March 28, 2014 (The Austin Chronicle)
Point Austin: Incarceration Nation
Grassroots Leadership and The Sentencing Project were in town this week, delivering a presentation on "race, mass incarceration, and the private prison industry" at Huston-Tillotson Uni¬ver¬sity. The two organizations somewhat overlap; Grassroots Lead¬ership focuses on "ending for-profit incarceration," and The Sentencing Proj¬ect publishes research and advocates more generally on the excesses of the entire U.S. prison/criminal justice system.
Together, Christopher Petrella of Grassroots Leadership and Nicole Porter of The Sentencing Project provided an overview of the current U.S. system of incarceration, its institutionalized racism, and various efforts at reform.
March 25, 2014 (Des Moines Register)
Iowa officials wonder: what's fair for juveniles?
Blair Greiman, originally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a brutal crime when he was 16 years old, has spent more than 30 years in prison and insists he is ready to be released.
Iowa’s parole board sees it differently. It has denied Greiman parole three times since the now-48-year-old was re-sentenced in 2012 to life with the possibility of parole. The board has consistently found that the commission of a crime of rape and stabbing warrants more time behind bars.
Greiman’s resentencing came after the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Florida, made life-without-parole sentences illegal for juvenile offenders who committed non-homicide crimes that carry a life sentence, such as first-degree kidnapping. Iowa has six other inmates who were made eligible for parole by the ruling, and all have denied release by the parole board.
March 24, 2014 (Houston Chronicle)
Texas conservatives lead reassessment of 'war on crime'
There was a time when Texas conservatives like U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a former judge and state attorney general, used to tout their tough-on-crime credentials, much like in the cowboy-themed 2008 campaign video, "Big Bad John."
Now Cornyn and many other Republicans across the country are singing a different tune on crime and punishment - this time invoking costs, redemption and second chances.
"We tried the lock 'em all up and keep them locked up philosophy, but sooner or later many of these folks are going to be released from prison," Cornyn said in an interview. "Traditional criminal justice policy called for rehabilitation to be one of the elements of our criminal justice system, but we kind of forgot about that."
Some traditional conservatives have come to the view that treatment and rehabilitation programs - long the province of liberal prison reformers - cost a fraction of mandating long, hard time, and have shown better results with low-level offenders, particularly drug offenders, who make up about half of all federal inmates.
The upshot is a pair of broadly-backed criminal justice reform bills in the Senate - one with Cornyn's name on it - now being hailed as a major transformation in a failed criminal justice system. Even in an election year of a famously gridlocked Congress, Cornyn and others give the legislation a better than even chance of getting to President Barack Obama's desk this year.
March 24, 2014 (USA Today)
Conservatives, liberals unite to cut prison population
It was a surprise dinner invitation that made Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project realize he had new allies in his effort to end mandatory minimum prison sentences.
After years of working with liberal groups like the NAACP and Human Rights Watch, Mauer found himself dining at a conservative think tank with heavyweights of the political right, including former GOP House speaker Newt Gingrich and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. The discussion topic: the explosion in the U.S. prison population due to federal and state laws requiring minimum sentences for even non-violent offenders.
"We had this three-hour free-flowing discussion about the need to reduce the prison population,'' Mauer said of the 2009 event. "It was striking how much agreement there was there.''
Since mandatory sentencing became widespread in the 1980s and prison populations and costs began to climb, opponents have pointed to its disproportionate impacts on minorities and the poor. The political right is entering the fray from a different angle, calling the current criminal justice system an expensive government program that produces poor results.
March 21, 2014 (The State)
Group goes to U.N. to argue for Americans’ voting rights
An NAACP delegation and several voting-rights organizations flew to Geneva last week to take their case for ex-offender voting rights in the United States to the United Nations.
Appealing to an international body to help solve a domestic issue is an unusual step for U.S. groups, signaling that efforts to address the problem through the usual domestic channels have been fruitless. The group went to take part in a review of how the United States is meeting its obligations as a signer of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In a conference call before the trip, Hilary Shelton, an NAACP vice president, noted the international convention has the status of federal law, once signed. “Going to the United Nations is a way for us to have the U.N. evaluate what the U.S. has done to meet its obligations, from voting rights to civil rights,” he said.
Stripping former felons of their rights to vote disenfranchises many African-Americans, who are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, says the NAACP.