The Sentencing Project News
December 12, 2013 (Al Jazeera America)
Three-strikes law causing pricey glut of lifers without parole
Vance Bartley was arrested at 31 and spent more than a year in jail before being sentenced to life without parole under Washington state’s persistent-offender law — more commonly referred to as the three-strikes law. When he was growing up, getting arrested wasn’t something he feared — it was just part of life.
Bartley, who had previously committed a second-degree robbery and a second-degree assault, finally earned his third strike and a life sentence in 1998 for his participation in a string of robberies.
Nearly 160,000 people are serving life sentences in America’s prisons, according to a recent report by The Sentencing Project , a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for criminal-justice reform. Thirty-one percent of those people, like Bartley, won’t ever go before a parole board. A separate study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that nearly 4,000 prisoners in the U.S. will serve life in prison for nonviolent offenses.
December 12, 2013 (Tallahassee.com)
Florida has it wrong
Walter McNeil, past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections in Leon County, and Mark Schlakman, senior program director at Florida State University’ Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, write: “As Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet convene at the Capitol this morning as Florida’s Clemency Board, hundreds of thousands of Floridians who completed their sentences for felony convictions are still prohibited from exercising their rights as U.S. citizens to vote under the state’s civil rights restoration scheme.
“An independent study indicates the number exceeds 1.5 million.
“These circumstances arise out of the various felon civil rights restoration policies of multiple administrations but were exacerbated by implementation of arguably the most restrictive criteria in the nation during Scott’s first Clemency Board meeting in March 2011.
“At Attorney General Pam Bondi’s urging, the governor and Cabinet unanimously adopted a policy requiring waiting periods of five and seven years after the completion of sentence before felons are eligible to apply, with no guarantee that such rights ultimately would be restored.
“Given the demographics of Florida’s prison population, minorities are disproportionately impacted by such restrictive civil rights restoration policies.
“The rationale for routine restoration upon completion of sentence is that, once legislatively mandated sanctions are served, offenders should regain the responsibilities of citizenship. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has long been supportive of felon civil rights restoration upon completion of sentence as an element of a larger strategy to promote successful re-entry into society and thereby enhance public safety.
December 11, 2013 (Opposingviews.com)
Minority Women and Children Suffer Most From Lifetime Drug Welfare Ban
Felony offenders are not allowed social welfare assistance in at least 12 states, a measure that disproportionately affects minority women, a new study indicates.
A report by the prison reform advocacy nonprofit The Sentencing Project reveals that the embargo on welfare most affects women of color. The embargo is the result of a provision to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Intended to stop former addicts from using money or food stamps for drugs after they’ve served prison time, the laws actually do nothing of the sort, instead perpetuating a cycle of poverty and addiction.
Even Martha Stewart was moved to urge reform after serving five months in prison in 2004 after the “insider trading” scandal, Sadhbh Walshe wrote in an opinion column on Al Jazeera America.
“I beseech you all to think about these women,” Stewart said in a statement. “They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life out there.”
December 11, 2013 (The Huffington Post)
Our Nation has a Secret: Felony Disenfranchisement in America
Laws preventing returning prisoners from voting originated prior to the Reconstruction era in an attempt to stem the growth of the black voting bloc and black electorate. Today, the effects are the same. The latest data reveals that nearly six million people cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws practiced in across 48 states and the District of Columbia. More than two million of those disenfranchised are black.
Florida, Kentucky, and Iowa practice permanent disenfranchisement, erecting impenetrable barriers for people who are no longer incarcerated. Virginia made some strides after an executive order this summer granted automatic restoration of rights to people with non-violent felony convictions; however, that order's future will rely on the Governor-elect's agenda beginning in 2014. Kentucky and Iowa are slowly embracing change, but until those laws are amended in their state Constitutions, like this year's history-making legislation in Delaware, each state is still behind the curve.
December 10, 2013 (Daily Sundial)
Everything I learned was wrong
Luis Rivas writes: “In the newsroom at the Daily Sundial we often talk about the concepts of balance and objectivity. Reporters and editors have always shared opposing arguments. Our stories are an extension of this discourse. But it’s not our fault.
“We are all conditioned, and we are taught that we are not conditioned. Especially journalists. Those of us that have decided to pursue journalism as a discipline are conditioned to seek a readily-available truth. We are told to give opposing viewpoints equal time, that is, to be balanced.
“We are conditioned to give equal time to opposing viewpoints.
