Five Links from a Criminal Justice System: Better DAs, Union vs. Heroism, Divisive Forgiveness, The Treatment-Industrial Complex, And What About the Crime Problem?

Five Links from a Criminal Justice System: Better DAs, Union vs. Heroism, Divisive Forgiveness, The Treatment-Industrial Complex, And What About the Crime Problem? December 2, 2015

“How to Run Against a Tough-on-Crime District Attorney–And Win”:

District attorneys and the prosecutors who work for them are the most powerful actors in the American criminal justice system. They enjoy immense latitude in deciding what crimes to charge people with and how much prison time to push for. And yet their role in the growth of the country’s prison population, which went from less than 200,000 in 1972 to 1.5 million today, often goes unacknowledged as policymakers in Washington discuss the need for criminal justice reform.

One possible reason for this is that the prospect of changing prosecutor behavior—getting them to charge fewer people with felonies and send fewer people to prison for long periods of time—is daunting for reformers to contemplate. Because district attorneys are locally elected, they operate with a large degree of independence; the only real outside pressure they face comes from voters, who have historically demanded that candidates run and deliver on maximally “tough on crime” platforms. Moreover, it is rare for a district attorney election to even be competitive: Because so many voters don’t know or care who the district attorney in their county is, incumbents usually stay in office for years and years.

Not always, though. On Nov. 3, the voters of Mississippi’s 16th District delivered a stinging defeat to their long-serving district attorney, Forrest Allgood, and turned over his office to a 32-year-old reformer named Scott Colom.

more–second page has the material about the campaign itself so if you’re already on board tbh you can skip to that. Forrest Allgood turns up in this piece I did about aggressive prosecution of a mother whose baby was stillborn.

“Los Angeles Police Union Blasts ‘Preservation of Life Award'”:

It was a seemingly innocuous announcement. The Los Angeles police chief said he would begin acknowledging officers for resolving potentially deadly situations with non-lethal means.

The Preservation of Life medal will be one of the department’s highest honors, along with the medal of valor, given out for acts of heroism, Chief Charlie Beck told the Police Commission earlier this week.

Two days later, the union that represents officers in the nation’s second-largest city wrote a blog calling the award “a terrible idea that will put officers in even more danger.”

more–with context and commentary from Radley Balko here

“How Do You Forgive a Murder?”:

In the wake of the murders, families have split over the question of forgiveness. Church members have felt abandoned by their congregation. Hairline fissures in a wide network of relationships have burst under the pressures of sudden fame and grinding grief. And as the months have passed, the survivors of Emanuel and others in Charleston have continued to search for the meaning of this story, through a process that is intensely personal and sometimes uncomfortably public.

more–once this starts delving into the process of forgiveness and how difficult and divisive it is, it gets riveting.

“How Prison Reform Could Turn the Prison-Industrial Complex Into the Treatment-Industrial Complex”:

In other words, many of the dollars expected to be “saved” from shuttering prisons may simply be funneled into privatized “alternatives to incarceration” like parole programs and halfway houses. These operations are often run by the household names of the prison business—they’re simply moving from behind bars to the so-called “treatment-industrial complex.”

According to AFSC’s research, the corporatization of prison reform is an outgrowth of a long-standing trend of prison privatization—corrections authorities contracting to outsource services such as food or long-distance calls home. Efforts to “decarcerate” may ostensibly reduce some business for private prison-industry companies. But carceral institutions and technology are being rebranded for the outside world, and profits from these emerging “security” sectors appear to be on the upswing: There is growth potential in halfway houses and treatment centers—perhaps minimally regulated and financed on a per diem basis. In the pre-trial stage, there’s demand for private probation (used in poor communities to coerce people owing fees and fines for petty infractions) and ankle-bracelet monitors (shackled to thousands of detained migrants who have been released on bond).

more–who will solve all our solutions? (This article focuses too much on the private aspect of private prisons imo–governments find ways to profit from oppression too, as I hope we all now know, and govt-run prisons are not known for their gentleness and care. Nor are publicly-run treatment facilities. But that only makes the underlying point about the switch to a treatment-industrial complex all the more pervasive and relevant.)

“Reflections on the State in the Field of Urban Policing and Mass Incarceration”:

Scholars on the left have developed a highly potent and specific language for addressing certain inequities of state violence and abandonment. We have done less well, I’d argue, in addressing the question posed by Fortner and Moskos, which deals with crime victims, in the here and now. Knowing what we know about the police power—the state’s historical tendency to ask for an inch and take a mile—what *should* we have the state, i.e., the police, do. Perhaps this question should not be our priority. But to me the two concerns—critiquing state force and redirecting it—go hand-in-hand. You can’t answer one adequately without also taking on the other.

more, although honestly, I think framing the issue as “crime” rather than “violence” or “injustice” (or HEY I get to say this: the issue is sin) is a huge error and one which Elkins himself keeps flagging and then walking away from.

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