — data shows fewer people than in a typical year were let out in 2020. Instead, there was a dramatic reduction in prison admissions.

The slowdown in admissions meant that prison systems reduced the number of younger people exposed to COVID, while the older people already inside were left there. That’s because incarcerated people are generally older than those likely to be sent to prison.

By the end of 2020, Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows the number of people in state prisons under 55 fell by 17%, while the 55 and older population was down by 6%.

Prison deaths spiked almost everywhere across the country, varying in magnitude from state to state.

WERE THE WIDESPREAD DEATHS IN PRISONS PREVENTABLE?

According to the Machall Project, states and the federal government have legal tools to release at least some people, but rarely used them during the most urgent phase of the pandemic. In most states, only the governor and parole board can release people from prison without a court order.

Most state constitutions allow for governors to issue a pause in a criminal sentence known as a reprieve. Historically, governors use this power even less often than commutations, which lets them shorten sentences and free people without post-release supervision or expectation that they return. No state governors used either power for large-scale releases during the COVID-19 emergency, and only a small number performed any at all.

In a minority of states, corrections officials have some limited authority to release prisoners — usually due to terminal illness, or total physical or cognitive disability — or to seek certain kinds of inpatient medical care, according to data collected by the sentencing reform advocacy group Families Against Mandatory Minimums. These policies are not designed to release people based on risk of future illness, however.

“With more than half a million infections behind bars and over 3,000 deaths, America’s response to COVID-19 in prisons and jails was a failure. Federal, state, and local governments ignored public health guidance, refused to implement even the most basic mitigation strategies, and failed to reduce their incarcerated populations to the level necessary to avoid these catastrophes.” ~Prison Policy Initiative

Prison is a terrible place. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Prison Inmates Get To View The Eclipse

Prisoners demand to watch the solar eclipse

Photo courtesy of Gencraft AI

USA Today reports that inmates at a New York prison sued the state corrections department over the Monday total solar eclipse. Fortunately, the inmates will be able to see the celestial event after all.

The lawsuit came after one of the named plaintiffs, an atheist, received special permission last month to view the eclipse before the statewide prison lockdown was announced. However, prison officials ultimately denied permission to other inmates to be exempt from the lockdown order. Shortly after, the lawsuit was filed in federal court in upstate New York. It listed six plaintiffs of various religious faiths and claimed that the lockdown violated their religious rights.

“These inmates are asking for the most human of things: To gather and celebrate something that is greater than themselves. For many, this eclipse is a moment of monumental religious significance that cannot be overlooked or dismissed out of hand.” ~Court Documents Filed in Lawsuit

Corrections officials agreed Thursday to permit the plaintiffs – a Baptist, a Muslim, a Seventh-Day Adventist, two practitioners of Santeria and an atheist – to view the eclipse in exchange for the lawsuit’s dismissal.

“We are pleased that, in response to our lawsuit alleging religious discrimination, New York State has entered into a binding settlement agreement that will allow our six clients to view the solar eclipse in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” ~Attorney Christopher L. McArdle, one of the attorneys representing the inmates.

New York, which has not experienced a total solar eclipse since 1925, is one of 13 states directly on the eclipse’s path of totality. The astral event has been widely anticipated for months, if not years. As a result, it is expected to draw a heavy influx of tourists as the moon completely blocks the sun’s disc. The rare celestial phenomenon will reveal the sun’s elusive outermost layer known as the corona.

PLAINTIFFS SAY ECLIPSE HAS RELIGIOUS MEANINGS

All plaintiffs claimed in the lawsuit that the solar eclipse was deeply intertwined with the teachings of their respective religions.

In Christianity, the darkness described in the Bible as accompanying Jesus’ crucifixion has been interpreted as an eclipse, while in Islam, sacred works similarly describe the passing of the Prophet Muhammad’s son. Practitioners of Santeria also trace historical ties to chanting rituals performed during a solar eclipse. For atheists, an eclipse may not be a time for worship, but it’s still a time to marvel about the natural wonders of the universe, the lawsuit contended.

