March 10, 2014 (The Guardian)
America’s punishment addiction: how to put our broken jails back together
In the United States, people can land in prison for life over minor offenses. They can be locked up forever for siphoning gasoline from a truck, shoplifting small items from a department store or attempting to cash a stolen check. Sentences across the United States in the last 30 years have Roy Lee Clay for example, received in 2013 a sentence of mandatory punishment of life without parole for refusing to accept a plea bargain of 10 years for trafficking 1kg of heroin. Even the sentencing judge found this “extremely severe and harsh”. The bigger picture: a recent Human Rights Watch report found that the threat of harsh sentences leads 97% of drug defendants to plead guilty rather than exercise their right to a public trial.
Most citizens are shocked when they hear such reports. Federal judge John Gleeson of New York said that the way prosecutors use plea bargaining “coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away”. Federal judge Mark Bennett of Iowa has described the “shocking, jaw-dropping disparity” of prior-conviction enhancements to force a plea bargain in a case.
But these and other shocks mean nothing without a larger shock of recognition: Americans like to punish.
March 10, 2014 (The Ledger)
Fate of 201 Youthful Offenders in Legal Limbo
The fate of 201 prisoners rests with the Florida Supreme Court and the state Legislature this spring.
Over the next few months, decisions by the state's highest court and lawmakers will determine whether these prisoners spend the rest of their lives in a prison cell or may one day be released.
The prisoners were involved in the most serious of crimes: murder. But they are different from others because they committed their crimes as teenagers — one as young as 13 and nearly three dozen only 14 or 15.
Research shows another troubling trend among the juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole for murder convictions — they are disproportionately African-American. Six of every 10 of these prisoners, or 59 percent, is black, compared to a 17 percent African-American population in Florida, or 22 percent of the under 18 population.
Nearly all are males, with only 11 women accounting for 5 percent of the juvenile prisoners.
What Florida's justices and state lawmakers must resolve is how to deal with juveniles who have received sentences declared unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.
March 7, 2014 (St. Louis American)
My Sister’s Keeper
In all the hoopla surrounding President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, overlooked is that fact that our young girls also need to be targeted for special attention. Sure, they outpace Black males in college attendance and, in many instances, in the workplace. Still, that does not mean they do not also need special attention and encouragement.
Nothing illustrates this better than events of the past week. Sandwiched between President Obama’s White House announcement of his special effort to help Black males and jubilation over Lupita Nyong’o winning an Oscar for best supporting actress in “12 years a Slave” was news out of Florida that Marissa Alexander, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a “warning shot” in the direction of her estranged and abusive husband, will be retried and could face 60 years in prison instead of the original 20.
Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, the same prosecutor whose office failed to win murder convictions against George Zimmerman in connection with the death of Trayvon Martin and, more recently, against Michael Dunn for the death of Jordan Davis, announced that instead of the 20 years originally given to Alexander, she will seek to triple that by requesting that her three 20-year terms be served consecutively rather than concurrently.
March 7, 2014 (Finger Lakes Times)
Geneva NAACP initiative focuses on voting rights of ex-offenders
A new initiative of the Geneva chapter of the NAACP will focus on the voting rights of ex-offenders.
At the March 11 League of Women Voters of Geneva lunch, local NAACP President Lucile Mallard will speak about the chapter’s new voter registration and civic engagement education program.
League officials said most people who have been involved with the criminal justice system receive little or no information about their voting rights.
According to a study conducted by The Sentencing Project, more than 40 percent of prisoners believe that incarceration causes them to permanently lose his or her right to vote and almost 60 percent believe that being on probation makes them ineligible to vote.
March 4, 2014 (The Trentonian)
An ex-offenders voting bloc?
Under a plan brewing in the state legislature, a new voting bloc would join New Jersey’s 5.27 million registered voters — ex-offenders.
Prospective new voters would be signed up at the exit doors of prisons and jails — or parole and probation offices — under bills awaiting action in the state Assembly and Senate.
The pool of new voters would be potentially huge. There are 23,000 in state prisons, 70,000 on probation and 16,000 on parole.
Thousands of them annually become legally eligible to vote upon “maxing out” their sentences or fulfilling their probationary or parole terms.
The legislation to sign them up as voters is part of an “enfranchisement movement” that’s percolating throughout the nation. The movement recently received an influential boost from the country’s top law enforcement official, U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric Holder.