A Criminal Justice System: Link Round-Up

A Criminal Justice System: Link Round-Up March 2, 2015

Depending on how you’ve calibrated your expectations, some of these might be construed as hopeful!

Others not so much.

1. “Fourteen Years After Decriminalizing All Drugs, Here’s What Portugal Looks Like”:

In 2001, the Portuguese government did something that the United States would find entirely alien. After many years of waging a fierce war on drugs, it decided to flip its strategy entirely: It decriminalized them all.

If someone is found in the possession of less than a 10-day supply of anything from marijuana to heroin, he or she is sent to a three-person Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, typically made up of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. The commission recommends treatment or a minor fine; otherwise, the person is sent off without any penalty. A vast majority of the time, there is no penalty.

Fourteen years after decriminalization, Portugal has not been run into the ground by a nation of drug addicts. In fact, by many measures, it’s doing far better than it was before.


2. “The Historic Roots of Homan Square, Chicago’s CIA-Style Black Site”:

…Ackerman and Siska aren’t wrong here; Chicago policing does echo Abu Ghraib, and using torture overseas can affect domestic law enforcement. But the causality is confused. The CPD didn’t need, and doesn’t need, the War on Terror to teach it to violate civil rights. It’s had decades of practice already (as Ackerman acknowledges.) The problem is not that the War on Terror is bleeding into domestic policing, but rather that the War on Terror and domestic policing are part of a single, vicious whole, in which tactics and ideologies are shared between military, police, and the public, allowing for state torture and violence both at home and overseas.

If modern Chicago police torture has a starting point, it’s not 9/11 but Vietnam. Military policeman Jon Burge appears to have used portable electric generators to torture suspects in the Mekong Delta in 1968. He brought those techniques back with him to Chicago, where he became a police detective and tortured more than 100 black men between the early 1970s and the early 1990s. Many of these men were convicted on the basis of false confessions. Some of them are still in prison—even though Burge himself, who was convicted of perjury, has served his time and been released.

more–short and sharp; and this is the Guardian‘s “black site” report which sparked the current discussions

3. “Out of Trouble, But Criminal Records Keep Men Out of Work”:

Michael Hugh Mirsky landed a temporary job in December rolling stacks of crated milk and orange juice to the loading docks at a commercial dairy in central New Jersey. He’s not making much, and he doesn’t know how long it will last, but after 30 months of unemployment, he counts himself lucky. Mr. Mirsky is a convicted criminal, and work is hard to find.

A series of unfortunate events that began in 2012 when Mr. Mirsky lost a job as a Verizon technician culminated last year in a guilty plea for resisting arrest. He is facing the foreclosure of his home; his church has told him that he cannot serve as an usher; he is thousands of dollars in arrears on child support payments for his 8-year-old daughter. Even as the economy improves, Mr. Mirsky has been unable to find a permanent position so he can start rebuilding his life.

“Even your lower-paying fast-food jobs are now doing background checks,” he said. “How can I pay child support if I can’t get a job?”

The share of American men with criminal records — particularly black men — grew rapidly in recent decades as the government pursued aggressive law enforcement strategies, especially against drug crimes. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, those men are having particular trouble finding work. Men with criminal records account for about 34 percent of all nonworking men ages 25 to 54, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

more–medium-length piece with lots of perspectives.

4. And from the distaff side, Cosmo (for real) does good work:

Tiffany Johnson felt excited, scared, and a little incredulous on the day she was released from Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s prison in the world. She’d done 16 years of her life sentence, which she got for killing her mother’s boyfriend — the man she says raped her every day from age 5 to age 10. As Tiffany exited the prison gates, two thoughts ran through her mind: “I can’t believe this is happening” and “It’s a trick.”

A few hours later, the mixed emotions distilled into fear. “I tried to take a shower,” recalled Tiffany of that April 2010 night. She turned on the water, but it came out from the tub faucet below and she couldn’t figure out how to get it to flow from above. “I cried and cried,” she said. “I felt like if this is a problem, just turning on a shower, what else am I going to run into? What other struggles am I going to have?”

