Thursday, December 15, 2011

Private Prisons on Trial

By Andy Andrianantoandro

Last month, the Supreme Court heard the oral argument regarding Minneci v. Pollard, a case questioning whether private prison employees contracted by the federal government can be sued for Eighth Amendment violations under a Bivens action. The result of Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, a Bivens action allows individuals in prison to sue federal employees for damages from unlawful conduct when no other remedy is available. Minneci v. Pollard is about how Richard Lee Pollard, housed in the Taft Correctional Institution (TCI) in California run by The GEO Group, was subjected to painful conditions at the hands of prison employees. Pollard broke both of his elbows from a fall and was forced into labor by prison employees before he healed and was denied of the splints doctors recommended for his injuries. Pollard first brought the case to a district court and after they rejected it, appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled in his favor. Based on what happened in the oral argument, Pollard may not be as lucky once the justices come to a decision which could spell disaster for constitutional rights and victory for the private prison industry.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Collateral Damage: Incarceration of Veterans

By Michael J. Fitzpatrick, MSW and Tracy Velázquez

Recent reports and news stories have covered the many ways veterans are struggling upon their return to civilian life. One of the most serious and under-reported problems for veterans is involvement in the criminal justice system. While each individual’s path to prison has been different, a frequent thread is having post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). With many federal programs under scrutiny, increasing funding for treatment for veterans will provide better outcomes for our returning soldiers and reduced justice costs in the future.

Over 200,000 veterans have been seen by the Veterans Administration (VA) for PTSD as of March 31, 2011; the Department of Defense reports over 89,000 service members diagnosed with TBI between 2008 and 2010. Many veterans have both conditions simultaneously. It is precisely the symptoms of these conditions that can set a veteran on a path to prison. A traffic jam may trigger a roadside bombing flashback - a classic PTSD symptom - which a veteran may respond to in ways that also trigger law enforcement involvement. Trying to deaden the emotional pain, lessen depression and overcome insomnia with drugs may lead to a controlled substance arrest. People with TBI often face reduced problem-solving skills and increased impulsiveness that can lead to making poor choices around whether to engage in illegal behavior. And stress and anger – symptomatic of both TBI and PTSD – may spill over into personal relationships, resulting in domestic violence.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Finding a Cure for the War on Drugs

By Chris Scott

Last week I had the opportunity to go to the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. for a presentation on the Mexican Drug War and the lessons that can be learned from it. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox was the main speaker for the Policy Forum entitled, “Mexico and the War on Drugs”. It surprised me that President Fox was an avid supporter of repealing global prohibition for not only the use of illicit substances but also their production as well as their distribution. President Fox’s reasoning was that the illicit drug market created by the ban allows the criminal element to thrive due to the heightened demand of the prohibited substance.

In this case, the Mexican cartels are funneling drugs into the United States’ large consumer market, turning out substantial profits, which are used to build criminal influence in Mexico through intimidation and bribery of the local community. However, he argued, if every part of the drug trade was legalized, from the use of the substance, to its production and distribution, the illegal drug market would be eradicated, due to the creation of a legitimate market.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Putting a Plan of Action Together for a Good Cause

By Zerline Hughes

A lot of planning goes into fighting for justice. And it’s not always the basics you’d first consider – you know, gluing the stakes to the picket posters, rallying people to sign petitions, exercising fingers on the telephone calling Members of Congress. For me, in my role as communication manager, the fight consists of crafting key points, writing press releases, and convincing media that the fight for justice belongs in their editorial sections and on their front pages – above the fold.

The justice planning I’m talking about today, however, is on the private prisons event that JPI is hosting on Thursday. Have you heard about it?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fearmongering for COPS Funding

By Tracy Velázquez

Back when the first “stimulus” bill – the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA – came out in 2009, JPI and a number of other organizations sent a letter to Congress saying that spending billions for the COPS (Community Oriented Policing) program and other law enforcement would be a poor investment. Two and a half years later, with this money largely spent, we know little about what the outcomes were, either in terms of job creation or increased public safety.

