Chicago Community Bond Fund
In early August, CCBF connected five people incarcerated in the Winnebago County Jail with civil rights attorneys so they could file a class action lawsuit over their unconstitutional detention. While supporting people arrested at protests in Rockford, Illinois, CCBF found that adults with pending felony charges who are arrested on Fridays or weekends are incarcerated in the Winnebago County Jail and routinely denied required probable cause hearing until the next regular business day, resulting in extended detentions in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (All four protesters were released three days after their arrests without having to pay money bonds.) This extended pretrial incarceration without access to bond hearings highlights the urgent need for bond reform across Illinois. You can read news coverage of the lawsuit in the Chicago Tribune and the Rockford Register Star.
Prison Policy Initiative
Racial inequality is evident in every stage of the criminal justice system — but racial disparity data is often frustratingly hard to locate. This month, the Prison Policy Initiative published Visualizing the racial disparities in mass incarceration, a compilation of the key data available into a series of easily digestible graphs, focused on policing, juvenile justice, jails and pretrial detention, prisons and sentencing, and reentry. The series is designed to provide an accessible snapshot of known racial disparities for other advocates, journalists, and the general public, at a time when racial justice is at the center of the national conversation about policing and punishment. We also address five frequently asked questions about the accuracy and availability of criminal justice race/ethnicity data.
Texas Freedom Network (TFN)
More than 300 activists participated in our Texas Rising Summer Institute – a virtual conference over featuring organizing trainings and workshops to take advocacy skills to the next level. Run entirely by student leaders, the Summer Institute focused on a host of issues such as civic engagement, census organizing and redistricting. Highlights of the conference include trainings featuring our partners at Faith in Texas: Brittany White led our Criminal (In)Justice Training and focused on the Texas system and what can be done here; Tiara Cooper and Ben Robinson joined together to lead our Abolition training and engaged in an amazing discussion on what we can do to eliminate imprisonment, policing and surveillance and create lasting alternatives. Participants also heard powerful keynote remarks from Harris Co. Judge Lina Hidalgo and Travis County D.A. Democratic nominee Jose Garza. Lastly, Texas Rising Action hosted a series of candidate townhalls where student leaders interacted directly with candidates and asked them hard-hitting questions about their stances on abolition, policing and more.
Alliance for Safety and Justice (ASJ)
Alliance for Safety and Justice is excited to share three recently released publications. These publications highlight the impact of COVID-19 on crisis assistance service providers and reentry partnerships and provide policy options to reduce prison spending and increase safety. The first report, #StopTheSpread, shares results of a survey ASJ conducted in the seven states with the largest annual expenditures on corrections to provide a snapshot of what leaders working to stop cycles of crime are experiencing and what they need to scale to meet the challenges of today. In collaboration with NYU's Marron Institute of Urban Management, we issued a brief that summarizes how new U.S. Justice Department funds are available, and can be used to address new reentry challenges and address the needs of crime victims. Read the full brief here. Finally, we issued a policy brief describing how California can cut prison spending, protect health and education spending, and improve public safety. By choosing these policies, state and local governments can sustain the resources to build a strong, inclusive safety framework for all Californians. A more thoughtful reallocation of resources with an eye towards prevention and healing is key to building safe neighborhoods and stopping cycles of crime. Read the full brief here.
Fair and Just Prosecution (FJP)
With coronavirus cases on the rise behind bars, FJP continued to push state and local leaders to address the impact of the pandemic on incarcerated populations. FJP released an open letter to our nation’s governors from 35 elected prosecutors demanding they use all the tools at their disposal to halt the rising tide of the outbreak in prisons, along with a video amplifying the open letter; and FJP Executive Director Miriam Krinsky co-authored an op-ed with San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin about the pressing need for governors to depopulate prisons. Additionally, as the pandemic exacerbates the country’s opioid overdose epidemic, more than 80 criminal justice leaders filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the nation’s first lifesaving overdose prevention site. Krinsky and Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner wrote an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer discussing how these sites could save lives in the midst of the pandemic. Also this month, FJP, Data for Progress, and The Justice Collaborative Institute released a new report, “A Majority of Voters Support an End to Extreme Sentences for Children,” as well as a video featuring experts, advocates, and people who were sentenced to die in prison as youth discussing the capacity individuals have for change and the role prosecutors can play in ending this practice.
