« August 25, 2019 - August 31, 2019 | Main | September 8, 2019 - September 14, 2019 »

September 7, 2019

Some summer criminal justice highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

It has been quite some time since I did a round-up of posts of note from my blogging over at Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform, though that is not because there has been any shortage of interesting developments and timely research at the intersection of marijuana policy and criminal justice policy.   So, with a focus on criminal-justice-related stories, here are some of many posts of note from recent months:

September 7, 2019 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 6, 2019

After gun mandatories deemed unconstitutionally severe, former Blackwater guards get much lower terms at federal resentencing

This New York Times article, headlined "Three Ex-Blackwater Guards Are Resentenced in Iraq War Massacre," reports on high-profile resentencings that followed a (too-rare) ruling that the application of a severe federal mandatory minimum statute violated the Eighth Amendment.  The DC Circuit's significant Eighth Amendment ruling from 2017 is discussed in this post, and here is part of the press report on the resentencing:

Three former Blackwater security contractors were sentenced on Thursday to roughly half of their original 30-year prison terms for the deadly 2007 shooting of unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, widely seen as one of the darkest moments of the Iraq war.

The three former contractors — Dustin L. Heard, Evan S. Liberty and Paul A. Slough — had been convicted in 2014 of multiple counts of manslaughter for their roles in the massacre.  But in 2017, a federal appeals court vacated their sentences, saying the trial judge, Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, erred in invoking a law that requires 30-year sentences for such offenses that involve machine guns....

Prosecutors on Thursday nevertheless asked Judge Lamberth to resentence Mr. Slough to 30 years, and the other two men to slightly less.  Defense lawyers asked him to instead sentence their clients to the roughly five years they had already served.  The three defendants, dressed in orange prison garb, asked to be sent home to their families.

But after a hearing that lasted most of the day and played out before a courtroom packed with dozens of family members, friends and other supporters of the men, the judge rejected those ideas. He instead sentenced Mr. Heard to 12 years and seven months; Mr. Liberty to 14 years; and Mr. Slough to 15 years. In the United States, Judge Lamberth said, “We hold our armed forces and our contractors accountable for their actions.”...

The government had hired Blackwater Security to escort State Department officials through a chaotic war zone in Iraq.  Shortly after the convoy pulled into Nisour Square, the contractors began shooting civilians with machine guns and firing grenades. While the contractors claimed they had come under fire by insurgents, prosecutors said — and a jury agreed — that the evidence showed there had been no incoming fire.

Prosecutors at the hearing on Thursday emphasized that the firing went on for 20 minutes, indicating that a moment of panic had turned into reckless disregard for human life. But they acknowledged that the security contractors had stopped firing at different times.  Prosecutors said that Mr. Slough was jointly responsible for 13 of the deaths and 17 of the wounded, Mr. Liberty for eight of the deaths and 11 of the wounded, and Mr. Heard for six of deaths and 11 of the wounded.

The jury found that the chaotic hail of machine-gun fire and grenades targeting civilians began when another contractor, Nicholas A. Slatten, shot the driver of a white Kia without provocation. Mr. Slatten was retried and convicted of first-degree murder last year, and Judge Lamberth sentenced him last month to life in prison.

During the hearing, Judge Lamberth praised the character of the three defendants before him, calling them “fine young men” but for the aberration of their poor judgment and reckless actions in Nisour Square. But he said he had to balance that assessment against the significant loss of life that resulted from their recklessness and poor judgment, as well as the need to uphold the rule of law.

While the defense objected to the sentences, making clear that another appeal was likely, they and the judge also discussed the possibility that he would recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that it waive certain security restrictions associated with manslaughter convictions.  If those are waived, the three could benefit from a rule permitting certain inmates with less than 10 years left on their sentences to serve the remainder in minimum-security prison camps....

One of the legal issues facing the judge was prosecutors’ contention that each of the defendants should receive an additional 10 years under the law that enhances penalties for crimes involving the use of a firearm.  Defense lawyers said that law should not apply to a war zone case for the same reason that the appeals court rejected the use of the machine-gun law in the case, and Judge Lamberth agreed with the defense.

Still, the judge also quoted lines from the appeals court’s 2017 opinion saying the defendants can and should be held accountable for the death and destruction they had caused: “We by no means intend to minimize the carnage attributable to Slough, Heard and Liberty’s actions.  Their poor judgments resulted in the deaths of many innocent people.  What happened in Nisour Square defies civilized description.”