Yet here we are again, with the administration trying to shove another $4 billion in COPS spending down our throats via the President’s jobs bill. Attorney General Holder reaffirmed that ramping up law enforcement was a top priority in his speech at the Association of Chiefs of Police conference on Monday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

JJDPA: An Investment in the Future

By Amanda Petteruti

While the U.S. Congress faces many tough choices in the 2012 budget, retaining funding for programs that save money and improve communities must be a priority. One example is the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). Since its passage in 1974, the JJDPA has established the protections that keep youth out of adult jails, separate from adults when jail is the only option, out of the juvenile justice system for behavior that would not be illegal for adults, and encourages states to reduce the number of youth of color that come into contact with the juvenile justice system. These protections have gone a long way to promote the well-being of youth across the country and sparked numerous programs and initiatives that not only keep communities safe, but also save taxpayers money.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

California Can (and Should) Do Better

By Nastassia Walsh

California, like much of the country, has a problem. The state has too many people in prison. At around 170,000 people, California boasts the highest prison population in the country, making up more than 10 percent of the total U.S. prison population. Sometimes it’s good to be on top, but this is nothing to brag about. And, after a court order forcing California to reduce the number of people held in its prisons by around 40,000 (which still results in its prisons being over capacity), the state is finally starting to do something about it. But California’s proposed “solution” of realignment—moving people from state prisons to local county jails—may have some benefits like keeping people closer to home, but does not get at the heart of the problem. To really ensure a continuing reduction in the number of people incarcerated, while maintaining public safety, and saving millions—and perhaps billions—of taxpayer dollars per year, California must examine every aspect of its justice system, not just find new places to stash people to get the government off their backs.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Time for a New Justice Paradigm

By Tracy Velázquez 

Last month, after being denied a sentence commutation, Tarif Abdullah died in a Maryland prison. Even though Tarif was not the “trigger man,” at age 21 he was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in a crime that resulted in a fatality. At the time of his death from cancer, Tarif had served 25 years behind bars – effectively his entire adult life. He is one of many in Maryland unable to secure a commutation or parole due to the state law giving the governor authority to approve or deny release for "lifers."

In the past few years, driven by a combination of budget crises and changing public opinion, a number of states have reduced sentences for nonviolent offenses. Policymakers are beginning to understand that it actually hurts public safety to lock people up for breaking drug laws and other lower level offenses, and the longer someone is incarcerated the greater the obstacles they’ll face at release in successfully re-engaging with their families, their community, and the workforce.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pencil Us In!

Just Policy Blog is now about two months old! We’ve had a number of readers and we thank you. We hope that you continue to read.

Fall is a typically a busy time for JPI. This fall, we’ll be releasing several reports, including one showing the effects of incompetency to stand trial policies and practices in Maryland and another on the role that school resource officers have played in schools. We’re working with DC Lawyers for Youth to launch their documentary about juvenile justice reform in D.C. on October 18th (you can RSVP here) and with grassroots organizations in Baltimore on a reentry event to be held on October 19th (send an email to get more information).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Making Money off of Putting People in Prison

By Paul Ashton

Putting people behind bars is a big money-maker. In 2010 alone, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group (GEO), the two largest private prison companies in the U.S., raked in over $2.9 billion dollars in revenue. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of people in state and federal private prisons in the U.S. totaled 129,336 in 2009, and CCA and GEO’s revenue was $2.77 billion. Talk about hitting the jackpot! The real question here is: should we make incarcerating people a business incentive? No.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pressing the Issue of Positive Justice Reform in the Press

By Jason Fenster

I spend the beginning of each day arranging press clips with our trusty team of interns. We, like most organizations, do this to keep an eye on what’s happening across the country, to see what policies are moving where and to keep an eye on messaging, both positive and negative, in state and local policy battles.

On September 6, an article titled “Low Crime Statistics Questioned by Chief” was published by The Orion. If, like me, you read this too quickly, you may have assumed this was a joke headline published by the satirical news source, The Onion. Why else would a Chief of Police dispute declining crime rates, public safety improvements, and better outcomes for people and communities? But, unfortunately, the explaining-away of positive developments and the harping on isolated, negative stories on the path to positive justice reforms are the norm for many on the “Crime and Courts” beat.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

California: Uniting to End Life Without Parole for Youth

By Daniel Gutman

Michelle Murray traveled nearly 400 miles – from Los Angeles to Sacramento – on a one day trip late last month to speak with her elected officials about the importance of Senate Bill 9. The California Assembly was only days away from voting on SB 9, a bill to end life without parole prison sentences for youth in California.

