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Report Finds Gender Imbalance in Rikers Intake Reductions

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Sat, 03/11/2017 - 13:45

My latest piece for the New York Law Journal:

Despite efforts to reduce the number of people entering New York City's criminal justice system for low-level crimes, the number of women arrested for misdemeanors has not been reduced at the same rate as for men, according to a new report.

The study, by the New York Women's Foundation and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice's Prisoner Reentry Institute, found that 42,886 women were arrested for misdemeanors in 2014—a 7.1 percent drop over the previous five years.

In contrast, the number of men arrested for misdemeanors fell by 10.3 percent to 182,403 over the same five-year period, according "Women InJustice: Gender and the Pathway to Jail in New York City."

Even though people think of men when they think of mass incarceration, women are involved in the criminal justice system too, said Ana Oliveira, president and chief executive officer of the Women's Foundation.

"The first step to solving the problem is to bring it to light," she said.

The report concluded that city officials need to take gender into account if they want to reduce the number of women entering Rikers Island, which has faced intense public scrutiny over conditions at the facility and treatment of detainees.

For example, the report found that women are likely to become involved in the justice system because of "experiences of violence, trauma, and poverty. Women of color, particularly those from low-income communities, are disproportionately arrested and incarcerated."

Women in the justice system also have higher rates of mental health problems than men do, the report added.

As policymakers debate whether it would be a good idea to close Rikers, Alison Wilkey, policy director of the Prisoner Reentry Institute and author of the report, said reform efforts should focus on the fact that the 600 women or so who are held at Rikers on a daily basis spend two weeks or less in detention.

"What's the purpose of disrupting someone's life and putting them in jail for two weeks?" she asked.

The report offers several ways to reduce the number of women entering Rikers.

Because the majority of women are held pretrial, one recommended reform is reducing the use of cash bail and fully secured bonds in favor of programs with supervised release or increasing bail funds. "For many New Yorkers, any amount of cash bail imposed results in de facto detention," the report said.

The city soon will offer the option of posting bail online, part of a larger effort to reform the bail system and reduce reliance on cash bail.The program is set to begin this spring (NYLJ, Nov. 2).

Obstacles to posting bail contribute to about 12,000 unnecessary jail stays each year, according to a release from Mayor Bill de Blasio's office. The Center for Court Innovation found that, in 2014, friends and family were able to post bail immediately in less than 14 percent of the 48,816 disposed cases in which bail was set above $1.

Another recommended reform in the Women InJustice report is delivering reentry programs to women detained at Rikers for short periods of time. Even though 60 percent of women stay at Rikers for less than two weeks, "short stays can cause significant harm, disrupting families, childcare, and health care, or leading women to lose their benefits, employment, or places at shelters," according to the report.

Housing also has been identified has the largest problem facing women in the New York City justice system, the report found.


ACLU Plans Ballot Initiative Campaigns on Criminal Justice, LGBT Discrimination

The American Civil Liberties Union is planning a major political advocacy program, including pursuing ballot intiatives to try to enact criminal justice reform and protections for gays, lesbians and transgendered people, the Washington Post's James Hohmann reports. The ACLU will pick three states with high incarceration rates and then sponsor ballot initiatives with the goal of driving sentencing reform. The ACLU also has raised $5 million to try to enact protections for nondiscrimination protections for LGBT individuals.

Number of Prisoners Falls Around the United States

The number of Americans in state prison or on parole or probation has fallen to the lowest level in a decade, while the number of people in federal prison has fallen for the first time in more than 30 years, the Washington Post's Reid Wilson reports. "The total incarceration rate has fallen ... from about one in every 100 adults to one in every 110 adults," Wilson further reports. However, the number of people incarcerated in the United States remains close to historic levels: "more than 1.5 million inmates are housed in state or federal prisons, and another 731,000 reside in local jails."


Charles Koch's Surprising Views on Criminal Justice

Charles Koch, one of the wealthiest Americans and a prodigious supporter of conservative causes, told his hometown newspaper, the Wichita Eagle, that he thinks the American justice system has "been over-criminalized with too many laws and too many prosecutions of nonviolent offenders, not only for him but for everybody." Koch said his family and he are going to expand on the money they give to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to work on other efforts to reverse the trends in criminal justice that have led to 2.2 million people being incarcerated in the United States. Koch also has concerns that "the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney has been impaired by allowing public defender offices to be underfunded and overwhelmed, including by government prosecutors with more far more resources at their disposal," the Wichita Eagle's Roy Wenzl reports.

Tide of Cash in Judicial Elections Dampens Criminal Justice Reform

Judicial elections often involve campaign ads attacking candidates for being too soft on crime, even though there is a "growing bipartisan consensus that America locks up too many people for too long," The Marshall Project's Christie Thompson reports.

In 2014, there has been at least $13.8 million spent on TV advertising for state supreme court races, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. And the liberal American Constitution Society found that "as more TV campaign advertising aired in judicial election campaigns, elected state supreme court justices became less likely to rule in favor of defendants," Thompson further reports.

The irony is that many spenders on judicial campaign ads like the Koch brothers actually support policies in favor of decriminalization, but the "tough on crime" ads are used because they play on people's fears, Thompson also notes.

Drivers Face Protracted Proceedings to Get Cash Back From Police

The Washington Post investigated 400 seizures from when police stopped drivers under a practice called "highway interdiction" and seized cash, having "their departments share in the proceeds through a long-standing Justice Department civil asset forfeiture program known as Equitable Sharing. Police can also make seizures under their state laws." Many drivers "had to engage in long legal struggles to get their money back after officers made roadside judgments about one of the most fundamental of American rights — the right to own property," the Post further reports. Advocates say that the practice has resulted in abuses of power in which the innocent suffer because their cash is seized even though they were not arrested.

Goal Set to Close Public Safety Gap on American Indian Reservations Within a Decade

This week, Law and Order Commission issued its findings on the lack of public safety on American Indian reservations, according to the Associated Press. Governmental statistics show the violent crime rates can be 20 times the national average, the AP also reported. The commission set the goal of improving those crime rates within a decade, including giving tribes more control over policing crime on reservations.

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