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.
Youth in Solitary Confinement: A new report from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, “Growing Up Locked Down,” examines the solitary confinement of youth in facilities across the nation. The report is based on interviews and correspondence with more than 125 young people in 19 states who spent time in solitary confinement while under age 18, as well as with jail and/or prison officials in 10 states. The report, which was officially launched at a Senate congressional briefing, recommends that kids should never be held in adult facilities, but when they are, they should be held in separate areas with other kids, and never locked in solitary confinement. The report, along with a video, podcast and multimedia presentation, is available here. To learn more, read coverage from NPR and the AP, and this blog post by the report’s author.
New York Solitary Abuse Exposed: According to a new report from the New York Civil Liberties Union, New York State doled out more than 13,500 extreme isolation sentences last year – about one for every four people incarcerated. The report finds that New York’s use of solitary confinement is arbitrary and unjustified, harms prisoners and prison staff, and decreases prison and community safety. To learn more, read this summary of the report’s findings and this New York Times story, and visit the companion website for a video, prisoners' handwritten letters, a library of data obtained from New York corrections officials and more.
New York Stop-and-Frisk
Earlier this week,the New York City Council held a legislative hearing on a police reform package that includes a racial profiling ban with a private right of action for disparate impact claims, a requirement of notice and proof of consensual searches, and the establishment of an NYPD Inspector General’s Office. The package of four bills, known collectively as the Community Safety Act, was introduced in the City Council in February as a way to address NYPD abuses, including stop-and-frisk, selective enforcement of minor offenses, and the surveillance of the Muslim community. Momentum is building for the bills, which have the support of a majority of Council Members, and today theNew York Times issued an editorial in support of the Inspector General bill. You can watch a video on the legislative package here. The NYCLU is spearheading these efforts as part of their campaign with more than two dozen allied organizations called Communities United for Police Reform.
News from California
LA County Jail Reform: Sheriff Lee Baca announced that he intends to implement all 63 recommendations from a new report by the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence.Sheriff Baca intends to hire an outside custody expert to run the jails, make major changes concerning the use of force, and establish a civilian commission with power to conduct investigations in the jails. The announcement also comes on the heels of a new report out from the ACLU and the law firm Paul Hastings LLP that reveals how often LA County deputies strike inmates in the head with closed fists, blunt objects like flashlights, or slam inmates’ heads into concrete walls. As court-appointed monitors of the LA County Jails since 1985, the ACLU has documented an ongoing pattern of deputy-on-inmate violence in the jails that dates back many years, although Sheriff Baca only acknowledged the problem last year following mounting pressure from the ACLU and others. Watch local news coverage of the ACLU’s latest report, and visit our LA County Jails page to learn more.
Realignment’s One-Year Anniversary: The ACLU of California released a new report examining the state of Realignment a year after its inception. California has 25,000 fewer state prisoners than it did one year ago, but it has added 7,000 beds to local jails, and plans to add 10,000 more. By simply shifting its overcrowding problem from prisons to jails, California is missing an opportunity to lower its prison population using smart, sustainable reforms. For example, the state failed to pass even modest pretrial reform, even though 70 percent of its jail population consists of people awaiting trial. Many of those pretrial detainees languish in jail simply because they can’t afford to post bail. The ACLU’s report identifies several opportunities for California to improve its response to Realignment. New polling data commissioned by the ACLU of California shows overwhelming public support for evidence-based, smart-on-crime reforms like alternatives to incarceration for low-level, non-violent offenders and defendants awaiting trial who are charged with low-level crimes. Read more about the ACLU’s work to end overincarceration in California here.
Child Offenders Given a Second Chance: Gov. Brown signed California’s Senate Bill 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, giving California youth sentenced to die in prison a second chance at life. There are 309 child offenders serving life-without-parole sentences in California for murders committed when they were younger than 18. The bill allows juvenile offenders sentenced to life without parole to petition a sentencing court to review their cases after 15 years and reduce their sentence to 25 years-to-life if they show remorse and are taking steps toward rehabilitation. Read our blog post for more on why we applaud this development.
Damon Thibodeaux Exonerated after 15 Years on Louisiana’s Death Row
ACLU client Damon Thibodeaux was exonerated for a murder he did not commit and freed from Louisiana’s death row, where he spent the last 15 years. Mr.Thibodeaux’s case, which rested in large part on a false confession, is a tragic example of why the ACLU has long called for police to videotape all interrogations. Learn more about Mr.Thibodeaux’s case by reading this blog post from ACLU Capital Punishment Project director Denny LeBoeuf, who has represented Mr.Thibodeaux since 1998, and coverage from the Associated Press and CNN. In addition, you can read this op-ed from Denny in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.