#ChangeLawyer Lawyer who reduces sentences for inmates named Miss USA
A 27-year-old lawyer from North Carolina who represents prison inmates for free won the Miss USA title Thursday night, describing herself as a "weird kid" with a "unibrow" who's now part of the first generation of truly empowered women.
Asked in the final round to use one word to summarize her generation, Cheslie Kryst of Charlotte said "innovative."
"I'm standing here in Nevada, in the state that has the first female majority legislature in the entire country," she said at the event held for the first time in Reno. "Mine is the first generation to have that forward-looking mindset that has inclusivity, diversity, strength and empowered women. I'm looking forward to continued progress in my generation.â
Kryst earned a law degree and an MBA at Wake Forest University before becoming a civil litigation attorney who does pro bono work to reduce sentences for inmates. In a videotaped message played during the two-hour event at a hotel-casino, she told a story of when a judge at a legal competition told her to wear a skirt instead of pants because judges prefer skirts.
"Glass ceilings can be broken wearing either a skirt or pants," Kryst said.
She told reporters afterward she'll never forget being in law school at Wake Forest participating in a moot court competition in Louisiana with a panel of judges who provided very little feedback to here and her partner.
"We stood there for 30 minutes after practicing for months and all you said was wear a skirt next time?" she said. "It was very frustrating. Don't tell females to wear different clothes while you give the men substantive feedback on their legal arguments."
Read the story on NBC News
Photo of the Week This is what an undocumented future lawyer looks like
More of This 10 transgender women just won their asylum cases
Ten transgender women who traveled with the caravan that President Trump targeted during the midterm elections have won their asylum cases and been released from a detention center in Texas.
For Estrellita, the decision to flee her home country of Honduras to seek asylum in the United States wasn't an easy one. Even though she faced discrimination for being transgender, she considered staying so she could help others like her.
"I wanted to change things but that made me more of a target," Estellita told CBS News via email. "I was assaulted and threatened by those who didn't agree with me and hated trans people. I love my country and wouldn't have left but for the persecution I suffered. But I thought the U.S. would be pretty and the people would be nice and that has turned out to be true.â
The 10 were part of a roughly 80-member group of LGBTQ migrants from Central America that splintered off from a much larger caravan of thousands that came up through Central America in the fall. The larger group was a frequent target of Mr. Trump in the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections. Mr. Trump often referred to the group as an "invasion," despite the group being hundreds of miles away.
"I am telling the caravan, the criminals, the smugglers, the trespassers marching toward our border, turn back now, because you are not getting in. Turn back," Mr. Trump said at a campaign rally in Chattanooga, Tennessee in early November, days before the election.
Among the 80, was a smaller group of 30 transgender women who presented themselves together at the border in Tijuana. They were immediately detained at South Texas Detention Center, an immigration prison that, prior to the group's arrival, had no experience in housing transgender women.
Estrellita said that she plans to open a trans women's shelter. "So many advocates have helped me and I want to turn around and help others," she said.
Her comments to CBS News have been translated by Cristian Sanchez, an attorney at Raices, an immigrant rights group in Texas. Sanchez worked closely with the group of transgender asylum seekers to match them with attorneys and sponsors.
Read the story on CBS News
Even More of This Grandmother sentenced to life without parole gets a second chance
It was a green, nylon menâs gym sock stuffed full of heroin and pills. Geneva Cooley had taken a train from New York City to Birmingham in order to pick up the sock and deliver it for a man she thought was a friend. He offered to pay her $1500 for the job, and she accepted. Cooley was a daily heroin user and needed the money.
He met her inside the station and handed her the sock, which she stuffed into her pants in the bathroom. When they walked out of the train station together, police were waiting. The event reeked of a setup.
Cooley had the sock full of drugs in her possession for mere minutes, but this began the events in 2002 that torpedoed her life from an addict, desperate for money, to being charged with drug trafficking under one of the most punishing sentencing laws in the nation.
Cooley was jailed in Jefferson County for over four years, until she was tried in one day and convicted the next, then sentenced to a mandatory life without parole based exclusively on the amount of heroin inside the sock. At 59, with only two prior forgery convictions from New York on her record, Cooley was sent to Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, where she expected to live the rest of her natural life, thousands of miles from her family in New York.
âThey tell you to pray, but after a while, years and years, you stop praying because it seems like nothing is going to change,â Cooley said. âItâs death by incarceration.â
I talked with her in a Jefferson County courtroom while she was handcuffed and shackled. At 72, Cooley embodied both a cool-headed toughness and a lowkey sense of humor. Her long, gray hair was worn in a single braid and she spoke with a distinct Queens accent.
