Tag Archives: justice

There’s a Wave of New Prosecutors. And They Mean Justice.

These district attorneys should make jail the exception and eliminate cash bail.

By Emily Bazelon and Miriam Krinsky The New York Times Op. Ed., Dec. 11, 2018

In the past two years, a wave of prosecutors promising less incarceration and more fairness have been elected across the country.

Republicans and Democrats are among the reformers, and they’re taking over district attorney offices in red and blue states. Five progressive D.A.s have been elected in major cities in Texas, of all surprising places, most recently in Dallas and San Antonio. In Houston, Kim Ogg was elected D.A. two years ago, and in the face of opposition from more than a dozen local judges, she has supported a lawsuit challenging the cash bail system for misdemeanor cases.

Local prosecutors, who handle 95 percent of the criminal cases brought in this country, are well positioned to take reform into their own hands because of their broad discretion over whether and how to prosecute cases and what bail they decide to seek against defendants.

And they’re exercising that discretion in new ways.

In Chicago, State Attorney Kim Foxx raised the threshold for felony theft prosecution to reduce the number of shoplifters who go to jail. In Philadelphia, the D.A., Larry Krasner, has instructed his prosecutors to make plea offers for most crimes below the bottom end of Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines. In Kansas City, Kan., District Attorney Mark Dupree created a unit to scrutinize old cases haunted by questionable police practices despite opposition from local law enforcement. More broadly, many of these new, progressive prosecutors are declining to prosecute low-level marijuana offenses and have stopped asking for bail in most misdemeanor cases.distr

But they’ve also encountered tough headwinds. We’ve seen these new district attorneys in action, and with input from two policy groups, the Justice Collaborative and the Brennan Center for Justice, we’ve come up with a set of principles and priorities to promote a progressive model of prosecution. There are 21 principles in all that offer D. A.s a blueprint to transform both their own offices and, with a push from advocates on the outside and help from other leaders on the inside, their justice systems. Since laws and practices vary from state to state, some of our recommendations won’t suit all jurisdictions. We intend them as a starting point.

Our recommendations begin with the premise that the level of punishment in the United States is neither necessary for public safety nor a pragmatic use of resources. Prosecutors can address this first by routing some low-level offenses out of the criminal justice system at the start. For the cases that remain, they can help make incarceration the exception and diverting people from prison the rule, a principle advanced by the district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., Eric Gonzalez. Finally, prosecutors should recognize that lengthy mandatory sentences can be wasteful, since most people age out of the period when they’re likely to reoffend, and also don’t allow for the human capacity to change.

As prosecutors know, locking people up makes them more prone to committing offenses in the future. They can lose their earning capacity and housing, leaving them worse off, often to the point of desperation. And so the community is often better served by interventions like drug or mental-health treatment, or by restorative justice approaches, in which a person who has caused harm makes amends to the victim. In some cases, the best response is to do nothing.

Achieving results, of course, matters more than making promises. In Brooklyn last Friday, the police arrested Jazmine Headley as she sat on the floor of a food stamp application office because there were no available chairs. The officers yanked her 1-year-old son from her arms, and the D.A.’s office charged her with resisting arrest and other offenses. Although prosecutors agreed to release her without bail, Ms. Headley was held at Rikers Island on a warrant from New Jersey for credit card fraud. The arrest was captured on video and outrage ensued. On Tuesday, Mr. Gonzalez said he was “horrified by the violence” on the video, promised to investigate and moved to dismiss the charges. But this arrest shouldn’t have happened in the first place, and the response from the D.A. illustrates the back-and-forth between reformers on the outside and an elected prosecutor on the inside.

If making jail the exception in criminal cases sounds revolutionary, it shouldn’t. In many cities and counties, misdemeanors make up about 80 percent of the criminal docket. With few exceptions, locking people up for these low-level offenses, and for felonies that don’t involve serious violence or injury, is the wrong approach. The states of California, New Jersey and New York have cut the rate of incarceration by about 25 percent even as crime has fallen at a faster pace than it has nationally. In other words, locking up fewer people has correlated with making states safer, not less safe. Nationally, the population of teenagers in detention has also dropped by half alongside a major decline in the crime rate among young people. Internationally, crime is down in developed countries where incarceration always remained relatively low.

