• May 14, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Nicole Fortier, counsel, Brennan Center for Justice

    It’s well known today that the United States is the biggest incarcerator in the world. With five percent of the world’s population, we house nearly a quarter of its prisoners. That’s over two million Americans behind bars. The number of people we imprison has increased over 400 percent since 1980. But in that time the federal prison population grew over 700 percent. Today, it has 208,609 inmates housed within its walls – more than any individual state.  The country now spends $80 billion per year on state and federal corrections.

    This dramatic growth was no accident. It was the direct result of laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s by policymakers hoping to combat rising crime rates. Their solution: over-criminalize and over-punish behavior – particularly at the national level. They expanded federal criminal laws, increased penalties, removed sentencing discretion from judges, and encouraged states to do the same.

    It’s clear that together, these laws cast too wide of a net. But it is important to dig further to understand whom they caught in that net. Exploring the demographics of those in federal prison can help us understand the real consequences of these policy decisions.

  • May 14, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Linda Greenhouse considers in The New York Times what will happen after the Supreme Court announces its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

    At Buzzfeed, Chris McDaniel reports that the Oklahoma Attorney General misled the Supreme Court about a letter on the availability of drugs for lethal injection.

    Edward Blum argues in the Los Angeles Times that the Supreme Court should grant review in a case that examines how Texas created its state Senate districts” and could “reestablish electoral fairness in dozens of voting districts.”

    Martin Kaste of NPR explains that police are reforming common practices and tactics in light of growing social pressure and new technologies.

    Gina Barton discusses in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel how the Tony Robison investigation illustrates the changes to investigations of police accountability.

    At SCOTUSblog, Kali Borkoski writes about Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer presiding over a mock trial of Don Quixote at the Shakespeare Theatre.

  • May 13, 2015

    by Christopher Durocher

    In August 2014, Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. Partially as the result of conflicting accounts of what happened, a grand jury declined to indict Wilson, sparking a national debate about police brutality, particularly against people of color, and the limits of police accountability. Through numerous incidents of police abuse that have followed, culminating most recently in protests and civil unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, one proposed reform has gained much attention – the adoption of police body-worn cameras.

    As the nation wrestles with the possibility that police brutality may reflect structural, implicit bias against people of color, supporters of police body-worn cameras argue that they would provide an objective record of what transpired when an interaction between a police officer and a civilian leads to the civilian’s injury or death. As evidence of video’s power, they point to North Charleston, South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, who was charged with first degree murder three days after shooting Walter Scott.  Slager’s indictment was due in large part to a video recording of the shooting that contradicted his report of events. Supporters also point to the benefit of body-worn cameras in disproving false claims of abuse against police and in encouraging both police and civilians to “be on their best behavior,” since they know a camera is recording their words and actions.

    Skeptics, however, point to the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island as evidence that cameras, at least absent fundamental changes in policing, will have little impact on police behavior or accountability. Garner’s tragic death occurred when one of the five New York City police officers attempting to arrest him for a minor infraction put him in what appeared to be a banned chokehold. Despite shocking video of Garner’s arrest – in which he can be heard pleading that he is unable to breathe – prosecutors refused to indict the officer. Video failed to bring justice for Garner or his family.

    In the ACS Issue Brief “Police Body-Worn Cameras: Evidentiary Benefits and Privacy Threats” Professor Marc Jonathan Blitz of Oklahoma City University School of Law examines the costs and benefits of body-worn cameras programs and, while acknowledging that cameras will not serve as a panacea, outlines policies that police departments should adopt to ensure the maximum effectiveness of such programs.  As Blitz observes, “Even when camera evidence is flawed, it is often far better than eyewitness accounts, especially when such eyewitness accounts are given long after the events.”

  • May 13, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At the blog for the Brennan Center for JusticeRachel Levinson-Waldman argues that the surveillance state concerns all citizens.

    Robert May questions in The Washington Post why many courts shackle minors when they go to trial. 

    Matt Ford of The Atlantic takes a look at the history of executions in the United States and the current Supreme Court challenge to lethal injection. 
    At The Marshall Project, Andrew Cohen writes that conservatives are showing growing support for reforms that would strengthen indigent defense programs. 
    Carrie Johnson reports for NPR that inmates with mental disabilities are often subjected to excessive force. 
    At the Milwaukee Journal-SentinelMary Spicuzza and Bill Glauber write that the Madison District Attorney has decided that Police Officer Matt Kenny will not face charges for the fatal shooting of Tony Robison Jr.
  • May 12, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    Geoffrey R. Stone considers in The Huffington Post what the Supreme Court will look like in 2025.

    In The New YorkerJeffrey Toobin looks at an experiment in Milwaukee aimed at reducing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. 

    At Bloomberg View, Noah Feldman explores the recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that one of the NSA’s surveillance programs is unlawful.

    Robert J. Smith and Charles J. Ogletree Jr. discuss at The Washington Post the latest death penalty challenge before the Supreme Court.

    Kenneth Jost writes at Jost on Justice that “religious liberty has become the last refuge of those who oppose marriage for gay and lesbian couples.”

    Audie Cornish and Linda Blumberg examine at NPR how a Supreme Court ruling against the Affordable Care Act would hurt low and middle income workers the most.