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University of Wisconsin–Madison
Poverty-related issues in the news, from the Institute for Research on Poverty

Category: Law and Corrections

Incarceration and Childhood Trauma – Wisconsin

Cycles of incarceration hit African Americans, children especially hard, By Dean Mosiman, July 14, 2018, Wisconsin State Journal: “When people commit certain crimes or pose an extreme danger to others, most agree, they need to be locked up. Incarceration can also concentrate the mind, forcing offenders to confront the alcohol and drug dependencies that often led to their crimes, allow them to address anger problems and further their education. But it’s also true that incarceration can compound the effect of childhood trauma, make some problems worse, separate families, and renew cycles of trauma, making everyone less safe…”

Juvenile Life Sentencing – Philadelphia, PA

Why are juvenile lifers from Philly getting radically different sentences from those in the rest of Pennsylvania?, By Samantha Melamed, July 10, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Judge Rea Boylan called a brief recess at her courtroom in the Bucks County Criminal Justice Center so the lawyers could consult actuarial tables on the current life expectancy of an American male: 76.1 years. Then, a lawyer for Richard Mazeffa, who has been locked up 32 years for shooting his grandparents when he was a teenager, urged Boylan to give him some chance at release from prison before he reaches that age…”

Criminal Justice System

  • Justice reforms take hold, the inmate population plummets, and Philadelphia closes a notorious jail, By Tom Jackman, April 23, 2018, Washington Post: “The American criminal justice system’s gradual realization that too many people are in jail needlessly just got a large, visible boost from the city of Philadelphia. The city announced last week that it would close its notorious 91-year-old House of Correction jail because reforms begun two years ago have dropped the city’s jail population by 33 percent, without causing any increase in crime or chaos…”
  • Efforts to regulate bail companies have some unlikely allies: bail agents, By Jazmine Ulloa, April 24, 2018, Los Angeles Times: “In recent years, the seriousness and number of official complaints related to the bail industry in California have significantly increased while bail agents and bounty hunters face limited oversight, putting vulnerable communities at risk of fraud, embezzlement and other forms of victimization. This year, as Gov. Jerry Brown has pledged to work with lawmakers in a push to overhaul how courts assign defendants bail and to better regulate bail agencies, even some who profit from the court practice admit it’s time for regulation. These bail and bail-recovery agents could become unlikely allies, saying they advocate for change because they’ve seen the system abuse the poor…”
  • Mississippi defendants spend months in jail awaiting trial, By Jeff Amy (AP), April 24, 2018, Houston Chronicle: “Jerry Sanders has been sitting in a jail cell on a relatively minor charge of methamphetamine possession for more than a year — longer than the sentence he could get if he’s convicted. And with no money to post bail or hire his own lawyer, he may be sitting there for weeks or months more…”

Voting Rights and Registration

  • Automatic voter registration goes beyond the DMV, By J.B. Wogan, April 17, 2018, Governing: “New Jersey on Tuesday became the 12th state, plus the District of Columbia, to enact an automatic voter registration law, which is intended to increase participation in elections. While automatic voter registration (AVR) is itself a new trend — first adopted in Oregon in 2015 — New Jersey’s law represents a new twist: It allows the practice to extend beyond the DMV…”
  • This New Jersey law is blocking African Americans from voting in shocking numbers, By Samantha Melamed, April 12, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Thirty years in prison can teach you patience. That’s a good thing for Ronald Pierce, who was paroled last year, as he’s likely in for a long fight.  Pierce, a 59-year-old North Jersey man, accepts that he’s on parole and will be for the rest of his life. But one thing he can’t accept: He’s also being denied the right to vote…”
  • New York Governor to restore voting rights to parolees, By Rebecca Beitsch, April 18, 2018, Stateline: “New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans Wednesday to restore voting rights to 35,000 people in his state on parole. State law currently prohibits people from voting if they are serving parole for a felony conviction…”

Eviction in US Cities

In 83 million eviction records, a sweeping and intimate new look at housing in America, By Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui, April 7, 2018, New York Times: “Before the first hearings on the morning docket, the line starts to clog the lobby of the John Marshall Courthouse. No cellphones are allowed inside, but many of the people who’ve been summoned don’t learn that until they arrive. “Put it in your car,” the sheriff’s deputies suggest at the metal detector. That advice is no help to renters who have come by bus. To make it inside, some tuck their phones in the bushes nearby.  This courthouse handles every eviction in Richmond, a city with one of the highest eviction rates in the country, according to new data covering dozens of states and compiled by a team led by the Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond…”