Prior related post:

September 6, 2019 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 5, 2019

Public policy groups promote a "Vision for Justice 2020 and Beyond" with recommendations for criminal justice reform

As explained in this press release, the "Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Civil Rights Corps, and 115 civil rights and justice groups released a policy platform for the 2020 state and federal elections that proposes a unified vision for transforming our criminal-legal system into one that respects the humanity, dignity, and rights of all people."  Here is more from the press release:

The groups shared Vision for Justice 2020 and Beyond with presidential candidates this past summer to offer critical policy guidance for drafting robust criminal-legal reform agendas.  The 14 recommendations, listed below, are centered on three thematic issues: ensuring equity and accountability, building a restorative system of justice, and rebuilding communities.

The treatment of communities of color in the criminal-legal system is the most profound civil rights crisis facing America in the 21st century. This platform seeks to remove this moral stain on our democracy by offering specific, measurable steps to begin to transform the system.

Ensure Equity and Accountability in the Criminal-Legal System

  1. Create a new paradigm for public safety and policing.
  2. Create a new framework for pretrial justice.
  3. Ensure an effective right to counsel.
  4. Decriminalize poverty.
  5. Ensure accountability and transparency in prosecution.

Build a Restorative System of Justice

  1. End jails and prisons as we know them in America.
  2. Deprivatize justice.
  3. Dramatically reform sentencing policy.
  4. Support the children of incarcerated parents.
  5. Ease challenges to racial inequity and abolish slavery in prisons.

Rebuild Communities

  1. Rebalance spending priorities by investing in communities.
  2. Reimagine reentry, probation, and parole.
  3. Build a school-to-opportunity pipeline.
  4. End the War on Drugs.

September 5, 2019 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gearing up for the federal sentencing of Felicity Huffman and others involved in college bribery scandal

Just over a week before the highest-profile sentencing of the bunch, USA Today has this lengthy review of federal sentencing realities and prospects for a range of defendants involved in the college bribery scandal.  The piece if headlined "Felicity Huffman to kick off sentencing of parents in college admissions case: Will judge 'send a message?'," and merits a read in full.  Here are a few excerpts:

The Justice Department suffered a setback in June when the first defendant sentenced in the nation's college admissions scandal, a former Stanford University sailing coach, avoided any prison time.  The prosecution soon has an opportunity to rebound as the historic "Varsity Blues" case enters a critical new phase.

Parents who pleaded guilty to paying Rick Singer, the mastermind of a nationwide college admissions cheating and bribery scheme, are set to be sentenced, beginning next week. Fifteen parents, three college coaches and two other co-conspirators of Singer are to be sentenced this fall.

First up is one of the two celebrities charged in the sweeping case: actress Felicity Huffman, whose sentencing is set for Sept. 13.  In a deal with prosecutors, Huffman pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying Singer $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter's SAT answers.

At the time of her plea, prosecutors recommended four months in prison for the "Desperate Housewives" actress, substantially lower than the maximum 20 years the charges could carry.  They recommended 12 months of supervised release, a $20,000 fine and other undetermined amounts of restitution and forfeiture....

If Huffman and the parents who follow her in court also avoid prison time, some criminal justice advocates said, it would signal to the public that the rich and connected can get away with cheating the system. “The criminal scheme carried out in this case shocks the conscience and underscores the way in which wealthy people can exploit their privileged status to their benefit and to the detriment of others," said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. "These federal crimes must not be treated lightly in order to send a strong message that no one is above the law and that wealthy people will be held accountable."

Clarke said the crimes committed by parents in the case "undermine public confidence" in the college admissions process and show universities must "redouble their efforts" to ensure diversity on campuses. She noted most of the wealthy parents who participated in the scheme are white.  She called the case a "unique opportunity" to hold accountable individuals "who feel that money, race and privilege can allow them to evade the justice system."

Of the 51 people charged in the college admissions scandal, 34 are parents accused of making significant payments to Singer's sham nonprofit group, the Key Worldwide Foundation.  Prosecutors said they paid to have someone secretly take ACT or SAT tests for their children, change poor results or get them falsely tagged as athletic recruits to get them into college.

Huffman was originally scheduled to be the third parent sentenced in the case, but the sentencing hearings of two other parents who pleaded guilty, Devin Sloane and Stephen Semprevivo, were pushed back to later this month.

The delays will allow U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani, who presides over the cases of Huffman and other parents, to hold a hearing Tuesday on a legal dispute that could determine the severity of some sentences.  The judge will consider whether to listen to probation officers, who identified no financial losses to any victim in the case, which could mean lighter sentences for many parents.  Prosecutors object to the potential lighter sentencing guidelines and do not want Talwani to confer with the probation department in the admissions case....

Both sides are likely to file sentencing memos to the court that will make final arguments and sentencing recommendations to Talwani before next week's hearings. "If there isn't at least a request for a strong sentence, even if it isn't granted, then I think it would seem like there's sort of different justice for different people," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who specializes in federal courts.  "I do think they will continue to press," he said of the prosecution, "and part of it is to make an example that everybody ought to be equal before law and this is not appropriate behavior."