My opinion? Great work by the Plaintiffs’ attorneys. And wonderful decision on the part of NY Corrections Department. Religious liberty is a foundational principle of enduring importance in America, enshrined in our Constitution and other sources of federal law.  Religious liberty is not merely a right to personal religious beliefs or even to worship in a sacred place. It also encompasses religious observance and practice. Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law. Therefore, to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity, including the incarceration of prisoners.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Study: Inadequate Health Care for Prisoners Leads to Premature Death & Illnesses

Judge: Arizona prison system healthcare violates constitutional rights

Incredible journalism and investigations from the Guardian reveals that prison inmates regularly die from preventable health conditions. They’re dying years younger than the overall population, often after receiving little healthcare after getting sick. Advocates believe that alarmingly premature death in state prisons is a hidden crisis that is routine across the U.S. All too often,  fueled by abysmal and unconstitutional standards of healthcare.

THE GUARDIAN’S INVESTIGATIONS OF NEW JERSEY STATE PENITENTIARY

By filing public records requests, the Guardian obtained data on all 272 individuals whom the DOC reported had died in New Jersey state prisons from 2018 to 2022, as well as autopsy results on 265 of those people. Heart disease accounted for 69 of the deaths, making it the leading cause, with people dying from the condition at age 62 on average. The next two most common causes of death were Covid-19 (average age of death: 60) and cancer (59).

From 2018 to 2022, men in New Jersey prisons died at an average age of 59 years and two months of age. Among those, Black men died at just under 57 years and four months of age. The incarcerated population is on average younger than the general population. However, these numbers are still startlingly low compared with the overall state average. The average age of death is 71 years and eight months for all men and 64 years and four months for the state’s Black men.

Examined in their entirety, the Guardian’s findings suggest that substandard healthcare is contributing to a pattern of early death behind bars.

David Fathi, an attorney and the Director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, reviewed the Guardian’s findings. He found there are red flags that New Jersey has a seriously dysfunctional prison healthcare system.

“Prisons are black boxes that are hidden from public view . . . It has to be someone’s job to make sure that adequate healthcare is being provided . . . What we know is that the provision of healthcare in prisons across the country is generally systemically inadequate.” ~David Fahti, Director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project.

PRIOR RESEARCH SHOWS INADEQUATE HEALTH CARE FOR PRISONERS IS THE NORM

Previous academic research has found that prison can take a toll on life expectancy – as many as two years for every one year spent in prison. According to the US Department of Justice, in 2019 the No 1 cause of death in US jails, where people await trial or serve relatively short sentences, was suicide. But prisons, where people are sent after being convicted of serious crimes, are different. For example, according to the justice department, in 2019, 78.9% of state prisoners died due to illness, such as heart disease or cancer.

CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT

In its 1976 ruling in Estelle v Gamble, the US supreme court found that “deliberate indifference” to the health needs of incarcerated people violated the Eighth Amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment. Under the law, incarcerated people have a constitutional right to adequate healthcare that people outside prison do not – even if enforcing that protection has been a difficult task.

Prison is a terrible place. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Prison: No Country For Old Men

These are the 20 oldest prisoners doing time in New Jersey - nj.com

Excellent article in NPR by journalist Meg Anderson reports that the proportion of state and federal prisoners who are 55 or older is about five times what it was three decades ago. In 2022, that was more than 186,000 people.

In Oklahoma, the geriatric population has quadrupled in the past two decades. In Virginia, a quarter of the state’s prisoners will be geriatric by 2030. And in Texas, geriatric inmates are the fastest-growing demographic in the entire system.

More elderly people in prison is largely a sentencing problem, says Marta Nelson, the director of sentencing reform at the Vera Institute of Justice, a criminal justice research organization.

