Thursday, May 19, 2016

The myth that fewer people are going to prison

Reformers and policymakers who are concerned about the vast U.S. prison system have called for reducing the number of people behind bars. By that standard, they've made progress over the past several years, as the incarcerated population has declined from its peak in 2009.

Yet even as fewer people are behind bars, the number going to prison nationally changed little during that time — outside of California, where the Supreme Court ordered major reforms to the state's overcrowded system in 2011.

John Pfaff, a legal scholar at Fordham University, pointed out the paradox in a series of tweets on Tuesday. While more people are being sent to prison than in 2010, the total population declined because prisoners are serving shorter terms, partly as a result of lawmakers' efforts to reduce minimum sentences. The reduced sentencing are welcome for convicts and their families, but incarceration is not affecting fewer lives.


Final 2015 Crime Data Shows No ‘Viral Video Effect’

The Brennan Center’s Crime in 2015: A Final Analysis has helped push back on claims by FBI Director James Comey that less aggressive policing caused an increase in homicides. Comey has blamed this alleged new police posture on public scrutiny around videos of police confrontations, a dynamic he’s termed the “viral video effect.”

The New York Times editorialized it’s a “false notion that the country is entering a crime wave,” adding: “That idea was debunked last month in a study by the Brennan Center for Justice of 2015 crime data from the 30 largest cities. The study found that crime had remained the same as in 2014 and that two-thirds of the cities had actually had drops in crime.”

The data was also cited by The Washington Post.

There are year-to-year variations but no nationwide epidemic, and no factor that easily explains localized upticks, according to Ames Grawert who spoke to The Intercept.

Read more from The Guardian and The Washington Times. Read the Brennan Center’s analysis debunking a national crime or murder wave here.

Is It Time to Free Native American Activist Leonard Peltier?

The 71-year-old has lived behind barbed wire and concrete walls for more than half of his life, cemented in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

As he wages a four-decade legal battle in a case clouded with conflicting testimony, political influence and doubt, he also struggles with declining health, including diabetes, a heart condition, multiple jaw surgeries and loss of vision and motor function due to a stroke.

In the first month of 2016, Peltier was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm—a swollen aorta that can amount to a tiny ticking time bomb if left untreated. Sometime during our visit, he turned to me and said, “If you don’t get me out of here, I’m going to die—and it won’t be of old age.”
Unless President Obama grants him clemency, Peltier’s prediction will almost certainly come true.


He Killed Two FBI Agents. Or He Was Framed. After 40 Years, Will Obama Free Leonard Peltier?

Leonard Peltier, a member of the Lakota tribe who was convicted of murdering two FBI agents in 1977, has spent 40 of his 71 years in federal prison. During that time, some have come to view him as an international symbol of the mistreatment of Native Americans by the US criminal justice system; others see him as the murderer of two FBI agents who should continue to pay his debt to society. Recently a group of prominent lawyers—backed by world leaders, civil rights activists, and several members of the US Congress—have renewed efforts to win his freedom by filing a formal appeal for clemency to the Department of Justice and requesting that President Barack Obama intervene on Peltier’s behalf.

In February, Martin Garbus, a well-known New York City trial lawyer and the lead attorney of the group, joined by former US Attorney Cynthia Dunne and attorney Carl S. Nadler, wrote a five-page letter to Obama urging him to grant Peltier clemency. “[T]he time has come for the interests of the law enforcement community to be balanced against principles of fundamental fairness, reconciliation, and healing,” they contended.

They also submitted a 44-page petition for clemency to the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney on behalf of Peltier, who suffers from various medical conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and a heart condition. All of this, the petition notes, impairs “his ability to walk, to see, and to conduct normal life activities…He is ill-equipped to cope with life in the maximum security prisons in which he has been jailed for many years.” The petition includes more than two dozen letters from supporters including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Coretta Scott King, several Native American tribes, and Amnesty International.

Read more:

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gutting Habeas Corpus: The Inside Story of How Bill Clinton Sacrificed Prisoners’ Rights for Political Gain

...The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 — or AEDPA — was signed by Bill Clinton in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. While it has been mostly absent from the recent debates over the crime policies of the ’90s, its impact has been no less profound, particularly when it comes to a bedrock constitutional principle: habeas corpus, or the right of people in prison to challenge their detention. For 20 years, AEDPA has shut the courthouse door on prisoners trying to prove they were wrongfully convicted. Americans are mostly unaware of this legacy, even as we know more than ever about wrongful convictions. Barry Scheck, co-founder and head of the Innocence Project, calls AEDPA “a disaster” and “a major roadblock since its passage.” Many would like to see it repealed.


The Other F-word: What we call the imprisoned matters

The other day Margaret Love, a veteran clemency lawyer, scolded The New York Times for this front-page headline: “Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights to Felons.” She applauded the news — some 200,000 Virginians, most of them African-American, recovered their voting rights under Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order — but she deplored the word “felons.”

“This ugly stigmatizing label has been broadly criticized as counterproductive to reintegration efforts, perpetuating stereotypes about people with a criminal record and encouraging discrimination against them,” she wrote in a blog post. “While the Governor himself was careful with his language, not a single major newspaper reporting on his action could resist including the word in its headline.”