Because no parents have been sentenced to date in the admissions scandal, Tobias said it's tricky to predict what's in store for Huffman and those sentenced after her. "We'll see what arguments are made and how her defense attorney frames it. That could be important," he said.  "And, if Huffman has more to say that may account for something, too."

Huffman, 56, apologized to the "students who work hard every day to get into college." She fought back tears when she pleaded guilty in court.  One fact that may play in her favor is the substantially lower amount of money she paid compared with other parent defendants.  Singer typically charged parents $15,000 to carry out the test cheating and higher amounts to pay off college coaches to get their children admitted as athletic recruits.  The latter cost more because it guaranteed a child's entry into college.

Sloane, CEO of Los Angeles-based waterTALENT, which builds water systems, pleaded guilty to paying $250,000 in bribes to Singer's organization to falsely designate his son as a water polo player so he could gain acceptance to the University of Southern California. Prosecutors recommended he serve 15 to 21 months in prison.  Semprevivo, an executive at Cydcor, a privately held provider of outsourced sales teams, pleaded guilty to paying $400,000 to Singer to get his son admitted into Georgetown University as a fake tennis recruit. Prosecutors recommended a prison sentence of 18 months for him....

The sentence for Vandemoer, the ex-Stanford sailing coach, was decided by U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel.  She presides over Singer's case but is not assigned to any of the cases involving parents or other coaches. Singer pleaded guilty to four felonies and is cooperating with prosecutors.  Although prosecutors didn't get the sentence they wanted for Vandemoer, the case doesn't necessarily foreshadow how the next round of sentences will go. As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Vandemoer pleaded guilty to racketeering charges.

The case had unique circumstances.  None of the students tied to the payments was admitted into Stanford as a direct result of the coach's actions, leading Zobel to question whether the university suffered any losses.  Vandemoer funneled payments directly to the school's sailing program and did not pocket any of the bribe money he took from Singer. Zobel called Vandemoer "probably the least culpable of all the defendants."

Twenty-three defendants in the college admissions case, including Huffman, pleaded guilty to felonies; 28 others pleaded not guilty, including actress Lori Loughlin.  How the first group of parents is sentenced could affect whether other parents plead guilty or dig in for trial, according to Adam Citron, a former state prosecutor in New York, who practices at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron.

That's the biggest concern for prosecutors, he said. "It could go two ways. If (the parents) are getting jail time even on pleas, a defendant may think to themselves, 'I better plea out because I don't want more jail time,' " Citron said. "By the same token, that defendant might say to themselves, 'I'm going to get jail anyways, so I might as well fight it.' "

Prior related posts:

September 5, 2019 in Celebrity sentencings, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Proportionate Financial Sanctions: Policy Prescriptions for Judicial Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from The Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School Here is how the 80-page report is described on this webpage:

Proportionate Financial Sanctions: Policy Prescriptions for Judicial Reform sets forth a new vision for the role courts must play in ensuring proportionate policies and practices for imposing and enforcing monetary sanctions.  This report is a tool for judges, lawmakers, practitioners, and advocates who are pushing for changes in state and local courts, and offers concrete reforms that judges can implement on their own, without legislative action, to ensure that financial sanctions are more proportionate and fair, and to prevent the worst harms that excessive fines and fees can create for poor people.  Adoption of CJPP’s recommended reforms would, on the whole, transform judges’ thinking about monetary sanctions and their impact on the poor.

Overall, the goal of this new framework is to move judicial culture away from the punitive nature of current systems, and towards policies and practices built on proportionality, fairness, and the desire to see individuals complete their sentences and move on with their lives.  While recognizing the need for certain foundational changes (such as eliminating all revenue-raising fees and surcharges, and decreasing the number of cases in the system through decriminalization and diversion), this report details specific actions that can and should be taken immediately by the courts to reduce the consequences of disproportionate monetary sanctions, absent legislative action. Using CJPP’s experience working with different jurisdictions and other reform efforts nationwide as a guide, this report advocates for holistic, comprehensive, and meaningful changes to how courts think about proportionate sentencing, alternatives to payment, monitoring of payment, responses to non-payment, and punitive enforcement mechanisms.  If implemented robustly, these reforms would radically change individuals’ experiences with criminal legal systems.

September 5, 2019 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 4, 2019

Texas completes its fifth execution of 2019 with lethal injection of double murderer

As reported in this local article, headlined "Texas executes Billy Crutsinger in Fort Worth slayings of two elderly women," the long-standing leader in US executions completed another one this evening.  Here are the details:

In 2003, an 89-year-old woman and her 71-year-old daughter were stabbed to death in their Fort Worth home.  On Wednesday, Texas executed Billy Crutsinger for the crime.