“It all stems from the longer sentences and the longer length of time that people have had to spend serving sentences in the United States, really starting from the ’70s and ’80s, but which became quite well known in the ’90s . . . People who went in as young people then are now aging. So it’s really a story of how we choose to punish people.” ~Marta Nelson, Director of Sentencing Reform at the Vera Institute of Justice

For instance, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, commonly known as the 1994 crime bill, incentivized states to build more prisons and keep people in those prisons for a longer percentage of their sentences. Other tough-on-crime policies — like mandatory minimum sentences and “three strikes” laws, in which the punishments for repeat offenders severely ratchet up — also contributed to why many people who went to prison decades ago are still there.

Today, there are more people serving a life sentence in prison than there were people in prison at all in 1970, according to a 2021 report from the Sentencing Project, an advocacy organization.

Caring for aging prisoners is expensive, but the data on just how expensive is murky. A 2013 study estimated it could be anywhere from three to nine times more expensive than for younger prisoners. And a 2015 report from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that federal prisons with the highest percentage of elderly prisoners spent five times more per person on medical care than those with the lowest percentage of aging prisoners.

My opinion? The idea of releasing elderly prisoners is certainly controversial. As a society, we must be careful about who we incarcerate. Sometimes, prisons don’t make people better. They make people worse.

Prison is a terrible place. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Mass Incarceration Deepens Inequality and Harms Public Safety

Local Impacts of Mass Incarceration: A Community Round Table - Center for  the Humanities and the Public Sphere

A report from The Sentencing Project explores laws and policies that exacerbate inequality and disproportionately overburden communities of color. Specifically, the report gives the following examples:

  • Fines, fees, and predatory pricing exacerbate the economic precarity of justice-involved Americans and their families.
  • Employment during incarceration comes with low, and sometimes zero, wages. The average minimum wage for the most common forms of prison labor is $0.13/ hour. The average maximum is $0.52/ hour.
  • A criminal conviction creates lifelong barriers to securing steady employment and housing. Many states disqualify people with felony drug convictions from cash assistance and food stamps. Nearly all states also restrict voting rights for people with criminal convictions. Yet research has shown that post-incarceration employment, access to food stamps, and voting are associated with lower recidivism rates.
  • Finally, the high cost of mass incarceration comes at the expense of investing in effective crime prevention and drug treatment programs. These laws and policies exacerbate the marginalization of justice-involved people—who are disproportionately people of color—by eroding the economic and social buffers against crime and increasing the likelihood of police contact.

WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?

Fortunately, jurisdictions around the country have initiated promising reforms to reduce the direct and indirect harms of criminal convictions and redirect resources to more effective interventions:

  • To promote beneficial contact with support networks, some jurisdictions have made all phone calls from their prisons free.
  • To end the injustices associated with prison labor, many jurisdictions have removed language allowing “slavery and involuntary servitude” in the case of punishment for a crime. Advocates are still working to ensure that this change bans forced and unpaid labor among incarcerated workers.
  • To reduce labor market discrimination resulting from a criminal record, a majority of states and many cities “Ban the Box.” This action removes the question about conviction history from initial job applications and delays a background check until later in the hiring process.
  • A majority of states no longer impose bans on food stamps or cash assistance for people with a felony drug conviction.
  • Finally, Washington, DC, has joined Maine, Vermont, and Puerto Rico in fully untangling voting rights from criminal legal involvement by permitting its prison population to vote.
  • The federal government and states are also increasing investments in crime prevention.

My opinion? For the criminal legal system to uphold the principle of justice, policymakers and practitioners will need to protect and expand these reforms.

Also, prison is a terrible place. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Deploying Tear Gas In Jails & Prisons

Dozens Killed in Prison Uprisings in Ecuador | Human Rights Watch

In Snaza v. State, the WA Supreme Court narrowly held in a 5-4 decision that a state statute wrongfully granted a public official outside a county sheriff’s office authority over when police can use tear gas to quell a riot.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Justice Charles Johnson wrote the majority opinion. He started by saying that following waves of protests across the state and country, calling for racial justice and reform of police practices, the Washington Legislature enacted several statutes in 2021 establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers.

