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November 29, 2023

Prison Policy Initiative sets out long list of "Winnable criminal justice reforms" for state systems

Prison Policy Initiative has produced this new 16-page document titled "Winnable criminal justice reforms: A Prison Policy Initiative briefing on promising state reform issues for 2024."  I believe this kind of publication is now an annual production by PPI, and this year's version lists 32 suggested reforms.  Here is how the report describes its mission, followed by links to the main reform areas identified:

In this year’s guide to winnable criminal justice reforms, we’ve added information on how Medicaid and Medicare laws can be changed to better serve people in reentry, and we’ve added a section on efforts around the country to legalize marijuana and decriminalize other drugs.  As always, we’ve also updated our list of Winnable criminal justice reforms and added new example bills and resources where you can learn more.

While this briefing is not intended to be a comprehensive platform, we’ve curated this list to offer policymakers and advocates straightforward solutions that would have the greatest impacts on reducing incarceration and ameliorating harms experienced by those with a conviction history, without further investments in the carceral system.  We have also included some talking points and resources that can be used to push back when carve-outs to criminal justice reforms (that is, categorical exclusions of people who would benefit from reforms) are being discussed.

Because each state’s criminal legal system varies so much — from law and procedures, the data collected, and even how the same words are defined — it can be difficult to apply lessons from other states to the same problem in one’s own.  This guide is designed to facilitate the sharing of ideas and information across states.  That said, while we point to multiple bills, model legislation, and regulations in this document, we also recognize that many of these examples reflect compromise and could be strengthened or made more comprehensive.  This information is intended to serve as a resource as you determine which problems are a priority in your state and which lessons from elsewhere are most useful.

The reforms focus on nine areas:

November 29, 2023 at 12:03 PM | Permalink


Hmmmm: https://nypost.com/2023/11/28/news/student-15-killed-by-younger-peer-in-caught-on-camera-brawl-at-north-carolina-high-school/

So, according to Doug, this kid, who (a) did not remotely create situation where he was attacked and (b) defended himself, should be subjected to a process whereby, at the whim of a prosecutor and a jury, be subjected to decades in prison. His mom is just supposed to be good with that?

He could obviously be prosecuted for having a knife at school, but it sure looks like the authorities dropped the ball here.

And it's funny how the media took its cue from Doug's moral icon, Barack Obama. Remember how he called the Jena Six assault a schoolyard fight (more accurate would have been racially-motivated mob attack).

Posted by: federalist | Nov 29, 2023 12:50:09 PM

yet again, federalist, you read one article or see one video and start jumping to all sorts of conclusions based on your feelings rather than based on a complete accounting of the facts and the law. How are you already sure the knife killer in this case (a) "did not remotely create situation," and (b) was defending himself with proportionate force? I am not familiar with any details of this case or of NC's SD laws (including NC juvenile/bind-over procedures), but I have no reason to doubt that NC prosecutors and judges/jurors will seek to follow the state's laws faithfully as the facts become clear.

And, federalist, what you call "the whim of a prosecutor and a jury" is what the rest of us call the American legal system and application of the rule of law. I surmise you completely distrust the American legal system and the rule of law when it comes to claims of self defense. Fine, but then why do you trust it anywhere else? After all, every person prosecuted and in every cage in the US is there, as you put it, "at the whim of a prosecutor and a jury." I am thinking more and more that you are a CJ abolitionist, you just do not realize that your distrust of the American legal system and the rule of law when it comes to claims of self defense apply to all aspects of all our criminal justice systems in all cases.

As I keep saying, federalist, you should try to write up your feelings about self defense in a rigorous way to work through all the implications of all your feelings. It's notable that you express concern with the killer here being "subjected to decades in prison." Seems like you recognize that even just the possibility of being charged with an offense that carries a long prison term can be oppressive. So you see the general problem of long prison terms, especially when subject to use by prosecutors to oppress, relative to the overall fair operation of the CJ system. That is why I have long been an advocate of sentencing reforms -- particularly reforms that can balance the extreme powers held by prosecutors able to leverage extreme sentences.

And speaking of prosecutors having power, I saw a report indicating the "mom" you reference has now also been arrested on different charges involving a different fight.

