Community Justice Exchange
Last month, Community Justice Exchange released two new resources intended to support organizers in developing and strengthening their campaign strategies around transparency and access in the criminal legal system. The Transparency is Not Enough Framework presents transparency and access as a first step, and not the end point, within campaigns for decarceration or accountability. You can download the framework here. The Transparency is Not Enough Curriculum introduces these same concepts and frameworks through a variety of workshop activities. Facilitators can choose which activities to use based on the available time and specific goals. You can download the workshop curriculum here. However you decide to use these resources, we hope they deepen analysis and inspire organizing interventions. Please share them with your networks and communities!
Two recent landmark decisions in the federal 5th Circuit (impacting Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi) have affirmed the lower court decisions that judges are conflicted out of collecting monies from bail, fines and fees. This provides great momentum for a task force on funding for the court system, which includes two members of our coalition, Louisianans for Prison Alternatives. The 2020 Legislative session will be quite lively, and also include many new faces. VOTE has launched a statewide GOTV effort, in coordination with Power Coalition. Meanwhile, Voters Organized to Educate (501c4) is deep in election mode, and sorting the wheat from the chaff.
Prison Policy Initiative
The Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Arrest, Release, Repeat: How police and jails are misused to respond to social problems, which offers the first national estimates of how many people are arrested and booked into jails every year, and how many times they return. These basic data points are essential to understanding whether counties are using police and jails properly, but were unavailable before this report. We use the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health to break down the number of people booked into jail over the course of a year, and of those, how many are jailed once versus multiple times, and how many are "frequent utilizers" who are jailed three or more times per year. We go on to analyze the demographic characteristics of those groups, including income, employment status, educational attainment, and race, as well as health correlates such as access to healthcare and rates of mental illness, substance use disorder, and chronic disease. The report includes 9 new graphics and a data appendix to encourage further use of the data and our analysis. Finally, we present policy recommendations for counties hoping to change how their jails are used.
Partnership for Safety and Justice
Partnership for Safety and Justice is celebrating 20 years of impact and influence as Oregon’s leading voice for criminal justice reform. Read more in the 20th anniversary edition of our 2017-2018 Impact Report. Together, we’ve achieved major reforms to expand funding for victim services, dramatically reduce prison use, and introduce local alternatives to incarceration. Just this year, we helped pass the Accountability and Equity Act (HB 3064) to ensure that public safety dollars reach historically marginalized communities, including rural and tribal communities, communities of color, women, and LGBTQ+ people. In coalition, we also ended juvenile life without parole and the harmful practice of automatically prosecuting children as young as 15 in the adult justice system. We’ve done all this while maintaining community safety and saving Oregon over half a billion dollars. Watch our video in honor of this milestone.
Court Watch NOLA
Last month, Louisiana Supreme Court changed the requirements for all criminal court drug court testing in Louisiana after we revealed that the New Orleans Criminal District Court was not doing a confirmatory test on pre-trial drug tests. We reported on this very issue in our 2018 report published this May, when we found that dozens of Defendants were being sanctioned based on unconfirmed drug tests. Here is an article about it.
About 200 participants from across the country flocked to San Jose, CA for Take Back Tech: A People's Summit for a Surveillance-Free Future, organized by Mijente, MediaJustice, and Tech Workers Coalition, July 27-28, 2019. The gathering brought together criminal justice and immigrant rights organizers, technologists/tech workers, students, policy researchers, and lawyers to share information, build new relationships, and strategize together. Big tech is perpetuating mass incarceration, deportation, and the rise of white supremacist hate. A number of organizations led workshops, focused on various issues, including risk assessment algorithms, e-carceration, biometric surveillance, ICE's tech tools, gang databases, and countering violent extremism, among many others. People left the convening with organizing tools, new contacts, and having bridged gaps in analysis to take on the dangers of bad tech. Take Back Tech was a long overdue grassroots effort needed to meet the scale of the problem and organize across communities, forging a new vision of technology, one that centers human impact over economic ambition.
Columbia Justice Lab
Columbia Justice Lab's Emerging Adult Justice Project presented at a seminar focused on diversion organized by The National Academies’ Committee on Law and Justice. Lael Chester spoke about the collateral consequences of justice involvement specific to emerging adults, recent local-level initiatives and state-level systemic reforms for emerging adult populations, and the kinds of interventions that have been successful for this age population. Finally, she compared U.S. youth justice systems to less punitive and more developmentally appropriate models used in several European countries. Watch Lael’s presentation here. The Justice Lab's Emerging Adult Justice Project and Youth Justice Initiatives also hosted a convening of justice administrators from 6 states in New York City (NYC). The group met with NYC’s justice leaders to examine the reforms the City has achieved over the last decade to stop sending youth to state prisons. Participants were treated to a tour of a small, in-community Close to Home facility for juveniles in Queens and a Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON) in the Bronx run by the Department of Probation. The group also heard from Fleur Souverein, a researcher at Amsterdam University in the Netherlands, about her cutting-edge study of local, small-scaled and staff secure (rather than hardware secure) detention facilities for youth (including emerging adults) and the successes she has observed.
Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice
Impact Justice is hosting an Impact/Ideas event titled, Space for restorative justice on September 12, which will explore the impact of architecture on justice and community building. Panelists include our Associate Director Ashlee George, Yale instructor Emily Abruzzo, and Bay Area architect Deanna Van Buren. Impact Justice President Alex Busansky will moderate the discussion, and we hope to see some of you there! Our staff represented at the Restorative Justice Reentry Conference & Resource Fair on September 6 in San Francisco, and we’re participating in the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health Alternative to Incarceration Work Group Meeting on September 20. Last month, we had a fantastic combined training with two of our community partners, RYSE Youth Center from Contra Costa County and S.O.U.L. Sisters Collective from Miami-Dade County. We look forward to facilitating another training for them on Restorative Community Conferencing next month.
Chicago Community Bond Fund
As gun violence tragically and predictably increased during the summer, the Chicago Police Department and Mayor Lori Lightfoot began a disinformation campaign regarding the impact of bond reform in Cook County. While Mayor Lightfoot has said she is holding police accountable with “Accountability Monday” meetings, the rhetoric from both the Mayor and CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson has indicated that they are working together to push back against criminal justice reform, and pretrial policy specifically. On Monday, August 12, 2019, advocates, community organizations, and people impacted by gun violence and pretrial incarceration hosted their own “Accountability Monday” press conference to set the record straight about the impact of bond reform in Cook County and address Mayor Lightfoot’s broken campaign promises to support bond reform and other holistic solutions to gun violence. A video recap of the press conference is available here and press coverage can be seen here and here.
American Conservative Union Foundation
At the beginning of the year, the American Conservative Union Foundation decided to focus on bringing sentencing and other reforms to North Carolina. The ACUF's Nolan Center for Justice put "boots on the ground" in Raleigh to work to drive legislation that would not only help on re-entry and dignity for incarcerated women, but also address sentencing issues as well. Working with OP Grantee Darryl Atkinson and Forward Justice, we have brought three bills close to enactment: the North Carolina First Step Act (judicial safety valve); the Second Chance Act (expanding expungement eligibility and accessibility); and the Next Step Act (bill package including dignity for incarcerated women, a recidivism study, and other reforms). There is widespread, bipartisan support for these bills in the state House and Senate. As of today, they are awaiting final votes. However, a larger budget dispute with the Governor has turned these bills into negotiating pieces. If any OP grantees have relationships with NC legislators, we ask that you connect with them to express your support. You can also click here to help get these reforms over the finish line.
Fair and Just Prosecution
In August, FJP underscored the strong national voice of 21st Century prosecutors, as well as law enforcement leaders, who part company with AG Barr’s attempt to promote a fear driven “tough on crime” rhetoric movement, and also noted how these innovative leaders are implementing data-driven thinking that advances both fairness and public safety. At the forefront of this emphasis on fairness and accountability is the growing commitment by new elected prosecutors to conviction integrity and review, which FJP lifted up through coordination of an amicus brief in support of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s efforts to exonerate a man who has spent 24 years behind bars and a newStatement of Principles that outlines best practices for creating and operating a conviction integrity unit. In op-eds, FJP also highlighted the importance of diverse juries and the need to embrace harm reduction and overdose prevention approaches that save lives. Lastly, FJP highlighted the role of prosecutorial discretion in ensuring justice is done, coordinating an amicus brief discouraging a proposed immigration rule change that would give federal authorities unlimited ability to consider vacated and modified convictions and sentences as grounds for deportation from the United States.
Alliance for Safety and Justice
Update from Californians for Safety and Justice: Seven years after launch, our work in California is stronger than ever. In April we announced the appointment of Jay Jordan as our new Executive Director and we've brought on two new organizing phenoms, Terrance Stewart and Tinisch Hollins, to head up our constituency-building work, TimeDone California and Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice (CSSJ), California. After launching in October 2018, TimeDone has grown quickly and already achieved big impact. TimeDone members sent thousands of letters and held hundreds of meetings with California representatives in support of TimeDone legislation to reduce barriers for people with past convictions. AB 1076 has passed out of the Senate and AB 1331 has passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee. These bills streamline an antiquated process of expungement and change outdated legal records, saving millions of taxpayer dollars and removing obstacles to jobs, housing, education and other key supports. Thanks to the tireless advocacy of CSSJ members, the California Assembly Appropriations Committee has also advanced Senate Bill 375 to the Assembly floor for a final vote. This is a bill that significantly extends the time limit for crime victims to apply for victim compensation. TimeDone now has 20,000 members and CSSJ has grown to seven robust California chapters. We also worked this year in support of dozens of other sentencing and criminal justice reform bills, including parole reform bill AB 1182. There is, however, a lot of pushback against the reform in our home state. With California at the forefront of justice reform, opponents are getting more organized in seeking to regain control of California crime policy. Heading into 2020 we face two areas of opposition: a measure to roll back key aspects of Prop. 47 and Prop. 57 and two bail-bond industry efforts to preserve for-profit money bail. We are coordinating with other leaders in the field on strategies to defeat these regressive measures.
Texas Inmates Families Association (TIFA)
On August 3rd, TIFA Chapter Chairs and staff from all over the state gathered in Austin for a weekend retreat. The Chairs participated in various trainings including leadership development, how to conduct New Family Orientations in their chapter areas, how to navigate TDCJ's website to find important information that families may need, and a discussion of the education and advocacy plans TIFA has for the interim (before the next legislative session in 2021). The group also discussed the new book "Until We Reckon" by Danielle Sered which includes significant messaging that is helpful for TIFA's criminal justice advocacy efforts. The weekend was filled with bonding and exchanging ideas between chapters, and we heard that they all can't wait for the next one. They only wished the weekend would have been longer.
Texas Advocates for Justice (TAJ)
Despite passing Freedom Cities (cite and release) in Austin, TX to end low-level arrest for possession of marijuana, Austin Police Officers continue to arrest POC. Since July 3, District Attorney Margaret Moore has rejected all possession charges, but the unfortunate truth is that the African American community continues ti get arrested for possession of marijuana disproportionately. "When APD makes these arrests, who are they arresting? What does the data show?" asked Annette Price, statewide director for Grassroots Leadership's Texas Advocates for Justice. "The data shows that the majority of these arrests are still people of color." TAJ and members spoke at the Judicial Committee against releasing funded to the Austin Police Department to purchase a machine to test the air quality of marijuana and blocked the release of funding for now. Also, Texas Advocates for Justice- Houston was witness to the historic vote in Harris County Commissioners Court on July 30, 2019, to settle the misdemeanor cash bail lawsuit. TAJ, along with other criminal justice advocacy groups, provided testimony in favor of the settlement. Harris County was using cash bail to punish people of color who had not yet been convicted of a crime, and who were unable to afford bail. This settlement is a critical step to ending cash bail and mass incarceration in Harris County. The settlement proposal will be heard on September 19, 2019 at the Federal Court Building in Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s courtroom. TAJ will be there as well to show support of the settlement.