Michelle wasn’t alone on her trip. With her were other loved ones of people serving and family members who have fallen victim to violence. Together, along with a diverse coalition of faith leaders, students, and advocates, these families were united in their call for fair and just sentencing of youth.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Private Prison Industries are no Substitute for Real Jobs

By Amanda Petteruti

Given the dramatic job losses and unemployment figures in the U.S. over the last few years, it should be no surprise that people in prison who work for prison industries are losing their jobs too.

This might seem like an unfortunate turn of events for people in prison, cutting them off from wages and job skills needed for reentry. But the reality is that prison industries pay below minimum wage for low-skill jobs that do not currently exist in the U.S. economy, while historically generating significant funds for states, creating an additional incentive to put and keep people in prison. In 2002, state prison industries generated $3 billion in sales and $67 million in profits for states.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Three Strategies for Changing Juvenile Justice: Which Is Most Likely to Last?

 By Benjamin Chambers

A recent report from the National Juvenile Justice Network (NJJN), titled, "Bringing Youth Home: A National Movement to Increase Public Safety, Rehabilitate Youth and Save Money," documented the extraordinary number of states and jurisdictions (at least 24) that are closing or downsizing their youth correctional facilities, due to budget cuts, legislation, lawsuits, and pressure from reformers. (Download the report for tips on ways to downsize wisely.)

This is a good thing, because it means taxpayers can save money or avoid the high cost of incarceration, and reallocate those monies to community-based programs that are more effective at helping young people turn their lives around.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Recognizing All Victims of Crime

By Keith Wallington

Over the last few decades, the victim’s rights movement has been effective in highlighting the needs and concerns of victims of crime. This movement – born out of the women’s right era of the early 1970s – continues to pick up steam as states amend laws and policies to give victims more defined rights and services. However, as the victims right movement has evolved, so must it’s recognition of and treatment of victims.

When you hear the word “victim” seldom do you associate that with young African American men. Society, through sensationalist media reporting, scapegoating and rhetoric-laden politicking has done a thorough job of painting what a “perpetrator” and a “victim” look like. One of those paintings uses more color than the other. The irony of such mischaracterization is that young black males are victimized at a higher rate than any other demographic – according to the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2008 blacks are victimized at a personal crime rate of 26.6 percent in comparison to whites who are victimized at a personal crime rate of 18.6 percent – yet when victims are talked about, this population don’t enter the discussion.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

There is Hope!

By Kellie Shaw

I recently viewed a piece from the TODAY Show on that featured the story of a unique and progressive summer camp titled “Prison Camp: Getting to know Dad- behind bars.” The summer camp, based out of Washington, D.C. focuses on the relationship between incarcerated fathers and their children. The program, The Hope House: Father to Child Summer Camps, is reportedly the nation’s first and only of its kind, offering summer camp for men in prison. The purpose is to generate strong bonds between fathers and their children, allowing 15 youth participants in the program. The children spend the mornings and afternoons in the prison with their fathers engaged in structured activities such as art, creative writing, music, and games. At night, the staff and the youngsters retreat to a local campground or conference center where they participate in other recreational activities.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Re-examining Re-entry

By Kelsey Sullivan, JPI Summer Intern

When we think about the criminal justice problems in the U.S., we often think about prison overcrowding and the exorbitant amounts of money spent on our prison system. It is true: these are indeed very real problems -today, the United States has approximately 2.4 million people behind bars. Something people often forget to consider is the fact that the vast majority of those individuals will eventually be released back into society. In fact, more than 600,000 people are released every year to rejoin their communities. Efforts have been made to improve the reentry process, but how successful have these efforts been considering roughly two-thirds of released individuals will be rearrested within three years of their release? Reentry is and will continue to be an important focus of our criminal justice reform, and special attention must be paid to the issues related to the reentry process.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Celebrating putting one more person in prison?

