Tag Archives: criminal justice reform

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Why Prosecutors Shouldn’t Tweet: The Lesson Of Bill Cosby

Libel, imprisonment, or execution: where prosecution is the public concern, the game of social-media Russian roulette is as random as it is dangerous. Ultimately, a defendant’s fate may be determined by a tweet or a Facebook post. Innocence, guilt, these are only trifling concerns.

Just so with Bill Cosby, whose lawyers filed a motion this week objecting to his renewed prosecution, on the basis that a ten-year delay in criminal charges violated his right to a fair trial. Cosby’s objection is one that may become more common, as his defense team and other attorneys acclimate to a persecutory social media climate uninterested in careful inquiry.

Ideally, in situations like this case, prosecutors will abide by the ethical canon that forbids public statements “likely to increase public condemnation of the accused.” In practice, this ethical restraint is seldom exercised.

The solution is for state, city, and federal prosecutors’ offices to institute bans barring their attorneys from using social media.

Why the absoluteness of a complete ban? For the same reason Batson strikes and Brady violations exist: to stack juries based on race, hide evidence from the defense, or taint the public’s view so they’re incapable of objectivity, can irreversibly contaminate a courtroom. As Justice Robert Jackson aptly observed, “[t]he prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America.” That sort of power shouldn’t go unchecked.

Other figures, like judges, are severely limited in regards to political activity because of their institutional neutrality. But prosecutors aren’t neutral. Practically speaking, most chase the twin goals of winning elections and maintaining high conviction rates. When those goals overlap, justice may emerge stillborn.

Continue reading at The Daily Caller.

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Solitary for Suicide Attempts: The Brutal Punishment of Chelsea Manning

On August 10, Army Secretary Eric Fanning received a petition with 115,000 signatures, part of an ongoing effort by activists to ensure Chelsea Manning’s additional suicide-related charges are dropped. Although public pressure has mounted, there has been no sign that the charges will be dropped any time soon.

Manning’s case has been fraught with government abuses of power, ranging from1,000 days of detention without trial to denial of medical resources when dealing with gender dysphoria. Now, after a suicide attempt, Manning is facing potential conviction that would force her back into solitary confinement. This horribly inhumane treatment is used for many prisoners, particularly those seen as threatening to the state. But Manning hasn’t just been punished because of her charges; she has been denied basic resources necessary for dealing with the complexity of both gender dysphoria and the mental ramifications of solitary confinement.

In her personal account of her whistleblowing ordeal, Manning describes how releasing documents revealing “the deliberate diplomatic and economic exploitation of developing countries” would show the public elements of war that had so long been hidden from them. This case was deemed unconvincing by the US military: Manning was found guilty of five accounts of espionage and five of theft, and in August 2013, after a lengthy and abuse-ridden period of trial-less detention, was sentenced to 35 years.

Continue reading at Truthout.

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The DOJ was right to phase out private prisons, but there’s much more work to be done

Earlier this week, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that the federal government will be halting its use of private prisons. Although very few federal prisoners are held in private prisons compared to at the state level, this is still an important symbolic decision in response to a recent Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that found less safety and weaker security in privately run prisons than public ones.

Although the libertarian instinct might be to criticize this decision—why should the federal government have a prison monopoly?—it’s worth recognizing that private incarceration facilities have long been mismanaged and fraught with problems, with disastrous consequences for inmate quality of life. This is a step in the right direction: towards the proper and humane treatment of inmates, and away from punitive experiences and over-incarceration.

Private prisons began in the 1980s, largely as a response to the War on Drugs and subsequent overcrowding. Since private prisons are profit-motivated, their operators (in theory) have incentives to run them well while keeping costs as low as possible.

Continue reading at Rare.

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Criminal Justice Reform For The Skeptics

Though criminal justice reform is having a moment of increasing bipartisan support, not all conservatives are convinced. Those who lived through the high-crime eras of the ’70s and ’80s are unsure whether reducing sentences, even for low-level drug offenses, would be the wisest way to protect the largely declining crime rates the U.S. has enjoyed over the last 25 years.

But one critical fact about the criminal justice system should give even skeptics reason to support some reforms: 95 percent of inmates in our nation’s prisons eventually will be released. That’s more than 650,000 people each year who, if they can’t get jobs and become productive citizens, are far more likely to recidivate. Each one who commits a new crime represents not only a new public-safety threat, but also a steep cost to taxpayers as another corrections-system round kicks into gear. Even those who oppose sentencing reforms should see the financial and moral good in re-entry policies that enable former offenders to support themselves.

read the full article in The Daily Caller.

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Rand Paul Calls for Repeal of Drug Laws; Reaches Out to Minority Voters

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., formally launched his presidential campaign Tuesday with a speech in Louisville. Among the notable quotes from Paul’s speech was a comment seemingly meant to raise minority support by calling for reform of federal drug laws that disproportionately lead to incarceration of black Americans.

“I see an America where criminal justice is applied equally and any law that disproportionately incarcerates people of color is repealed,” Paul said.

Paul went on to address other topics without expanding much on what kinds of laws he meant. But given his past comments, it’s not hard to guess he was talking about the war on drugs. “The war on drugs has become the most racially disparate outcome that you have in the entire country,” Paul said in November 2014. “Our prisons are full of black and brown kids. Three-fourths of the people in prison are black or brown.”

Lauren Galik, the Director of Criminal Justice Reform at Reason Foundation, said she was excited to hear a Republican presidential candidate campaigning on drug reform. “More than half of our federal prison population right now is there for drugs, many of which are African-American,” Galik told the Washington Examiner. “African Americans are more likely to receive a sentence that carries a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment than white individuals.”

Mandatory minimums disproportionately affect African American criminals compared to whites and Hispanics. “Although Black offenders in 2012 made up 26.3 percent of drug offenders convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, they accounted for 35.2 percent of the drug offenders still subject to that mandatory minimum at sentencing,” according to the United States Sentencing Commission, an independent federal agency.

Read the rest at the Washington Examiner…