Alvin Bronstein, the late director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, anticipated the movement to reduce “mass incarceration” that is widely discussed in today’s criminal justice circles, former colleagues and friends were told at a memorial service yesterday in Washington, D.C. Bronstein, who filed many lawsuits contesting prison conditions in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, had a “perpetual sense of outrage” about the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” culture that dominated public policy at that time, said Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s current executive director. While policymakers have focused on the 2.3-million U.S. prison and jail population intensely in recent years, “Al saw that decades ago,” Romero said. Bronstein died last fall at 87. He helped found the ACLU’s prison unit after the 1971 riots at New York State’s Attica prison, and led it for 25 years. Nkechi Taifa of the Open Society Foundations office in Washington observed that Bronstein was “on the cutting edge of social change” and demonstrated the principles of the Black Lives Matter movement decades before it started.
Crime victims and the FBI were two of the big winners in the annual battle over spending U. S. Justice Department funds. A Congressional budget deal for the current fiscal year that was finalized by negotiators early yesterday morning provided an estimated $2.26 billion for state and local organizations that help crime victims. Under a law dating from the 1980s, those groups are supposed to receive fines paid in federal cases, but Congress has long put a cap on the total. The total amounts to an increase of about 15.5 percent over the current level of support, which itself was a big increase over recent years, says the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators, which tracks the spending. The future of funding for victims is not certain. Major fines and settlements in white-collar-crime cases have raised the fund's total to $12 billion, but executive and legislative branch leaders have insisted that some of that money go to other government functions, over the objection of victim advocates.
Even though murder totals are up in some U.S. cities, “there is no crime wave,” criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University said Thursday at the American Society of Criminology convention in Washington, D.C. Speaking on a panel on trends in crime rates and policing, Fox said some cities in the past decade have reported homicide increases early in the year but declines later, leading to no change by year’s end. He said, “It is alarming that so many journalists and politicians have gotten carried away with the idea that crime is up.” Some cities that have reported increases in crime have been “victims of their own success” because their rates of violence have dropped so much in recent years that any increase is considered newsworthy, Fox said. Another panelist, criminologist David Klinger of the University of Missouri St. Louis, praised the Washington Post for keeping a count of fatal shootings by police officers, 843 around the nation this year as of last week.
Policing in the U.S. is showing some signs of improvement, thanks to the attention paid to it by the public and by government officials—and despite the well-publicized misdeeds of a few law enforcement officers in the past year. That’s the conclusion of members of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, who addressed a conference at George Mason University in northern Virginia yesterday. “Much of this is about culture change,” said task force co-chair Laurie Robinson. “That doesn’t happen because of legislation and regulations, but I think we will look back on this period of history and conclude that change actually did start to occur.” Robinson is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney General now on the faculty at George Mason.
Photo by Loavesofbread, via Wikipedia When St. Louis resident Tory Russell saw Michael Brown's body last August 9, it set in motion a series of events that altered his life. An African-American day laborer who was working in a suburb five miles from Ferguson, the 31-year-old Russell had seen a photo a few minutes after Brown was shot, tweeted by one of Brown's neighbors. It showed Brown dead in the street. Two hours later came another: Brown's body was still in the street.
Efforts to reduce murders in New Orleans and keep offenders out of Illinois prisons and suspects out of New York City jails were among winners of awards given Tuesday by the National Criminal Justice Association. NOLA FOR LIFE, which was set up in 2012 as a public health approach to fight violence in New Orleans, got an outstanding criminal justice program award at the National Forum on Criminal Justice in Atlanta. The program was credited with helping reduce New Orleans’ murder count to a modern low last year. Another award went to Adult Redeploy Illinois, which provides incentives to counties for reducing the number of non-violent offenders sent to state prisons. A winner in New York was the Bronx Freedom Fund, which helps poor defendants pay bail.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney General Laurie Robinson on Monday urged state and local criminal justice leaders to put into practice recommendations of the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Robinson, co-chair of the task force, spoke at the National Forum on Criminal Justice in Atlanta. Alluding to last year’s police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., she said, “There have clearly been seismic shifts in the terrain of criminal justice and, more broadly, in civil society in America since that time.” She added, “This is not something just to ‘get through’ and move on to the next crisis. I think we will look back on this time 20 years from now and see this as a real watershed period not just for criminal justice but for our country, perhaps comparable to the '60s.”
It seems like most 2016 presidential candidates are talking about criminal justice reform but have little to show for it. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican who is not running for the White House, can talk about five years of accomplishments. On Monday, he got several rounds of applause at the National Forum on Criminal Justice in his home base of Atlanta by telling how he had tackled prison overpopulation, a juvenile justice overhaul, and now inmate re-entry into society. When Deal took office in 2011, his state had the 10th highest population in the U.S. and the fourth highest prison population. Instead of building two costly new prisons, he got state legislators to approve alternatives to incarceration.
Last February, the Equal Justice Initiative produced a report detailing almost 4,000 lynchings of blacks in 12 southern states between 1877 and 1950, and spurring the Initiative’s current effort to place memorial markers at those lynching sites.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Kentuckian Rand Paul have introduced The Federal Prisons Accountability Act of 2015, which would require Senate confirmation for the director of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). Unlike most top Department of Justice officials, the BOP director is appointed by the Attorney General. Currrent BOP director Charles Samuels plans to retire this year. McConnell, noting that there are five federal prisons in Kentucky, said corrections officers have repeatedly called for BOP to take additional steps to mitigate risks to officer safety from violent inmates. He said subjecting the BOP Director to the same congressional review as other law enforcement agency chiefs “will ensure greater responsiveness by the agency to the safety needs of its nearly 40,000 dedicated federal corrections employees.”