Justice in America Episode 3: Who Built Mass Incarceration? Prosecutors

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Who has had the biggest impact on the growth of our incarceration system? It’s not the judge, the jury, or the legislator. It’s not the police, and it’s certainly not the President. It’s someone else—the prosecutor. Prosecutors are getting more attention now than ever, but many people still don’t know what they do.

Prosecutors don’t just play an important role at trial. It is prosecutors who recommend what bail a judge should set, prosecutors who decide whether a person should face criminal charges and what those charges should be, and prosecutors who control the plea deal process. Perhaps more than anyone else, prosecutors are responsible for our mass incarceration epidemic. On this episode, we’ll explore the impact prosecutors have and take a look at how they wield their power.

We’ll talk about the problems with prosecutors, and their excessive power, negative incentives, and almost total lack accountability. We’ll also talk to John Pfaff, a lawyer, economist, and prosecutor expert, whose book, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform, examines the power of prosecutors.

Justice in America is available on iTunes, Soundcloud, Sticher, GooglePlay Music, and LibSyn RSS. You can also check us out on Facebook and Twitter. Our email is justiceinamerica@theappeal.org.

For more on prosecutors, check out these resources:

This week on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver coincidentally did a segment on prosecutors. Check it out here.

Here’s an op-ed in the New York Times Josie published last fall on prosecutors that pretend to be reformers but fall short.

The Brooklyn Defenders made this awesome video on the power of prosecutors last year.

Radley Balko always publishes great work on criminal justice and law enforcement, particularly prosecutors. You can find his work at the Washington Post here.

Here’s a good piece on our guest John Pfaff’s book from the Marshall Project.

The Appeal’s other podcast, also called The Appeal, had Josie on for their first episode to talk about prosecutors. Check it out here.

And of course, we publish a lot of pieces on prosecutors at The Appeal. Here are some pieces from just the past few weeks: Amanda Sakuma wrote about a primary challenge to the St. Louis County Attorney who, in 2014, chose not to charge the cop that murdered Michael Brown. (The challenger, Wesley Bell,  subsequently won.) George Joseph and Simon Davis-Cohen investigated the Bronx DA’s office and the ways they intentionally drag cases out, improperly burdening defendants; and Jessica Brand and Ethan Brown wrote about the federal prosecutors that charged over 200 inauguration day protesters for rioting, and the history of misconduct in that particular office.

Transcript By Josie Duffy Rice and Clint Smith III./TheAppeal

Posted by The NON-Conformist



86 Percent of Women in Jail Are Sexual-Violence Survivors When speaking of mass incarceration, men are usually the default, it’s time that change.

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According to a recent study, 86 percent of women who have spent time in jail report that they had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. As well, while women represent just 13 percent of the jail population between 2009 and 2011, they represented 67 percent of the victims of staff-on-inmate sexual victimization. Sexual violence is so pronounced among jailed and incarcerated women that Sen. Cory Booker, (D-NJ,) labeled the overarching phenomenon as “a survivor-of-sexual-trauma to prisoner pipeline.”

These numbers come from the Vera Institute of Justice, which authored a survey last year titled “Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform.” Given the rising numbers of incarcerated women, specifically in local jails, and the lack of research on them, the Institute wanted to examine who those women were and what adversities they faced. Other findings were equally alarming as those above.

Two thirds of the women in jail are of color, and the majority of that population is also low-income. Further, nearly 80 percent of the incarcerated are mothers, most of them raising a child without a partner. Eighty-two percent were incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, while 32 percent have serious mental illness and 82 percent suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. Finally, 77 percent of those polled were victims of partner violence and and another 60 percent experienced caregiver violence.

First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, who works with women at Rikers Island, added that in addition to the prevalence of sexual assault, abuse and trauma present in the lives of the majority of incarcerated women, “women are often trapped in a lower-paid status,” she told Salon on a recent episode of “Salon Talks.”

This economic reality is often what inspires the crimes that end up landing these women in local jails in the first place. Laurie Garduque, the criminal justice director of the MacArthur Foundation, which co-published the survey, told Salon that many women end up in jail because of “crimes of poverty.” During the survey, she encountered women who were jailed for reasons like unpaid parking tickets, stealing discount clothes for their children and for failing to show up to court.

“A lot of people are there because they haven’t paid their fines and fees, haven’t paid their child support, have outstanding bench warrants,” she added. Beyond that, many are forced to stay in jail awaiting pre-trial because they have no resources to pay cash bail.