Crutsinger was sentenced to death for the home robbery and slayings of Pearl Magouirk and her daughter, Patricia Syren.  The two women were found two days after their murders, and police tracked Crutsinger to a Galveston bar using Syren’s credit card, according to court records.

In Tarrant County, Assistant Criminal District Attorney and lead prosecutor Michele Hartmann said Tuesday the loss of the mother and daughter “is still felt deeply by their family and the Fort Worth community.”

After his last appeals were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court just minutes before his execution was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., Crutsinger, 64, was strapped to a gurney in the death chamber in Huntsville. No relatives of the women were present to witness the execution, according to a prison spokesman.  Crutsinger had three friends in the viewing room, who, in his final words, he thanked for coming and supporting other death row inmates. Into the microphone hanging above his head, he said the system "is not completely right," but he was at peace and was going to be with Jesus and his family....

Crutsinger was then injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital at 6:27 p.m., and pronounced dead 13 minutes later, according to the prison department. He was the fifth person executed in Texas this year and the 14th in the country....

During his nearly 16 years on death row, Crutsinger appealed his sentence arguing against the legal validity of his confession and DNA sample. But more recently, he pointed to his lawyers’ failings.

Crutsinger argued that his trial lawyer failed to adequately investigate mitigating factors that could have swayed the jury to hand down a sentence of life in prison instead of execution. Specifically, he claimed the attorney overlooked evidence of mental impairment caused by alcohol addiction, head trauma, depression and low intelligence, according to a recent federal district court ruling....

There are 10 other Texas executions scheduled through December.

September 4, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)

Major coverage of the major challenges faced by those previously incarcerated

In the last day, I have seen a couple of notable articles in some major news outlets focused on the varied significant challenges facing formerly incarcerated persons as they seek to enter society.   Here they are with too-short excerpts:

From the New York Times, "Next Arena for Criminal Justice Reform: A Roof Over Their Heads":

Bipartisan efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system, backed by President Trump, have so far focused on getting people out of prisons and thinning the largest population of incarcerated people in the world.... But once released, some formerly incarcerated people struggle simply to find a place to live.  Public housing authorities and private landlords refuse to rent to them, labeling them public safety risks, sending them to the streets, to homelessness — and often back to prison, for offenses like sleeping in public spaces and panhandling....

The issue has even reached the 2020 presidential race. Senator Kamala Harris, Democratic of California and a White House hopeful, and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, released the Fair Chance at Housing Act, which would require public housing authorities and owners to consider all mitigating circumstances when making screening determinations based on criminal activity.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is also running for president, has proposed criminal justice measures that would help reduce the “collateral consequences that hamper re-entry to formerly incarcerated people who have served their time — from restrictions to occupational licensing to housing to the disenfranchisement of over three million returning citizens.”

From the Washington Post, "After prison, more punishment: They did their time. But as the formerly incarcerated reenter the workforce, will their past be held against them?":

Across the country, more than 10,000 regulations restrict people with criminal records from obtaining occupational licenses, according to a database developed by the American Bar Association. The restrictions are defended as a way to protect the public.  But [Meko] Lincoln and others point out that the rules are often arbitrary and ambiguous. Licensing boards in Rhode Island can withhold licenses for crimes committed decades ago, by citing a requirement that people display “good moral character,” without taking into account individual circumstances or efforts toward rehabilitation.

Such restrictions make it challenging for the formerly incarcerated to enter or move up in fast-growing industries such as health care, human services and some mechanical trades, according to civil liberties lawyers and economists. These include the very jobs they’ve trained for in prison or in reentry programs like Lincoln’s.  And without jobs, many of those released could end up back in jail, experts say.

September 4, 2019 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Are We Still Cheap on Crime? Austerity, Punitivism, and Common Sense in Trumpistan"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Hadar Aviram available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Literature on “late mass incarceration” observed a contraction of the carceral state, with varying opinions as to its causes and various degrees of optimism about its potential.  But even optimistic commentators were taken aback by the Trump-Sessions Administration’s criminal justice rhetoric.  This paper maps out the extent to which federal, state and local actions in the age of Trump have reversed the promising trends to shrink the criminal justice apparatus, focusing on federal legislation, continued state and local reform, and the role of criminal justice in 2020 presidential campaigns.  The paper concludes that the overall salutary trends from 2008 onward have slowed down in some respects, but continued on in others, and that advocacy concerns should focus on particular areas of the criminal justice apparatus.

September 4, 2019 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

USA Today starts series on non-violent lifers

Eileen Rivers has this new lengthy piece in USA Today, which notes that this is "the first installment in a series about prisoners serving life sentences for non-violent crimes ... being published in conjunction with the Buried Alive Project."  This first piece is fully titled "The graying of America's prisons: 'When is enough enough?'" and "Inmates over 55 are among the fastest growing population. They burden prisons and taxpayers, but pose the lowest threat to society."  Here is an excerpt:

In 1990, a federal judge sentenced [Wayne] Pray to life in prison without parole, plus three 25-year stints for, among other things, cocaine and marijuana possession and distribution.