To keep people out of jail who don’t need to be there, prosecutors have to rethink whether and how they charge defendants in criminal cases. Too often, they bring the maximum charges or stack charges to gain leverage: The bigger the threatened sentence, the more reason defendants have to plead guilty rather than risk everything at trial. A fair process begins with screening cases rigorously as early as possible, so cases supported by only weak evidence can be declined or dismissed. When charges are brought, they should reflect the facts and circumstances of each case, so that they’re designed to achieve a just result, not the heaviest possible penalty.

Prosecutors should also treat kids as kids. This means taking science and adolescent brain development into account, and not criminalizing typical adolescent behavior such as fistfights or infractions at school. It also means expunging juvenile records for many of the cases that are resolved or when no new charges are incurred after a few years so young people have a second chance. And it means refraining from trying people under the age of 18 as adults, except in very limited circumstances involving serious violent offenses.

Prosecutors should work to end the devastating impact the justice system has on people because they’re poor, by pushing for the elimination of cash bail and fines and fees that people cannot reasonably afford to pay. D.A.s should also push to shrink the number of people — currently about five million — who are under some form of probation or parole. Excessive supervision increases the likelihood that people who are otherwise at low risk of reoffending will end up incarcerated for technical violations like breaking curfew. Some states have shortened supervision periods with no increase in reoffending.

Certain criminal charges and convictions carry especially harsh consequences for immigrants, triggering detention and deportation proceedings. Being jailed before trial also increases the likelihood of being detained and deported by federal immigration officials. Entangling the local justice system in immigration enforcement erodes trust, discouraging immigrants from reporting crime and appearing as witnesses in court. To build trust, prosecutors should consider the immigration consequences of the charges they choose to bring.

Too often, D.A. offices operate like a black box, with crucial decisions about charging and pleas hidden from public view. District attorneys should collect and share data so that the public can hold the system accountable. They should track the outcome of cases by race to flag disparities, findings of prosecutorial and police misconduct, and the number of people who go to jail because they can’t pay bail. They should also post data on diversion programs, incarceration rates and what all this costs taxpayers.

In a democracy, people tend to value and uphold the law when they perceive it as fair. As these new D.A.s reimagine the American model of prosecution, they should be pragmatists, focused on the well-being of the communities that elected them. Fairness and safety aren’t a trade-off. They complement each other. This new corps of prosecutors can lead the way toward doing more justice with more mercy.

Miriam Krinsky is a former federal prosecutor and the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the Magazine and the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School. She is also a best-selling author and a co-host of the “Slate Political Gabfest,” a popular podcast.

 

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Would Paul McCartney or Bono get the same treatment as Rapper Meek Mill?

Jay-Z: The Criminal Justice System Stalks Black People Like Meek Mill
A Philadelphia judge sentenced the rapper Meek Mill to two to four years in prison for violating probation.
By JAY-Z                November 17, 2017
This month Meek Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating his probation. #FreeMeek hashtags have sprung up, and hundreds of his fans rallied near City Hall in Philadelphia to protest the ruling.
On the surface, this may look like the story of yet another criminal rapper who didn’t smarten up and is back where he started. But consider this: Meek was around 19 when he was convicted on charges relating to drug and gun possession, and he served an eight-month sentence. Now he’s 30, so he has been on probation for basically his entire adult life. For about a decade, he’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside.
What’s happening to Meek Mill is just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day. I saw this up close when I was growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of a second chance, probation ends up being a land mine, with a random misstep bringing consequences greater than the crime. A person on probation can end up in jail over a technical violation like missing a curfew.
Taxpayers in Philadelphia, Meek Mill’s hometown, will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to keep him locked up, and I bet none of them would tell you his imprisonment is helping to keep them safer. He’s there because of arrests for a parole violation, and because a judge overruled recommendations by a prosecutor and his probation officer that he doesn’t deserve more jail time. That’s why I stopped my show in Dallas last week to talk about Meek.
Look at what he’s being punished for now:
In March, he was arrested after an altercation in a St. Louis airport. After video of what had actually happened was released, all charges were dropped against Meek. In August, he was arrested for popping a wheelie on a motorcycle on his video set in New York. Those charges will be dismissed if he stays out of trouble.
Think about that. The charges were either dropped or dismissed, but the judge sent him to prison anyway.
The specifics of Meek’s case inspired me to write this. But it’s time we highlight the random ways people trapped in the criminal justice system are punished every day. The system treats them as a danger to society, consistently monitors and follows them for any minor infraction — with the goal of putting them back in prison.
As of 2015, one-third of the 4.65 million Americans who were on some form of parole or probation were black. Black people are sent to prison for probation and parole violations at much higher rates than white people.
In Pennsylvania, hundreds of thousands of people are on probation or parole. About half of the people in city jails in Philadelphia are there for probation or parole violations. We could literally shut down jails if we treated people on parole or probation more fairly.
And that’s what we need to fight for in Philadelphia and across the country.
The racial-justice organization Color of Change is working with people in Philadelphia to pressure the courts there and make that vision a reality. Probation is a trap and we must fight for Meek and everyone else unjustly sent to prison.
 
