Friends in Court: The Growing Impact of ‘Participatory Defense’

Ramon Vasquez was facing the threat of a lifetime in prison when he stood trial for a 2008 murder he didn’t commit. “The only number I heard in court, was ’80 years.’ Like, I might get 80 years if I was convicted,” recalled Vasquez, a San Jose, Calif. delivery-truck driver. Vasquez, then 29, knew the evidence proving his innocence was out there. But neither the expensive private lawyer his family initially hired but couldn’t afford nor the court-appointed he wound up with (who urged … [Read more...]

What to Do with Prop 47 Savings?

Prop. 47 got thousands out of prison. Now, $103 million in savings will go towards keeping them out Vonya Quarles grew up in South Los Angeles and describes herself as a third-generation convicted felon. But by the time she took the microphone at a Highland town hall meeting in January 2016, she was a lawyer and executive director of a Riverside County nonprofit that helps connect the homeless, formerly incarcerated and mentally ill to transitional housing. With applause from the audience, … [Read more...]

Lock ’Em Up? Prosecutors Who Say ‘Not So Fast’ Face a Backlash

In Tampa, the top prosecutor says too many children are charged as adults. In Houston, the district attorney will no longer press charges in low-level marijuana cases. And in Chicago, prosecutors will no longer oppose the release of many nonviolent offenders who cannot afford to post bond. Two more newly elected prosecutors, in Denver and Orlando, have vowed not to seek the death penalty, even for the most egregious killers. They are part of a new vanguard that has jettisoned the … [Read more...]

Legislation to Reform the Juvenile Justice System

This year, the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice is co-sponsoring two bills in the California Legislature: Senate Bill (SB) 190 and Senate Bill (SB) 439. SB 190 will end the harmful assessment and collection of fees charged to families for a youth’s involvement in the juvenile juvenile system, and SB 439 will establish a minimum age of juvenile delinquency court jurisdiction. These bills will lessen the impact of the juvenile justice system on young Californians and enable families, … [Read more...]

Black Workers in Los Angeles Face a ‘Jobs Crisis

Black people living in Los Angeles County have been more likely than the rest of the population to remain unemployed or to drop out of the workforce altogether in the wake of the 2007-09 recession, according to a new report conducted by UCLA. Black workers have lost blue-collar jobs at about the same rate as whites in the county, but seem to be less likely to find replacement work, according to the UCLA analysis. Seventeen percent of black workers were unemployed on average from 2011 to … [Read more...]

Justice Springs Eternal

This wasn’t how the story was supposed to end. After almost 50 years of relentless prison-building in the United States, of aggressive policing and a war on drugs that goes after our most vulnerable citizens, the movement for a more merciful criminal justice system had begun to seem, if not unstoppable, at least plenty powerful. In 2015, the number of American prisoners declined more than 2 percent, the largest decrease since 1978. By 2014, the incarceration rate for black men, while still … [Read more...]

Sentencing Reform in California

On February 27th, I had the opportunity to present to the California Assembly Budget Subcommittee Number 5: Public Safety on the crucial topic of California sentencing policy. I have been involved in this issue for the past 31 years at the CJCJ, and have witnessed the explosive and unprecedented growth of the state’s prison population that began after passage of the Determinate Sentencing Law in 1977. The Determinant Sentencing Law ushered in a period of unprecedented prison expansion as the … [Read more...]

Crime Hotspots Need Investments, Not Just Policing

Anti-crime strategies should try to fix what makes hotspots prone to violence. On the last day of 2016, a solemn procession made its way across Chicago. Hundreds of mourners and their supporters marched together, carrying 762 wooden crosses — one for each victim of the year’s terrible homicide toll. Had the marchers ended the demonstration by planting those crosses at the site of each murder, they would have clustered in a few areas of the sprawling city, creating a haphazard array of … [Read more...]

Breaking Faith

The culture war over religious morality has faded; in its place is something much worse. Over the past decade, pollsters charted something remarkable: Americans—long known for their piety—were fleeing organized religion in increasing numbers. The vast majority still believed in God. But the share that rejected any religious affiliation was growing fast, rising from 6 percent in 1992 to 22 percent in 2014. Among Millennials, the figure was 35 percent. Some observers predicted that this new … [Read more...]

Sex Offender Sentencing: Did the Supreme Court Base a Ruling on a Myth?

Last week at the Supreme Court, a lawyer made what seemed like an unremarkable point about registered sex offenders. “This court has recognized that they have a high rate of recidivism and are very likely to do this again,” said the lawyer, Robert C. Montgomery, who was defending a North Carolina statute that bars sex offenders from using Facebook, Twitter and other social media services. The Supreme Court has indeed said the risk that sex offenders will commit new crimes is “frightening … [Read more...]