Posted by: Doug B | Nov 29, 2023 1:29:46 PM

I watched the video. That's how I know. Kid was just standing there (after his mom, btw warned the school that her kid would be attacked) and kid punches him. He retreats to the gym where he i set upon by what only can be described as a mob, punching him and kicking him. He stabs two of the assailants.

You apparently don't understand the word, whim. Where a prosecutor brings charges based on probable cause and presents evidence from which a jury could find guilt BRD, that is the "rule of law." Prosecutions in this case are based on whim--they certainly aren't based on probable cause. And the people of NC, through their elected reps, agree with me as they've provided for civil/criminal immunity for people who lawfully defend themselves, and the video shows that the kid was defending himself lawfully--a mob beating a person is a life and death situation, just ask the kid from Las Vegas. Oh, I am sorry, he cannot answer.

And you're goddamned right I worry about decades in prison for someone exercising the most basic of natural rights, self-defense.

I've seen you whine about Weldon Angelos---but (putting aside the consequences of having the knife in school) him spending a minute in custody for defending himself is far more of an injustice.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 29, 2023 1:48:00 PM

federalist: do you think prosecutors and judges have a duty to dismiss criminal charges that turn out not to be supported by probable cause? I assume NC law calls for dismissals in such circumstances, no? If so, why do you lack confidence that this charge gets dismissed if all the facts prove to be as clear as you posit from watching a video?

Are you saying that local prosecutors and judges are uniquely biased in this setting and/or do you think prosecutors and judges often let charges not based on PC go forward? Notably, DAs and judges in NC are elected, so your point about the "people of NC" would seem to provide additional reasons to trust the prosecutors and judges in this particular setting, no?

Again, federalist, you do not work through the significance of your feelings after watching a video. You seem to be saying we cannot trust (some? all? NC?) prosecutors to care about probable cause and that we cannot trust (some? all? NC?) judges to check on probable cause. Isn't that what you are asserting? If it is, and if it is so clear there are prosecutors and judges ignoring the law in this case, why would we not fear they ignore the law in any and all cases (especially where there is no video providing transparency)?

Also, did you see the report indicating the "mom" you reference has now also been arrested on different charges involving a different fight by her son? (And, federalist, do you have particular concern with juvenile bindover in this case; would you join the advocates who say no person under 18 should be charged or sentenced like an adult?)

And, do you recall that Brett Jones (at age 15) of Jones v. Mississippi, No. 18-1259, claimed self defense when he stabbed his grandfather during a fight. He is serving an LWOP sentence, but I guess you did not see a video and so do not really care about his claim of "exercising the most basic of natural rights, self-defense." Or is there some special reason why you trust the "the whim of a prosecutor and a jury" in that case?

Posted by: Doug B | Nov 29, 2023 2:38:41 PM

"duty" is an odd word to describe what judges "should" do. They have no obligation other than their own conscience.

Regarding the people, I was just pointing to an NC statute granting immunity.

Regarding your shot about the video--sounds like you're saying "federalist, whom do you believe, prosecutors or your lying eyes?"

I think, honestly, there's a bureaucracy mindset. No one really asks the hard questions. I'll give you an example from a DCFS action in Ohio. A woman, let's call her Jane Doe, committed a crime in Wood County. When the local sheriff's office issued the warrant, they tagged a different Jane Doe as the perp via the DMV, and thus the wrong Jane Doe's license plates were associated with the warrant. Sure enough Hamilton County sheriffs did a license plate scan in a parking lot, and the warrant turned up. Wrong Jane Doe was arrested. She had her kids with her. So they took the kids. In order for her to get her kids back, she had to undergo a DCFS evaluation blah blah blah. The DCFS people were just following a procedure that required an evaluation post-arrest. That was totally wrong (and in my view, people should have been prosecuted for it). The arrest was not valid, and so they had no right to condition her continued right to have custody of her kids on an evaluation. None of them stopped to think of just how unlawful this was. (No, you cannot force a parent to undergo this on the basis of a mistaken arrest.)

Here, the prosecutors just see killing and don't care. The video (watch it, it's pretty chilling) demonstrates beyond all doubt the serious danger that kid was in. Cet animal est tres mechant, il se defend quand on s'attaque. And now he could be incarcerated for decades for this.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 29, 2023 2:55:03 PM

I am asking, federalist, do you trust public officials to seek to faithfully apply the law to respect individuals. Sound like your answer is generally no, based on a "bureaucracy mindset." The BLM crowd, as I hear them, says the CJ system should not be trusted to because of a "racist mindset." For many with that kind of deep distrust, the only "answer" is to pursue abolition. I do not have that level of deep distrust, so I am not an abolitionist.