“But if your position in society is at the losing end of oppression, the oppressor’s viewpoint has been given enough time and coverage. Six corporations control 90 percent of the media, according to research published in the Business Insider. The balance of power is against radical criticism.
“But who do we serve, directly or indirectly, by not questioning the structure of our society?
December 9, 2013 (Al Jazeera American)
Welfare ban for ex–drug offenders hurts minority women
When Martha Stewart left prison in 2004 after serving a five-month sentence for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, she issued an emotional plea on behalf of the women she did her time with, many of whom were locked up for non-violent drug offenses. “I beseech you all to think about these women,” Stewart said. “They would be much better served in a true rehabilitation center than in prison where there is no real help, no real programs to rehabilitate, no programs to educate, no way to be prepared for life out there.”
Sadly, thanks to a hastily added provision to the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) also known as the Welfare Reform Act, which aimed to reduce welfare dependence, women with drug convictions are not only unlikely to get the help they need before or during their incarceration, but many of them will also face being barred for life from receiving most forms of public benefits — from cash assistance to food stamps — after they serve their time.
A new report by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit dedicated to reforming the U.S. criminal justice system, examined the impact of the PRWORA provision, which affects those convicted in state and federal courts of federal drug offenses. Titled A Lifetime of Punishment, the report found that an estimated 180,000 women were being subjected to a lifetime exclusion welfare benefits, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
December 9, 2013 (The American Prospect)
The Vindictiveness of the Vitter Amendment
Monica Potts writes in The American Prospect that, "with poverty stuck at a decades-high rate of 15 percent, food stamps have proven to be one of the best ways to stop low-income Americans from slipping deeper into poverty.
Louisiana Republican David Vitter has introduced an amendment in the Senate that bars anyone who has been convicted of murder, sexual assault or sexual abuse, child pornography, and similar state offenses from receiving food stamps.
"About one in six people currently in prison would be covered, according to The Sentencing Project, a group that researches and advocates for prison reform. There’s no way to know what percentage of them rely on food stamps once they’re out, but many ex-felons are barred from public housing and heavily discriminated against in the job market. The amendments go after a politically powerless and unpopular population.
December 5, 2013 (The Sentencing Project)
Race & Justice News
Research: Prosecutors Primary Cause of Persistent, But Stable, Post-Booker Racial Disparity in Federal Sentencing
Foreign-Born Adjudicated Youth Desist at Higher Rates Than Children of Immigrants and the Native-Born
Law Enforcement: Marijuana Arrests and Their Racial Disparity Increased Nationwide Between 2001-2010
School Discipline: School-to-Prison Pipeline Intact in North Carolina and New York, Curbed in South Florida and Los Angeles
International: Non-Whites in UK More Likely to be Incarcerated and to Serve Longer Sentences Than Whites
December 5, 2013 (The Washington Times)
America's for-profit prisons: Greed over justice
Today, in the U.S., there are privately owned for-profit prisons that contractually require states to maintain a certain number of prisoners. If prison populations fall below the agreed upon quota, there are fines the states have to pay to these prison corporations.
There is something terribly wrong with America.
You can even invest in for-profit prison corporations, or the partnership corrections industry, as they prefer to be called.
One such company is Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA for short, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol CXW. Started in 1983, the Corrections Corporation of America was the first for-profit prison company.
The more prisoners a facility holds, the more profitable the corporation is. That is good for stockholders, but not for the rest of the citizens of America
December 5, 2013 (The Daily Free Press)
Zero-tolerance means zero productivity
An editorial states: “People send their children to schools to learn, not to be subject to rough societal punishments. When a person trusts a school with the well being of his or her child, it is understood that educators and administrators in middle and high schools will act in the best interest of the student. Zero-tolerance policies are counterintuitive to the development of a functioning member of society, and they should be eradicated before more young people are prematurely introduced to the incarceration system.
“Any zero-tolerance policy against non-violent crime breeds criminals. When a student is in possession of an illegal substance or spray paints a wall on a campus, administrators should take the responsibility to discipline. Guidance counselors and school security should be held more accountable for discovering and assessing a child’s actions and administering constructive discipline rather than punishing the student to the fullest extent.
“Disruptive students should not be contained to jail cells, juvenile detention or simple detention in a cafeteria. If a social problem warrants possible incarceration, parents and school officials should be more than capable of avoiding such harsh consequences. How is society going to advance if young people are left to fend for their rights in a courtroom?