We’ve been working closely with our community and system partners in Philadelphia to stay on track with the plan for the county’s restorative justice diversion program to launch in late 2020 / early 2021. Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office (DAO), Impact Justice, and the Youth Art and Self-empowerment Project (YASP) all signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining the parameters and confidentiality protections of the diversion program. We also led an Introduction to Restorative Justice Diversion training for the Philadelphia DAO’s victim services unit and have started the first of our three, core trainings for YASP to prepare them to begin accepting cases from the DAO. This is our first time offering these trainings virtually and anticipate needing to complete all three (Community Circle, Harm Circle, and Restorative Community Conferencing) via Zoom. In California, our team has submitted draft legislation to the governor’s Committee on Revision of the Penal Code, which would establish pre-charge restorative justice diversion as the presumptive response to wrongdoing committed by young people in the state. We continue to meet with members of the Committee to discuss these drafts and answer questions as they explore this option. We are also currently hiring a co-director and will be accepting applications through August 15th.
The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI)
The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) has issued a letter asking the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) investigation into the unsolved murders of the Jeff Davis 8. In our CRIPA letter we asked the DOJ to investigate the practices of Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Jennings Police Department, and other local law enforcement agencies where a number of incidents of sexual abuse, intimidation, and corruption have been reported. Our CRIPA letter highlighted the fact that there is credible evidence to suggest that law enforcement may have been involved in the unsolved homicides of eight women in Jefferson Davis Parish, known as the Jeff Davis 8. Although the case has been investigated on a local, state and national level, and has also been the subject of books, movies and TV shows, many of the police officers involved remain in law enforcement to this day. Our CRIPA letter calls for a federal investigation into the Jeff Davis 8, with the hopes of holding these agencies and their officers accountable. Learn more about the Jeff Davis 8 here.
Court Watch NOLA
This month, New Orleans is gearing up for the 2020 elections. With qualifying, we have a better idea of what the 2020 Judicial and District Attorney's races will entail. Following contentious years, two problematic New Orleans politicians, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and Judge Paul Bonin, have decided against running for re-election, significantly changing how these races are shaping up. Cannizzaro and Bonin were both subjects of criticism by Court Watch NOLA and other criminal justice reform organizations in New Orleans. Cannizzaro in particular has been the subject of a years-long campaign by Court Watch NOLA to end his use of fraudulent subpoenas and the practice of jailing victims of crime--particularly survivors of domestic violence and rape--for failure to testify. In 2019, Court Watch NOLA published its 2018 Annual Report accusing Judge Paul Bonin of steering ankle monitoring business to a former law partner who had donated to his campaigns. Both Cannizzaro and Bonin were sued as a result of these findings. In addition, as further indication that the times are changing, two criminal court judicial incumbents are being challenged in New Orleans. This will mark the first time in a very long time that criminal court judicial incumbents have been challenged.
New Virginia Majority (NVM)
In July, New Virginia Majority members, partially comprised of formerly incarcerated people, met with Brian Moran, Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, to advance demands to address the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic on Virginia’s incarcerated people and recently released population, who often can’t access the resources and care to mitigate the spread of the disease. Our demands are as follows: for Governor Northam to fast track the process of releasing eligible incarcerated individuals from Virginia’s Department of Corrections facilities and local jails, for state and local officials to allocate additional funding for newly released people and re-entry organizations to support with housing, medical care, cash assistance and other resources to survive this pandemic, and for state and local officials to fund, implement and enforce medical and sanitation plans inside prisons and jails to keep all incarcerated people safe. We will continue to pressure state officials until these demands are resolved. For more information, visit the NVM website.
Emerging Adult Justice Project (EAJP)
The Emerging Adult Justice Project at Columbia’s Justice Lab has been supporting advocates on the campaign to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to age 21 in Massachusetts (led by Citizens for Juvenile Justice) and we are happy to report that the pending bills were granted an extension until November 12 and that support to strengthen the expungement law (also to age 21) continues to build (see new op ed by Former Chief Justice of the Middlesex Juvenile Court). In the meantime, the national debate continues, with a range of legislative/policy, practice and litigation strategies spreading across the country.
American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF)
The American Conservative Union Foundation is proud to announce its support of an amicus curiae brief in the upcoming Supreme court case, Jones v. Mississippi, concerning the sentencing of juveniles to life without the possibility of parole. ACUF joined this brief along with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, the ACLU of Mississippi, the Rutherford Institute, the R Street Institute, and Larry W. Yackle. It is the opinion of these ideologically diverse organizations that sentencing a juvenile to die in prison should only happen in the rarest of circumstances (if at all), and that the Eighth Amendment requires a sentencing authority to first make a finding of “permanent incorrigibility” before imposing a sentence of life without the possibility of parole on a juvenile. Although the Court has previously held that the vast majority of youth should not be subject to such harsh punishment, some states continue to impose life-without-parole sentences on juveniles freely. However, requiring a finding of “permanent incorrigibility” would lead to far fewer juveniles sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, effectively lowering the overall incarceration rate of juveniles across the country and underscoring the focus on rehabilitating juveniles. Jones v. Mississippi has been granted certiorari and is scheduled for argument before the Supreme Court during the October 2020-2021 term.