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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

Eviction

  • The money owed in eviction cases is often small, but the consequences can be huge, By Christopher Huffaker and Kate Giammarise, September 6, 2018, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “In District Judge Robert Ravenstahl’s North Side courtroom, stacks of manila folders are piled beside the judge. An American flag stands in the corner. There are several water stains on the ceiling. On this Friday afternoon, he will hear nearly 30 eviction cases in about 90 minutes. Many of the cases this afternoon are tenants from nearby Northview Heights, a large public housing complex on Pittsburgh’s North Side…”
  • New law gives California tenants more time to fight evictions, By Aurora Percannella, September 7, 2018, Los Angeles Times: “Tenants in California will get more time to fight evictions under a new law that Gov. Jerry Brown signed this week…”

Bail Reform – California

California Gov. Jerry Brown signs overhaul of bail system, saying now ‘rich and poor alike are treated fairly’, By Jazmine Ulloa, August 28, 2018, Los Angeles Times: “California Gov. Jerry Brown has championed legislation and ballot measures downgrading drug crimes, expanding chances of early release for prisoners and easing punishment for juvenile offenders. On Tuesday, he ushered in one of the most sweeping criminal justice reforms of his administration, signing a bill abolishing the state’s current money bail system, and replacing it with one that grants judges greater power to decide who should remain incarcerated ahead of trial…”

Bail Reform – California

Proposal to radically overhaul California’s bail system advances in Legislature, By Jazmine Ulloa, August 16, 2018, Los Angeles Times: “California could soon end money bail, but some of the criminal justice groups who worked toward that goal aren’t celebrating. A closely-watched bill to overhaul the state’s bail system advanced out of a key fiscal committee on Thursday with broad changes that would virtually eliminate the payment of money as a condition for release from jail. That should have been a roaring victory for legislators and supporters who have long decried a system that they say unfairly punishes the poor. But the amendments also hand over more control to local courts and probation offices to decide who should remain incarcerated, a move former sponsors of the legislation contend could lead to indefinite detention…”

Legal Representation in Evictions – Newark, NJ

Renters getting evicted will soon get free lawyers in N.J. city, By Karen Yi and Delaney Dryfoos, August 11, 2018, NJ.com: “Newark has taken the first step to codify into law its intent to provide low-income tenants facing eviction with free legal help. Citing the lack of affordable housing opportunities and ‘frivolous’ eviction actions, the city plans to create a nonprofit that connects eligible tenants with legal representation in landlord-tenant court…”

Criminal Justice Reform

  • ‘I’m somewhere bettering myself’: prison reform unlike any other in America, By David Kidd, August 2018, Governing: “Terry Pullins is on his second tour in the North Dakota prison system. He’s also done time in California. Since he never got farther than the fifth grade, the 40-year-old Pullins has spent nearly as much time behind bars as he did in school. But last December brought the most acute punishment he has ever suffered: Pullins lost his daughter in a car accident. Most inmates in most prisons endure that sort of grief alone. But Pullins is at the Missouri River Correctional Center near Bismarck, N.D. This is a prison designed as much as possible to imitate life on the outside…”
  • Phone calls from New York City jails will soon be free, By Zoe Greenberg, August 6, 2018, New York Times: “People who end up in jail in New York City will now be able to use the phones there for free, after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill into law on Monday that will eliminate the charge. The city had been collecting about $5 million per year from calls made by incarcerated people and their families…”
  • Bail reform bill considered by California legislature, By Marissa Gerchick, Fiona Kelliher and Emily Lemmerman, August 8, 2018, Napa Valley Register: “In late 1987, Sheri Costa drove her three young children from Alameda County to Fresno County to see her husband in jail. He had been arrested more than 30 days earlier in Fresno on charges of drug possession with intent to sell and distribute, and the price of his freedom was set: $100,000…”

Public Assistance Programs

  • The outsize hold of the word ‘welfare’ on the public imagination, By Emily Badger, August 6, 2018, New York Times: “The federal program known as welfare delivers cash assistance to less than 1 percent of the United States population. This is far smaller than the share of those aided by food stamps, or by other government support like disability benefits, unemployment insurance, college grants and medical benefits. But none of those other social programs have captured the public imagination or pervaded American politics as thoroughly as welfare, a piece of the safety net that helps about 2.5 million people. Its outsize influence has remained — and could soon become larger — even as the program itself has shrunk to its smallest size…”
  • What we know about Trump’s proposal to punish immigrants who receive public benefits, By Nora Gámez Torres and Brenda Medina, August 9, 2018, Miami Herald: “Reports that the Trump administration is preparing to deny U.S. citizenship to immigrants who receive any sort of income-based public assistance have unleashed a wave of concern in South Florida. But the plan has not been approved yet, the published reports are confusing and it could be months before any change related to public benefits and immigration could be approved and take effect…”
  • Plan to punish immigrants for using welfare could boost G.O.P. candidates, By Michael D. Shear and Ron Nixon, August 7, 2018, New York Times: “The Trump administration is advancing a plan to punish legal immigrants for accepting food stamps, public housing and other government benefits they are entitled to — a strategy that appeals to conservatives and could help to galvanize Republican voters before the midterm elections…”
  • Sacramento welfare investigators track drivers to find fraud. Privacy group raises red flags, By Kellen Browning, August 10, 2018, Sacramento Bee: “Police in recent years have tapped into a vast database of license plate images to track drivers and solve crimes. Few people know, however, that Sacramento County welfare fraud investigators have been using that same data since 2016…”