RCW 10.116.030(1) provides tear gas may not be used “unless necessary to alleviate a present risk of serious harm posed by a: (a) Riot; (b) barricaded subject; or (c) hostage situation.” Subsection (2) imposes specific prerequisites to using tear gas as authorized under subsection (1). For instance, prior to deploying this tactic, law enforcement must exhaust alternatives to the use of tear gas, obtain authorization from a supervising officer, announce to the subjects the intent to use tear gas, and allow sufficient time and space for the subjects to comply with law enforcement’s directives.

In addition to these limits on the use of tear gas, law enforcement must comply with RCW 10.116.030(3), which restricts the use of tear gas as a tactic to suppress riots. This section of the statute says the following:

“In the case of a riot outside of a correctional, jail, or detention facility, the officer or employee may use tear gas only after: (a) Receiving authorization from the highest elected official of the jurisdiction in which the tear gas is to be used, and (b) meeting the requirements of subsection (2) of this section.” ~RCW 10.116.030(3)

Several sheriffs challenged RCW 10.116.030(3)(a), which limits when a sheriff can use tear gas to quell a riot.

MAJORITY COURT’S ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS

The WA Supreme Court held that thelegislature may not interfere with the core functions of a county office. Quelling a riot is a core function of the sheriff’s office. By granting an official outside a sheriff’s office authority over a core function of the sheriff, RCW 10.116.030(3)(a) violated article XI, section 5 of the Washington Constitution.

“Consistent with the rule our cases establish, we conclude quelling riots is a core function of the sheriff’s office. We emphasize discretionary use of lawful force in riot suppression is a core function of the sheriff’s office. This conclusion necessarily follows and is consistent with how our cases determine the nature of an office’s authority.”

“As we have stated, the county sheriff has been responsible for quelling riots since before the ratification of our state constitution . . . This power and function has “belonged to the sheriff at the time our constitution was adopted, and from time immemorial.” ~WA Supreme Court

DISSENTING OPINION

Justice Gordon McCloud delivered the dissenting opinion. He said the sheriff’s office has never had unfettered discretion to use any means it chose to suppress riots:

“The historical record shows that the legislature limited sheriffs’ discretionary decisions about how to quell riots from the time of statehood. And, of course, the historical record shows that tear gas was not even available at the time of statehood. It necessarily follows that discretionary use of tear gas to suppress riots is not ‘fundamental’ to or ‘inherent’ in the office of sheriff.” ~Justice Gordon McCloud

Jails and prisons are terrible places. Please review Making Bail and contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

No Books for Inmates

What Books Are Banned in Prisons? A State-by-State Breakdown | The Marshall Project

Interesting article from the Marshall Project says prisons are preventing inmates from receiving books.

The Marshall Project has documented more than 50,000 records of publications dating back to the 1990s being banned by state prisons that censor materials. These books contain sexual content, references to racial justice or other topics corrections staff deem inappropriate, or threats to security. However, free speech advocates and groups that promote reading in prison say the increased crackdowns that limit who can mail books inside amount to harmful, de facto book bans while doing little to help prevent overdose deaths behind bars.

THE ARGUMENT: BOOKS SMUGGLE CONTRABAND INTO PRISONS.

Karen Pojmann, a spokesperson for Missouri Department of Corrections, said the department implemented the rule after mailroom staff found paper soaked with drugs such as methamphetamine. “We are trying to save lives,” she said.

Pojmann was unable to provide data on the total number of overdose deaths in Missouri prisons in recent years. But deaths from drug overdoses have been plaguing prisons and jails. According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 253 people died in prisons nationwide from drug or alcohol intoxication in 2019, a significant increase from 2001 when that number was 35 people.

NUMEROUS STATE PRISONS ARE NOW BANNING BOOKS.

Iowa, Missouri and Texas have cracked down on who can send books, citing concerns over narcotics-laced paper.

In September, Missouri banned individuals and organizations from sending books to people in prison, or even purchasing them on someone’s behalf. Instead, incarcerated people must purchase books themselves.

Other states have made similar changes. In Iowa prisons, books can only come from two approved vendors, a policy adopted in 2021 according to local news reports. But those vendors have limited selections. For example, Ralph Ellison’s classic book “Invisible Man,” which explores issues of racism and Black identity, is not available from either vendor, despite being a key piece of the U.S. literary canon.