Justice Dept. agency to alter its terminology for released convicts, to ease reentry

The Justice Department is taking a number of steps to reintegrate those released from prisons and jails into society, most notably during the recent National Reentry Week, such as asking states to provide identification to convicts who have served their sentences and creating a council to remove barriers to their assimilation into every day life. Here, Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, who has headed the Office of Justice Programs since 2013, announces in a guest post that her agency will no longer use words such as “felon” or “convict” to refer to released prisoners.


23-26 May in DC: Citizen mobilization and ways to break through power

Ralph Nader presents conference to secure long-overdue democratic solutions by strategic mobilization of citizen networks

May 23-26, Constitution Hall, Washington, DC

Celebrating the 50th anniversary year of Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed, the Center for Study of Responsive Law announces four days of civic mobilization at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. on May 23, 24, 25 and 26, 2016. 
Unsafe at Any Speed unleashed fresh energies and sparked the creation of numerous advocacy organizations leading to major consumer, environmental and worker safety protections. Register here.
The theme of this citizen mobilization will be elaborating ways to break through power to secure long-overdue democratic solutions made possible by a new muscular civic nexus between local communities and Washington, D.C.
Breaking Through Conference graphic
On these four days, speakers will present innovative ideas and strategies designed to take existing civic groups to higher levels of effectiveness. The participants will be asked to support the creation of several new organizations. One such group will work to open up the commercial media, which use the public airwaves free of charge, to serious content. Another will facilitate action by retired military, national security and diplomatic officials who want to deter unconstitutional and unlawful plunges into wars that lead to calamitous and costly blowbacks.
This “Civic Mobilization” will involve thousands of people at Constitution Hall and around the country and connect long-available knowledge to long-neglected action for the necessities and aspirations of people from all backgrounds. Many of the presentations will feature reforms and redirections for the common good enjoy Left/Right support.
Breaking Through Power: How it’s Done—May 23, 2016 will feature presentations by seventeen citizen advocacy groups. Over decades these activists have produced amazing accomplishments against powerful odds. These civic leaders will demonstrate how, with modest budgets and stamina, they have improved the health, safety and economic well-being of the people and focused public opinion onto decision-makers and opponents. Through greater visibility, broader support and wider emulation, they will present their future missions and show that it can be “easier than we think” to make major changes. For the first time ever, this diverse group of fighters for justice will be assembled together on stage at Constitution Hall and show that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts when fighting for a broader democratic society. The presenters will appraise what levels of citizen organization is necessary to fulfill these broadly-desired missions.
Breaking Through Power: The Media—May 24, 2016, brings together also for the first time a large gathering of authors, documentary filmmakers, reporters, columnists, musicians, poets and editorial cartoonists. All of these presenters have documented or depicted entrenched wrongdoing by the corporate state or “crony capitalism”—the cruel impacts of corporate crimes and abuses, the absence of governmental law enforcement, and the harmful effects of concentrated corporate power.
The speakers all seek wider audiences for their works: more readers, viewers and listeners. Unfortunately the mass media barons prefer to wallow in incessant advertising, hedonistic entertainment, sports and mind-numbing redundancy. The result is what many observers see as the stupefaction of human intelligence. A major purpose of Day Two is the creation of a “Voices” advocacy organization that puts forces in motion to inject serious programming into the over-the-air and cable networks under a revitalized Communications Act of 1934 and generally champion a greater life of the mind on all media.
Breaking Through Power: War—May 25, 2016 is dedicated to enhancing the waging of peace over the waging of war. We will assemble leading scholars having military and national security backgrounds, veterans groups such as Veterans for Peace, and long-time peace advocacy associations, to explain how peace is more powerful than war. The speakers will address the horrorsof war, its huge costs here and abroad to innocents and the weakening blowbacks of Empire amidst a collapse of constitutional and international law. One outcome of this day will be the establishment of a Secretariat comprised of current and former top-level military, national security and diplomatic officials who have spoken truth to reckless power. If organized for quick responses, their credibility, experience and wisdom can resist and prevent the kind of prevaricating pressures and unilateral policies that drove the unlawful destruction of Iraq, Libya and beyond.
Breaking Through Power: Congress—May 26, 2016 will unveil a new Civic Agenda to be advanced by engaged and enraged citizens in each Congressional district. The Civic Agenda includes recognized necessities ignored by Congress for decades. The planks of this Civic Agenda will be presented by nationally-recognized advocates—a veritable brain trust for the well-being of present and future generations. Each speaker will present the substance of each demand, which will be conveyed to their members of Congress via organized “Citizen Summons” in each Congressional District. Revitalizing the people to assert their sovereignty under our Constitution is critical to the kind of government, economy, environment and culture that will fulfill human possibilities and respect posterity.
For More Information visit:

Snowden: Whistleblowing Is Not Just Leaking, It Is An Act Of Resistance

I’VE BEEN WAITING 40 years for someone like you.” Those were the first words Daniel Ellsberg spoke to me when we met last year. Dan and I felt an immediate kinship; we both knew what it meant to risk so much — and to be irrevocably changed — by revealing secret truths. One of the challenges of being a whistleblower is living with the knowledge that people continue to sit, just as you did, at those desks, in that unit, throughout the agency, who see what you saw and comply in silence, without resistance or complaint.