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

Tag: Criminal Justice System

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…”

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…”

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…”

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…”

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…”

Cash Bail System – Dallas, TX

Poor people locked up longer than the rich, violating Constitution in Dallas, lawsuit alleges, By Cary Aspinwall and Naomi Martin, January 21, 2018, Dallas Morning News: “The day that Dallas County leaders have been dreading for years finally arrived on Sunday: four nonprofits filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging the jail’s cash bail system unfairly harms poor people and violates the Texas and U.S. constitutions. The lawsuit, which officials feared due to its potentially hefty price tag, alleges Dallas County’s cash bail system fails to consider a jailed defendant’s ability to pay to post bond, resulting in disparate treatment in the criminal justice system…”

Juvenile Court Fines and Fees

Movement against juvenile court fees runs into resistance, By Teresa Wiltz, January 17, 2018, Stateline: “California this month became the first state to eliminate court costs, fees and fines for young offenders. But court officials and legislators wary of forfeiting a key source of revenue have raised roadblocks in states and localities that have tried to follow suit. The Trump administration has further blunted momentum by scrapping an Obama-era warning against imposing excessive fees and fines on juveniles. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the move as part of a broader effort to overhaul regulatory procedures at the Department of Justice. The administration declined to comment on whether it supports the imposition of such fees…”

Bail Reform – New York

Cuomo, in bid to help poor, proposes ending cash bail for minor crimes, By James C. McKinley Jr., January 2, 2018, New York Times: “Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo plans to ask the New York State Legislature to eliminate cash bail for many crimes and to speed up the disclosure of evidence in trials as part of a package of proposals intended make the criminal justice system fairer for indigent defendants, his aides said…”

Bail System – California

California’s bail system is ‘unsafe and unfair,’ study finds, By Eric Westervelt, October 25, 2017, National Public Radio: “The national effort to get states to move away from a bail system based on money — something detractors call unjust and antiquated — got a big boost this week: A yearlong study backed by California’s chief justice recommended money bail be abolished and replaced with a system that includes robust safety assessments and expanded pretrial services. Calling the state’s commercial bail system ‘unsafe and unfair,’ a working group created by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye argues that the state’s bail system bases a defendant’s liberty too much on his or her finances, rather than an assessment of whether the defendant is a flight or safety risk…”

Bail Reform – Alabama

Too poor to make bail: Alabama forced to reform ‘two-tiered’ jail system, By Anna Claire Vollers, October 11, 2017, Al.com: “In May, Kandace Edwards had hit rock bottom. She was 29 years old and homeless, the mother of two toddlers. They lived in rural Randolph County on the Alabama-Georgia line, staying with a variety of friends – some of whom did not have electricity or running water – since her eviction five months previously. Edwards was also 7 months pregnant and had just lost her waitressing job, she said, after the restaurant let her go because her high-risk pregnancy prevented her from working in certain conditions. She had no income, relying on food stamps and Medicaid for support. She’d granted temporary custody of her children to her mother-in-law. Then Edwards was arrested for forging a $75 check. It was a felony charge, and bail was set at $7,500…”

Ex-Offenders and Employment

‘Ban the Box’ laws may be harming young black men seeking jobs, By Rebecca Beitsch, August 22, 2017, Stateline: “‘Ban the box’ laws, which bar employers from asking job applicants whether they have a criminal record, may be harming some of the people they are intended to help.  Twenty-nine states prevent state and sometimes city and county employers from including a criminal history box on job applications. Nine states have extended the ban to private employers as well…”

Bail Reform

Post bail, By Jon Schuppe, August 20, 2017, NBC News: “On the ground floor of a deteriorating county courthouse, in a room outfitted with temporary office furniture and tangles of electrical wires, a cornerstone of America’s criminal justice system is crumbling. A 20-year-old man in a green jail jumpsuit appears on a video monitor that faces a judge. It is early June, and he has been arrested for driving a car with a gun locked in the glove compartment.  If he were in almost any other courtroom in the country, he’d be ordered to stay behind bars until he posted bail — if he could afford it. This is what millions of people charged with crimes from shoplifting to shootings have done for more than two centuries. The bail system, enshrined in the Bill of Rights, is meant to ensure that all defendants, presumed innocent before trial, get a shot at freedom and return to court. But allowing people to pay for their release has proved unfair to people who don’t have much money…”

Bail System – Illinois

Rauner signs law to change rules for paying cash to get out of jail, By Kim Geiger, June 9, 2017, Chicago Tribune: “Low-level offenders who have been arrested and can’t come up with enough money to get out of jail can get a rehearing of their bail amount, under a plan signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner…”

Age of Criminal Responsibility in States

How ‘Raise the Age’ laws might reduce recidivism, By Teresa Wiltz, May 31, 2017, Stateline: “You have to be 18 to vote in a general election or join the military without your parents’ consent — and you’ve got to be 21 before you can belly up to the bar. But in some states, if you’re under 18 and you break the law, you’ll be treated as an adult, no matter how slight the crime — even if it’s just jumping a subway turnstile or shoplifting…”

Public Defender System – Louisiana

Class-action status sought for Louisiana indigent defense lawsuit, By Ken Daley, May 4, 2017, New Orleans Times-Picayune: “Civil rights advocates hoping to force a rebuild of Louisiana’s indigent defense system on Thursday (May 4) sought class-action status for a lawsuit filed in February against Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state’s Public Defender Board. The motion for class certification argues that Louisiana has allowed the system meant to provide constitutionally mandated legal aid for poor criminal defendants to buckle under excessive caseloads, inadequate staffing and deficient funding mechanisms. Supporters said that if the class action request is certified, rulings in the case would apply to nearly 20,000 indigent defendants in the state, likely making it the largest indigent-defense case of its kind…”

Ex-Offenders and Employment

Matching ex-offenders with hard-to-fill health care jobs, By Sophie Quinton, April 19, 2017, Stateline: “Collie Thomas sat in the courtyard outside the Johns Hopkins Hospital and marveled at her luck. She works as an orderly in one of the most prestigious hospitals in the country. She was promoted about a year ago. She just moved into a snug new row house. ‘I stayed 10 years in prison, and I worked hard in prison for like a dollar, dollar fifty — for so little,’ said Thomas, 51, her bedazzled pink smartphone glinting in the April sunshine. ‘So when you get these kinds of jobs here, you work your best.’  With unemployment falling and workers hard to find, a growing number of health care employers are following Johns Hopkins’ lead and giving people with criminal records a second chance — hiring them mainly into entry-level jobs in food service, janitorial services and housekeeping. Studies show that employees with records stay in their jobs longer and are no more likely to commit workplace crimes than hires without them…”