#ChangeLawyers A new crop of criminal justice reformers are ready to take office
To get elected as a district attorney, sounding tough on crime used to be the most effective campaign strategy. But in recent years, district attorneys have been winning elections by sounding big on reform.
Next month, at least eight new reform-minded prosecutors will take office in cities around the country after winning their local elections by promising to be more compassionate toward drug addicts and more evenhanded in the treatment of minorities.
Some won their races against long odds and deeply entrenched tough-on-crime attitudes.
In Chesterfield County, Virginia, a Democratic defense attorney who promised to eliminate cash bonds for nonviolent offenders won a traditionally conservative district held by a Republican for 30 years.
In Massachusetts, a lawyer who pledged to stop prosecuting a list of more than a dozen nonviolent crimes became the first African-American woman to win the district attorney's office in Suffolk County, a district that includes Boston.
And in Dallas County, Texas, former Judge John Creuzot won after promising to reduce incarceration rates by 15 percent to 20 percent and to treat drug crimes as a public health issue. "Justice is HEART work" was part of his campaign slogan.
For decades, that kind of mantra by someone running for district attorney would have been seen as soft on crime and a turnoff for many voters.
Read the story on ABC News >
Speaking of… In 2018, “tough on crime” became a liability
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch was thrust into the national spotlight after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in August 2014. But while McCulloch faced protests for protecting Wilson in the ensuing months, he had nothing to worry about when it came to his own re-election race. He had already vanquished his primary opponent by 43 percentage points, and was unopposed in the general election. Weeks after securing a seventh term that November, McCulloch announced that Wilson would face no charges.
“On the night of the non-indictment, my prayer was that I would have an opportunity to be directly involved four years later in changing history,” recalled Reverend Dr. Cassandra Gould, the executive director of Missouri Faith Voices. “Last year, we decided that [the 2018 St. Louis] prosecutor race would be the biggest thing that we would work on this year. … We saw this race as being very pivotal in restoring hope to the community and in changing the course of history.”
The grassroots work of Missouri Faith Voices and other organizations shook St. Louis this year. In August, McCulloch lost his bid for an eighth term to Ferguson City Council member Wesley Bell, and that was just one in a series of upsets that befell entrenched incumbents this year.
While 2018 did bring significant setbacks for those who aim to reverse the country’s punitive practices—from the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration policies to the likelihood that federal and state courts grew more hostile to reform—criminal justice reformers nationwide also redefined expectations for what is achievable through local and state politics.
Organizers saw unprecedented success connecting the injustice experienced by residents with the power exercised by local officials. And some of these officials owned up to the vast authority they possess and took steps to confront mass incarceration head on, providing examples of how to circumvent these debates’ usual third rails in the future.
Read the story on the Appeal >
More of This How one county in California became the lab for prison reform
When California lawmakers unveiled a plan in 2011 to reduce the number of inmates in state prison, officials in San Joaquin County thought the timing couldn’t have been worse.
There were already signs that a recent dip in crime might be coming to an end in this Central Valley county east of San Francisco. Homicides were up by nearly 40 percent from the previous year. And in the midst of a financial crisis, the county and local cities were laying off police officers and prosecutors.
Now the county would have to quickly absorb an influx of nearly 1,000 released prisoners.
“We were super concerned,” said Stephanie James, the county’s probation chief. “It was such a significant number that were coming out of prison who were at a high risk to commit a violent offense.”
As they braced themselves, county officials set up a system of collaborative courts to help former prisoners find jobs, housing and treatment for mental health and addiction problems. They pioneered a program that uses sophisticated risk assessments rather than cash bail to decide which defendants were safe to release before trial. And local officials launched an array of novel anti-crime programs, including one aimed at building trust between police and residents and another that gives stipends to young people considered at risk of committing gun violence.
What happened next surprised many.
