Friday, August 21, 2009

Update on The Fiscal Crisis in Corrections

On July 29, Vera released The Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Rethinking Policies and Practices, which highlights the impact of state budget cuts on departments of corrections. This timely update is prompted by information about the influence of stimulus funds in a number of states and new budget information from four additional states.

The revised report, which is based on survey responses from 37 states, finds at least 26 states have reversed the trend of recent decades and cut corrections spending. In three states—Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota—officials reduced initial general fund appropriations knowing that a portion of the reduction would be made up by federal stimulus funds. Thus, although general fund appropriations decreased by double-digits in these states, the actual operational impacts were smaller.

Other updated findings include:

  • At least 31 states are reducing staff, instituting hiring freezes, reducing salaries or benefits, and/or eliminating pay increases.
  • At least 22 states are closing facilities or reducing beds, or delaying expansion or construction of new facilities.

The Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Rethinking Policies and Practices was funded by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.

To download the revised report visit Vera’s web site at http://www.vera.org/content/fiscal-crisis-corrections-rethinking-policies-and-practices.

The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit organization that combines expertise in research, demonstration projects, and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety.

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Can Brutal and Racist Cops Change to Become More 'Sensitive'?

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted August 18, 2009.


The Boston policeman who called Gates a "banana-eating jungle monkey" had taken racial-sensitivity training classes. It's not clear they work.

It's too late now for Justin Barrett, the Boston cop who shot a racial slur straight into the heat of the controversy surrounding the arrest of Henry Louis Gates last month.

Unlike the Gates incident -- which many Americans insisted had nothing to do with race -- in this case, the racism was beyond dispute. Weighing in on Gates, Barrett declared, via mass e-mail: "If I was the officer (Gates) verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC deserving of his belligerent noncompliance." (OC, of course, is pepper spray.)

Reprisals were swift. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis "immediately stripped Barrett of his gun and badge," according to local media. "These racist opinions and feelings have no place in this department or in our society and will not be tolerated," he said.

Read on...


Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?

By Barbara Ehrenreich, The New York Times. Posted August 19, 2009.


If you're living on the streets, engaging in the biological necessities of life -- like sitting, sleeping, lying down or loitering -- will get you in jail.

It's too bad so many people are falling into poverty at a time when it’s almost illegal to be poor. You won’t be arrested for shopping in a Dollar Store, but if you are truly, deeply, in-the-streets poor, you’re well advised not to engage in any of the biological necessities of life — like sitting, sleeping, lying down or loitering. City officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about the ordinances that afflict the destitute, most of which go back to the dawn of gentrification in the ’80s and ’90s. “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a city attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla., said in June, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”

In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more poverty. So concludes a new study from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which found that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with ticketing and arrests for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering or carrying an open container of alcohol.


How Yawning Got One Court Spectator Six Months in the Slammer and Other Disturbing Acts of Judicial Tyranny

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted August 21, 2009.


When judges take on airs and lash out in fits of whimsical bullying, innocent people can end up paying the price with jail time -- or their lives.

Last month, in Illinois, Circuit Judge Daniel Rozak was handing down a sentence in a felony drug case when a courtroom spectator did something unforgivably disruptive. He yawned.

The move (by its very nature) may have been spontaneous, but Rozak found it highly offensive nonetheless. He slapped the yawner -- 33-year-old Clifton Williams, the cousin of the defendant -- with the highest contempt sentence possible under Illinois law: six months in jail.

In the description of the contempt order, Williams "raised his hands while at the same time making a loud yawning sound," a move ostensibly calculated to undermine the judge's authority.

Read on...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Could the Global Meltdown Spark a Great Revolution?

By Ben Protess, Christian Science Monitor. Posted August 4, 2009.

A look at mass protests during the past 500 years reveals surprising clues.

For the first time in generations, people are challenging the view that a free-market order -- the system that dominates the globe today -- is the destiny of all nations. The free market's uncanny ability to enrich the elite, coupled with its inability to soften the sharp experiences of staggering poverty, has pushed inequality to the breaking point.

As a result, we live at an important historical juncture -- one where alternatives to the world's neoliberal capitalism could emerge. Thus, it is a particularly apt time to examine revolutionary movements that have periodically challenged dominant state and imperial power structures over the past 500 years.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which laid the foundation for liberal democratic elections and the expansion of the free-market system throughout the world, revolution and protest seemed to lose some of their potency.

Read on...

Do Hate Crime Laws Do Any Good?

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted August 4, 2009.

There's no indication that getting hate crimes on the books actually prevents them.

"We have seen a man dragged to death in Texas simply because he was black. A young man murdered in Wyoming simply because he was gay. In the last year alone, we've seen the shootings of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Jewish children simply because of who they were. This is not the American way. We must draw the line." -- President Bill Clinton, final State of the Union Address, January 27, 2000.

It was a year-and-a-half after the horrific torture-murder of James Byrd Jr., the African American man who was assaulted, chained to a pickup truck and dragged for 3 miles by three white men in Jasper, Texas, a crime that the New York Times called "one of the grisliest racial killings in recent American history."

A few months later came the similarly brutal killing of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man who was savagely beaten and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming.

The perpetrators in both cases were slapped with severe punishments -- life sentences for Shepard's killers, and two death sentences and one life sentence for Byrd's. Nonetheless, in the emotional public upheaval that followed, both cases became rallying cries for the passage of state laws to toughen the sentences for hate-motivated crimes.

Read on...

The Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Rethinking Policies and Practices

New Report from the Vera Institute

Declining revenues from the worst fiscal crisis in decades are forcing many states to make across the board budget cuts. Even departments of corrections and public safety, long considered off limits, are affected.

A new report from Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections highlights the impact of these cuts and the ways officials are rising to the challenge of lowering spending while maintaining—and in some cases enhancing—public safety. The findings are based on a survey of enacted FY2010 state budgets and recent legislation, which found at least 22 states reversing the trend of recent decades and cutting corrections spending.
Findings include:

  • At least 28 states are reducing staff, instituting hiring freezes, reducing salaries or benefits, and/or eliminating pay increases.
  • An increasing number of states are identifying groups of people who can be safely released after serving shorter terms behind bars.
  • At least 20 states are closing facilities/reducing beds or delaying expansion/construction of new facilities.

This report was funded by the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.

To download this report visit Vera’s web site at www.vera.org/content/fiscal-crisis-corrections-rethinking-policies-and-practices-1.

The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent nonprofit organization that combines expertise in research, demonstration projects, and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety.

Pregnant Mother Tasered at Baptism Party (Video)

Posted by David Edwards and John Byrne, Raw Story at 4:34 PM on August 3, 2009.

A noise complaint to police results in another senseless act of brutality.

A child’s Virginia baptism ended up being a real shocker.

Responding to a noise complaint in Prince William County, police sought to quell the assembled crowd — who they said were making too much of a racket — by firing a Taser at the child’s grandfather and at the pregnant mother of the baptized child.

The officers said they placed a call to the homeowner, who they said was intoxicated and refused to reduce the volume.

The homeowner, 55, is a church family counselor and bible study teacher. His son, Edgar Rodriguez, claims he was Tasered three times after producing his ID for police. The elder Rodriguez was arrested for public intoxication in his own backyard.

Read on...