Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons

In one stroke, the Justice Department has dramatically amplified our efforts. It has issued a strong letter to state chief justices and court administrators making it clear that the 14th Amendment prohibits jailing people for nonpayment of court fines and fees without procedural safeguards. These measures include an ability-to-pay hearing before a neutral judge on whether a person’s nonpayment was willful or due to poverty, meaningful alternatives to jail for people who cannot afford to pay, and legal representation in certain collection enforcement actions.

DOJ’s letter also echoes longstanding ACLU concerns about the bias introduced when municipalities enlist for-profit probation companies that have a direct financial stake in the debts they are hired to collect. Employees hurt the company bottom line when they help courts identify indigent people whose payment of company service fees should be waived. The ACLU has sued the for-profit probation company Judicial Corrections Services, Inc. in Georgia and Biloxi.

Via The Department of Justice Throws Its Weight Behind Ending the Jailing of the Poor for Unpaid Fines @ American Civil Liberties Union.

Like a “Third World country prison”

A new county report on Los Angeles County’s Central Juvenile Hall depicts it as a leaderless operation with “unacceptable” and “deplorable” conditions similar to a “Third World country prison.”

Some walls were covered in gang graffiti and filth that no one made an effort to wash away.

Morale among staffers was at “dungeon lows from a workforce that claims to be victims.”And young detainees were sent into isolation for reasons outside of department policy — in one case for exchanging food with another detainee, the report alleges.

Via ‘It appears that no one cares’: Report slams Juvenile Hall for filthy conditions and poor leadership @ LA Times.

Dead Over Mere Fines 

A woman who was arrested at a hospital over the summer for failing to pay court fines died the next day because she was deprived of water at the Charleston County jail, her family’s attorneys said Wednesday.

Joyce Curnell, 50, of Edisto Island was found dead in the jail shortly before 5 p.m. July 22, a day after being taken from Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital, where she had been treated for a stomach illness.

She spent the last 27 hours of her life behind bars. During that time she became too sick to eat or call for help, according to court documents filed this week. She vomited all night and couldn’t make it to a bathroom, so jailers gave her a trash bag. Some medical staffers ignored the jail officials’ requests to tend to her, the documents alleged.

Via Post and Courier.

Life without Parole for Juveniles

From May to October of 2015, the Phillips Black Project collected information about people sentenced to life without parole for crimes they committed as juveniles. Using this data, we recently issued a report concluding that juvenile life without parole sentences are clustered in a handful of counties, and that these sentences are disproportionately handed to people of color.

Via How We Counted the Juveniles Sent to Prison for Life @ The Marshall Project.

Keeping the poor out of jail

Two Harvard Law graduates are taking on the justice system by focusing on local courts and policies that often land the poor in jail. Traveling to Tennessee, they aim to end private probation abuses.

No One

No one should go to prison for drug possession. We don’t jail people for drinking alcohol, even if they become alcoholics. Further, no one should bear the lifelong consequences of a felony record for drug possession. Felony records erect unnecessary barriers to housing, education, and employment, which are all essentials for stability, and stability is essential to recovery. Home, school, and work all build community. And connection with community is the antidote to the isolation of addiction.

Via Smart Justice Is Fair Justice @ ACLU.

Mentally Ill Sent to Jail  

But after the Wilts applied for their son to enter a group home in York County, they faced a problem they didn’t expect: they were told he would be waiting for more than five months.

Only a month after joining the waiting list, despite the couple’s attempt to supervise their son as best they could, Jared Christopher Winters was arrested. Today he remains in jail; he’s one of the estimated 4,000 inmates in Pennsylvania’s county prison system, or 11 percent of the total, who are seriously mentally ill.

Via ‘I couldn’t stand the way I felt in my head’: Mentally ill man languishes in prison due to group home shortage @ PennLive.  

No Reduction in Mandatory Minimums 

The judiciary committee’s compromise bill is not expected to include reductions to mandatory minimums that are blamed for mass incarceration. Mandatory minimums require binding prison terms of a particular length and prevent judges from using their discretion to apply punishment. But the legislation is expected to give judges some leeway in sentencing drug offenders.

Via Bipartisan Group of Senators Set to Announce Deal to Reduce Prison Population @ Daily Signal.

Fifteen years later, held by junk science

“Richards had already been incarcerated for 15 years when, during an evidentiary hearing in 2008, the state’s star witness, Dr. Norman “Skip” Sperber, a legend within the odontology community, recanted his previous testimony, saying that he had been wrong about the mark on Pamela’s hand. He said he had based his findings on bad photographic…

Solitary for Decades

“In 1993, Craig Haney, a social psychologist, interviewed a group of inmates in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s toughest penal institution. He was studying the psychological effects of isolation on prisoners, and Pelican Bay was among the first of a new breed of super-maximum-security prisons that states around the country were beginning…

Bipartisan avenue on criminal justice reform

“But Mr. Obama is not the only one these days. Republicans have been working with their Democratic counterparts to draft legislation addressing such concerns. Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that he would bring bipartisan criminal justice legislation to the House floor. “Absolutely,” he told reporters in Washington. “I have long believed that there needed…

Kalief Browder, aged twenty-two

“The fact that African Americans comprise some one in 200 of all known people in the world, and yet African American men comprise one in 12 of all known prisoners has always given me pause. Kalief Browder was one of those African American men. But in 2010 he was a boy of 16, sent to…