While overall crime in California increased slightly after 2011, San Joaquin County’s dropped 20 percent and hit a decades-old low last year. The county’s jail, which had been under court-ordered monitoring because of dangerous overcrowding, now has empty beds. Participation in specialized drug courts has increased and recidivism among newly released offenders has dropped.
Read the story on the Marshall Project >
Even More of This This 13 year-old wrote holiday cards for people in prison
Sofia Robinson is an eighth grader at the Episcopal School of Los Angeles.
When I was 5, my mom asked me if I wanted to help her write holiday cards to people in prison who had been raped behind bars. She didn’t say it like that, of course, because I didn’t know what prison or rape was.
Instead, she told me that there were thousands of ladies and gentlemen who were spending Christmas alone, unable to leave their rooms as they pleased, and that other people had been really mean to them.
I can’t remember which I thought was worse — to be forced to stay in my room or to be mistreated. But either way, I agreed to help my mom.
I am 13 now, and I still write holiday cards to people in prison. It’s really fun to think of nice things to say to people you’ve never met. I always try to imagine what I would want to hear if I was forced to be away from my family and was being treated poorly. I would be terrified, sad and worried that nobody remembered that I existed.
Read the story on NY Times >
Less of This Innocent high schoolers are getting caught up in the government’s gang crackdown
Alex walked into school on June 14, 2017, it felt as if summer had already started. He didn’t have regular classes, just a standardized math test in the late morning. The other immigrant students in the bilingual program at Huntington High were crowded in a hallway comparing their plans for the break — most already had jobs lined up — and promising to stay in touch.
Classmates came up to greet him. At 19, Alex was older than many of the other sophomores. He enrolled as a freshman when he arrived in Suffolk County on Long Island from Honduras a year and a half before. He felt good in the school from the start. A shy teenager who preferred video games and watching soccer on TV to playing it on the field, he had always been an outsider, slow to make friends. But all the immigrants in the bilingual program were outsiders, so he fit in, and he was popular for the first time in his life. In Honduras, it had felt as if teachers were preparing students to work in the fields, like everyone else. Here, in Huntington, they were always telling him that with a good education, he could do anything he wanted. The halls were decorated with inspirational posters of Latino students attending college and completing ambitious projects mixed in with images of a scowling blue devil with horns, the school’s mascot.
While the other students laughed and shouted in the hall, Alex (his middle name) went to his desk. He was nervous about the Regents math test. He loved all his classes but algebra. In language arts, he was learning to write essays and reading historical fiction about young people who immigrated to the United States in decades past, and he was hoping to get an A. But in algebra, he was falling behind. Now he struggled through questions that required him to calculate the diminishing earnings of a carnival-booth owner and reverse-engineer parabolas. He was relieved when the teacher called pencils down. He was sure he had gotten a lot of answers wrong, but he had two more years to pass the test before graduation.
Alex sometimes lingered in the halls, but today he wanted to leave as soon as possible. A month before, he got in trouble in school for the first time, for doodling in math class. He was shocked and confused when the principal accused him of drawing gang signs and suspended him for three days. His parents assured him it was just a small setback and would be forgotten over the summer, but still, Alex was worried. Although he was in the United States legally, seeking asylum from gang persecution, his status was tenuous. The government can revoke the provisional freedom it gives to minors seeking asylum if they do something to indicate they are a danger to the community. So he had been careful to stay away from anyone who might be connected with gangs, and he had never come in contact with the police, aside from a brief chat in the cafeteria with the officer assigned to the school.
Read the story on NY Times >
Less of This Too Trump’s judicial nominees in 2018 were overwhelmingly white
Over the course of 2018, President Trump successfully appointed 66 judges to America's courts, which is 17 more than the number of judges nominated and confirmed by Barack Obama at the same point in his presidency. It's probably no surprise that Trump's judicial nominees in 2018 were overwhelmingly white — and extremely conservative.
