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April 2, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
New Publication: Juvenile Life Without Parole

Recent Supreme Court rulings have banned the use of capital punishment for juveniles and mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles (JLWOP). Still, the United States stands alone as the only nation that sentences people to life without parole for crimes committed before turning 18.

This briefing paper reviews the Supreme Court precedents that limited the use of JLWOP and the challenges that remain.

April 1, 2014 (WVTF Public Radio)
Crisis in Correctional Care: Pressing for Prison Reform

By the end of this year, California must release 9,600 prisoners from the nation’s largest correctional system, because the Supreme Court says overcrowding makes it impossible to provide adequate healthcare for inmates.

Failing to do so constitutes cruel and unusual punishment - a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Virginia’s prisons are also crowded and facing a lawsuit over medical care.

The Supreme Court has said prisons must provide adequate medical services. State legislators know that, and ten years ago they were given a detailed report of serious problems with healthcare behind bars in Virginia.

But Hope Amezquita with Virgnia’s ACLU says they did nothing, and her colleague, lawyer Gabe Eber, says voters probably didn’t care. “A lot of people would say, ‘I don’t have a right to healthcare. I don’t have insurance. I can’t get my cavities filled. Why should this murderer or this thief or this sex offender get free healthcare? That’s probably one of the reasons there hasn’t been more outrage.”

April 1, 2014
Blumenthal Vows Sentencing Reform

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D- Conn., visited a civics class at Common Ground, an environmental, and talked about a gun violence, the “school-to-prison pipeline and how the judicial system seems to disproportionately impact young minority men.

“The prison system is not working,” and sentences need to be lowered, said Blumenthal.

Connecticut has one of the most disparate rates of incarceration between blacks and whites: 12 times as many black people are locked up than white, according to a map at The Sentencing Project.

April 1, 2014 (Socialistworker.org)
Raising babies in prison

shadow of mother and child behind bars

Prison nurseries have existed in this country for a century--the first was established in 1901 at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility north of New York City—but there is renewed interest in expanding these programs today.

The expansion of mother-infant programs coincides with the increasing incarceration of women. Over 200,000 women are behind bars and over 1 million are on probation or parole, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.) And the number of prisons for women has multiplied eight times over the last three decades, according to a 2006 report from the Institute on Women and Criminal Justice.

The majority of incarcerated women are charged with nonviolent offenses.

Because women tend to be the primary caretakers of children, the massive increase in women's incarceration has had devastating effects on families. According to a report from The Sentencing Project, one of every 50 children in the U.S. has one or more parents incarcerated.

March 31, 2014 (The Washington Post)
U.S. drug war slowly shifts fire away from low-level users

New Jersey’s new “Good Samaritan law,’’ which immunizes from prosecution people who call 911 to report an overdose even if they are using drugs themselves, is part of an emerging shift in the country’s approach to illegal drugs.

With aggressive enforcement, the number of people jailed nationwide for drug offenses exploded from 41,000 in 1980 to 499,000 in 2011, according to a report from The Sentencing Project, a think tank that advocates criminal justice changes.

Four decades after the federal government declared war on narcotics, the prevailing tough-on-drugs mentality is today giving way to a more nuanced view, one that emphasizes treatment and health nearly as much as courtrooms and law enforcement, according to addiction specialists and other experts. 

March 28, 2014 (Muskogee Phoenix)
An Overwhelmed System

Oklahoma senators should be more concerned with funding an overwhelmed prison system than finding ways to extend the sentences of prisoners.

The Senate Public Safety Committee recently unanimously approved six measures that would increase fines, penalties or sentences for some crimes.

That strikes us as election-year grandstanding.

Crime has always been a problem. But some candidates further their careers by using their constituents’ fears.

The senators on this committee and every legislator who votes yes on these proposals will hold up their vote as proof they are tough on crime.

They also will attack their election opponents for being soft on crime.

Our state’s prison system is overloaded, underfunded and in need of repair.

Oklahoma locks up more women per capita and has the fourth-highest overall incarceration rate in the country, according to data reported by the Associated Press.

March 28, 2014 (Technicianonline)
Solving social problems

Questions need to be asked about the root causes and origins of the issues our society faces today.

This means asking questions that lead to the heart of the matter. For example, why are poverty levels so high in the U.S.? The poverty rate in 2010 was the highest poverty rate since 1993, according to the National Poverty Center.

Why are the federal prisons facing significant capacity issues? The population of federal prisoners grew 14 percent between 2006 and 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Consider the rampant use of illicit drugs in our culture, especially among the impoverished. Many other countries work to understand problems like this at their core, leading them to view drug addiction as a public health issue instead of a criminal issue. 

March 28, 2014 (The Austin Chronicle)
Point Austin: Incarceration Nation

Grassroots Leadership and The Sentencing Project were in town this week, delivering a presentation on "race, mass incarceration, and the private prison industry" at Huston-Tillotson Uni¬ver¬sity. The two organizations somewhat overlap; Grassroots Lead¬ership focuses on "ending for-profit incarceration," and The Sentencing Proj¬ect publishes research and advocates more generally on the excesses of the entire U.S. prison/criminal justice system.

Together, Christopher Petrella of Grassroots Leadership and Nicole Porter of The Sentencing Project provided an overview of the current U.S. system of incarceration, its institutionalized racism, and various efforts at reform.

March 26, 2014 (The Sentencing Project)
Disenfranchisement News

Kentucky: House Rejects Senate’s Restrictions on Voting Rights Bill

Commentary in Support of HB 70

National: The State of the States

Reactions to AG Holder's Call for Reform

Iowa: Woman with Former Conviction Charged with Voting Illegally

Arizona: Local Law Professor Helps Arizonans Regain Their Voting Rights

Virginia: Disenfranchisement Reform "Still a Work in Progress"

March 25, 2014 (Des Moines Register)
Iowa officials wonder: what's fair for juveniles?

Blair Greiman, originally sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a brutal crime when he was 16 years old, has spent more than 30 years in prison and insists he is ready to be released.

Iowa’s parole board sees it differently. It has denied Greiman parole three times since the now-48-year-old was re-sentenced in 2012 to life with the possibility of parole. The board has consistently found that the commission of a crime of rape and stabbing warrants more time behind bars.

Greiman’s resentencing came after the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Graham v. Florida, made life-without-parole sentences illegal for juvenile offenders who committed non-homicide crimes that carry a life sentence, such as first-degree kidnapping. Iowa has six other inmates who were made eligible for parole by the ruling, and all have denied release by the parole board.