Correction: November 17, 2017
An earlier version of this article misstated details of a New York criminal case involving Meek Mill. The case will be dismissed in the spring if he is not arrested again; it was not dismissed on condition of his attending traffic school.
Jay-Z is a philanthropist and musician. Meek Mill is signed to his entertainment company, Roc Nation.

Bail reform emanates from MA High court

Last month, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that judges must take into account a defendant’s financial resources when setting bail. The original intent of bail was to be sure a defendant returned to court, but in today’s environment, where approximately 97 percent of criminal cases are settled with plea bargain agreements, the setting of bail that people cannot pay, serves to guarantee more convictions.

When one is incarcerated pretrial, one is more likely to accept a plea, and a criminal conviction, in order to go home.

It is unclear what the impact will be for this ruling. The practice of bail will continue, and the court can use it when their is a flight risk.  Dangerousness hearings are also part of Massachusetts law, so that defendants deemed a danger to the public can be retained pretrial.  At this time the Mass Bail Fund is meeting with others to determine what kind of monitoring can be done to determine compliance with the new ruling.

See more here about the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling.

–Submitted by Louellyn Lambros of Scituate, an EMIT CORE member.

Post CSG- we need you at May 15 meeting

From Mass. Criminal Justice Reform Coalition

“There is no issue more worthy of our efforts, and no time left for inaction.”
Massachusetts is at a crossroads. For years, leaders at the highest levels of state government have been promising to take on comprehensive criminal justice reform; to mine the data, to develop policies based on what we need and what is proven to work, and to bring these proposals forward for a vote. In the summer of 2015, we saw a first step in this direction when the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, the Governor, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court united to commission the Council of State Governments (CSG) to review and analyze our criminal justice system data and the outcomes we are producing.
 What the CSG found was staggering. Fewer than half of those incarcerated in state prisons complete the recidivism-reduction programming recommended for them prior to their release. People involved in the criminal justice system (at every stage) have high substance abuse and/or mental health treatment needs that are going unaddressed. Our state lacks a standardized system for collecting data at all levels of the justice system, making tracking trends and outcomes difficult. Of course, making changes to all of these aspects of our system should be a priority.
 
But what the CSG didn’t find, or rather, what it was never tasked with looking into, is just as troubling. Absent from the CSG study was any focus on front-end problems, like the cash-bail and pretrial process, or sentencing reforms, like eliminating mandatory minimum sentences in drug cases and raising the felony threshold for low-level property crimes. Without a holistic look at how our justice system operates, from the beginning of the pipeline to the end, we are bound to continue the kinds of costly, racially disproportionate, and unjust policies that have brought us to the realities we’re facing today.
 
While Massachusetts is sometimes lauded for a low overall incarceration rate compared to other states, we must look, again, at what this perspective leaves out. Incarceration in every US state is significantly higher than in many other countries. Our own incarceration rate has tripled since the 1980s, before the “tough on crime” era picked up steam, and exceeds that of China, Canada, and Germany by significant margins. For some perspective, if the Bay State was a country, we’d be among the top 15% highest per capita incarcerators in the world.
 
