criminal justice reform

  • May 19, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Margo Schlanger, Henry M. Butzel Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School

    Consensus for criminal justice and prison conditions reform has been building, and one key urgent area of reform is to reduce our current overuse of solitary confinement. In my new ACS Issue Brief, “How the ADA Regulates and Restricts Solitary Confinement for People with Mental Disabilities,” I argue that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provide tools to challenge solitary confinement of individuals with mental disabilities.

    American incarceration rates ballooned in the 1980s and 1990s—and so too did our prisons’ and jails’ use of solitary confinement and other forms of restrictive housing. Right now, in federal, state, and local jails and prisons, an estimated 90,000 to 115,000 prisoners are housed in solitary confinement. They are locked into their cells, about the size of a parking space, for 22 or more hours a day. Their access to programming, reading materials, visitation, exercise, and other “privileges” is extremely limited.

    Change may finally be coming. In 2015, Justice Kennedy noted in a concurring opinion that “[t]here are indications of a new and growing awareness in the broader public of the subject of corrections and of solitary confinement in particular.” Research confirms that “Years on end of near-total isolation exact a terrible price.” Shortly after that, President Obama decried the overuse of solitary confinement; he has since required significant federal reform, including many measures to help keep prisoners with mental disabilities out of solitary.

    Nonetheless, people with mental disabilities are vastly overrepresented in solitary. Sometimes this is because of pure discrimination; other times, because failure to appropriately treat or manage prisoners with mental disabilities leads to their prison misconduct. Once in solitary confinement, isolation frequently exacerbates mental disability, causing a feedback loop of difficult behavior and lengthening terms of isolation.

  • May 18, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    Brentin Mock at The Atlantic explains how a Mississippi school district was able to keep its middle and high schools segregated for six decades following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

    The drug manufacturer Pfizer announced Friday that it will no longer sell its drugs to be used in the execution of prisoners, dealing a huge blow to proponents of the death penalty, reports Winston Ross at Newsweek.

    The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Erik K. Fanning’s nomination as secretary of the Army, making him the first openly gay leader of a branch of the U.S. military, celebrates Elliot Hannon in Slate.

  • May 3, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    The absence of a ninth justice has significantly lessened the number of cases accepted by the Supreme Court, says Robert Barnes at The Washington Post.

    In Huffington PostMatt Ferner provides commentary on a report released last week by the White House, titled “Economic Perspectives On Incarceration And The Criminal Justice System,”  which discusses the devastating economic impact of mass incarceration. 

    The Virginia Supreme Court ruled last week that the state’s cohabitation law applies to unmarried same-sex couples, reports Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade

  • April 29, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    Proponents of the “Ban the Box” campaign have started targeting colleges and universities, seeking to protect students from being asked about their criminal histories during the application process, writes Juleyka Lantigua-Williams at The Atlantic.

    At The Marshall Project, Eli Hager assesses the negative consequences that judicial vacancies have on the criminal justice system, including “unresolved motions, habeas corpus petitions waiting years to be heard (or being handled by law clerks instead of judges), judges spending less time on each case, and defendants pleading guilty because they believed a trial would not get the timely attention it deserved.”

    Legislation to repeal sentencing enhancements for certain drug crimes failed to pass before the California State Senate on Monday, reports Andrew M. Ironside at Civil Rights Law & Policy Blog

  • April 26, 2016

    by Jim Thompson

    Illinois State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D) has introduced legislation that would limit solitary confinement in the state to no more than five consecutive days and five total days during a 150 day period, writes the Chicago Tribune.     

    Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Monday that states should make it easier for formerly-incarcerated individuals to obtain state-issued identification after leaving prison, says the Associated Press

    At The American Prospect, Justin Miller reports that Uber has agreed to pay $84 million to settle two class-action lawsuits from its drivers and consider whether the ride-hailing company’s business model is legal.