Consumer Watchdog hosts the Rage for Justice Awards to honor the heroes and heroines of the public interest movement. The awards are named after Congressman Phillip Burton, one of the most productive and driven progressive legislators in American history. His story is told in John Jacobs’ acclaimed book A Rage for Justice.
This year's honorees included Bernie & Jane Sanders, Chris Spagnoli, and Jackson Browne.Read More
There have been 1448 executions in the United States since 1976.
This fact sheet covers some key facts and figures about the death penalty, from which 31 states have the death penalty, to the discrepancies between races of the defendants who are executed and the race of the victims in death penalty cases. It specifically looks at racial discrepancies within the criminal justice system overall and within certain states.
This fact sheet gives an overview into statistics in the U.S. Corrections system.
It begins with a broad overview of the U.S. Federal prison population which has increased dramatically since the 70's and incarceration rates in the U.S. (670 per 100,000) compared to other countries, the country with the next highest incarceration rate is Russia (439 per 100,000.) "The United States is the world's leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation's prisons and jails."
The fact sheet then looks at the prison population by offense - where almost half of individuals in the federal prison population are there due to a drug related offense. It also delves into the female prison population, racial disparities in the prison system, youths in prison, felony disenfranchisement by state, and the increase in life sentences.
Whether the U.S. should allow individuals convicted of crimes to vote is a contentious topic in American politics. This article delves into the laws in each state that address whether and when felons can vote.
In 1997 the Bureau of Prisons started contracting privately operated institutions (private prisons/contract prisons.)"As of December 2015, contract prisons housed roughly 22,660 of these federal inmates, or approximately 12 percent of the BOP’s total inmate population." This article is the executive summary taken from a Bureau of Prisons report.
The report finds that:
In a majority of the categories examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP institutions.
With the exception of fewer incidents of positive drug tests and sexual misconduct, the contract prisons had more incidents per capita than the BOP institutions in all of the other categories of data we examined. For example, the contract prisons confiscated eight times as many contraband cell phones annually on average as the BOP institutions. Contract prisons also had higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff.
The three contract prisons we visited were all cited by the BOP for one or more safety and security deficiencies, including administrative infractions
Two of the three contract prisons we visited were improperly housing new inmates in Special Housing Units, which are normally used for disciplinary or administrative segregation, until beds became available in general population housing.
The report concludes that the Bureau of Prisons needs to reevaluate how it monitors contract prisons in order to ensure the safety of inmates, and the prisons' compliance with the law.Read More
The Price We Pay: Economic Costs of Barriers to Employment for Former Prisoners and People Convicted of Felonies
This article from the Center for Economic and Policy Priorities looks at employment within the former prison population as well as those with felony convictions.
The report finds that "hat there were between 14 and 15.8 million working-age people with felony convictions in 2014, of whom between 6.1 and 6.9 million were former prisoners." These individuals face a number of barriers to employment including "erosion of basic job skills, disruption of formal education, and the loss of social networks that can improve job-finding prospects. Those with felony convictions also face legal restrictions that lock them out of many government jobs and licensed professions."
As a result, "this report finds that there was a 0.9 to 1.0 percentage-point reduction in the overall employment rate in 2014, equivalent to the loss of 1.7 to 1.9 million workers. In terms of the cost to the economy as a whole, this suggests a loss of about $78 to $87 billion in annual GDP."Read More
This report from the United States Sentencing Commission investigated recidivism rates among a swath of the incarcerated population.
It finds that "Over an eight year follow-up period, almost one-half of federal offenders released in 2005 (49.3%) were rearrested for a new crime or rearrested for a violation of supervision conditions." Almost a third were reconvicted and one quarter were reincarerated.
The report also looks at the characteristics of inmates that make recidivism more likely. They found that of those offenders who recidivated, most did so within the first two years. A federal offenders criminal history, and their age at time of release were closely associated with likelyhood to recidivate. Those with more criminal history points and those who were younger were more likely to recidivate.Read More
"Like an avalanche, racial disparity grows cumulatively as people traverse the criminal justice system. This report identifies four key features of the criminal justice system that produce racially unequal outcomes and showcases initiatives to abate these sources of inequity in adult and juvenile justice systems around the country."
This paper stresses three conclusions:
1) Criminal justice practitioners’ use of discretion is - often unintentionally – influenced by racial bias.
2) Key segments of the criminal justice system are underfunded, putting blacks and Latinos – who are disproportionately low-income – at a disadvantage.
3) Criminal justice policies exacerbate socioeconomic inequalities by imposing collateral consequences on those with criminal records and by diverting public spending.
In this article, Ben Jealous looks at a specific encounter that an African American woman, Ashley Overbey, had with the police in Baltimore. He uses it as an example of why the police system in this country, and particularly in Baltimore, needs to be changed.
