We can’t just be against the death penalty when it’s easy

noose

As we hear more and more outrageous stories about wrongly convicted people spending decades in prison, support for the death penalty weakens. According to The Innocence Project, 341 prisoners have been exonerated through DNA evidence in the last 25 years. And these are the ones who are lucky enough to have an organization with resources to investigate their cases. Continue reading “We can’t just be against the death penalty when it’s easy”

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The danger of courting white swing voters

voting

It must be pretty sweet to be a white swing voter. Political campaigns blow millions of dollars catering to your every whim. Politicians ask what you think before they step out on a major policy program, despite the fact that your views aren’t representative of the majority of Americans. The changing demographics of this country mean it’s well past time to stop obsessing over a shrinking population that’s out of sync with the right direction for this country. Continuing to cater to those voters can have dire consequences, in politics and more importantly in policies that deeply impact people’s lives. Continue reading “The danger of courting white swing voters”

Kalief Browder, Timothy Tyrone Foster and the failures of the criminal justice system

Kalief Browder, 1993-2015
Kalief Browder, 1993-2015

This week, Kalief Browder’s all too brief life came to an end when he committed suicide. If I had greater faith in this country’s position as a moral bastion, I wouldn’t be able to believe his tragic story. Kalief, just 22 when he died, was held in jail for three years without trial starting at the age of 16 for stealing a backpack, a charge he vigorously denied. He suffered in jail all that time partly because his family could not afford bail, and after all that his case was dismissed. He spent about two of those years in solitary confinement, a practice that most reasonable people recognize as torture. The conditions he faced were reprehensible:  Continue reading “Kalief Browder, Timothy Tyrone Foster and the failures of the criminal justice system”

Talk about the people, not just the politics

prison-reform

Despite the fact that we’re more than a year away from the 2016 presidential election, we’re already getting inundated with horse race coverage. For candidates and likely candidates, every single moved is parsed for political impact. Every policy statement is assessed for what it signals about a candidates’ intentions or desire to woo a particular demographic.

When Hillary Clinton made a statement about criminal justice reform, a couple of Washington Post columnists attacked her for committing political suicide (apparently confronting a glaring reality turns you into Michael Dukakis). Radley Balko responded by tearing apart their claims that this is not a politically viable position, but then gets to the heart of the matter:  Continue reading “Talk about the people, not just the politics”

The police department’s margarita machine is on you

The tragic fates of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others have increased scrutiny of horrendous police practices. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver took advantage of this spotlight to turn their invaluable form of comedic long-form journalism to the practice of civil asset forfeiture.

The New Yorker featured an essential piece on the practice and people who are affected by this flagrant abuse of power last year. Dara Lind at Vox offers a helpful overview of the practice. On what police departments are doing with the money:

In its ongoing investigation of civil asset forfeiture, the Washington Post analyzed several years of reports from state and local law enforcement to determine what they’d done with the money the federal government had returned to them. They found that the most common use of asset funds was for “communications and computers,” with “building and improvements” coming in second. But even “communications and computers” was dwarfed by the amount of money that police marked as “other” — 44 percent of the money that police got back from the federal government went to “other.”

The Post investigation noticed some particularly frivolous spending, like a $600 coffeemaker or $225 for the face-painting services of Sparkles the Clown. But at least the money spent on Sparkles went to community outreach, which is generally cops’ lowest priority when it comes to asset money. Less than 1 percent of all federally returned money went to community outreach — five times less money than any other category.

The above video is well worth your sixteen minutes, running the gamut from the ridiculous justifications police offer for running off with people’s money and possessions, to systems that incentivizing robbing innocent people of their stuff, to the near impossibility of regaining the stolen property. And yes, I would totally watch Law and Order: Civil Forfeiture Unit. 

 

 

What we must remember after Ferguson

photo via slate.com
photo via slate.com

Every time there is a tragedy like the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we are reminded of the many lessons our society has sadly failed to learn. It’s wrenching to watch yet another family grieve a young person who paid the ultimate price thanks to racism and institutional failure. As we fight for justice for Michael Brown and others, we must also highlight the lessons that will help our country prevent these tragedies in the future.  Continue reading “What we must remember after Ferguson”

A win in the fight against private prisons

Corrections-Corporation-of-America
photo from veteransnewsnow.com

If you’re paying attention to criminal justice policy in the US, you’ve been bombarded with daunting statistics. One in one hundred adult Americans is behind bars. The US has the largest prison population per capita in the world (12 times Japan’s, 17 times Iceland’s). While there are signs that politicians are coming to terms with some aspects of this problem, there is still a paralyzing fear of being portrayed as “soft on crime” that makes ambitious policy change challenging.

Layered on top of that is a disturbing new development: injecting a profit motive into the prison industry. Powerful corporations are lobbying to keep more people in prison longer, and even “liberal” politicians are throwing money at them.

These challenges make a new victory in taking on the private prison industry even more exciting. Continue reading “A win in the fight against private prisons”