Now 71, Pray has been locked up for three decades on nonviolent offenses, most recently at the federal prison in Otisville, New York.  He is one of about 20,000 older federal inmates — prisoners over 55 who are among the fastest growing population in the federal system. Many of them were given life amid the war on drugs of the 1990s.

Mandatory life sentences mean a federal prison population that is graying in large numbers.  This group puts the greatest financial burden on U.S. prisons, while posing the lowest threat to American society.

Pray's status, and that of others aging in the system, presents tough questions: How old is too old to remain incarcerated? Is Pray, at 71, the same threat he was at 41?  And if he isn't, then why is he still behind bars?...

From 1993 to 1996, nearly 800 drug offenders were sentenced to life without parole in federal prison, according to the Buried Alive Project, which tracks rates by year and state.  That's 57% higher than during the previous four-year period.

Prosecutors wield a lot of power when it comes to sentencing. It isn't uncommon for attorneys to push plea deals on defendants in exchange for information.  And the rejection of those deals sometimes means elevated charges that result in mandatory minimum federal sentences, including life....

While the First Step Act, passed by Congress last year, changes mandatory minimums for some federal offenders, not all will be helped by it, including inmates such as Pray who were convicted in cases involving powder cocaine instead of crack....

Pray says his brother started selling drugs at age 14 and was dead by 31. Court documents show that Pray was dealing by the time he was in his late 20s.  He used drug money to open up other businesses, according to Coleman. Pray says at one point he owned two used car dealerships and was a fight promoter.  "The lifestyle itself becomes addictive," Pray says.

The charges that led to his life sentence involved more than 250 kilograms (550 pounds) of cocaine and about 200 pounds of pot.  He maintains that the "kingpin" charge was trumped up, the result of a rejected plea deal. Prosecutors wanted information about other people, including politicians, that Pray says he refused to give....

Pray has applied for clemency twice to no avail.  Yet he still holds out hope that he'll be able to spend his final days with his family....  "I'm not trying to justify what I did. But let the punishment fit the crime," Pray said during our phone interview. "When is enough enough?"

September 4, 2019 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

US Sentencing Commission releases latest data report on crack offense resentencings thanks to FIRST STEP Act

Late Tuesday afternoon the US Sentencing Commission released this updated new data report titled "First Step Act of 2018 Resentencing Provisions Retroactivity Data Report."  The introduction to the report provides this context and overview:

On December 21, 2018, the President signed into law the First Step Act of 2018.  Section 404 of that act provides that any defendant sentenced before the effective date of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (August 3, 2010) who did not receive the benefit of the statutory penalty changes made by that Act is eligible for a sentence reduction as if Sections 2 and 3 of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 were in effect at the time the offender was sentenced.  The First Step Act authorizes the defendant, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the attorney for the Government, or the court to make a motion to reduce an offender’s sentence.

The data in this report represents information concerning motions for a reduced sentence pursuant to Section 404 of the First Step Act which the courts have granted.  The data in this report reflects all motions granted through July 31, 2019....

This new data from the USSC show that 1,674 prisoners were granted sentence reductions, and of those "in 561 cases the court sentenced the offender to the length of time he or she had served to that date."  In all the other cases, the average sentence reduction was 69 months of imprisonment.

As I have highlighted before, the FSA retroactivity provision of the FIRST STEP Act was only a small piece of the legislation, and yet these data show how this small piece has had big impact. In the course of eight months, this part of the FIRST STEP Act has shortened nearly 1700 sentences by an average of nearly 6 years amounting to around 10,000 prison years saved.

September 4, 2019 in FIRST STEP Act and its implementation, New crack statute and the FSA's impact | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 3, 2019

If eating more ice cream can help reform the criminal justice system... count me in!

Qpyyzava1ewumdpftzltThe cheeky title of this post is my first reaction to this new story at The Root headlined "Ben & Jerry’s Takes on Criminal Justice Reform with New Flavor, Justice Remix’d."  Here are the yummy particulars:

In a world in which the trappings of allyship have devolved into Instagram likes or tawdry photo ops, premium ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s has quietly ignored fanfare in favor of doing the actual work.  It’s not uncommon to find posts admonishing the criminal justice system or systemic racism on their website, and since May 2018 they’ve spent over a million dollars on Facebook ads denouncing mass incarceration, advocating for mental health funding and demanding criminal justice reform. And according to the revered ice cream manufacturer, they’re just getting started.

On Tuesday, they partnered with Color of Change and the Advancement Project to unveil their latest flavor, Justice Remix’d, as part of their three-year initiative “to address the destructive cycle of mass incarceration in our country,” according to a statement from Ben & Jerry’s.

