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prison policy

Prison Gerrymandering Ruled Unconstitutional

A federal judge has ruled that the city legislative districts in Cranston, Rhode Island, are unconstitutional because 3,433 inmates housed in the state's only prison are counted as city residents and allocated to a city ward, The Huffington Post's Cristian Farias reports.

Each of the city's wards are divided into 13,500 residents each, but one ward includes the 3,433 inmates. U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux concluded that this situation violates the one person, one vote principle of the U.S. constitution because including prisoners--who cannot vote--in one ward dilutes the voting power of all city residents, Farias reports.

Hack of Prisoner Phone Calls Shows Violations of Right to Counsel

Inmates forfeit their right to privacy once they are behind bars. But that doesn't extend to their constitutional right to competent and effective legal counsel.

However, a massive hack of prisoner phone records exposed that an industry leader in the prisoner telecom industry has recorded at least 14,000 conversations between inmates and attorneys. The Intercept's Jordan Smith and Micah Lee reported earlier this week that Securus Technologies, a leading provider of phone services inside correctional facilities, had promised that privileged calls wouldn't be recorded. Particularly troubling is that the recordings appear to be stored indefinitely.

It is now commonplace for telecoms to record all of an inmate's phone calls and to provide notice at the start of such calls that they will be recorded. When a detainee makes a call to an attorney, the attorney-client privilege is arguable waived. But Michael Cassidy, a professor of law at Boston College Law School, told The Intercept "the Sixth Amendment right to counsel [still] applies and the government can’t interfere with it. So even if you could argue that notifying a prisoner that their calls are being recorded negates the privilege, it doesn’t negate the Sixth Amendment right to not have the government interfere with counsel.”

Appeals Court Rules Navajo Inmate Entitled to Religious Ceremony

A Navajo inmate incarcerated in Wisconsin can wear a tribal headband and celebrate a tribal feast with wild venison following a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit last week, the Associated Press reports. Judge Frank Easterbrook ruled that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act requires prisons to accomodate religious practices.

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."


Coalition Calls for Connecticut to Cut Prison Population

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Mon, 10/20/2014 - 09:01

Here's a piece I did for the Connecticut Law Tribune about a new call for Connecticut to cut its prison population:

It's not every day that red-state Texas is pointed out as a paragon for reform that blue-state Connecticut should emulate.

But the author of a new book calling for a mass overhaul of Connecticut's criminal justice system says that Connecticut should adopt some of the best practices that have helped Texas reduce its prison population. Texas has reduced the number of inmates so much that the Lone Star State is closing prisons.

Brian Moran, a partner at Robinson & Cole in Stamford, is the principal author of the book: "The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream."

Moran notes that Connecticut's prison population has grown from 3,800 inmates in 1980 to almost 17,000 as of January 2014. Meanwhile, the state spends more than $1 billion annually on incarceration costs, but well more than half the prisoners who are released end up back behind bars.

Federal prisons and state correctional facilities all have seen their populations explode because of the 40-year war on drugs, Moran said. It is estimated that in that time period, the penal population in the U.S. grew from 300,000 to more than 2 million.

But other states are further along in enacting reforms to steer more nonviolent offenders away from prison or to establish programming that helps ex-cons reintegrate into society after they finish doing their time, Moran said. "The 40-year war on drugs … is potentially affecting another generation of kids," Moran said. "We think it's long overdue for Connecticut to get onboard with this battle."

Linda Meyer, a Quinnipiac University School of Law professor and who was on the book's writing committee, said "everyone's intuition is that the more people you incarcerate, the less crime you have. We're trying to get the message out that is wrong."

The Connecticut juvenile justice system has taken steps that could offer guidance to the adult justice system, the authors argue. Even as the state has transferred more young lawbreakers from adult courts into the juvenile system, it has placed fewer juveniles in detention facilities and put a greater emphasis on rehabilitative programs. That focus has lowered recidivism rates, Moran says.

Similarly, the book says, the state should expand nonincarceration programs for adult offenders, ranging from transitional housing units for ex-cons to treatment programs for people with substance abuse issues and mental illness.

Moran and the coalition that backed his book project suggest that Connecticut should strive to cut its prison population in half in the next five years, close half of its prisons in five years, reduce recidivism rates by 30 percent in five years and reduce state spending on the prison system by half.

The books makes 30 recommendations for alternatives to incarceration, improving the reentry process, new legislation, new policies the executive branch could undertake and initiatives the Department of Correction could undertake.

Some of the recommendations include:

• Eliminate the requirement that inmates must serve 85 percent of a sentence for crimes classified as violent.