The survey found that in 2012, 36 percent of women were being held in a pre-trial unit in Massachusetts because they could not afford bail amounts of less than $500. Given that Black and Latina women live at low-income rates disproportionate to the white population, they are also the cohorts most impacted by the cash bail system.

Simply, the economic realities for women compounded by the economic realities for people of color combine to create a system where members of certain at-risk populations awaiting trial may spend significant time behind bars for minor offenses they were compelled to commit regardless of whether they are convicted of them or not. “It’s really a revolving door,” Garduque said.

Garduque also emphasized another point. “Over the same period of time where we’ve seen a growth in incarceration with respect to prisons, we’ve seen growth and the reliance of jails,” she continued. “So they’ve become transformed, devoted less to protecting public safety and more in line with housing poor people, and people with behavioral health issues, or where other systems have failed them.”

Many of these problems only mount once a woman is jailed as “most jail environments were not designed with them in mind and do not take into account the particular adversities they have experienced,” the report says. Garduque explained that many jails are not equipped to deal with gynecological issues, pregnancy, menstrual cycles or the fact that the majority of women in jail retain custody of their children.

All of this data points to a striking problem in criminal justice reform. Policymakers tend to address reform in stages, prioritizing some populations and leaving others vastly overlooked. Because women still represent a small percentage of the jail population, “the jails have not focused their time or resources to think about what specifics needs need to be addressed,” Garduque said. “That’s why jail, in many respects, will make women even worse off.”

Overall, though the population of 1.2 million women currently supervised by the criminal justice system in many ways mirrors that of incarcerated men, being that both disproportionately house affect the low-income population and people of color. Yet, reformers rarely include women in the discussion of mass incarceration and criminal justice reform. It’s a striking mistake given the shifting demographics of those behind bars.

While there has been an overall decline in the number of incarcerated men on a local and state level, the same is not true for incarcerated women. In fact, “the rate of growth for female imprisonment has outpaced men by more than 50% between 1980 and 2014,” the Sentencing Project says.

Given that women are the fastest growing jail population in the nation, the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge is working with jurisdictions to address the “misuse and overuse of jails” and to reduce jail populations by fostering more equitable justice systems.

The Vera Institute and the MacArthur Foundation see women-specific reforms as the only route forward. “It’s much more complicated than it is for men,” McCray added.

In an attempt to address this, the foundation selected various jurisdictions with different resources to demonstrate that “regardless of their resources,” Garduque said, “if they have the political will, and if they have the knowledge and information, that they can enact the reform to eliminate unnecessary use of jail and still address the issue of racial and economic disparity.”

There has been a tentative response to the plight of incarcerated women in Congress as well. In July, Booker proposed a new bill titled “the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act” cosigned by Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Dick Durbin. According to Slate, some of the provisions include a ban on the shackling or placing in solitary confinement of pregnant inmates.

Further, the bill would require prisons to provide free menstrual products for those awaiting trial and bar male guards from supervising female inmates in bathrooms, except during emergencies. Inmates would no longer be charged for calling friends and family members. The bill would also consider the placement of incarcerated women who are mothers in relation to their families, and foster more accessible communication and visitation between mothers and their children in general.

These and other proposed reforms contained within the Dignity Act fall in line with what the Vera Institute urges. Yet, the Dignity Act would only apply to women in federal prisons. Even with its passage, things would not necessarily change for the number of individuals jails and state prisons who make up the overwhelming bulk of the incarcerated women in the United States.

Still, the act’s passing would be a step forward for many and, perhaps, a motivation for state and local authorities to reconsider and revise their own practices.

Whatever the case, the already dire situation for women behind bars — and quite specifically in jail — erodes further toward the inhuman with every passing day. It’s a systematic crisis that, by now, has transcended the legal and the logistical to take on the dimensions of a moral emergency.

“I know there’s a lot going on right now,” Booker told Refinery 29, referring to the political climate. “But you can always judge the greatness of a society by looking at who it imprisons and how it treats them.” By that measure, the United States has much to do in order to claim any kind of greatness.

By Rachel Leah / Salon

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Roots of Mass Incarceration

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Two hundred young Black and brown men hauled into Southern District of New York Federal District Court in Manhattan on federal conspiracy charges, 70 brought into Eastern District of New York Federal District Court in Brooklyn, 60 indicted in Federal District Court in Detroit. This is what happens today in federal and state courts across America to young Black men.