In addition to the tighter rules about who can send books inside, books-to-prisoner programs said many states are being stricter in their screening process. The programs have had packages rejected because the wrapping had too much tape. Facilities in some states also refused packages because they were wrapped in brown butcher paper instead of white.

FREE-SPEECH ADVOCATES PROTEST THE BANNING OF BOOKS.

Moira Marquis, a senior manager at PEN America, an organization that advocates literary and journalistic freedom, has been researching access to books in prison. She said these policies that bar books based on their origin or how they are mailed rather than their content are growing and threaten incarcerated people’s right to access books and information. Based on calls to prison mailrooms in 16 states, PEN America found more than 80% of those state and federal correctional institutions now dictate that literature come from approved vendors, according to a report to be released this October.

“Absolutely, these policies are censorship . . . This is depriving people from being able to acquire information.” ~Moira Marquis, Senior Manager at PEN America.

ARE BOOKS THE CULPRIT FOR DRUG OVERDOSES IN PRISONS?

There is evidence from other states that guards are a source of drugs and other illegal contraband. Since 2018, there have been at least 360 cases of staff smuggling contraband, including drugs, into Georgia state prisons, according to an investigation from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. And a study from The Urban Institute that looked at a handful of correctional facilities across the country found staff were a common source of contraband cellphones and cigarettes in Florida.

Prison is a terrible place.

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Washington State Prison System Sued for Using Unreliable Drug Tests On Prison Mail

Ventura County jail mailroom workers keep drugs and other items at bay

The WA Department of Corrections (DOC) is facing a lawsuit over its use of inaccurate drug field tests to throw incarcerated people in solitary confinement.

The class-action lawsuit, filed by Columbia Legal Services alleges that the DOC uses unreliable field kits to test mail for drugs. From there, the DOC uses the unverified results to put inmates in solitary confinement, move them to higher security prisons, and strip them of visitation rights and other privileges. This violates inmates’ Due Process rights and protections against cruel punishment under the state constitution, the suit argues.

According to the lawsuit, one of the plaintiffs spent four months in solitary confinement after greeting cards shipped directly to him from a card company tested positive for drugs. The results were later invalidated by a lab. Another plaintiff, Gregory Hyde, was kept in solitary confinement—meaning he was in a cell for 23 hours a day—for nearly five months. This happened because some books of crossword and sudoku puzzles that his father mailed him tested positive for “spice,” a popular drug in prisons.

“I think DOC is using its power to punish people who can’t fight back . . . My elderly father just wanted to send me some puzzle books. Now they’re saying he’s a drug dealer. Now my father is too far away to see because I got transferred to a different facility. My father is impoverished and on a fixed income. I think it’s an abuse of power.” ~Gregory Hyde, DOC inmate, in a press release.

The lawsuit comes roughly two years after a Massachusetts judge ordered that state prison system to stop using similar field tests, finding that they were “highly unreliable” and “only marginally better than a coin-flip.” That suit followed claims by over a dozen Massachusetts attorneys who said they were falsely accused of sending drugs to their incarcerated clients.

Reason reported in 2021 on how these cheap field tests, which use instant color reactions to indicate the presence of compounds found in certain drugs, are used extensively in prison systems across the country to punish inmates, despite clear warnings from the manufacturers that the results should be confirmed by outside labs.

The problem is that the compounds these kits test for are not exclusive to illicit drugs and are in fact found in dozens of legal substances. Police also use these tests during traffic stops, and over the years, officers have arrested and jailed innocent people after drug field kits returned presumptive positive results when tested on bird poopdonut glazecotton candy, and sand from inside a stress ball. A 2017 investigation by a Georgia news station found that one brand of test kit produced 145 false positives in the state in one year.

In criminal cases, the results of drug field tests are always verified by an outside lab. However, incarcerated people have far fewer rights in administrative disciplinary hearings, and they don’t have the right to demand that “presumptive positive” tests be sent out for confirmation.