Cooley now has many reasons to hope. In March, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Stephen Wallace granted a Rule 32 petition which reduced her sentence to life with the possibility of parole. Cooley argued that her sentence violated the Eighth Amendmentâs ban on cruel and unusual punishment because life without parole is no longer a possible punishment for drug trafficking in Alabama. After 17 years of incarceration, Cooley may be considered for parole this year.
âI can see the light now,â she told me with a smile. âBefore, there wasnât any light at all.â
Read the story on WBRC
Less of This Americaâs growing gender jail gap
In the middle of her senior year at Pomona High in eastern Los Angeles County, Amber Rose Howard was arrested and booked into county jail. Howard had been accepted into several colleges when she was admitted to jail on felony charges. âWhen youâre a black girl coming from a poor community and a poor family and youâre arrested for a serious charge, youâre usually going to prison,â Howard told us in California in March. âWhat was different for me is that I come from a family and a community that was willing to fight to not allow me to be thrown away.â
With help from her family and community, Howard was able to get out on bail after eighteen days and fight the case. Following her release from jail, Howard went back to high school and graduated. Midway through her freshman year of college, she took a plea deal and was given a sentence of one year in jail and five years of probation. Draconian mandatory minimums and sentencing enhancements give prosecutors the power to hang a long sentence of incarceration over most people charged with crimes. Thatâs why around 95 percent of state and federal criminal cases are resolved with a guilty plea, often to a lesser charge with a reduced sentence.
Howardâs case was no different. She did some of her time in county jail during the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at California State University, San Bernardino. By arrangement with the court, she completed the rest of her sentence on work release over the next four years, picking up trash along the freeways, and moving boulders back and forth between piles at the county jail.
Even after completing her sentence, finishing her bachelorâs degree, and expunging her record, Howard struggled to find a job because of her conviction. She started one job working with at-risk youth in a program connected to a school district, but was fired after a background check revealed her conviction history. âHow am I going to be considered a human being,â said Howard, âif that one day makes someone change their entire opinion about me?â
Howardâs experience in fact motivated her to get involved in criminal justice advocacy work. In the decade or so since her release from jail, she has become a statewide coordinator for Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a coalition that works to redirect public spending on incarceration toward providing basic human services, to work toward a world in which the state does not need to rely on jails and prisons in the first place.
In the course of Howardâs work to dismantle mass incarceration, a glaring fact has become clear: while today far fewer men are going to jail than before, the number of women getting incarcerated has stayed stubbornly high. And as a proportion of the US prison and jail populations, women are increasing.
Nationwide, the number of people booked into jail each year is droppingâdown by more than a fifth, from 13.6 million in 2008 to 10.6 million in 2016. Over that same period, the number of new admissions to state and federal prisons fell 12 percent. But these declines apply only to men. Since peaking at nearly 11 million in 2008, jail admissions for men declined 26 percent to 8.2 million in 2016. Meanwhile, as many women are locked into jail cells each year as there were in 2008, around 2.5 million per year. In 1983, women made up just under 9 percent of people admitted to jail. By 2000, that share had grown to 15 percent; and in 2016, women comprised 23 percent of all admissions. These numbers, drawn from our analysis of official Bureau of Justice Statistics data, have not been previously reported.
Read the story on NY Review of Books
Less of This Too Imprisoned for trying to save his son
Americaâs biggest mistake over the last half-century arguably had nothing to do with the war in Vietnam or Iraq, or with Watergate or Donald Trump. Rather, Iâd say that it was mass incarceration, fueled by the war on drugs.
The United States used to have incarceration rates similar to those of Europe â and then, beginning in about 1970, we increased the number of people behind bars sevenfold. About as many Americans now have a criminal record as have a college degree. Mass incarceration shattered Americaâs family structure, magnified race gaps, left millions of people marginalized â and has been brutally unfair.
Years ago I wrote about a case that still haunts me. Dicky Joe Jackson was a Texas trucker whose 2-year-old son, Cole, needed a bone-marrow transplant to save his life. The family raised $50,000 through community fund-raisers, but this wasnât enough â so Jackson tried to earn the remainder by transporting meth in his truck for a distributor. He was caught and sentenced to life in prison.