Jealous points to a report released by grassroots activists and community organizations in Baltimore that suggests six reforms for policing in Baltimore:
1) Fire police officers who have demonstrated corruption or unnecessary violence
2) Remove the “gag order” on victims of police misconduct that silenced Ashley Overbey
3) Speed up the distribution of body cameras
4) Promote community policing; publish all police department policies online
5) Improve de-escalation training
Jealous uses Cincinnati as an example that this sort of reform can happen. "In response to community demands, the department shifted to a community-policing model, encouraged officers to interact more with community members, started tracking officers who received an abnormal number of complaints and took steps to improve transparency." He states that "Over the next 15 years, Cincinnati saw a 69 percent drop in police use-of-force incidents, a 42 percent drop in citizen complaints and a 56 percent drop in injuries experienced by citizens during encounters with police. Importantly, violent crime dropped from a high of 4,137 incidents in the year after Timothy Thomas’ death to 2,352 incidents in 2014."Read More
This fact sheet by the Sentencing Project goes through a number of key facts about the prison system in the United States. Including:
1) The U.S. is the world leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people in the nation's prisons and jails.
2) Between 1980 and 2014 "a series of law enforcement and sentencing policy changes of the 'tough on crime' era resulted in dramatic growth in incarceration."
3) Harsher sentencing has also occured: "Harsh sentencing law like mandatory minimums, combined with cutbacks in parole release, keep people in prison for longer periods of time."
4) Incarceration is more prevalent in specific gender and racial groups. "Today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences."
5) "Studies suggest that rising imprisonment has not played a major role in" the decreasing crime rates.
This fact sheet also looks at key legislation that has recently stabilized the prison population and looks at "where do we need to go from here?"Read More
The human result of our nation's decades-long obsession with "tough-on-crime" policies is clear as day: one in three black men will spend time in prison at some point in their lives, many of them for non-violent offenses.Read More
The fight against profiling by law enforcement is at a critical moment. Ben Jealous talks about racial profiling, the steps that have been taken to mitigate it, and the steps that still need to be taken to get rid of it.
Jealous states that "Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are significantly overrepresented in all aspects of the penal system." The problem is even worse for LGBT individuals of color who face multiple types of discrimination. Jealous believes that this racial profiling demands a response from the federal government. He suggests that that the federal government:
1) Ensures that protections against all forms of profiling extend across the country by linking funding to the adoption of bans on profiling.
2) Encourage prosecutors to stop confiscating and citing possession of condoms as evidence.
3) End immigration-enforcement programs that encourage and expand the consequences of discriminatory profiling.
Jealous ends with the statement "We need to end institutionalized homophobia and transphobia, just as we need to end institutionalized racism. Let us be sure to leave no one behind."Read More
In 2013, Harry Belafonte was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP. The Spingarn Medal is awarded annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for outstanding achievement by an African American.
In his acceptance speech, Harry Belafonte call upon all artists to use their art and their positions as celebrities to address many of the unfairness and discrimination leveled at the black community. Belafonte specifically focuses on gun and criminal justice issues.
He points out that "The group most devastated by America’ obsession with the gun is African Americans" and that the majority of the prison population in the United States is African American. When white America talks about Constitutional rights, no one is talking about the "Racial carnage" that is affecting the black America.
Belafonte ends his speech calling on the artist community to make a difference: "Our nation hungers for today’s artists radical songs. Let us not sit back silently. Let us not be charged with patriotic treason...Our children, those who are waiting in the prisons of America are waiting for us to change the system."
In this interview, Danny Glover talks about the documentary "The House I Live In" and the broader societal issues that are addressed in the documentary about the war on drugs that Glover summarizes with the statement: “The war on drugs is not a war on drugs itself, it is a war on people.”
The issues that Glover specifically mentions are the rotating prison pipeline where individuals "are caught up in this perpetual chain of in and out of jail", the disenfranchisement of the population who has served time in jail, and ultimately the "unintended consequences of [the war on drugs] policy" that has adversely affected the African American community.
Glover mentions that it is important for society to take a step back and conduct a civilized conversation about this situation. He states that "we have abandoned certain groups and said that the value of their live if not as important as the value of someone else" and therefore, it is important for people have conversations about their experiences and humanize that population. In so doing, we can raise awareness about the policy, its effects, and demand change.
He believes that we need to take a step back and question the status quo.Read More
In 2012 Eugene Jarecki Directed the documentary "The House I Live In". Among its executive producers is the Sanders Institute Fellow, Danny Glover.
This documentary investigates the War on Drugs in the United States - "In the past 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for 45 million arrests, made America the world's largest jailer, and destroyed impoverished communities at home and abroad." Ultimately, the film comes to the conclusion that criminalization of drugs has not been about the drugs themselves. Instead, it has been a "holocaust in slow motion" for certain populations in this country. "You have to understand the war on drugs has never been about drugs."
It looks into the lives of individuals on all sides of the equation - judges who are shackled by minimum sentences, prison guards and police whose communities and stations are supported by prisons and arrests, to individuals who are or were (inmates) involved in selling drugs and addicted to drugs.
*The official "The House I Live In" site can be found here with access to purchase the full documentary.