By Nastassia Walsh

Recent news of former Luzerne County, Pennsylvania juvenile court judge Mark Ciavarella’s conviction and 28 year prison sentence hit the wires this week, to much acclaim. His conviction acknowledges his horrendous actions in taking bribes for sending youth to private prisons, in effect ruining these kids’ lives. Ciavarella needs to be held accountable for his actions. But what worries me about the ensuing celebration over his long prison sentence, is that we are jumping on the same hype that we frequently try and fight. How often have we fought against long prison sentences for kids when the media and community cry for more punishment? How often do we talk about wasteful incarceration and the negative effects on families and the people who are incarcerated? And yet, this is thrown out the window this week as we celebrate the extensive prison sentence of a person who was convicted of a nonviolent offense?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Questions Emerge as Florida Plans Massive Prison Privatization

By Joey Kavanagh, JPI Summer Intern

Despite growing concerns by major newspapers and advocates throughout Florida, the state’s legislature is planning to sell 30 of Florida’s prisons to the highest bidder by January of 2012. The state’s rationale is that the purportedly cheaper private management will trim Florida’s bloated corrections budget. What the legislature missed is the fact that the compensation of soon-to-be estranged state employees will not only offset the intended (though unreliable) savings but actually cost the state money. This deal ignores Florida’s rocky history with private prisons, their oft-contested savings motto and research showing cost-effective, community-based options proven successful in reducing recidivism while limiting the number of people who come in contact with the justice system—thereby actually reducing corrections spending. But, above all, the deal raises questions as to the extent that private prison companies influence legislation.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Criminal Justice Reporting: It's Your Beat Whether You Think So or Not

By Zerline Hughes

Criminal justice reporting can be a challenge for journalists in these times. For that matter, reporting on anything is a challenge with the various fiscal issues that face media outlets today. Further challenging is the fact that criminal justice reporting is no longer a beat all its own. The old-school neighborhood cops and courts reporters have now transformed into regional and national politics and fiscal affairs reporters. Even health and medical issues reporters are assigned to the justice
beat as a result of the many issues that now span criminal justice (conditions of confinement, impact on state/national budgets). The same thing goes for journalists originally trained as finance and business reporters – they’re now dabbling in criminal justice-related issues because our U.S. criminal justice system is responsible for many states’ – and the nation’s – financial troubles. Entertainment and sports reporters, too, are now on the CJ beat, as celebrities and high-profile people (Lindsay Lohan, Martha Stewart, Plaxico Burress, Bernard Madoff, Dominique Strauss-Kahn) have been involved in the ‘system’ and regularly made headlines. How to report on these issues without sensationalizing them, and how to accurately explain how the law works and the lasting effects of criminal justice system involvement should, too, be a part of news reporting.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Is Data Doing Justice to our Veterans?

Below is the most recent installment, written by Soros Justice Fellow Guy Gambill, in JPI’s series on Veterans & Justice. Over the past four decades, too many veterans have returned home from war only to end up in our prisons and jails. This is often a result of their combat experience and our country’s inability to address the negative consequences associated with it. Returning veterans began playing a central role in the rise of the U.S. prison population following the Vietnam era; in 1986, 24 percent of all Federal prison inmates and 21 percent of those in State prisons were veterans. Early data indicates this pattern is repeating itself now as men and women return home from Iraq and Afghanistan. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can read the full essay here.

Following my own military service, I experienced homelessness and plenty of justice contact. In addition, I watched far too many other veterans live shattered lives, in many cases dying at far too young of an age. I had hoped to not see this happen again, but I am afraid, unless things change rapidly, it will be so. And while there are many fronts that need to be worked on, until we have accurate data on the scope of the problems our vets are currently facing, we cannot begin to come up with solutions.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Juvenile Justice Youth Shortchanged by Overloaded Juvenile Defense Caseloads

By Tracy Velázquez

Focusing on changing youth behavior is important. However, youth success also depends on what we as adults do, particularly when it comes to youth who come in contact with the justice system. The Justice Policy Institute’s new report, “System Overload,” shows how our shortchanging of public defender systems can have significant and lasting negative affects for both youth and adults who rely on them.

The right to effective counsel, regardless of ability to pay, is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. This includes youth facing juvenile delinquency proceedings. However, a lack of financial resources for public defenders means that attorneys don’t have enough time for each case. Youth may not see their attorney until shortly before a hearing, or their public defender’s office might not have funding for investigators to look into the facts around the alleged offense. The following are some possible consequences of not having a robust public defender system:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Welcome to Just Policy Blog, from the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).

Just Policy Blog will bring you our perspective on criminal and juvenile justice reform. From concise synthesis of our own reports, briefs and factsheets, to highlights of under-the-radar news stories, to original ideas and musings about justice-related issues from our own staff, interns and board members as well as others working in the field, Just Policy Blog will run the gamut of issues related to incarceration and policies that are driving incarceration and justice system involvement.