Where our own residents are concerned, decades of racially biased sentencing policies have had an overwhelming and irrefutable impact on communities of color, both in regard to the individuals we are locking up and to the neighborhoods they leave behind. While Blacks and Latinos make up less than one-fifth of the state population, they account for more than half of the incarcerated population in our state, and they represent about 75% of those convicted of drug crimes that carry a mandatory minimum sentence. Addressing these issues must also be a priority.
 
Following the release of the CSG report in February, which provided a starting point of “low hanging fruit” criminal justice investments, and looking forward to the public hearings on a variety of criminal justice proposals slated to commence in the coming months, we must make a collective decision to make comprehensive reform a real priority. We must fight for a package that includes pretrial and sentencing reforms at its core, and we must do it this session.
 
I was proud to join my colleagues in the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the House Progressive Caucus, the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus, and the Women’s Caucus’s Justice Involved Women’s Task Force at a press conference last week to stake out this agenda in the legislature. It is going to take a significant effort on our part to maintain this momentum, and to work with House and Senate Leadership to craft legislation that will accomplish our goals. But there is no issue more worthy of our efforts, and no time left for inaction.
Sonia Chang-Diaz    State Senator, Second Suffolk District
Register for the fourth annual Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Policy Summit
 
May 15, 20178:30am-12:00pm
Omni Parker House, Boston
The annual Criminal Justice Reform Coalition Summit brings together 300 leaders from around the Commonwealth interested in comprehensive reform. Participants include elected officials, policy makers, public safety and corrections officials, advocates, and civic and religious leaders from Massachusetts and beyond. Learn more…

 

Justice & Equity Conference Saturday

When:          Sat., Oct 1, 9:30 Registration, 10 am to 2:00 PM – Lunch Included.
Where:         All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church
                        196 Elm St,, Braintree – Handicap accessible, Free.
Who:              YOU – open to the public, along with activists

This is a crucial time in the struggle for equity, issues of faith and the need for action.

Presenters will discuss justice and corrections reform in Massachusetts and the anticipated impact of the Council of State Government Study with recommended reform in Dec. 2016.
Hear from a formerly incarcerated person on what it’s like to be at the mercy of the Commonwealth’s justice system; as well as alternatives to courts and prison, such as restorative justice, and what you can do to support sane alternatives.
Another panel inform people on the progress of the Fair Share Amendment and what you can do help get this passed.

Join us for lively discussion and plan to the next steps on how individuals, groups and congregations can join the movement for justice.
Save the date – What do sheriffs do and why should I care?
When:         Monday, Oct. 24, 7-8 pm
Where:         From the comfort of your own home
Call in:         605 475 5900  access 618-9987#
 
Why:            Find out how the 14 county sheriffs in Mass. impact the county jails and who                             is up for election.
Who:           Activist Angel Cosme of Brockton Interfaith  will share information on why                               voters must care about this powerful role that impacts incarceration and                                    recidivism.

Mental health and Michelle Alexander

Join EMIT on Thursday, Dec. 3 at the Maynard Town Hall, 195 Main Street, to discuss how mental health is treated in prisons, and the relationship to drug addiction. Joining in the conversation are police chiefs from Arlington, Hudson, and Maynard as well as Sarah Abbott, director of the jail diversion program for Advocates, Inc. Three legislators will weigh in on the discussion: State Senator Jamie Eldridge, and State Representatives Sean Garballey and Kate Hogan.

The event is 7-830 pm with light refreshments, and is free and open to the public. The cosponsors are the Maynard and Hudson Democratic Town Committees.

Join EMIT on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 6-7:30 pm at the Hazlett Room of the Winthrop Public Library,  2 Metcalf Square for a showing of the 23-minute TEDx talk by Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” A discussion will follow, with free refreshments offered.

Sponsored by EMIT and hosted by the Winthrop Public Library. For information on either event, contact emit.susan@gmail.com, 978-772-3930.