State Voting Restrictions for Felons

Felony voting laws are confusing; activists would ditch them altogether, By Rebecca Beitsch, April 5, 2018, Stateline: “Her sentencing made headlines across the country this week: A woman, recently released from prison in Texas and still on felony probation, is set to head back to prison for another five years after she unknowingly broke the law by voting in the 2016 election. Texas law prohibits people such as Crystal Mason from voting until they are no longer under supervision by corrections officers. Mason told the court she had no idea she was prohibited from voting. At her polling station, officials let her cast a provisional ballot. The confusion over felons’ voting rights is not limited to Mason’s situation or to Texas. Across the country, state felon voting laws vary widely…”

Bail System

When bail feels less like freedom, more like extortion, By Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Shaila Dewan, March 31, 2018, New York Times: “Most bail bond agents make it their business to get their clients to court. But when Ronald Egana showed up at the criminal courthouse in New Orleans, he was surprised to find that his bondsman wanted to stop him. A bounty hunter was waiting at the courthouse metal detector to intercept Mr. Egana and haul him to the bond company office, he said. The reason: The bondsman wanted to get paid. Mr. Egana ended up in handcuffs, missing his court appearance while the agency got his mother on the phone and demanded more than $1,500 in overdue payments, according to a lawsuit. It was not the first time Mr. Egana had been held captive by the bond company, he said, nor would it be the last. Each time, his friends or family was forced to pay more to get him released, he said…”

Criminal Justice Reform – Kentucky

In Kentucky, all sides agree on need for criminal justice reform. But how?, By Henry Gass, March 15, 2018, Christian Science Monitor: “In 2009, both Tahiesha Howard and the state of Kentucky were looking for a fresh start. Ms. Howard’s childhood was such a blur of dysfunction and addiction she says she couldn’t remember her first drink of alcohol. By her 30s, one judge labeled the mother a ‘menace to society.’  Kentucky, meanwhile, had become a poster child for ineffective and unsustainable mass incarceration – its prison system growing at quadruple the national average despite a consistently low crime rate…”

Legal Aid Funding – Kentucky

Kentucky could become third state not to fund legal aid, By Adam Beam (AP), March 27, 2018, Ledger-Enquirer: “Edna Bland had just adopted a child, her father was dying and her husband was having risky heart surgery when a mortgage company tried to take her house in 2009. Because Bland had not been charged with a crime, she was not guaranteed the right to an attorney. A judge ruled against her, and the mortgage company tried to put a lock on her house…”

Bail Reform – Ohio

Cuyahoga County task force seeks sweeping bail reforms, By Peter Krouse, March 16, 2018, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Cuyahoga County should adopt sweeping judicial reforms that would dramatically change the way bail is set and give poor defendants a better shot at justice, according to a much-awaited report by a task force of local judges, lawyers and legal experts.  Today’s release of the report follows more than 18 months of reporting by cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer in Justice for All, a series examining how the region’s bail systems dispense unequal justice, needlessly and unfairly jailing some suspects simply because they can’t afford to pay for their freedom…”

Baby Nurseries in Prisons – Ohio

Parenting in prison: Ohio nursery offers inmate moms, children a chance to bond, By John Caniglia, March 4, 2018, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “One-month-old Javon Jackson fidgets with his mom’s jacket as he drinks from his bottle and holds her hand. His mom coos. Her friends laugh, and a precocious, 2-year-old toddler stops by and waves hi. In all, it is a typical, upbeat moment for any mother and child — until prison officials tell Javon’s mom, Janisha Meredith of Cleveland, that a head count is scheduled in 5 minutes. Javon and four other children, who were born while their mothers were incarcerated, are being raised by their moms in Ohio’s prison nursery, a facility that sits less than 30 feet from the razor wire that circles the Ohio Reformatory for Women…”

Debt Collection and the Poor

  • Debtors’ prison: ACLU report details ‘criminalization of private debt’, By Jon Schuppe, February 21, 2018, NBC News: “Americans’ reliance on household debt ─ and poor people’s struggles to pay it off ─ has fueled a collection industry that forces many of them into jail, a practice that critics call a misuse of the criminal justice system…”
  • How Chicago ticket debt sends black motorists into bankruptcy, By Melissa Sanchez and Sandhya Kambhampati, February 27, 2018, ProPublica: “By last summer, Laqueanda Reneau felt like she had finally gotten her life on track. A single mother who had gotten pregnant in high school, she supported her family with a series of jobs at coffee shops, restaurants and clothing stores until she landed a position she loved as a community organizer on Chicago’s West Side. At the same time, she was working her way toward a degree in public health at DePaul University. But one large barrier stood in her way: $6,700 in unpaid tickets, late fines and impound fees…”

State Voting Restrictions for Felons

Most states disenfranchise felons. Maine and Vermont allow inmates to vote from prison, By Jane C. Timm, February 26, 2018, NBC News: “Joseph Jackson was one of the millions of Americans inspired by Barack Obama’s 2008 White House bid. A black man in the nation’s whitest state, he coordinated voter registration drives and cast his first-ever ballot for the candidate who would become the nation’s first African-American president. And he did it all while incarcerated in a maximum-security prison, serving 19 years for manslaughter.  That’s because Jackson, 52, was convicted in Maine, one of just two states that allow felons to vote from behind bars…”