Posted by: Doug B | Nov 29, 2023 3:02:29 PM

I generally trust, until I have a reason not to. And when I see a video of a kid attacked by a mob who defended himself, I choose to believe my own eyes.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 29, 2023 4:01:28 PM

And, do you recall that Brett Jones (at age 15) of Jones v. Mississippi, No. 18-1259, claimed self defense when he stabbed his grandfather during a fight. He is serving an LWOP sentence, but I guess you did not see a video and so do not really care about his claim of "exercising the most basic of natural rights, self-defense." Or is there some special reason why you trust the "the whim of a prosecutor and a jury" in that case?

Claiming self-defense doesn't mean there's merit. In this case, I am talking about video. I don't see how other cases are really all that relevant.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 29, 2023 4:10:53 PM

But, federalist, why do you think others see (and react) differently in this context? If you cannot trust how NC prosecutors and judges will see matters here and how they will apply the law here, why do you trust them to see facts and follow the law anywhere else?

Are you saying you do not trust law enforcement
and prosecutors when there is a video (which provides an extra layer of accountability), but you do trust them when there is not? I do not think there was a video in the Guy case, but you seemed troubled there. (Also, Brett Jones testified on his own behalf that he was attacked and he claimed the evidence could not undermine his SD claim BRD.) My sense is that you never trust authorities when it comes to SD cases --- except when you do. I'll keep scratching my head to figure out what actual principles are at work here.

(As for distrust of the "bureaucracy mindset," this was fundamentally the point being made by Michelle Alexander in the NY Times, as she made much of police bureaucracy to explain why we ought not always trust police testimony. I am sure she'd be glad you are now singing a version of her tune.)

Posted by: Doug B | Nov 29, 2023 4:21:35 PM

I just don't see the evidence in the Guy case that would negate SD BRD. Without that, I don't see grounds for a prosecution. And allowing the testimony "that we were ambushed" seems wrong as well. Testimony that will put someone behind bars needs to be critically examined.

Watch the video in the NC case--where is the evidence negating SD BRD? And the statute says that he is immune if there is no such evidence. You say "trust"--I say, "Show me the evidence."

Posted by: federalist | Nov 29, 2023 4:52:26 PM

Again, I urge you write up your take in all these SD cases with some rigor, federalist, so that you can try to advise prosecutors. I certainly want to believe prosecutors want to follow the law and be faithful to the facts.

I also certainly agree that "[t]estimony that will put someone behind bars needs to be critically examined." Indeed, I think this is precisely what Michelle Alexander was saying in the NY Times. It seems you now agree she was spot on.

Posted by: Doug B | Nov 29, 2023 5:39:41 PM

That Ms Alexander and I agree on some things does not mean I have shifted my views at all. I just think that the term "right" actually means something.

Posted by: federalist | Nov 30, 2023 9:24:05 AM

I have to wonder if something like the recent Federal zero-criminal-history punishment reduction might be considered a "winnable reform" at the state level. I note two pieces of evidence in its favor:

1) Obviously it won at the Federal level.
2) I am in general considerably more pro-punishment than Doug is. Yet this particular reform resonated with me.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Nov 30, 2023 5:04:12 PM

Hey federalist: though I am not sure we can fully trust the source, the only recent reporting that I am seeing would seem to raise some doubt about your initial assertion that the teen killer in NC "did not remotely create situation where he was attacked" and also raises possible worries about "His mom" as a narrator.

Again, please know I am not asserting that this new alt-press report demonstrates conclusively any relevant facts. I am just eager to highlight why I am disinclined to reach firm legal conclusions based on an incomplete record and often inclined to assume that a single video does not always tell the full story (legally or factually).

