criminal justice reform

  • November 17, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Rick Raemisch, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Corrections

    In 2011 my predecessor, Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Clements, was hired and began reforms in the use/misuse of solitary confinement. At that time 1,500 inmates, almost seven percent of Colorado inmates, were in solitary confinement. Many of them were held in these cells 23 hours per day for years. Each year 40 percent of those in solitary were released directly from solitary to the community. When I started with the Department, I heard stories of correctional officers removing an inmate from solitary in leg irons and handcuffs, placing him on a public bus, removing the shackles and then leaving him alone on the bus with the public. Ironically, in 2013 Mr. Clements was assassinated by a former inmate who had spent seven years in solitary and was then released directly to the community.

    I was hired by Governor John Hickenlooper to continue and complete the reforms Mr. Clements had started. We initiated aggressive programs to decrease the use of solitary confinement. We felt that we had failed in our mission. The use of solitary confinement, particularly for non-violent inmates, was primarily to run a more efficient institution. That is a noble goal, but not our mission. Our mission is public safety, and by the overuse of solitary, particularly the practice of releasing individuals directly from solitary to the community, we were releasing people worse than when they entered prison. I believe that the use of solitary does not solve problems—it merely suspends them. I also believe that long-term solitary multiplies mental illness and manufactures disruptive behavior. Now, our reforms have proven that the use of solitary confinement can be extremely decreased and, for the most part, used only for the violent offender.

    Currently, we have approximately 150 inmates in what we now call restrictive housing – less than one percent of our population – and those individuals know when they are getting out. In the past, an inmate could be placed in solitary for an indeterminate amount of time. They had to earn their way out by means of graduating to various levels. Often times if they acted up their time started over and they could spend years in solitary. Today, the maximum amount of time an inmate can spend in solitary is one year, and that is only for the most violent offenders.

  • November 5, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    At NPR Pam Fessler celebrates recent efforts by several states to revise policies that criminalize the everyday activities of homeless individuals.

    Michelle Chen at The Nation discusses the significance of “banning the box” on job applications for formerly-incarcerated individuals.

    At Salon, Sean McElwee explains how ballot measures similar to those recently passed in Maine and Seattle can strengthen public financing in elections, increasing the diversity of campaign donor pools and reducing the power of big money in politics.

    In USA Today, Deborah Barfield Berry reports that civil rights leader and activist Wade Henderson will step down as president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on Dec. 31, 2016. In the National Law Journal, Tony Mauro praises Henderson’s record of garnering bipartisan support for “legislative campaigns on voting rights, criminal justice reform, hate crimes, gay rights and the rights of the disabled, among others.”

  • November 3, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Patrick J. Solar, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and 30-year police veteran, serving as a patrol officer, detective, sergeant, lieutenant and chief of police.

    The ranks of policing are full of dedicated and well-meaning men and women armed with a minimum of a high school diploma and perhaps some college. Given the increasingly complex nature of the policing function it is no longer reasonable to expect the modern police officer to meet the challenges of this job armed only with these minimum qualifications and the academy. The answer is not adding more hours on to the academy as they have done in my home state of Wisconsin. We need police officers to be armed with a level of maturity and wisdom that comes from a liberal arts college degree.  This is not a new idea, it was made perfectly clear as a result of the last Presidential commission report back in 1967. 

    There is no doubt that obtaining a college degree costs both time and money but education is an investment with a high return; wise, quality policing. Educated police officers are much more likely to have the wisdom to know when to use force, as well as how and when to de-escalate. They would be better able to appreciate differences in others, and would deeply understand the social inequalities that lead some people to commit a crime and break the law. Police officer education can bring top-caliber officers into the ranks by encouraging thoughtful discussion and lengthy contemplation about the use of force as well as other pressing issues they confront. Thoughtful contemplation will resonate throughout the careers of educated officers who, as a result, possess the confidence to question and even challenge the status quo. 

    I believe that what we need most are men and women of "good will," armed with education and experience backed-up with a level of emotional maturity that is recognized, promoted and rewarded by enlightened police supervisors and leaders.

  • October 29, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    AJ Vicens at Mother Jones examines the growing influence of independent spending and dark money in judicial elections.    

    In The Huffington Post, Mollie Reilly discusses a recent study from the Movement Advancement Project that found that only half of LGBT Americans are protected against anti-LGBT employment discrimination.

    Julie A. Mujic at The Atlantic explains the misleading connection between classroom opportunity and economic mobility, arguing that education funding alone is not enough to combat income equality.

    This weekend, 6,000 prisoners will be released from federal prisons. At WNYC, Jami Floyd, John Keefe and Simone Weichselbaum discuss the significance of this release as well as the structural support needed to help these individuals reintegrate into American society. 

  • October 28, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    Rebecca Vallas and Billy Corriher write in The Nation that efforts to reform America’s criminal justice system are “doomed to fail” if policymakers do not also invest in civil legal aid to support formerly incarcerated individuals after their release.

    In The Atlantic, Sherrilyn A. Iffill asserts that continued battles over voter suppression and police brutality offer a “sobering challenge to claims that the project of the Second Founding has been completed.”

    In The Huffington Post, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson explains why Rep. Paul Ryan’s request for guaranteed time with his family should be used as a springboard for developing better family-work policies.

    In The New York Times, Robert Maguire warns that a new breed of politically active nonprofits is pushing the limits with regard to election spending rules, thereby increasing the tide of dark money in political campaigns.

    Deborah Kalb discusses Under the Bus with Caroline Fredrickson on Kalb’s personal blog.