Where’s the Justice in Our Criminal Justice System?

I've been listening to a podcast I wish I could have heard while in high school—I probably would have gone to law school earlier than I did. Listed by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 10 podcasts everyone should follow, "Actual Innocence" was started by Brook Gittings, a social worker who—after watching the Netflix series "The Making of a Murderer"—realized how little she knew about our judicial system.  Her desire to learn more led her into the world of wrongful convictions, which has now … [Read more...]

Susan Burton: A Modern-Day Harriet Tubman

She was 4 years old when her aunt’s boyfriend began to abuse her sexually. Then at 14, she had a baby girl, the result of a gang rape. Soon she fell under the control of a violent pimp and began cycling through jails, prisons, addiction and crime for more than 20 years. Yet today, Susan Burton is a national treasure. She leads a nonprofit helping people escape poverty and start over after prison, she’s a powerful advocate for providing drug treatment and ending mass incarceration — and her … [Read more...]

Legal Weed’s No. 1 Warrior Puts Down His Pipe

For drug-policy reformers, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. Marijuana legalization seems to have hit a tipping point, and even Republicans now regard opioid addiction as a health crisis rather than a criminal one. Yet here comes Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a drug warrior from a generation ago, determined to turn back the clock. There’s no more influential drug-policy reformer than Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, who is stepping down after … [Read more...]

Still Life: America’s Increasing Use of Life and Long-Term Sentences

The number of people serving life sentences in U.S. prisons is at an all-time high. Nearly 162,000 people are serving a life sentence – one of every nine people in prison. An additional 44,311 individuals are serving “virtual life” sentences of 50 years or more. Incorporating this category of life sentence, the total population serving a life or virtual life sentence reached 206,268 in 2016. This represents 13.9 percent of the prison population, or one of every seven people behind bars. A mix of … [Read more...]

Burn, Baby Burn: What I Saw as a Black Journalist Covering the L.A. Riots 25 Years ago

I could see the fires as soon as I left the First A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles on that spring evening 25 years ago. I was a correspondent for Time magazine, covering the reaction to the stunning, April 29, 1992, acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers charged with the brutal, videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King. There was no “Black Lives Matter” movement then. But when I arrived at First A.M.E. — the designated meeting place for community leaders and others concerned … [Read more...]

Betrayed at the Polls, Evangelicals of Color at a Crossroads

He seemed drunk and ready for a fight. The man, mid-fifties, towering and broad shouldered, shouted over the other partygoers to his wife, “Honey, have you seen my jacket? It has my gun in it.” George Mekhail, a pastor in his early thirties, tried to ignore the man for most of the party. That is, until he staggered toward George, amped for a confrontation. George’s friend Jeff had invited him to this family friend’s Christmas gathering in Arlington, WA, a rural, predominantly white town … [Read more...]

Did the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Defraud the Feds?

Has the department’s “culture of corruption,” as the U.S. Attorney put it, been adequately swept away? An investigation into possible incidents of high-level fraud relating to a fleet of Sea King helicopters loaned under a controversial Defense Department program suggests a troubling answer. In August 28, 2013,  Dave Rathbun sent an email to Chief Edmund Sexton of the Homeland Security Division of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD). “Chief Sexton,” wrote Rathbun, who had been a … [Read more...]

Bullies in Blue: The Origins and Consequence of School Policing

Under the auspices of protecting children, we have accepted the infringement of law enforcement into one of the most important civic institutions: our schools. Once in schools, the scrutiny and authority of law enforcement are turned upon schoolchildren themselves, the very group that’s supposed to be protected. This report is intended to shed light on the origins of school policing as well as the real and devastating consequences of education under law and order. Over the past 50 years, … [Read more...]

5 Reasons LAPD Should Release Body Camera Video Footage to Public

The Los Angeles Police Commission is considering new guidelines for LAPD body camera video footage, and you have until May 7th to weigh-in. This is your chance to influence critical issues surrounding police transparency: When do body camera videos get released? Who gets to see it? Should relatives of victims play a role in these decisions? Fill out the LAPD's questionnaire now. All too often, law enforcement agencies have flat-out refused to release videos to the public, or have held … [Read more...]

While Jeff Sessions Escalates the War on Drugs, Drug Policy Reform Surges Ahead in California

The Drug Policy Alliance had another successful day in the California state legislature, with two more bills passing through the first house committee, AB 1578 and SB 180. These bills join the agenda with two others bills that passed through their first house committees in preceding weeks. While U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions escalates the war on drugs, drug policy reform surges ahead in California, joining states such as Washington and New York, where similar innovative approaches to … [Read more...]