Prior to this unveiling, The Root spoke with Jabari Paul, the company’s assistant U.S. activism manager, who explained B&J’s mission further.  “Justice Remix’d is our fan-facing advocacy campaign that focuses on front-end criminal justice reform,” Paul told The Root. “Front-end meaning how do you divert and deflect people from going into the incarceration system in the first place? Many of which have no legitimate reason for being there.”

Paul added, “On a national level, we’ve really focused on three issues: ending money bail, stopping unnecessary prosecutions and disrupting the school to prison pipeline.”  In doing so, Ben & Jerry’s became partners in Color of Change’s Winning Justice campaign, which seeks to transform the criminal justice system by championing reform-minded prosecutors for election. But the company has a local strategy as well, which includes the involvement of the Advancement Project to work towards shutting down jails like Workhouse in St. Louis....

Criminal justice reform is long overdue, and with the arrival of Justice Remix’d, Ben & Jerry’s seeks to be a part of the solution instead of resting on their laurels. “The reason that we believe in social impact is because social impact goes beyond this idea of corporate giving. It’s about really influencing fan behavior,” Paul said. “Our goal is to drive them to increase awareness around the issues that we care about, like criminal justice reform, drive engagement, engage them around those issues and then ultimately inspire them to take action.”

Notably, this Ben & Jerry's page discussing the flavor and the cause it supports starts and ends with details that almost make me want to believe I could and should give up blogging in order to eat more ice cream:

We are flipping our lids over our newest flavor!  Meet Justice ReMix’d, a new flavor featuring cinnamon and chocolate ice creams, gobs of cinnamon bun dough, and spicy fudge brownies.  And the best part?  Justice ReMix’d also has a sweet swirl of justice under the lid....

Ready to dig in to the hard work of making criminal justice reform a reality? Start by grabbing a spoon and a pint of Justice ReMix’d!

September 3, 2019 in Food and Drink, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Duke Law School launches new Center for Science and Justice

This news release, titled "New Duke Law center will delve into science of criminal justice," reports on the official launch of a notable new criminal justice center. Here are the basics:

A new center based at Duke Law School will apply legal and scientific research to reforming the criminal justice system.

The Duke Center for Science and Justice will bring together faculty and students in law, medicine, public policy, and arts and sciences to pursue research, policy and law reform, and education in three areas: accuracy of evidence in criminal cases; the role of risk in criminal outcomes; and addressing a person’s treatment needs as an alternative to arrest and incarceration.  It will also examine the needs of formerly incarcerated persons who are re-entering society.

The center will be led by Brandon Garrett, the L. Neil Williams, Jr. Professor of Law and a leading scholar of criminal procedure, scientific evidence and wrongful convictions.

A central goal of the center is to convey the results of research to stakeholders in the criminal justice system.  Examples of this work include:

-- Accuracy: Building on Garrett’s studies of the causes of wrongful convictions in cases of people exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing, Duke researchers are studying how to better explain to jurors the fallibility of evidence such as eyewitness memory and fingerprint comparisons.

-- Risk: Duke researchers are studying why judges often do not follow recommendations of risk assessments to divert offenders from prison to the community, and why more resources may be needed to promote alternatives to incarceration. Researchers are collaborating with the Durham District Attorney’s office to implement and study alternatives to pre-trial detention and to incarceration.

-- Needs: A report released by Garrett and his team documented how more than 1.2 million people in North Carolina have suspended driver’s licenses, the long-term consequences of those suspensions, and the resulting racial and class-based disparities.  The study was made possible through a collaboration with the N.C. Justice Center and the N.C. Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission....

Duke will launch the center Tuesday at an event featuring Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana, two members of the Exonerated Five, formerly known as the Central Park Five. Salaam, Santana and three other boys wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for the 1989 beating of a Central Park jogger had their convictions vacated after another man whose DNA matched DNA from the scene confessed to the assault and rape. The men were the subjects of the Netflix series “When They See Us,” released earlier this year....

The center’s launch is supported by a $4.7 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, which supports research and educational programs in areas such as criminal justice and policing reform, free expression, foreign policy, economic opportunity and innovation.  Additional support for Garrett’s research has been provided by Arnold Ventures, and the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence.

Garrett’s research focuses on the non-partisan, evidence-based study and prevention of wrongful convictions and improving criminal procedure. Since joining the Duke faculty in 2018, he has established the JustScience Lab, which has produced new research and reports on such matters in North Carolina as disparities when juveniles are sentenced to life without parole, the consequences of fines and fees, the adequacy of resources for alternatives to incarceration, and best practices for eyewitness identification procedures.