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 1, 2023 5:28:00 PM

Interesting. But ultimately not really all that relevant. There's video, and I think you may be possibly think that stuff outside of the immediate fight counts as provocation, but it doesn't. The kid took a punch, then was set upon by a group. Doesn't matter that he, apparently, isn't exactly a choir boy.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 4, 2023 3:18:12 PM

Under Ohio SD law, the first element is that "the defendant was not at fault in creating the violent situation." That kind of unclean hands concern (which may or may not have an NC parallel) is why I thought you were keen to make the initial point that the killer here "did not remotely create situation where he was attacked." But, I am not sure we can know that for certain from just the video. And a history of prior encounters/violence could be relevant.

Again, I am not leveling judgment or reaching a conclusion on an SD claim here. Indeed, I share your sense that the video would support an SD claim (although I have seen a report that the deadly stabbing was after the first punch and before the mob ran into the gym). My chief point is that I am disinclined to make a conclusive judgment based on just one video. More generally, I would be troubled to hear that any legal decision-makers --- eg, prosecutors, judges --- were inclined to make important and conclusive legal determinations on consequential legal issues based on only one piece of evidence. And yet that's what you seem to believe everyone should do in this case.

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 4, 2023 5:50:40 PM

Doug, I watched the video--the kid who ultimately pulled the knife was not the aggressor. He was standing there, and another kid punched him, then caught him with a pretty nice one on the second try. The kid backed into the gym, and was set upon by a whole bunch of kids who were kicking him (and that could easily kill). He pulled the knife and stabbed the kid who wound up dying. So the "at fault" stuff doesn't really obtain here, and there is no way that this kid lost his self-defense rights. Sometimes, of course, video doesn't tell the whole story. Many times it does. (That's why we have cop cameras.) In this case, it's pretty clear that it does.

From a legal standpoint, the kid didn't remotely create the situation, and recall also that he was set upon by a bunch of kids, so even if you say that he started it with the first kid, that doesn't mean that he cannot defend himself with deadly force since he had every reason to fear for his life or serious bodily injury.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 5, 2023 9:23:51 AM

federalist, have you seen the press analysis of the video that shows the stabbing starts OUTSIDE the gym? Screen shots with a close up of just the two kids outside the gym perhaps show the killer is stabbing the other kid in the back BEFORE the fight spills into the gym. https://capefearbeacon.com/southeast-raleigh-high-tragedy-self-defense-in-school-stabbing/

If an investigation reveals (a) a killer aggressively taunted a rival and says "if you come at me, I will eagerly and happily kill you right here," and then (b) the rival punches and the killer lethally stabs in response, self-defense is likely unavailable in many jurisdictions. US v. Peterson, 483 F.2d 1222 (D.C. Cir. 1973), is a "classic" common-law case on this front. The Model Penal Code, which has one of the most limited initial aggressor provisions, says that use of deadly force is not justified when "the actor, with the purpose of causing death or serious bodily injury, provoked the use of force against himself in the same encounter." See MPC 3.04(2)(b)(i).

As you recognize, sometimes video doesn't tell the whole story. Here, it seems the video itself may tell a number of possible stories. And, as I keep stressing, I am not claiming to know the full story or the right legal conclusion. I am just stressing that I am always disinclined to make a conclusive judgment based on just one video.

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 5, 2023 10:07:02 AM

Fair points, although from the video it does not appear at all that the stabber stabbed the kid who attacked him first, but even if he did, the kid that was killed was kicking and stomping the stabber before he got stabbed, and there were a lot of people attacking him. And watch the video, the stabber was backing up before the initial assault. But let me look at the video in the link.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 5, 2023 11:24:28 AM

Yeah, the knife is clearly visible in the initial encounter. So looks like we have the full story. But here's something to ponder---let's say I have a legal knife on me, and some dude walks up to me, I retreat slightly, and he starts whaling away at me, and I pull it out and stab him--should I go to jail for the rest of my life?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 5, 2023 11:31:58 AM

federalist, I do not think anyone should get LWOP (especially juves), and cases of what are often called "imperfect" self defense are never LWOP proper. A number of states expressly or implicitly allow an imperfect self defense claim to downgrade a murder charge to manslaughter, and I think this is a sound reality. This downgrade has been the outcome in a number of (in)famous cases involving a domestic violence victims killing sleeping batterers. See, e.g., State v. Leidholm, 334 N.W.2d 811 (ND 1983).

