One of the most significant obstacles to ending mass incarceration and perpetual punishment is the lack of imagination among Americans about what we can do differently. Current policies have been implemented over the past four and a half decades, so millions of Americans have never seen a different public safety model. To eliminate mass incarceration, Americans must be able to imagine something else. It happens when visionaries plant the seeds of imagination.
Putting Young Students on the Right Path: Ending Discretionary Suspensions in Texas
What’s Happening Across Texas
Texas elementary schoolchildren — some as young as four — are suspended and sent to alternative schools at alarming rates. During the 2013-2014 school year, almost half of all elementary school suspensions in Texas were issued to pre-K through 2nd grade students. Students are often removed from school for minor Student Code of Conduct violations such as horseplay, disruption of class, or dress code violations. These removals are not required under state law — they are ultimately left to the teacher’s discretion (hence the term “discretionary”). Furthermore, school districts have the ability to create their own student codes of conduct that go well beyond state law, allowing suspensions of our youngest students for normal, age-appropriate behavior. Texas Appleseed is working to change this harmful practice. There are better, proven solutions available to teachers and schools than these discretionary suspensions.
The distinction between violent and nonviolent crime is a problematic metric for determining criminal punishment
What is “violent” crime? Perhaps that seems like an easy question – murder is; tax evasion isn’t. But the distinction between violent and nonviolent crime has proven tricky for lawyers, judges and legislators. Policy debates about proper punishments or enforcement too often break down because the various stakeholders get hung up on whether the crime in question is “violent.” If we are serious about addressing mass incarceration and our bloated criminal justice system, it’s time to rethink what counts as violent crime.
How would you react if suddenly hospitals simply replaced in-person patient visitation with video conferencing? Hospital administrators might justify this decision by saying that hospitals are scary places, so it‘s best to protect family members, especially young people, from being traumatized.
The idea that a bureaucracy could so severely restrict a family’s right to see their loved ones might seem unthinkable. However, for the 2.3 million people who were incarcerated in the United States, 744,600 of whom were in jails as of 2014, it could become a reality.
Moreover, there are approximately 5 million children who have an incarcerated parent, and in-person visitation space is essential for these young people to maintain space for family connections and well-being.
In California, the state’s jails have increasingly moved to adopt video visitation in lieu of in-person visitation. Recent estimates put California’s jail population at approximately 74,000. As such, removing in-person visitation has the potential to affect one of the state’s most vulnerable populations: the children of these incarcerated parents.
Juvenile justice advocates receive little glory, but they deserve much credit for the wave of state activity this year aimed at protecting youth from the harms of adult court prosecution.
Consider just a few recent developments in diverse regions of the country. In the last few weeks, legislatures in Louisiana and South Carolina passed bills — awaiting their governors’ signatures — to raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to 18. Michigan will soon vote on a similar bill. In Indiana, lawmakers approved giving youth more chances to avoid adult prosecution. Vermont scaled back prosecutors’ power to “direct file” children in adult court this session, and California Gov. Jerry Brown is backing a ballot initiative this year to eliminate prosecutorial direct file altogether and return discretion for transfer decisions to judges.
A crisis is defined as “a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events is determined.” It is a turning point, a condition of instability or danger that will lead us to a decisive change. We are at such a turning point right now with mass incarceration, which is the No. 1 public health crisis as the Vera Institute says in its report, “On Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” The political climate is poised to make the necessary changes to truly reform our criminal justice system because without these changes we will have a collapse. The catastrophic fallout and collateral consequences have affected each and every one of us who pay taxes. Studies have proven that incarcerating young offenders actually leads to more criminal behavior and more serious crimes. The harm done to their families and the community is profound. If we don’t create safe, effective solutions now it will get worse.
Being arrested and/or charged with a crime can have devastating consequences on an individual, even if they are truly innocent. Employers, financial institutions, even the general public can all potentially see a record of the arrest or charge. You could be prevented from finding employment, obtaining an education, renting an apartment, or obtaining a business license. Some states luckily do offer some relief in terms of allowing individuals with arrests or criminal charges to have their criminal records expunged or sealed. Each state is different and some states do not offer any relief or only limited forms of relief (i.e. such as sealing and not expungement). So what is the difference?
“If there was something someone could have said or done that would have changed the path that led you here, what would it have been?”
The question is a simple one, yet full of profundity. It is nearly universal in application—who among us doesn’t have a past decision that we lament? A choice that changed our future path and the lives of those around us? And how could things have been different if someone close to us had advised us to go a different way?
In her work as a detective of the Seattle Police Department, Kim Bogucki has seen firsthand the results of poor decisions based on bad or non-existent advice. While working with the younger homeless population of the city, Bogucki realized she didn’t understand much about that group, or why they made the decisions they did. She began asking herself, What if someone were to intervene in their lives? Would it make a difference?
While the unusual coalition of President Barack Obama and conservative groups hold out hope for the chance at what they call the most meaningful reform to criminal sentencing laws in a generation, frontline law enforcement officials are debating what the changes would mean for their communities. Steven Cook, whose organization represents more than 5,500 assistant United States attorneys, believes Congress’ attempts to reduce prison sentences for certain low-level offenders will “substantially harm” law enforcement’s ability to “dismantle and disrupt drug trafficking organizations.” William Fitzpatrick, the president of the official body representing state-level district attorneys across the U.S., views the issue differently, recently writing to congressional leaders that a Senate plan to reduce sentences for drug crimes allows “lower level offenders a chance for redemption.” Continue reading “Is It Time for Criminal Justice Reform? Two Law Enforcement Groups Are at Odds”