Just visit any local federal or state prosecutor’s website and you will most likely read a press release reporting a multi-defendant gang conspiracy takedown. Long gone are the days of multiple-defendant mobster prosecutions, when the targets were organized criminal organizations that had lots of resources, structure and clout. They have been replaced with young Black and brown alleged gang members and their associates.

In many of these indictments, the young men are charged with low-level drug possession and sales, and in many instances, there are no allegations of violence. The indictments all have the same elements: Title 3 wiretaps, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts, rap videos as motive or gang affiliation, and so on and so on. What’s missing in many of these cases are large sums of money, property and the recovery of large amounts of narcotics.

The results, however, are the same — multiple young men removed from the community, privileged Ivy League prosecutors and judges all too willing to prosecute and sentence another Black and brown person to an amount of time that most Americans simply can’t fathom.

It’s very clear though that federal money will continue to trickle down to police and prosecutors for the continued policing and apprehension of these young men. There will be no similar initiatives for the illicit drugs sold to white males through electronic and digital means in areas like Wall Street. Indictments in the Black community will keep coming as they did under the Obama administration and now under the Trump administration. In fact, rumor has it that the new Attorney General and the DOJ have already sent memos to all the U.S. Attorney General Offices across the country instructing federal prosecutors how to identify gangs and prosecute them more zealously and aggressively.

Throughout American political history, both political parties have toed a “tough on crime” line as a way to get elected. “Tough on crime” is the dog whistle to continue incarcerating and policing Black and brown people. That is the American narrative. No matter who is in office, somehow the Black community suffers job losses and unemployment, defunding of schools and cutting of social programs at a much higher rate than the rest of America. At the same time, police presence and funding increase and opportunity decreases. Our communities are left without the resources and structure necessary to sustain a community and are left to rely on the government and corporations for everything, much like colonial times.

Look at the current progressive attitude held by law enforcement, politicians and media toward the opioid epidemic, which seems to be disproportionately affecting white communities. Compare it to the attitude held by the same entities when Black and Brown neighborhoods and their children were being destroyed by heroin and crack cocaine. White people as criminals does not fit the American narrative.

The Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965 and the Safe Streets Act of 1968 represented how the federal government would respond to any civil unrest in Black communities. Programs like this provided federal resources and funding for local law enforcement in their efforts to address the unrest that in their view was caused by civil rights agitators. These programs failed to address segregation, economics, and poverty but focused on the Black communities as individuals.

One need look no further than Daniel Moynihan’s 1965 report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” better known as the “Moynihan Report” for the rationale behind many of these programs. His report, adhered to by liberals and conservatives alike, ultimately blamed the victim for conditions created by government structure. It promoted the ideology that the condition in the Black community was the result of individualism and “Black pathology,” not America’s racist foundation, society, policies and legislation. The report and those who supported it ignored America’s established caste system, a social order that alienated an entire race of people.

Programs like the Law Enforcement Assistance Act and the Safe Streets Act increased police personnel, militarized the police, allowed the use of electronic surveillance and promoted the use of undercover officers. These programs also allowed law enforcement to work hand in hand with domestic and social programs like truancy and welfare programs to share data and information. The data collected was used to justify more over-policing in Black neighborhoods and the paramilitary stance of law enforcement that continues today.

The phenomenon of the urban ghetto began with the Great Migration from the South by millions of Black people. The migration was born out of survival, hope, fear and the search for progress in America. Millions left their homes to escape domestic terrorism and a callous, indifferent system. These new urban cities came with the close attention of the federal government and local police. To prevent independence and any form of Black nationalism in the Black community, the federal government instituted programs like COINTELPRO. Black people were not only put under a microscope out of fear of uprisings, but the community was set upon by its own government. By way of politics, propaganda, media and economics, America made Black men public enemy No. 1, while systematically continuing to alienate the community politically, socially, economically and academically. It was a study in hypocrisy as America ignored its own behavior and said the cause of our condition was our propensity for poverty and crime.

America’s biggest threat during the 1960s and 1970s were 15-to-30-year-old Black men influenced by Malcolm, Martin and the Black Panthers. According to programs like COINTELPRO, these young men were a threat and needed to be monitored. This is the toxic ideology that is in the DNA of America. It follows her in all of her dealings when it relates to the descendants of those who were the cogs in the wheels of American capitalism and wealth, the cogs that helped solidify and secure white America’s privilege.

There will be no worthwhile or substantive efforts by the American government to create jobs or fix the broken school-to-prison pipeline in our communities. History tells us that education and social programs will continue to be cut and more policing will continue, particularly in an age where crime is continuing to decline and gentrification and development is increasing.

