Breaking the Addiction to Incarceration: Weekly Highlights

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.

Last month, Massachusetts former drug lab employee Annie Dookhan was indicted on a number of charges, including tampering with evidence, for misconduct that may have compromised 60,000 drug samples and jeopardized 34,000 criminal cases. A similar but less publicized event is being investigated and addressed in Texas.

Earlier this year, the blog Grits for Breakfast reported that a controlled substances analyst at a state crime lab in Houston, Jonathon Salvador, was terminated when it was discovered he reported on a sample of drugs without testing them. After looking at more of his casework, state officials discovered similar misconduct in several other cases, calling into question any conviction based on his work. Mr. Salvador had worked on nearly 5,000 cases across 36 counties.

A number of convictions based on Mr. Salvador's work in Galveston County have already been reversed. A Harris County conviction was set aside this week, and it looks as if it will extend even farther. This week, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that anybody who has been convicted based on the now-suspect evidence has a right to a new trial, or maybe even a dismissal. You can find the full slate of Grits' detailed reporting on this investigation here.

Here are some other interesting items from the past week:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court decided Maryland v. King this week, creating a gaping new exception to the Fourth Amendment. The issue in this case is whether the government may collect and analyze DNA samples from individuals who have been arrested, but not yet convicted, without a warrant or consent. As Justice Scalia's dissent convincingly demonstrates, DNA testing of arrestees has little to do with identification and everything to do with solving unresolved crimes. While no one disputes the importance of that interest, the Fourth Amendment has long been understood to mean that the police cannot search for evidence of a crime – and all nine justices agreed that DNA testing is a search – without individualized suspicion. This week's decision eliminated that crucial safeguard. Here's the opinion—read Justice Scalia's dissent—and here's a helpful review of the opinion.
  • At the Washington Post, George Will authored an effective piece about the Federal Safety Valve Act introduced by Senators Leahy and Paul. Mr. Will concludes this way: "Making mandatory minimums less severe would lessen the power of prosecutors to pressure defendants by overcharging them in order to expose them to draconian penalties. The Leahy-Paul measure is a way to begin reforming a criminal justice system in which justice is a diminishing component." Read his entire argument, and learn more about the bill here.
  • I wrote previously about Oregon's HB 3194, which in its initial form would have repealed several of the mandatory minimums that contributed significantly to the state's prison population. Those mandatory minimums were passed by voters in 1994's Measure 11. Last week, HB 3194 was amended to exclude repeal of Measure 11 offenses; lawmakers need a 2/3 majority to overturn policies passed by ballot initiatives, and such a majority was not found.
    • The amended version of the bill would instead remove the mandatory minimums for repeat property and drug offenders that now exist under Measure 57, along with a number of other reforms. You can read about the latest developments here.
  • You can review recent activity in state legislatures to reduce prison populations, with contextual information about each state, at our new map.

Learn more about overincarceration and other civil liberty issues: Sign up for breaking news alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

Add a comment (3)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

THE BEAT GOES ON

WE CONTINUE TO ABSORB AS WELL AS LIVE THE COURSE OF OUR BLACK MUSIC’S DIRECTION.
CAN’T HELP THE VIBES FELT AS WE LISTEN TO FEELINGS AMONG OUR BLACK YOUTH OF YET AN ONGOING INFECTION.
THIS DISEASE NOW USES PSYCHOLOGICAL AND TECHNOLOGICAL INJECTIONS TO VERY NEAR PERFECTION.

OUR SONS, DAUGHTERS AND GRANDCHILDREN ALL CALL IT RAPP.
OH YAH; IT DEFINATELY CONTINUES WITH RHYTHMIC CLAP;
A NATURAL ASSET APART OF BEING BLACK.
BUT IN THIS NEW MESSAGE OF RHYTHM THERE IS FOUND A GIANT GAP.
AND IN IT TODAY’S SUFFERING YOUTH ARE INDEED TRAPPED;
REAL CREATION HELD CAPTIVE;
A GIFT YET TO BE UNWRAPPED.

LISTEN TO WHAT SEEMS TO BE A SECOND BEAT.
IN IT CAN BE HEARD THE SUFFERING AND AGONY OF DEFEAT.
THUS WE; THE LADIES AND OGs OF YESTERDAY BRING TO YOU THE NEXT GENERATION IN OUR CULTURE TO REPEAT;
THE SAME OLE MESSEGE IN OUR GHETTO STREETS. . .
Nathaniel James Shaw whose pseudonym is ‘BeBop’

Words: 163

Weneedreform

Addicts need rehabilitation not incarceration. Florida sentencing guidelines are saturated with obscure statutes that severely penalize addicts, some of which are victims of big pharmacy trying to market new painkillers they claim have low addictive rates, only to build tolerances and increase dosage. This is usually the road to state institutions and lifetime struggles with addiction and system policies.. Take for instance Florida statute states under 893.135 sec c 1 (a) that a drug is defined as any mixture that is combined in a substance to be counted as the whole substance.. This means that if you , have lets say 22 ---- 650/10 mg oxycodone pills, that is 650 milligrams of acetaminophen and 10 milligrams of oxycodone per pill ( which is a small amount even by addict standards ) this will get you 15 years minimum mandatory. But here is the the real bullet, each pill contains 650mg acetaminophen times 22 pills = 14.3 grams / add in oxycodone at 10mg times 22 pills = 0.22 grams. In other words one would be sentenced to 15 years minimum mandatory just for the aspirin content alone !

Anonymous

you are too complicated to leave a hopefully well deserved, from experience, kind of message people in of all walks of life should try to endure.

Sign Up for Breaking News