Of course, the knife in this case is not being legally possessed, right? And bringing a deadly weapon (legal or illegal) to a hot situation could still support the notion that "the actor, with the purpose of causing death or serious bodily injury, provoked the use of force against himself in the same encounter." See MPC 3.04(2)(b)(i); see also the Peterson case in which convicted killer goes back in house to get a gun. (Notably, the jury returned a manslaughter verdict in Peterson, so maybe another good example of imperfect self defense.).

And, do I read your first two sentences as an oblique admission that you missed a critical element of this story (which is on the video) because you wrongly thought the video so clearly reflected a different story? Can you clearly admit that you now see that you jumped to (suspect?) conclusion without even understanding the full story reflected in this video?

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 5, 2023 11:54:10 AM

"And bringing a deadly weapon (legal or illegal) to a hot situation could still support the notion that "the actor, with the purpose of causing death or serious bodily injury, provoked the use of force against himself in the same encounter."

I don't see how a concealed knife is provoking. I think "provoked" is a very very freighted world. Would I be provoking (in the legal sense) if I went to a BLM protest with a sign that says "All Lives Matter?"--perhaps in the colloquial sense, but certainly not in the legal sense. So you have to be very very careful about that word, as it could sweep in lawful conduct. Let's say I carried a legal knife with me in a bad neighborhood . . . .

Obviously, I have to deal with the fact that he stabbed the kid who attacked him before the mob set upon him. Kid got attacked, and he was moving backward. We should get that right. The case is now even more fascinating. But my question obtains--I am walking down street, and let's say I have a knife, and guy (my size or bigger( walks up to me and starts hitting me hard, should I be prosecuted if I stab him?

Posted by: federalist | Dec 5, 2023 12:56:17 PM

Under most SD formulations, if you honestly and reasonably feared you were in threat of great bodily harm, federalist, you would be allowed to use deadly force in response. But suppose you are walking back in forth in front of the house of a neighbor who you brawled with the night before at a bar and who left you with one black eye during that encounter. Then you shouted that you dared him to try to give you a second black eye, and you had that knife with you with the plan of stabbing him if/when he runs toward you. On those facts, we may have a situation in which "the actor, with the purpose of causing death or serious bodily injury, provoked the use of force against himself in the same encounter." In an MPC world, you ten lose the defense. And in Ohio, any "fault" can produce the same result. (A concealed knife is itself not provoking, but it can provide a basis for a fact-finder for concluding the knife killer came into the encounter with a fatal plan.)

Long story short, lots of little details can matter for the application of self-defense law. That's why I think it so very foolish to believe the facts and law are beyond dispute on the basis of a single video. That's even more obvious when what happened in that single video is not clear until someone else showed you that you had jumped to the wrong conclusions. Face it, federalist, you have clowned yourself with your own off-topic story.

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 5, 2023 2:45:54 PM

No, you cannot provoke a fight, but can you decide you're going to put yourself in a position where deadly force can be used--consider the BLM hypo. And you get to do that--at least under the letter of the law.

Looking at the video, it is very hard to believe that he "provoked" the fight from a legal standpoint. There are lots of issues with charging him with murder.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 5, 2023 5:24:56 PM

I agree there are a lots of issues here, federalist, which is why carefully and thoroughly collecting evidence without jumping to any conclusions is so important. Or you can clown yourself by repeatedly asserting the video tells the whole story when you do not even understand the story told by the video until it is revealed in a press article.

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 5, 2023 5:31:02 PM

The video here is pretty much everything. Just didn't see the original stab.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 6, 2023 9:29:49 AM

But how do you know for sure that the "video here is pretty much everything," especially given that mens rea and prior history can matter for some SD claims? You jumped to a conclusion without even understanding what you claimed was "clear" from the video. You asserted that the prosecution in this case was not based on law, again without even understanding what you claimed was "clear" from a single piece of evidence. You now seem to want to believe, after I found an article about what the video really shows, that you now have the "full story" and "pretty much everything." But the video tells us nothing about where the knife came from, nothing about what the kids said to each other that day or earlier, nothing about whether the killer expressed any prior intent about killing/stabbing his victim, nothing about what prompted the first punch, and so on and so on. Perhaps all these factual uncertainties will be resolved and make the case for SD more clear (or less clear). On all this, I keep an open mind, and mostly will remember this case as one, federalist, in which you clowned yourself with your own off-topic story.

Posted by: Doug B | Dec 6, 2023 11:34:34 AM

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