Cash Bail System

  • What happened when New Jersey stopped relying on cash bail, By Maddie Hanna, February 16, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “One year into New Jersey’s nationally watched overhaul of its bail system, the state’s pretrial jail population has dropped 20 percent as courts have all but stopped setting cash bail…”
  • Philadelphia DA drops cash bail for ‘low-level’ crimes, By Anthony Izaguirre (AP), February 21, 2018, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Philadelphia’s top prosecutor said Wednesday his office will stop jailing people who cannot afford to pay cash bail in minor criminal cases, affirming the commitment of the country’s fifth-largest city to a national movement that argues the practice targets poor Americans…”

Renters and Eviction

  • Landlord battles haunt Twin Cities low-income renters, By Max Nesterak, February 22, 2018, Minnesota Public Radio: “Lakesha Davis and her fiance Steven Perkins thought they’d finally landed a home, a house in St. Paul that offered a fresh start for them and four of their kids. Years earlier, they’d been forced from their north Minneapolis home after a grandson’s blood tests came back showing elevated lead levels. The landlord evicted them, Davis said, after the child’s pediatrician alerted a city housing inspector…”
  • When faced with eviction, African-American women in Madison struggle to find rent help, By Lisa Speckhard Pasque, February 17, 2018, Cap Times: “Last December when Brandice Hatcher was eight months pregnant, she came home to an eviction notice…”

Public Defender System – Missouri

Some Missouri lawmakers want to privatize the public defender system. For one county, it starts March 1., By Sky Chadde, February 20, 2018, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Next month, when poor people are charged with crimes in one southern Missouri county, a private attorney will represent them — even if they can’t afford it. That’s because the Missouri State Public Defender has decided to completely privatize Texas County. Starting March 1, if a defendant is deemed indigent, judges there will contract with private lawyers, with the state footing the bill, according to Michael Barrett, director for the public defender office…”

Bail Reform

  • New Jersey claims bail-reform a success, cites huge drop in jail population, By Peter Krouse, February 13, 2018, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “One year after sweeping criminal-justice reforms became law in New Jersey, the state has “successfully transformed an antiquated money bail system into a modern risk-based system,” the state’s courts reported Tuesday…”
  • Could Dallas’ bail system be deemed an ‘instrument of oppression’ after Houston ruling?, By Naomi Martin, February 16, 2018, Dallas News: “On the one hand, it was a kick in the gut.  But it was also a roadmap. That’s how Dallas County officials see a much-anticipated ruling by a federal appeals court on bail reform. For years, county leaders and judges have been in talks to overhaul the criminal bail system to make it easier for poor arrestees who aren’t dangerous to be released from jail while they await trial…”

Bail Reform

  • Atlanta mayor signs new ordinance changing cash bail system in a nod to the needy, By Rhonda Cook, February 5, 2018, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an ordinance Tuesday that eliminates the Municipal Court’s cash bond requirement for some low-level offenders who otherwise would sit in jail because they can’t afford bail…”
  • Delaware strengthens bail reform movement, By J. B. Wogan, January 29, 2018, Governing: “Delaware Gov. John Carney signed a bill late last week that places the state among a small group that has moved away from cash bail. ‘You have poor people who pose no risk of flight or no risk to the community incarcerated on a full-time basis before trial,’ says Delaware state Sen. Bryan Townsend, a co-sponsor of the bill. ‘That’s not at all what the criminal justice system is supposed to be about.’ On any given day, jails across the country house some 700,000 people — many of whom are there because they can’t afford to pay bail…”

Criminal Justice Reform – Georgia

Number of African-Americans sent to Georgia prisons hits historic lows, By Bill Rankin, January 25, 2018, Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “The number of African-Americans being locked up in Georgia’s prison system has dropped to historic lows, reflecting a monumental shift in the way Georgia is punishing nonviolent offenders. While prison admissions have dropped almost 19 percent in the past eight years, the incarceration of black inmates fell by 30 percent. And the number of black inmates entering the prison system last year was at its lowest level in decades, Department of Corrections records show…”

Access to Legal Aid

Justice Dept. office to make legal aid more accessible is quietly closed, By Katie Benner, February 1, 2018, New York Times: “The Justice Department has effectively shuttered an Obama-era office dedicated to making legal aid accessible to all citizens, according to two people familiar with the situation. The division, the Office for Access to Justice, began as an initiative in 2010 under former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to increase and improve legal resources for indigent litigants in civil, criminal and tribal courts. Though the head of the office reports directly to the associate attorney general, it never gained much visibility within the Justice Department because it did not oversee a large staff of prosecutors…”