Leading researchers from Duke’s School of Medicine will be closely involved in the center’s work, providing a public health perspective to criminal justice research. The Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and Department of Population Health Sciences are already collaborating on research on such topics as the epidemiology of violence, the impact of services addressing mental health and substance abuse, and the effectiveness of criminal diversion and re-entry programs.

Through additional philanthropic support, Duke hopes to expand the focus of the center’s educational mission to supporting students who are entering criminal justice careers through scholarship aid, internship funding, a criminal-justice focused curriculum and opportunities for interdisciplinary engagement with graduate and undergraduate students. The Law School also hopes to launch a criminal justice clinic to provide training in how to litigate a criminal case at the pre-trial and trial stage.

September 3, 2019 in Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Prosecutors, Democracy, and Justice: Holding Prosecutors Accountable"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new publication from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Institute for Innovation in Prosecution emerging from its series on Reimagining the Role of the Prosecutor in the Community.  This paper is authored by Jeremy Travis, Carter Stewart and Allison Goldberg, and here are the first two paragraphs of its introduction:

As the nation grapples with fundamental questions about the nature of our democracy, advocates for criminal justice reform see hope in the nascent focus on one of the most powerful stakeholders in the legal system: the prosecutor.   Across the country, prosecutor campaigns have shifted from debates over conviction rates and sentence lengths to candidates vying to show their commitment to ending mass incarceration and ameliorating other harms associated with the criminal justice system.  While 85 percent of incumbent prosecutors ran unopposed between 1996 and 2006, and 95 percent of elected prosecutors were white in 2015, recent elections saw unprecedented electoral competition and diversity in prosecutor races across the country.  As reform-minded prosecutors are elected in growing numbers, communities are holding them to account on their campaign promises to bring about deep criminal justice reforms.  At the core of this new era of prosecutorial accountability is a more fundamental question: are reformers justified in betting on our democracy, specifically the election of a new generation of prosecutors, as an avenue to justice reform?

The electoral wins of reform-minded prosecutors are certainly cause for optimism, but they also necessitate public discourse about what it means for prosecutors to play a role as agents of change. Certainly the reform agenda is daunting.  Even a campaign pledge to end mass incarceration by reducing the number of people in jails and prisons does not explicitly recognize the broader ways in which the state criminalizes and supervises large swaths of the US population, disproportionately low-income individuals and people of color, while affronting common standards of human dignity.  With over six million people under correctional supervision, excessive use of the arrest powers, and stubbornly high levels of distrust of the criminal justice system in the communities most directly impacted, the need to temper the justice system’s excessive reach remains urgent.  By promising to unwind the machinery that created this state of affairs, reform-minded prosecutors are tackling an enormous challenge.

September 3, 2019 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 2, 2019

Talk of draft legislation to expedite death penalty as part of package response to mass shootings

As reported in this new Fox News piece, headlined "White House, DOJ working to expedite death penalty for mass shooters," it appears next week we will see the Trump Administration advance a proposal to expedite executions for mass murderers. Here are the basics:

The White House said Monday it has drafted legislation with the Justice Department that would expedite the death penalty for people found guilty of committing mass shootings, following Saturday's attack in West Texas that left seven dead, according to a pool report.

Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Marc Short, told reporters aboard Air Force Two that the initiative was part of a larger White House gun control package that will be sent to Congress after lawmakers return from their August recess on Sept. 9. Attorney General Bill Barr is involved in active discussions with the vice president's office, Short said, as the plane made its way to Ireland.

The issue could be contentious among Democrats seeking to unseat President Trump in 2020. Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke has sought to revive his struggling candidacy by calling for a mandatory buyback of what he called "assault weapons" -- but he also has insisted, in a recent policy shift, that capital punishment is categorically wrong.

Still, there has been little hesitation from the Trump administration on the issue. In August, Trump said he was “directing the Department of Justice to propose legislation ensuring that those who commit hate crimes and mass murders face the death penalty," adding that he wanted "capital punishment be delivered quickly, decisively, and without years of needless delay.”

Earlier this summer, Barr said the federal government will resume capital punishment and will move forward with plans to execute five inmates on death row for the first time in more than 15 years....

In a letter last month to President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., specifically pushed for the House-passed Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Enhanced Background Checks Act. Some of the House-sponsored legislation would extend the time period for the FBI to conduct background checks on firearm purchases from three days to 10 days and establish new background-check procedures for private gun transfers.

Many Republicans said they hoped to take action to curb gun violence. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said his party has been interested in “common sense solutions to prevent this from happening in the future while at the same time protecting due process for anyone who is a law-abiding citizen.”...

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that so-called "red flag" warning legislation, as well as expanded background checks, would be "front and center" on the Senate floor when Congress comes back in session.

However, red flag laws might be unconstitutional, some conservatives have said, and states and local governments increasingly have sparred over the issue. More than a dozen states have enacted red flag laws. In March, Colorado's attorney general testified that county sheriffs vowing not to enforce the state's anti-gun "red flag" bill should "resign."