• Adopt reforms that allow for early parole and more time off for good behavior.

• Allocate one-third of any cost savings realized from reducing the prison population toward educational programs and vocational training aimed at reducing recidivism.

• Give judges more discretion in handing out sentences, "including the use of … offender-based data systems, sentencing-support analytics and mandatory offender family impact statements to facilitate informed decision-making."

• Provide employers who hire ex-offenders with tax incentives as well as immunity from liability.

When states such as Texas have enacted these sorts of reforms, and have reinvested savings in treatment, education and providing support to former inmates, they have also seen a reduction in the rate of crime, Moran said. Orienting Connecticut's criminal justice system in this way would provide a "trifecta of benefits: lower costs, lower recidivism and improved public safety," Moran said.

He added that there is a fourth benefit: Better success at achieving the "holy grail of corrections," which is to rehabilitate inmates and restore them to their families.

Moran, who practices in commercial litigation with an emphasis on antitrust, intellectual property and licensing disputes, was drawn to the topic of criminal justice because of his friend William Fox's involvement with the Malta Justice Initiative. The Southport-based group has an active prison ministry providing support to people who are incarcerated. It is overseen by a Roman Catholic religious order called The Sovereign Military Hospitalier Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta.

John Santa, who is chairman of the initiative, said the gist of the book is about "more effective and compassionate treatment when [inmates are] in and more effective support when they're out and reentering." The group says that while Moran is the main author, the book is a collaborative effort, including the input from a bipartisan coalition of businesspeople, correctional professionals, legislators, judges, law enforcement professionals, lawyers, ministers and academics in Connecticut.

Moran also was drawn to the book because of reading Michelle Alexander's book, "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," in which she argued that young black men, who go to prison for drug crimes 20 to 50 times more often than young white men do, are "part of a growing undercaste, permanently locked up and locked out of mainstream society."

The racial disparity in the criminal justice system is no different in Connecticut than it is nationally, Moran said. Blacks and Latinos make up 24 percent of Connecticut's overall population but they comprise 66 percent of the prison population.

That is another reason for criminal justice reform in Connecticut, Moran said. "There are two Connecticuts," he said, "the inner cities and what is happening outside of the bigger cities."

For more information on "The Justice Imperative: How Hyper-Incarceration Has Hijacked the American Dream," visit

No Chance of Paying One's Time Off: New York's Approval Rate for Parole 'Sliced in Half'

New York's approval rate for parole applications has been sliced in half since 2005, falling from 52 percent to 24 percent between 2005 and 2013, City Limits' Bill Hughes wrote earlier this month.

Jim Murphy, a former county legislator in Schenectady County and a longtime volunteer with the New York chapter of CURE, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, said he has been plugging parole board statistics into spreadsheets and "he believes he will soon be able to show a pattern emerging that can predict which parole board commissioners are more or less likely to grant or deny parole. 'A good number of these people—not all of them—but a good number seem to be making their decisions based on the politics of the case,'" Murphy told City Limits.

Criminal justice advoces said that "crimes that receive a disproportionate amount of media attention are judged more harshly by parole boards than similar offenses that are off the public radar."

Dallas Backs Off Plan to Ban In-Person Jail Visits

Dallas County is backing off on a plan to ban in-person visits with jail inmates, the Dallas Observer reports: "Dallas County commissioners are asking for new bids on a controversial contract for the management of visitation and phone services to jail inmates, after County Judge Clay Jenkins and inmate advocates objected to a proposal that would have ended face-to-face visits while letting the county profit off families visiting their jailed loved one via video. The original version of the contract with Securus, a local technology company, would have obligated the county to cut off in-person visits to promote remote video visits, from which both Securus and the county would reap payments."

Obamacare Could Divert Defendants Away From Jail

Due to Obamacare's expansion under the Medicaid program in the states that have opted for it, more people facing criminal charges might have access to health care and might get diverted away from the justice system. According to The Crime Report, "for law enforcement and courts, that could mean a greater ability to quickly identify alternatives to incarceration for those with mental illness and substance abuse issues. Tim Murray, executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, said that healthcare and substance abuse counseling is more effective at mitigating risk than jail."

Editorial: Teens Committing Adult Crimes Shouldn't Be Held in Adult Jails

The Washington Post editorializes that children, even teenagers, should not be held in the adult criminal justice system. Among other reasons, incarceration does little to prevent minors from committing crimes again, minors are the most likely to be sexually abused by other inmates, and "teenagers are not fully developed; studies have shown that their brains aren’t as capable of moral reasoning and impulse control as adults in their early or mid-20s," The Post argues.

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