Sentencing Policy News
December 12, 2013 (Al Jazeera America)
Three-strikes law causing pricey glut of lifers without parole
Vance Bartley was arrested at 31 and spent more than a year in jail before being sentenced to life without parole under Washington state’s persistent-offender law — more commonly referred to as the three-strikes law. When he was growing up, getting arrested wasn’t something he feared — it was just part of life.
Bartley, who had previously committed a second-degree robbery and a second-degree assault, finally earned his third strike and a life sentence in 1998 for his participation in a string of robberies.
Nearly 160,000 people are serving life sentences in America’s prisons, according to a recent report by The Sentencing Project , a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for criminal-justice reform. Thirty-one percent of those people, like Bartley, won’t ever go before a parole board. A separate study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that nearly 4,000 prisoners in the U.S. will serve life in prison for nonviolent offenses.
December 12, 2013 (Tallahassee.com)
Florida has it wrong
Walter McNeil, past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections in Leon County, and Mark Schlakman, senior program director at Florida State University’ Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, write: “As Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet convene at the Capitol this morning as Florida’s Clemency Board, hundreds of thousands of Floridians who completed their sentences for felony convictions are still prohibited from exercising their rights as U.S. citizens to vote under the state’s civil rights restoration scheme.
“An independent study indicates the number exceeds 1.5 million.
“These circumstances arise out of the various felon civil rights restoration policies of multiple administrations but were exacerbated by implementation of arguably the most restrictive criteria in the nation during Scott’s first Clemency Board meeting in March 2011.
“At Attorney General Pam Bondi’s urging, the governor and Cabinet unanimously adopted a policy requiring waiting periods of five and seven years after the completion of sentence before felons are eligible to apply, with no guarantee that such rights ultimately would be restored.
“Given the demographics of Florida’s prison population, minorities are disproportionately impacted by such restrictive civil rights restoration policies.
“The rationale for routine restoration upon completion of sentence is that, once legislatively mandated sanctions are served, offenders should regain the responsibilities of citizenship. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has long been supportive of felon civil rights restoration upon completion of sentence as an element of a larger strategy to promote successful re-entry into society and thereby enhance public safety.
December 11, 2013 (Opposingviews.com)
Minority Women and Children Suffer Most From Lifetime Drug Welfare Ban
Felony offenders are not allowed social welfare assistance in at least 12 states, a measure that disproportionately affects minority women, a new study indicates.
A report by the prison reform advocacy nonprofit The Sentencing Project reveals that the embargo on welfare most affects women of color. The embargo is the result of a provision to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Intended to stop former addicts from using money or food stamps for drugs after they’ve served prison time, the laws actually do nothing of the sort, instead perpetuating a cycle of poverty and addiction.
Even Martha Stewart was moved to urge reform after serving five months in prison in 2004 after the “insider trading” scandal, Sadhbh Walshe wrote in an opinion column on Al Jazeera America.
“I beseech you all to think about these women,” Stewart said in a statement. “They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life out there.”
December 11, 2013 (The Huffington Post)
Our Nation has a Secret: Felony Disenfranchisement in America
Laws preventing returning prisoners from voting originated prior to the Reconstruction era in an attempt to stem the growth of the black voting bloc and black electorate. Today, the effects are the same. The latest data reveals that nearly six million people cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws practiced in across 48 states and the District of Columbia. More than two million of those disenfranchised are black.
Florida, Kentucky, and Iowa practice permanent disenfranchisement, erecting impenetrable barriers for people who are no longer incarcerated. Virginia made some strides after an executive order this summer granted automatic restoration of rights to people with non-violent felony convictions; however, that order's future will rely on the Governor-elect's agenda beginning in 2014. Kentucky and Iowa are slowly embracing change, but until those laws are amended in their state Constitutions, like this year's history-making legislation in Delaware, each state is still behind the curve.
December 10, 2013 (Daily Sundial)
Everything I learned was wrong
Luis Rivas writes: “In the newsroom at the Daily Sundial we often talk about the concepts of balance and objectivity. Reporters and editors have always shared opposing arguments. Our stories are an extension of this discourse. But it’s not our fault.
“We are all conditioned, and we are taught that we are not conditioned. Especially journalists. Those of us that have decided to pursue journalism as a discipline are conditioned to seek a readily-available truth. We are told to give opposing viewpoints equal time, that is, to be balanced.
“We are conditioned to give equal time to opposing viewpoints.
“But if your position in society is at the losing end of oppression, the oppressor’s viewpoint has been given enough time and coverage. Six corporations control 90 percent of the media, according to research published in the Business Insider. The balance of power is against radical criticism.
“But who do we serve, directly or indirectly, by not questioning the structure of our society?