Today, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. With over 2.3 million men and women living behind bars, our imprisonment rate is the highest it's ever been in U.S. history. And yet, our criminal justice system has failed on every count: public safety, fairness and cost-effectiveness. Across the country, the criminal justice reform conversation is heating up. Each week, we feature our some of the most exciting and relevant news in overincarceration discourse that we've spotted from the previous week. Check back weekly for our top picks.
More updates on good news from state legislatures and even the U.S. Congress this week:
- Lots of bills to reduce prison populations moving through state legislatures. You can find a rundown here.
- At the federal level, Sens. Leahy and Paul introduced a bill that would allow judges to impose a sentence below the mandatory minimum for any federal offense. The Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 would give judges greater flexibility; they would not be forced to administer needlessly long sentences for certain offenders. Families Against Mandatory Minimums has an excellent primer on the bill, as well as a helpful FAQ sheet.
There was a lot of attention given to a couple of major criminal justice issues in the past week: indigent defense and New York's stop-and-frisk practices.
- When the Supreme Court guaranteed an attorney for anyone accused of a felony offense 50 years ago in Gideon v. Wainwright, only about 40 percent of defendants were considered too poor to afford their own lawyer. Today, it's 80 percent. Although the need today is greater than it was in 1963, Gideon's mandate remains woefully unfulfilled. Here are links to important resources and commentary on the state of indigent defense at Gideon's golden anniversary:
- ACLU: "Too Many Still Wait to Hear Gideon's Trumpet"
- Stephen Bright and Sia Sanneh: "'Gideon v. Wainwright', Fifty Years Later"
- Paul Butler: "Gideon's Muted Trumpet"
- Andrew Cohen: "How Americans Lost the Right to Counsel, 50 Years After 'Gideon'"
- Constitution Project video: "Defending Gideon"
- NACDL Report: "Rationing Justice"
- Interview with Karen Houppert, author of Chasing Gideon
And check out the ACLU's year-long story project, which launched this week: "The Sad State of Indigent Defense Fifty Years After Gideon v. Wainwright"
- Trial began Monday to determine whether the New York Police Department has been unconstitutionally stopping black and Hispanic men in the street over the last decade. The New York Times' Joseph Goldstein has been covering the trial: