A Return to Debtors’ Prisons

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A return to debtors’ prisons: Jeff Sessions’ war on the poor

One day after President Donald Trump invited Republican lawmakers to the White House to celebrate the historic tax cuts they passed for corporations and wealthy business leaders, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, quietly reinstated a draconian policy that effectively serves as a regressive tax on America’s poorest people.  The Supreme Court has affirmed the unconstitutionality of jailing those too poor to pay debts on three different occasions in the last century, finding that the 14th Amendment prohibits incarceration for non-payment of exorbitant court-imposed fines or fees without an assessment of a person’s ability to pay and alternatives for those who cannot. “Punishing a person for his poverty” is illegal, the Court said. Yet in recent years the modern-day equivalent of debtors’ prisons have returned, as cities have grown to rely on a punishing regime of fines and fees imposed on their own residents as a major stream of revenue.  Read more here and here and here.

WHY DOES THE U.S. SENTENCE CHILDREN TO LIFE IN PRISON?

WHY DOES THE U.S. SENTENCE CHILDREN TO LIFE IN PRISON?

Child, Child'S Hand, Refugee, Prison, Imprisoned

In 2006, Cyntoia Brown was convicted of murdering a man who hired her for sex and sentenced to life in prison. She was sixteen years old. Brown testified that she killed the man in self defense, that she was forced into prostitution by an abusive boyfriend after escaping an abusive home. None of that mattered in the Tennessee court where she was tried as an adult.

Brown is far from alone. She is one of about 10,000 Americans serving life sentences for offenses committed as a child, meaning under the age of eighteen. Of them, approximately 2,500 are serving an even more dire sentence—life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). The United States is the only country in the world that sentences people to die in prison for offenses committed as children.  Listen to the podcast HERE.

Women and Mass Incarceration

Women’s mass incarceration gets Whole Pie analysis

by Aleks Kajstura

With 219,000 women locked up in facilities operated by thousands of agencies, getting the big picture is anything but easy. In our new report, Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017, we use our “whole pie” approach to give the public and policymakers the foundation to end mass incarceration without leaving women behind.

pie chart showing the number of women locked up on a given day in the United States by facility type and the underlying offense using the newest data available in 2017

Our new report details, for the first time, the number of women who are locked up by various correctional systems and why. Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017, released jointly by the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLUs Campaign for Smart Justice, is a first look at where women fall within our decentralized and overlapping systems of mass incarceration.

 

Governor Malloy signs criminal justice reform bills at Faith Congregational Church

Governor Malloy signs criminal justice reform bills at Faith Congregational Church

Flanked by community leaders, politicians and organizations across the political spectrum, Governor Dannel Malloy signed legislation to reform Connecticut’s criminal justice system on Wednesday at Faith Congregational Church in Hartford.

The governor signed a total of nine bills, which included reforms to the pre-trial bail system, requiring a criminal conviction in order for the state to forfeit an individual’s assets, and allowing barbers and hairdressers to obtain a state license despite having a prior conviction.

The governor was joined by both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Hartford mayor Luke Bronin, community leaders and organizations such as the ACLU and the Yankee Institute for Public Policy.

“Connecticut has gone from being a laggard in criminal justice reform to really being at the very forefront of criminal justice reform nationally,” Malloy said in his opening remarks.

Malloy said he chose the Faith Congregational Church because he initially announced his push for criminal justice reform at the church in 2015. Malloy said that these reforms, particularly bail reform, were the result of “years of work.”

The bail reform bill will eliminate cash bail for non-violent offenders who are arrested for misdemeanor crimes and who would not face prison time even if convicted. Previously, those who could not afford a cash bail had to wait in jail until their trial, which could sometimes take months.

Malloy cited the state’s declining crime rate and prison population as proof that Connecticut is making progress on crime, but said too many people are stuck in jail simply because they are too poor to make bail. He also pointed out that the issue adversely affects the Hispanic and African-American community.

“The idea of our fellow citizens sitting in jail as a result of their inability to pay a bond was terribly unfair,” Malloy said.

The governor cited one instance in which an individual could not afford a $1 cash bail.

2016 study found that 3,400 people were held in Connecticut jails pending trial in 2015. Of those being held, 690 had a bond below $20,000, the lowest surety bond level allowable in the state. Offenses ranged from sixth-degree larceny to marijuana possession, although some were held for more serious offenses.

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the legislation would affect 388 people being held in pre-trial detention. The cost to taxpayers is $120.10 per day for each person, meaning the new law could potentially save Connecticut millions per year.

 

Among those speaking at the ceremonial signing was Yankee Institute director of public policy, Suzanne Bates, who had testified in support of a number of the criminal justice bills, including bail reform.

“To achieve success, people need both freedom and security,” Bates said. “The great news about these bills is they do both. They enhance individual liberty and they do it without compromising public safety.”

Bates added the reforms will also help Connecticut’s fiscal problems. “Over-spending on courts and prisons is unjustifiable from an economic perspective, and at times even counterproductive.”

The bail reform legislation drew the ire of bail bondsmen from across the state whose industry is affected by the change. The Bail Association of Connecticut testified against the bill claiming it was unnecessary and would potentially let those with multiple offenses back on the street.

The bail reform bill received support from both political parties and garnered the large majority of votes in both the House and Senate.

Malloy concluded by saying “we are a better, safer, fairer Connecticut today than we have been in a long, long time and perhaps at any time in our history.”

 

CT Bans the Box

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http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/ex-cons-unfairly-barred-jobs-ban-box-proponents-say-yes/

Connecticut Becomes the Third Jurisdiction in 2016 to “Ban the Box”

Private Prisons

Private Prisons

In the early 1980s, the Corrections Corporation of America pioneered the idea of running prisons for a profit. “You just sell it like you were selling cars, or real estate, or hamburgers,” one of its founders told Inc. magazine. Today, corporate-run prisons hold eight percent of America’s inmates. Here’s how the private prison industry took off: read here.

Justice Department seeks increase in private prison beds

Last August, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced a plan to wind down the bureau’s reliance on private prisons after an inspector general report found that they posed higher security risks than public prisons.
“Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own [bureau] facilities,” Yates wrote in a memo. “They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”
Shortly after taking office, Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Yates’ directive.
“The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system,” Sessions said in a memo.
The official solicitation is expected to be posted later this month and contracts can take up to two years to be awarded.  Read more here.

Back Pack needs

 

FCC Missions Ministry, in partnership with Community Partners in Action, is supporting our Back Pack program for the 3rd straight year. The program provides backpacks of toiletries for women being released from prison. Often leaving York Correctional Institution with little or nothing, these women have few resources and many needs. The Missions Ministry is asking for contributions of toiletries (or money, of course) to fill 40 backpacks for 40 women. Suggested items include:

  • deodorant
  • lotion, petroleum jelly
  • shampoo, moisturizer
  • sanitary supplies
  • hairbrush, comb, picks
  • toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, dental floss
  • soap, shower gel
  • tweezers
  • makeup: eye liner, mascara, lip gloss
  • nail clippers, emery boards
  • small mirror
  • small packs facial tissue
  • bath towel, wash cloth
  • white sweat socks

Another prison facility closes as CT inmate population shrinks

Another prison facility closes as CT inmate population shrinks

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Wednesday the closure of the 254-bed Radgowski annex at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Montville, saving about $3 million in annual operating costs.

“As crime in Connecticut has dropped to its lowest level in two generations and the prison population has subsequently declined to its lowest level in 23 years, we’ve been able to create efficiencies by closing outdated prisons and portions of facilities, and reallocating these resources toward efforts that will further enhance public safety initiatives and keep our neighborhoods even safer,” Malloy said.

The closure and budget savings are the dividend the state is collecting on the falling crime rate and prison population. The inmate population is now 14,560, down from a peak of 19,894 in 2008.

Labels like “Felon” Are an Unfair Life Sentence

Labels like “Felon” Are an Unfair Life Sentence

Lately, the Obama Administration and others on the local level have come to recognize that the words used to describe those who have offended against society, the vocabulary of incarceration, matter. The way we discuss people can interfere with their ability to reintegrate into society. The demands we place on them and the identity they are assigned often prevents them from acquiring employment and housing, two strong factors in preventing recidivism. Read more here.