Red flag laws generally require friends or family to establish by a "preponderance of the evidence" -- a relatively lax legal standard essentially meaning that something is "more likely than not" -- that a person "poses a significant risk to self or others by having a firearm in his or her custody or control or by possessing, purchasing or receiving a firearm."

Given the strict constitutional regulation of the death penalty and the practical challenges posed by big capital cases, I doubt any proposed legislation would or could significantly fast-track capital prosecutions and executions. Consider, for example, the big federal capital prosecutions emerging form the Boston Marathon bombing and the Charleston Church shooting. It took nearly two years to secure death sentences for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Dylann Roof, and even longer for the (still-pending) direct appeals to take place.  Even if some form of legislation could somehow cut the procedural timelines for these cases, it still seems likely that the better part of a decade or more will always transpire between any mass murder and any ultimate federal execution of its perpetrator.

For these reasons, I am hopeful (but not optimistic) that Democratic leaders will not let general opposition to the death penalty get in the way of building a legislative package of common-sense gun control reforms.  Reasonable gun control efforts might possibly have some impact on the still-extraordinary level gun violence in the US, whereas any legislation looking to speed up capital cases for mass murderers likely will have, at most, a slight impact on a very small handful of cases.

September 2, 2019 in Death Penalty Reforms, Gun policy and sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (12)

"Association of Parental Incarceration With Psychiatric and Functional Outcomes of Young Adults"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article recent published via JAMA Network Open and authored by Elizabeth Gifford, Lindsey Eldred Kozecke, Megan Golonka, Sherika Hill, E. Jane Costello, Lilly Shanahan and William Copeland. Here are its "Key Points" and its "Abstract":

Key Points

Question Is parental incarceration associated with increased odds of offspring receiving psychiatric diagnoses during young adulthood and experiencing obstacles that can derail a successful transition to adulthood (eg, in health, legal, financial, and social domains)?

Findings This cohort study, using data from a community-representative, longitudinal study, found that parental incarceration was associated with young adults’ increased odds of having an anxiety disorder, having a felony charge, spending time in jail, not completing high school, becoming a parent when younger than 18 years, and being socially isolated.

Meaning The findings suggest that parental incarceration is associated with offspring’s functional outcomes during young adulthood.

Abstract

Importance In 2016, an estimated 8% of US children younger than 18 years had experienced the incarceration of a parent, and rates were substantially higher among children from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds and disadvantaged groups.  Little is known about whether parental incarceration during childhood is associated with adult psychiatric problems and functional outcomes.

Objective To examine whether parental incarceration is associated with increased levels of psychiatric diagnosis and poor outcomes in health, legal, financial, and social domains in adulthood.

Design, Setting, and Participants This cohort study used data from the community-representative, prospective, longitudinal Great Smoky Mountains Study. Children and their parents were interviewed up to 8 times from January 1993 to December 2000 (ages 9-16 years; 6674 observations of 1420 participants) using the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment, which assessed parental incarceration, childhood psychiatric diagnoses, and other adversities.  Young adults were followed up at ages 19, 21, 25, and 30 years from January 1999 to December 2015 (4556 observations of 1334 participants) to assess psychiatric diagnoses and functional outcomes indicative of a disrupted transition to adulthood. Data analysis was conducted from June 2018 to June 2019.

Results By age 16 years, 475 participants (weighted percentage, 23.9%) had a parental figure who had been incarcerated, including 259 young men (22.2%) and 216 young women (25.5%).  Parental incarceration was associated with higher prevalence of childhood psychiatric diagnoses (eg, any depressive diagnosis: adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 2.5; 95% CI, 1.3-4.6; P = .006; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: aOR, 2.3; 95% CI, 1.0-5.5; P = .06; and conduct disorder: aOR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.4-4.3; P = .001).  After accounting for childhood psychiatric diagnoses and adversity exposure, parental incarceration remained associated with increased odds of having an adult anxiety disorder (aOR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.0-3.0; P = .04), having an illicit drug use disorder (aOR, 6.6; 95% CI, 2.6-17.0; P < .001), having a felony charge (aOR, 3.4; 95% CI, 1.8-6.5; P < .001), incarceration (aOR, 2.8; 95% CI, 1.4-5.4; P = .003), not completing high school (aOR, 4.4; 95% CI, 2.2-8.8; P < .001), early parenthood (aOR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.0-3.0; P = .04), and being socially isolated (aOR, 2.2; 95% CI, 1.2-4.0; P = .009).

Conclusions and Relevance This study suggests that parental incarceration is associated with a broad range of psychiatric, legal, financial, and social outcomes during young adulthood. Parental incarceration is a common experience that may perpetuate disadvantage from generation to generation.

September 2, 2019 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (3)