The prosecutor himself thought the sentence unjust, saying of Jackson: âHe didnât know of any other way to take care of his kid.â
Over the last week, weâve been focused on Attorney General William Barrâs distortions of the Mueller Report, but many years ago he did something even more damaging. In his first stint as attorney general, Barr in 1992 issued a report called âThe Case for More Incarceration.â He was one of many politicians and officeholders, Democrats as well as Republicans, who led the United States, with 5 percent of the worldâs population, to hold almost 25 percent of the worldâs prisoners.
Finally, America is beginning to unravel this historic mistake.
Read the story on NY Times
Perspective Let prisoners vote
As the Democratic candidates debate whether current and former prisoners should be allowed to vote, itâs worth recalling that many other countries make it easy for incarcerated people to do it.
Iâve represented the United States throughout the world as an international elections monitor, visiting polling stations, talking to elections officials and helping international teams assess whether elections are free and fair.
The United States is an outlier. Its suppression of voting rights for more than 6.1 million people with current or former felony convictions violates human rights and weakens our democracy.
I wish our lawmakers who wrongly approve of this could see what Iâve seen â especially the Florida Republicans who just passed a bill undercutting a constitutional amendment restoring the franchise for people with former felony convictions.
In Europe, prisonersâ voting rights are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Twenty-six European countries at least partially protect their incarcerated citizensâ right to vote during their prison terms. Eighteen countries grant prisoners the vote regardless of their offense.
In 2005, Britain tried to withdraw voting rights for prisoners, but the European Court of Human Rights struck that down as a violation of human rights.
In 2002, the Canadian Supreme Court also protected its prisonersâ right to vote. South Africa has repeatedly reaffirmed the voting rights of its felons, and in 2010, Kenya guaranteed the same.
In democracies the world over, being incarcerated does not strip someone of citizenship and the voting rights that come with it. Instead, while people are being punished for their crimes, they are encouraged to take their duties as citizens in a democracy seriously.
In North Macedonia, the day before elections are held for the general public, polling stations are set up inside the countryâs 13 prisons, and inmates voluntarily line up to vote in turn. Ballots are brought from each prisonerâs home voting district so that they can vote in their proper municipality. Ahead of the countryâs recent referendum, election administrators even created a program to renew expired voting documents for incarcerated people.
In Ukraineâs presidential elections last month, prisons held voter-education programs so that inmates could learn about each of the candidatesâ policy platforms.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, where citizens live with the trauma of ethnic cleansing, prisoners can vote unless their crimes pertain to the Bosnian War of the early 1990s. Those who have been convicted of unrelated crimes cast their ballots in prison polling stations. But as in North Macedonia, their votes count in the district of their permanent residence.
In the United States, only Vermont and Maine allow prisoners to vote. Twelve American states still disallow former felons from ever voting, even once they have completed their prison sentence and are no longer on probation or parole. This type of total restriction exists in very few democracies worldwide. Armenia and Chile have similar laws, and Belgium disenfranchises felons whose sentence was longer than seven years. The United Nations has said that the American policy is discriminatory and violates international law.
The United Statesâ restriction of felonsâ voting rights is especially problematic given the countryâs disproportionate incarceration of black people, especially black men.
Read the story on NY Times
Attend this Mentorship Summit
The National Trans Bar Association (NTBA) is hosting their first ever Mentorship Summit from May 31 to June 2 at CUNY School of Law. This event will bring together trans and gender nonconforming lawyers and law students from around the country to gather and create community, learn from each other, and engage with NTBAâs new mentorship program. Sessions will encompass a range of topics from being visibly queer in the courtroom and coming out at work, to career development, self-care, and engaging in trans advocacy within your practice.
More info here >
Apply to this Fellowship
The Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights fellowship for attorneys is a signature endeavor of the Lawyersâ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which lasts for a three-year term, with possible extension. The Lawyersâ Committee views the causes we champion as broadly related to positions and ethical stances taken by Justice Thurgood Marshall during his distinguished legal career. This fellowship is designed for an attorney who has practiced for a minimum of three years and has a demonstrated commitment to civil rights law. It is our hope that the fellowship will enhance the Fellowâs understanding of civil rights law and prepare the Fellow for a career of promoting social justice.
Apply here >
Work for Bay Area Legal Aid
We are seeking a staff attorney to join our Youth Justice team. We are interested in candidates who are energetic, culturally competent and have a strong commitment to public interest and social justice advocacy. The attorney will focus on providing civil legal services designed to meet the individualized needs of youth who are systems-involved, trafficked, and/or homeless or at-risk of homelessness.
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Work for Equal Rights Advocates
Join a dynamic gender justice team working in partnership with dozens of other womenâs rights groups across the country to promote fair pay, safe workplaces, and economic security!
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