criminal justice reform

  • September 30, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jessica M. Eaglin, Associate Professor, Indiana University Maurer School of Law

    Fees and fines provide an appealing method of punishment in states facing the pressures of mass incarceration and continued budget constraints. But until courts receive meaningful guidance on how and when to impose fees and fines, and unless legislatures exercise meaningful restraint on the creation of user fees in particular, this punitive practice will continue to do more harm than good for defendants, local justice systems and society at large.

    Fees and fines are the economic sanctions imposed on defendants through the criminal justice system. Unlike punitive fines or restitution to compensate the victim of crimes, “user fees” are imposed solely to raise revenue. User fees range from nominal fees to obtain free public defender services to daily fines for use of GPS monitoring systems that supervise defendants pretrial or on probation to daily fines for incarceration in jail, and more.

    As states face severe budget constraints, the “offender-funded” model of criminal justice – where critical costs to running the justice system are pushed onto the defendants in the system – becomes more prevalent. Many state courts simply cannot function with the amount of money allocated by their legislatures, so they are resorting to creative alternatives that are often costly for defendants entering the justice system. Offensive examples spatter the news weekly: defendant fees cover toilet paper in jail; court-imposed home supervision technology; or unmet court expenses like coffee and office supplies and court support staff and other government operations

  • September 15, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In The Atlantic, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson denounces the treatment of adjunct professors at many universities, arguing that colleges may be evading their legal responsibilities as employers.

    Jason Rosenbaum at NPR provides an overview of the Ferguson Commission Report released Monday morning. The 189-page document offers recommendations for addressing the city’s systemic racial discrimination problems.

    In The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates presents a frank, honest look at the residual effects of mass incarceration on black families. When reforming our criminal justice system, he argues, we must remedy the sustained influence of prison on one’s socioeconomic standing.

    Chris Johnson reports in The Washington Blade that the governor and attorney general of Mississippi intend to defend in court the state law banning same-sex couples from adopting children.

  • September 11, 2015

    by Paul Guequierre

    Solitary confinement has been described as a living death. Jack Henry Abbot said about the practice: “Time descends in your cell like the lid of a coffin in which you lie and watch it as it slowly closes over you. When you neither move nor think in your cell, you are awash in pure nothingness. . . . Solitary confinement in prison can alter the ontological makeup of a stone.”

    Solitary confinement, the topic of a new Issue Brief by law professor Laura Rovner released today by ACS, is viewed by much of the developed world as torture. The international community has almost universally condemned the use of long-term isolation. In 2011, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded that prolonged solitary confinement is prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the Convention Against Torture, and declared that the use of solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes torture. So why then, is use of the practice so rampant in the United States? The good news is it’s gaining renewed scrutiny in the court of public opinion. The question is: How will federal courts respond?

    As long ago as 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court criticized the use of solitary confinement. Justice Samuel Miller, who was a physician as well as a lawyer, observed that: “A considerable number of the prisoners [subjected to solitary confinement] fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others, still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”

    And as recently as this year, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy criticized the practice, practically asking for a solitary confinement case, saying: “Research still confirms what this Court suggested over a century ago: Years on end of near-total isolation exacts a terrible price.

  • September 3, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse, a member of the ACS Board of Directors, argues that conservatives are now taking a broader approach to standing, a stark departure from past canons of conservative thought.

    Rosie Flores at The Nation argues that a criminal record should not disqualify someone from public assistance, reasoning that “no one should go hungry for a crime they have already served time for.”

    In The New Republic, Brian Beutler warns against the waxing tide of libertarian scholars seeking to dismantle legal gains of the New Deal.

    Timothy Williams reports in The New York Times that the Association of State Correctional Administrators, the nation’s leading organization for prison and jail administrators, has called for sharply reducing or altogether eliminating the use of solitary confinement for extended periods of time. 

  • September 2, 2015

    by Jim Thompson

    In the Los Angeles Times, Tracey Lien reports that a federal judge ruled Tuesday that a group of Uber drivers may move forward with a class action lawsuit that aims to classify them as employees, not contract workers.

    In The Chicago Tribune, Dina Bass encourages lawmakers to develop a legal framework for international data access protocols.

    A press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights celebrates a landmark settlement in the federal class action case Ashker v. Governor of California that effectively ends indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in California prisons.