The list began with the mundane, like learning to use a cell phone and getting used to closing a door herself to be alone in a room. Then there were real challenges. As a felon, she was banned from most low-income housing, and finding a job seemed near impossible. In prison she had become an expert electrician, supervising and training the other women in her penitentiary’s electrical sector. Yet every time she applied for a job, she had to check a box admitting her criminal history and never even got interviews. She finally contacted the electronic company her prison subcontractor supplied, figuring they’d give her a chance. “They didn’t,” Tiffany, now 46, said, rolling her eyes. “I served my time and I was out. But it didn’t matter. It’s like I was still serving a life sentence.”


5. California’s Prop 47, which eased penalties for some drug and theft offenses, may already be having several effects:

…The report cites a drop in the jail population from about 18,000 inmates to 15,360 on Jan. 5. With some county-sentenced inmates serving more time, the population has since rebounded to about 17,000, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Local criminal courts will process 4,000 to 14,000 applications from pretrial defendants who were arrested for felonies but can now have their charges reduced to misdemeanors, the report said. An additional 20,000 applications could come from people currently incarcerated, the report said.

Another category of cases is expected to keep judges, prosecutors and public defenders busy: the people who have already served their time and can now change the felonies on their criminal records to misdemeanors. Those cases could top 300,000 and date back decades.


6. “Corrective Education” companies:

Imagine you’re browsing at Bloomingdale’s when a security guard taps you on the shoulder and accuses you of shoplifting. He takes you to a private room, sits you down, and runs your name through a database to see if you have any outstanding warrants. Then he tells you that you have two options. The first involves him calling the police, who might arrest you and take you to jail. The second allows you to walk out of the store immediately, no questions asked—right after you sign an admission of guilt and agree to pay $320 to take an online course designed to make you never want to steal again.

Which would you choose?

Over the past four years, about 20,000 people around the country have faced versions of this dilemma and chosen to pay up instead of taking their chances with the criminal justice system. Collecting their money and administering the course is a Utah-based outfit called Corrective Education Company (CEC), which was started by a pair of Harvard Business School graduates in 2010.


7. During protests, “More police departments choosing restraint over quick action” (lol at that euphemism btw):

Denver’s police chief told officers not to intervene but to stand by and watch as protesters threw red paint on a memorial for fallen officers during a weekend march against police brutality.

The stand-down order upset some officers, who said it sends a message that protesters can get away with increasingly brazen actions.

But at a time when some police departments have been criticized for using military-style methods of crowd control against protesters, Denver’s approach of restraint is being shared by agencies across the country as experts say police interference can actually escalate violence and erode trust.


8. “When Freedom Isn’t Free“:

…In a courtroom just outside Jackson, Mississippi, Kristina Howell was about to experience a new, “sexy side of bail.”

After spending two days and nights in jail for drunk driving this past August, Howell was brought to the Byram city court, where she pled guilty and was told she had to pay a fine of $1,044. If she couldn’t come up with the money on the spot, she was headed back to jail. “I panicked,” said Howell, who lives and supports her son “paycheck to paycheck.”

But there was one other option. The judge explained to Howell that she could avoid jail by purchasing a new kind of bail bond, a post-conviction device that bail agents in Mississippi are busily promoting around the state. It would cost $155, and would buy her two extra months to come up with the money to pay her fine. Howell was then escorted to another room, where Patty Hodges from the Mississippi Bonding Company sat ready with the paperwork. …

She was not done yet. In addition to the cost of her bond, Howell would be paying a stack of other bills to private contractors. Defendants in Mississippi courts pay a growing share of the court’s administrative expenses— including fees for private probation, private drug tests, and private DUI classes. By the time she has completed all her requirements, Howell’s payments to private companies will total more than $1,000, effectively doubling her original court fine.

more–see also the bit on using bail to get drug offenders out of jail and into mandatory (offender-funded?) “counseling,” very doctors-and-policemen

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