criminal justice reform

  • March 30, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Judith E. Schaeffer argues at Slate that the Supreme Court need only look at Chief Justice John Roberts’ confirmation hearings in order to make its decision on same-sex marriage.

    In the Los Angeles Times, David Savage reports that the Supreme Court may hear a First Amendment case that questions “whether a school official’s fear of violence justified disciplining students for wearing American flags on their shirts.”

    At The Nation, Zoe Carpenter questions whether the reasons behind conservatives’ recent interest in criminal-justice reform should matter.

    Michael Li writes at the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice that the Supreme Court has rejected a “mechanical interpretation” of the Voting Rights Act and provided a victory for minority groups in Alabama.

    The Editorial Board of The New York Times criticizes the lack of transparency in political spending, particularly the lack of disclosure on which companies are spending the most on elections.

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Ann C. McGinley takes a look at the Supreme Court’s decision in Young v. UPS.

  • March 27, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Nkechi Taifa, Senior Policy Analyst at Open Society Foundations

    I have spent over 25 years working on criminal justice reform issues and the recent Bipartisan Summit on Criminal Justice Reform, co-hosted by an unlikely alliance of Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Donna Brazile and Pat Nolan, was absolutely colossal. Who would have imagined that a huge hotel ballroom would be packed as early as 8:00 a.m. with federal and local legislators, high administration officials, policy experts, criminologists, researchers, faith leaders, academicians, formerly incarcerated people and millennials – all from both sides of the aisle? The event was an ambitious undertaking – a full day jam-packed with featured presentations, panel workshops, video presentations, and luncheon keynote conversations, with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal all sharing their words of wisdom on criminal justice reform. Democratic Members of Congress spoke at the Summit in person, and Republican Members, along with President Barak Obama, made remarks via video. 

    As I sat in the audience, I reflected that criminal justice was no longer the lightening rod it was two decades ago, thanks to a more recent, huge paradigm shift.  Twenty years ago, Republicans and Democrats alike were horrible on criminal justice issues.  Candidate Bill Clinton left the campaign trail to oversee the execution of a mentally challenged man in Arkansas. Every year or so during the early 90s we fought against unwieldy omnibus crime bills, culminating in the “granddaddy” of all the crime bills – the Violent Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1994.  This bill expanded the federal death penalty to a level unprecedented in modern times, gutted habeas corpus reform, eviscerated the exclusionary rule, allowed for the prosecutions of 13-year olds as adults, and refused to address the crack/powder sentencing disparity, while implementing a slew of additional mandatory minimum sentences and offering monetary incentives to states to lock up more and more people for longer periods of time in exchange for loads of money to build more prisons. 

  • March 12, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    The Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times argues that the United States must restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act.

    Lara Bazelon explains in Slate how innocence is often not enough to help the wrongfully convicted get out of prison.

    At The Washington Post, Lindsey Bever reports that Utah has passed a landmark LGBT rights bill.

    Aman Banerji discusses at Salon the troubling lessons on the state of racial discrimination in the United States found in the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report.

    Jonathan Brater writes for the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice about a new Oregon law that could change voter registration.

    Steven Mazie of The Economist argues that the Chief Justice could conceivably “vote in the liberal direction in both King v. Burwell, the Obamacare case, and Obergefell v. Hodges, the same-sex marriage case.”

  • March 5, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Robert Barnes reports for The Washington Post on the oral arguments for King v. Burwell and observes that the Court seemed to split along ideological lines in questioning during the case.

    Linda Greenhouse argues in The New York Times that the very nature of the Supreme Court will change if it chooses to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

    At NPR, Mara Liasson explains why both Republicans and Democrats should be concerned about the outcome of King v. Burwell.

    Mark Joseph Stern writes at Slate on the recent Justice Department report that finds Ferguson police have a history of bias towards African Americans and disregard for constitutional rights.

    At Democracy Now, Juan Gonz├ílez and Amy Goodman discuss how Ferguson illustrates the importance of undoing the criminal justice system of “racial control” with Michelle Alexander, author The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

  • February 6, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Peter Wagner, Executive Director, Prison Policy Initiative; winner of the 2014 David Carliner Award

    Receiving the American Constitution Society’s David Carliner Award last year was a huge honor and a wonderful celebration of the connection between criminal justice reform and other progressive movements. For too long, progressive movements have all worked in isolation from each other, but ACS and this award have, like its namesake, celebrated our common struggle for justice and human rights.

    I went to law school a decade ago when prison populations were going up and up, and up seemed like the only future. Both the powers that be and the established progressive movement were ignoring criminal justice advocates. The award, named for human rights champion David Carliner, represents an important milestone because it recognizes criminal justice issues – and the victories we have won together over the last decade – as essential victories for the broader progressive movement.

    I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to challenge policies that were doing more to exacerbate existing racial and economic disparities in our country than they were doing to respond to crime.  I wanted to collaborate with other criminal justice experts – such as incarcerated people, their families and lawyers – to force our country to confront the fact that our criminal justice system has grown so large that it punishes everyone, including people who are not directly involved in the criminal justice system.

    Take the U.S. Census. The U.S. Census counts incarcerated people as if they were willing residents of the prison location. This would be nothing more than a good item of statistical trivia if there weren't so many people in prison and if we didn't use this flawed data to draw legislative districts. Taking more than 2 million incarcerated people, who are mostly people of color, and deliberately counting them in the wrong communities systematically changes the legislative districts and therefore every political decision our legislatures make. "Prison gerrymandering" is a very subtle but ever-present thumb on the scale of our democracy. That's a large part of why state legislatures prioritize the demands of excessive punishment over more sensible alternatives.