Prison Education Programs

Throw the books at them: How more training for Wisconsin’s prisoners could help companies, By David D. Haynes, July 26, 2018, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Mike Williams finished high school at age 15, and by the time his classmates got around to receiving their own diplomas, he had another one: an associate’s degree in computer electronics at Milwaukee Area Technical College. He was judged as a bright young man by his instructors, someone who learned quickly. But Williams also ran with the wrong crowd in those days and made a series of poor decisions as a young man that would upend his promising life for many years. He sold marijuana and was imprisoned for the crime, then was sent back to prison on probation violations…”

Homelessness and Housing

  • ‘It’s the new form of affordable housing’: more people are living in their cars, By Mattie Quinn, July 24, 2018, Governing: “When a homeless count was conducted in Seattle this year, the city realized that more people are living in their car than ever before and 46 percent more than the year prior. In King County, which surrounds Seattle, around 25 percent of the homeless population is reported to live in their vehicles. This phenomenon isn’t unique to Seattle…”
  • 22% surge in number of older homeless people catches L.A. officials off guard, By Gale Holland, July 19, 2018, Los Angeles Times: “Andrea Colucci’s long, slow slide into homelessness began, as it does for many, with medical bills. At the age of 67, she had decided to finally transition as a transgender woman. Her insurer balked at paying her surgeon’s bills, so she put them on credit cards. Then her post-surgery housing plans fell through. A hospital put her out on the sidewalk in a paper gown…”
  • Tiny home village for homeless thriving in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood, By Joe Rubino, July 27, 2018, Denver Post: “From the start, supporters have hoped Beloved Community Village would help people beyond the 13 residents who moved off Denver’s streets and into its 8-foot-by-12-foot tiny homes last July. The village, 11 homes, a bathhouse, two portable toilets and a circular common building bounded by a brightly decorated chain-link fence at the corner of 38th and Blake streets, was meant to be a pioneer. It’s a pilot project designed to demonstrate tiny homes, arranged in a community where rules are set by the residents themselves,  should be part of the solution to combating homelessness in Denver…”
  • Seattle citywide day of media coverage on homelessness, compilation of articles, July 19, 2018, Crosscut: “It’s nearly impossible to avoid the tent-homes clustered in the nooks and crannies of Seattle’s cityscape. Every night and every day, thousands of this booming city’s residents find respite in these meager shelters. Others rest their heads on park benches, bus seats and concrete. Today, Crosscut joins a host of local media organizations in dedicating our website and social channels to the stories of these people. Below we’ll be tracking all of the stories produced today, including a joint project by Crosscut, The Seattle Times, KUOW and SeattlePI.com featuring a series of in-depth stories on the changing dynamics of homelessness in Seattle…”

Debt Collection and the Poor

  • Chicago hiked the cost of vehicle city sticker violations to boost revenue. But it’s driven more low-income, black motorists into debt., By Melissa Sanchez and Elliott Ramos, July 26, 2018, ProPublica Illinois: “During negotiations for Chicago’s 2012 budget, newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then-City Clerk Susana Mendoza agreed to hike the price of what was already one of the priciest tickets vehicle owners can get in the city. Citations for not having a required vehicle sticker rose from $120 to $200. The increase, approved unanimously by the City Council, was pitched by Mendoza as an alternative to raising the price of stickers as well as generating much-needed revenue from ‘scofflaws…'”
  • IRS outsources debt collection to private firms, and the poor feel the sting, watchdog charges, By Jeff Stein, July 23, 2018, Washington Post: “Private tax collectors acting on the Internal Revenue Service’s behalf have collected tax payments from more than 5,000 poor people in the past year, payments that an in-house IRS watchdog says should have been avoided. Nina E. Olson, head of the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate, says a private debt collections program is not doing enough to spare people struggling to pay for food and shelter from additional drains on their income. She has also urged the IRS to stop referring to the private companies cases of individuals whose incomes put them below 250 percent of the poverty line…”

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…”