The lawsuit says the DOC agreed to change its policies after receiving Columbia Legal Service’s threat of litigation. However, Columbia Legal Services says the changes weren’t adequate to protect incarcerated people’s rights.

“DOC’s repeated and prolonged use of solitary confinement before and after any infraction hearings is inhumane . . . Prolonged solitary confinement is internationally recognized as a form of torture. DOC must be required to stop its use of these cheap tests to unfairly punish people, especially with its barbaric use of solitary confinement.” ~Alison Bilow, an attorney for Columbia Legal Services

Clearly, prison is a terrible outcome to be avoided at all costs. Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.

Let’s Not Forget – There’s Actually Less Crime

What the public thinks – and data shows – about violent crime in U.S. | Pew Research Center

Excellent article in USA Today from Adam Gelb, the President and CEO of the Council on Criminal Justice. According to crime and justice trends, there is positive news in the realm of crime and punishment.

VIOLENT CRIME

Even after three years of increases, the rate of reported violent crime in America is half what it was at its peak in 1991, while burglaries and other property crimes are 63% lower than its peak in 1980. And the most recent data shows murder and other trend lines bending back down.

ARRESTS & INCARCERATIONS

In the mid-1990s, police arrested more than 15 million people a year. By 2019, arrests had dropped by a third, to about 10 million, and they fell even further during the pandemic. The U.S. incarceration rate remains among the highest in the world, but it, too, has declined, falling from its peak of more than 1 in every 100 adults in 2008 to 1 in 147 in 2021, a decline of a third. That translates to about a half million fewer people behind bars on any given day.

RECIDIVISM

Recidivism is the rate at which people on parole are sent back to prison for committing new crimes or violating the rules of their release. According to Gelb, that has dropped as well. The three-year prison return rate – the most commonly used measure – fell from 50% among people released from state prisons in 2005 to 39% among those released in 2012. And in juvenile justice, the number of youth removed from their homes for delinquency has plummeted by two-thirds, from more than 100,000 in 2000 to fewer than 37,000 in 2019.

RACIAL DISPARITIES

While troubling racial disparities in imprisonment persist, we’ve also seen some progress here. From 2000 to 2020, the disparity between Black and white adults in state prisons fell by 40%, from 8-to-1 to 5-to-1, and for drug offenses, it shrank by 75%. Black women remain nearly twice as likely to be held in prison as white women. However, they were over five times more likely at the turn of the century.

Taken together, the overall “footprint” of the justice system has shrunk substantially. In 2008, The Pew Charitable Trusts found that a whopping 1 out of every 31 American adults was in prison or jail or on probation or parole. According to new data from the Justice Department, that rate of correctional control had dropped to 1 in 48 by the end of 2021, a decline of a third.

Crime remains a serious and urgent concern. During the early days of the pandemic, as protests against police killings spread and gun sales spiked, homicide and other violent crimes rose. But as troubling as these recent increases are, it’s important to recognize that they occurred in the wake of significant improvements in safety.

STUDY THE GOOD NEWS AS WELL AS THE BAD ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE.

Gelb emphasizes that despite positive gains, the shrinking criminal justice footprint is rarely acknowledged or discussed. This leaves everyday Americans to conclude that nothing is improving.

“That’s understandable, but we ignore progress at our peril,” writes Gelb. Furthermore, pessimism leads to defeatist attitudes and clouds sober analysis of what is and isn’t working. It chases away elected officials, candidates and philanthropists who don’t want to hitch their wagons to perpetually losing causes. It burns out talented leaders and staff. And it feeds a cycle of cynicism that sows deeper and deeper distrust of the criminal justice system, of American institutions and of democracy itself.

“It’s crucial to face our ugly history. Justice demands that we identify and fix our problems. But to accelerate America’s march toward a safer and more just society, we also must recognize, examine and learn from what’s gone right.” ~Adam Gelb, the President and CEO of the Council on Criminal Justice. 

Please contact my office if you, a friend or family member are charged with a crime. Hiring an effective and competent defense attorney is the first and best step toward justice.