Today, we “COINTELPRO” ourselves in the name of entertainment, music, culture and social media. We fail to realize that unless we are entertaining America, America simply want’s us to vanish. Social media is simply social control for law enforcement and corporations. Black street and prison culture are a part of American capitalism. This only changes if the community becomes nationalistic, critical minded and committed to action and self-determination.

Those principles, which are essential for community building, simply can’t come from external forces. Think about the amount of music, fashion, entertainment, sports, and corporate products that are sold through Black men. Those platforms serve to entertain and distract, and they function as inculpatory evidence for law enforcement. Corporations and entertainers increase their profit at the expense and exploitation of Black and brown young men whose circumstances are commodified and sold. Everyone plays their part, including us.

Just yesterday, I was in the Eastern District Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn to represent a client charged in one of these multiple-defendant gang indictments. If one wants to study race and power in America, federal criminal court is a great place to start. All of the federal marshalls and court staff except the deputy clerk were white. The judge and the judge’s law clerks and interns were all white. The federal prosecutors were all white. All of the defense attorneys except me were white. As the defendants — all of them Black and shackled by hands and feet — shuffled toward the cells, one of them, with a smile on his face, loudly yelled out to a loved one present in the courtroom to support him, “What up, ya black ass nigga?” Instances like this are a common occurrence in the courthouse and display just how broken we have become.

Taking control of the educational and cultural process of our young men is a matter of survival and evolution. Education has always been the key to true liberation and freedom. Our young men are inundated with imagery and content that convinces them that criminality is a viable option, while still being alienated in America. Our education should include a curriculum unique to our presence and contribution to the world. Mentoring, academic and apprenticeship programs should be a staple in our community. Coding and writing academies. Film and legal academies. Engineering and architecture academies. Domestic and international exchange programs. Stem and Steam programs. The list goes on.

As a community, we have to introduce our young men to this early and often to wean them off of the toxicity of American culture. The young men on all of these indictments are doing their best impression of making it in America at all costs, unable to realize that they are simply presenting white nationalistic and capitalistic principles. They are totally unaware that they are prey to a predatory system.

By Kenneth Montgomery/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Changes coming to LA criminal justice system to reduce high incarceration rate

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With the highest incarceration rate in the world, Louisiana lawmakers are taking steps to change that.

Image result for louisiana and incarceration rate and highest

Image: NOLA.com

With the highest incarceration rate in the world, Louisiana lawmakers are taking steps to change that.

The Justice Reinvestment Task Force approved five measures, amending criminal justice laws.

Rep. Terry Landry, who sits on the committee said, “What we’ve been doing for the past 20, 30 years have not worked. So, if you keep doing the same thing and getting the same results, they tell you you have to change course.”

The reform is something many have look forward to for decades.

New Orleans resident Fox Rich said, “They sentenced my husband to 60 years as a first-time felony offender in LA in a crime that no injury was sustained by any of our victims. So, this is an opportunity that we’ve waited a very long time for and we’ve worked a very long time for to make sure we have prepared ourselves for his return into society.”

More from katc.com

Posted by Libergirl

Here Is Why Women Of Color Are The Fastest Growing Jail Population

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Image: Newsone

As the nation wrestles with the weight of mass incarceration and its impact on individuals and communities, a study released Wednesday by the Vera Institute of Justice and Safety and Justice Challenge explores a growing epidemic: the steady rise of incarcerated women.

The report, titled Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform, shows that since 1970, the number of women held in local jails has increased from under 8,000 to nearly 110,000.

Poor women are affected the most, according to the study. Approximately two-thirds of women in jail are of color: 44 percent are Black, 15 percent are Hispanic, and five percent are of other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Thirty-six percent of women in jail identify as White.

So-called broken windows policing serves as one of the many probable causes leading to the significant hike of women in jail. In the 1990s, policing began to focus on responding to quality-of-life or low-level offenses, along with increased rates for drug possession. Today, 82 percent of women are in jail for nonviolent crimes.

Since women are more likely to commit non-violent crimes or minor offenses such as drug possession, the rate of women in jail dramatically increased. Affiliating with romantic partners, accused of committing some of the offenses, also helps to sweep women into the system, experts say.

Elizabeth Swavola, a senior program associate at Vera, and one of the authors of the study, spoke to NewsOne about why it was necessary to delve into research that explored this unfamiliar subject.

“Oftentimes when we talk about mass incarceration, we focus on prisons, not local jails,” she said. “When we looked at women, there was a 14-fold increase.”

More from News One

Posted by Libergirl

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