Cash Bail’s Lonely Defender

Pretty much everyone who spends any time examining the American system of secured cash bail comes away with the same conclusion: It’s unjust, expensive and ineffective, even counterproductive. People charged with crimes — all of whom are presumed innocent — get locked up for days, weeks or months not because they pose a risk of fleeing or endangering the public but simply because they’re too poor to buy their freedom. The harm that even short-term detention can cause is profound. Jobs are … [Read more...]

Why Keep Old and Sick Behind Bars?

Anyone who visits a prison these days might be shocked to see what looks more like a nursing home with bars and metal detectors. Prisoners put away years ago under the wave of draconian sentencing are now turning gray and frail, suffering from heart disease and hypertension and feeling the effects of Alzheimer’s and other age-related illnesses. Corrections officials once thought they had time to prepare for this, but something unexpected happened. Federal data shows that prison inmates age … [Read more...]

When Police Unions Impede Justice

Across the country, municipal governments have signed contracts with police unions including provisions that shield officers from punishment for brutal behavior as well as from legitimate complaints by the citizens they are supposed to serve. That may soon change, as public outrage over police killings of civilians is ratcheting up pressure on elected officials to radically revise police contracts that make it almost impossible to bring officers to justice. The most striking case in point … [Read more...]

Did Blacks Really Endorse the 1994 Crime Bill?

As political candidates and pundits grapple with the legacy of the 1994 crime bill and the era of mass incarceration that has seen millions of African-Americans locked in the nation’s prisons, one defense keeps popping up: that black citizens asked for it. When confronted about her husband’s pivotal support for the bill, Hillary Clinton argued, even as she admitted the legislation’s shortcomings, that the bill was a response to “great demand, not just from America writ large, but from the black … [Read more...]

A Fair Chance After a Conviction

The Obama administration has worked diligently over the last five years to ease the marginalization of more than 70 million Americans with criminal records that can shut them out of jobs, housing, higher education or the consumer credit system — sometimes for minor offenses in the distant past or arrests that never led to conviction. By addressing this problem, Mr. Obama is pushing the country to re-evaluate longstanding policies that trap people with criminal records at the very edges of … [Read more...]

The Death Penalty Endgame

How does the death penalty in America end? For decades that has been an abstract question. Now there may be an answer in the case of Shonda Walter, a 36-year-old black woman on Pennsylvania’s death row. On Friday, the Supreme Court met to discuss whether to hear a petition from Ms. Walter, who is asking the justices to rule that in all cases, including hers, the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishments. Ever since 1976, when the court allowed … [Read more...]

Cut Sentences for Low-Level Drug Crimes

Now that Congress is within sight of passing the most significant federal sentencing reforms in a generation, it’s worth taking a closer look at where the legislation falls short. The main driver of the federal prison population is, by far, the dramatic increase in the time people spend behind bars — specifically, those convicted of drug offenses, who account for nearly half of the nation’s 199,000 federal inmates. From 1988 to 2012, the average time served for drug crimes more than doubled in … [Read more...]

California’s Prison Experiment

What happens when you release thousands of prison inmates before the end of their sentences? It’s a question at the heart of the effort to address America’s overincarceration crisis. There are the inevitable warnings that crime will go up, but they are rarely borne out by the facts. California’s most recent prison and jail reform offers perhaps the best test case yet. Until recently, California locked up more people per capita than any other state. It has been under federal court order … [Read more...]

Schoolkids in Handcuffs

The video that went viral last month showing a white sheriff’s deputy in a Columbia, S.C., classroom throwing and dragging an African-American student across the floor may well be indicative of a deeper problem with the security program in that school district. In May, an office within the Justice Department that monitors federally funded programs opened an investigation to determine whether the school security program run by the Richland County, S.C., Sheriff’s Department was complying with … [Read more...]

Political Lies About Police Brutality

Video recordings of police officers battering or even murdering unarmed black citizens have validated longstanding complaints by African-Americans and changed the way the country views the issue of police brutality. Police officers who might once have felt free to arrest or assault black citizens for no cause and explain it away later have been put on notice that the truth could be revealed by a cellphone video posted on the Internet. This kind of public scrutiny is all to the good, given the … [Read more...]