According to a study by the Alliance for Justice, 92 percent of the judges confirmed by the Senate in 2018 are white, and 76 percent are men. They're also young: The median age of Trump judicial nominees who were confirmed in 2018 is 49, and some of them are in their 30s. Because these are lifetime appointments, the relatively young age of Trump's judicial appointments will have significant ramifications for American law long after Trump has left office.
Those numbers only apply to the judges confirmed by the Senate in 2018; since the start of his presidency, Trump has successfully appointed 84 judges in total, according to NBC News.
Read the story on Bustle >
Perspective Germany reckoned with it’s past and built a better justice system. American should too.
The following editorial was written by Amy L. Solomon is Vice President of Criminal Justice at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
I never wanted to go to Germany. The horrors of the Holocaust are still too raw. While my family was long-settled in the United States by the start of World War II, too many other Jewish families experienced the unthinkable.
My grandfather, a rabbi in Louisiana, served as an Army chaplain during the war. To the day he died, he couldn’t talk to us about what he saw. The atrocities he witnessed left him deeply scarred.
So when I received an invitation to join a delegation to study German prisons, I was torn. How could I study Germany’s prison system given everything we know about its past?
I decided to go, to grapple with this history, and what the Germans might have learned from it. Our tour started with a visit to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial. More than 100,000 people spent time there or in one of its satellite work camps. Over 42,000 died there or on death marches. Being among the eerie remains of barracks and barbed-wire fencing left me sickened.
After leaving Neuengamme, we toured three modern prisons: Billwerder in Hamburg, a large institution for people sentenced from six months to two years; Heidering in Berlin, a prison for men sentenced up to five years; and an “open prison,” where people sleep at night but spend their days working and accessing treatment and services in the community.
What I saw was remarkable. There are open spaces and lots of light. Windows have bars but open, so you can breathe fresh air. There is art. In Germany, 1 percent of any public project budget must be devoted to art. That struck me—people in prison are still considered citizens of their towns and country.
In the United States, our criminal justice system exploits and builds on the ugly legacy of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow laws. A seminal report estimates one in three black men will be incarcerated in their lifetimes, one in 13 black adults cannot vote due to felony convictions, and one in nine black children has a parent in jail or prison.
Germany has taken its horrific history into account and built a modern criminal justice system in response. The structural underpinnings of its rehabilitation model, the physical environment of its prisons and the culture of respect are testament to what change can look like.
Photo on the Marshall Project >
A call for lawyers, law students, and other legal workers who are able to travel to Tijuana and provide support in response to the large numbers of asylum seekers in Tijuana. Al Otro Lado is asking that individuals make long term commitments of at least a week at this time. The need for legal workers in the Tijuana shelters has existed for many years but the need is now greater than ever before.
Sign up here >
Fellowship Opportunity Al Otro Lady hiring year-long fellow
With support from California ChangeLawyers, we seek to hire a full-time, year-long legal Fellow to support the work of our Border Rights Project, and increase the projects capacity to represent detained asylum seekers, mentally incompetent detainees, and asylum-seeking families that have been separated by ongoing policies and tactics of family separation.
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Fellowship Opportunity Root & Rebound hiring summer fellow
The Summer Legal Fellow will be working out of our office in downtown Fresno, which focuses on serving women of color with records and in reentry from incarceration.
The ChangeLawyers fellow will drive forward legal clinics, know-your-rights trainings, and direct services for the women of Fresno and the broader Central Valley.
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Fellowship Opportunity Community Water Center hiring year-long fellow
Over a million Californians each year lack access to safe and affordable drinking water. In addition to systemic racism, one of the root causes of water inequality is under-representation and unresponsive representation at the local level.
With support from California ChangeLawyers, CWC seeks a full-time, year-long Legal Fellow to provide legal assistance to communities without safe water and local water board members.
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Fellowship Opportunity Legal Services of Northern California hiring summer fellow
In the last four years, our 23-county northern California service area has seen at least one disastrous wildfire every fire season. With support from California ChangeLawyers, we seek to hire a full-time summer Fellow who will work on a disaster relief project, as well as conduct client intake.
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