Criminal Justice Reform Starts with the Prosecutor

Respect. Self-worth. Hope. Proportionality. These were one-word visions for a reimagined criminal justice system from group of people who have considerable power to make change a reality: prosecutors. This summer 24 prosecutors from around the country and across the political divide came together in New York to discuss the criminal justice system and prosecutors’ role in it. Their aim was not to gain more resources to maximize convictions or felony charges, but rather to find ways to … [Read more...]

Undiscovered: Do Evidence Laws Force Defendants to Take Pleas “Blindfolded”

In September 2013, a fight broke out on the sidewalk outside the Bronx nightclub where Aaron Cedres worked as a bouncer. It was a confusing scrum of about a dozen people, and one man suffered a broken jaw and deep slashes to his head and back. A month later, Cedres — then a 25-year-old father with no criminal record — was charged with gang assault, which carried the prospect of 25 years in prison. Cameras had been posted outside the club, and the prosecutor said the tapes looked bad for … [Read more...]

Prison Dehumanizes Incarcerated: Prison Project Brings Them Back

In the last 35 years, California has built approximately 22 new prisons, and the state has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country. The US's prison industrial complex has been called America's human rights crisis. So is it possible for prisoners have hope for their future? How do you retain your humanity in an inhumane system? Ten years ago, actor Sabra Williams had an experimental idea: she wanted to bring The Actor's Gang Theatre Company into prisons to work with non-actors, and … [Read more...]

Time to Refocus the Punishment Paradigm

Any parent can tell you that timeouts, groundings, and other punishments only go so far in encouraging good behavior. If kids are scolded over and over again, the reprimands can lose their effect: Walls go up, and cooperation goes down. But throw in a few high-fives or thumbs-ups to recognize a nice job clearing the dishes or picking up after a baby sister, and attitudes may brighten — and actions may begin to improve. It’s basic human behavior, the circuitry of motivation. Everybody needs … [Read more...]

Mass Incarceration: Prisoners of Time

Despite the enactment of justice reforms in many states, the nation’s prison and jail population has dropped only slightly in recent years. Well over two million people remain behind bars, and there has been little dent in the “mass incarceration” that that has been criticized by many on both the left and the right. A new report from the Urban Institute tells much of the reason why: Prisoners sentenced to long terms under laws passed in previous decades still are locked up, and there is … [Read more...]

Color of Justice

An individual’s race and ethnic background determine how he is treated at the “front end” of the criminal justice system, according to a study published this week. The study, which, focused on poor African-American, Latino and white defendants (all male) in San Francisco, found what it called “systematic differences” in outcomes during the preliminary steps of an individual’s involvement in the justice system, from arrest and booking to the pretrial phase. “Defendants of color are more … [Read more...]

Prison Mental Health Crisis Continues

A new Bureau of Justice Statistics report offers another grim view of mental health problems in America’s prisons and jails. Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners and Jail Inmates 2011-12 is the first government update on the mental health of incarcerated populations since 2006. BJS has made some changes to its data collection, making comparisons to earlier reports difficult, but the takeaway is the same, ten years later: U.S. prisons and jails are filled with people who … [Read more...]

Protest the Moral Madness of LA County’s Jail Construction Plan

Later today, at a special budget meeting, the LA County supervisors will adopt a budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. That budget includes $92 million in interest payments for the cost of a new $2.2 billion dollar jail. We urge Justice Not Jails supporters to makes themselves heard on the ethical insanity of moving forward with a massive jail construction plan that totally ignores other ongoing efforts to divert people away from the jail system and to release significant numbers … [Read more...]

The Mental Health Crisis Facing Women in Prison

A new study shows a striking disparity between incarcerated men and women. More than two-thirds of incarcerated women in America reported having a history of mental health problems — a far higher percentage than their male counterparts, according to a study released Thursday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Although the prevalence of mental health disorders among people in prisons and jails is a well-known problem, the dramatic gender disparity exposed in the new report has been less … [Read more...]

Report: America’s Prisons Are So Polluted They Are Endangering Inmates

Environmental hazards are having a massive affect on one of society’s most marginalized groups: The incarcerated. According to a new investigation from Earth Island Journal  and Truthout, mass incarceration has led to some of the most egregious examples of environmental injustice. “[M]ass incarceration in the US impacts the health of prisoners, prison-adjacent communities, and local ecosystems from coast to coast,” the authors of the special report said. Prisons are often located in areas … [Read more...]