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D.C. Narrowly Rejects Corizon Health Contract For Inmate Medical Care

Washington, D.C.,'s Council narrowly rejected Corizon Health's controversial contract proposal for the city’s jail after weeks of fierce arguments and heavy lobbying by supporters and opponents, the Washington Post reports. The 6-to-5 vote against a $66 million plan was a high-profile defeat for Mayor Muriel Bowser. Her spokesman, Michael Czin, said D.C. would have to spend more on inmate medical services while a new bidding process is conducted.

Contract opponents cast the decision as a victory for inmate care and a rejection of a company mired in legal troubles in other states, including several high-profile wrongful-death lawsuits. “I am happy that the council stood up for the most vulnerable residents in D.C.,” said Deborah Golden of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “I think Corizon has a record of shoddy and unconstitutional care across the country.” Bowser and other supporters backed Corizon, which had beaten three other bidders during an 18-month procurement process, because it was the most qualified provider and because it was important to respect the city’s independent bidding system. 

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Chicago Proposes $5.5 Million Fund For Police Abuse; Claims To Continue

The city of Chicago is trying to put to rest one of its most persistent scandals, proposing a $5.5 million reparations fund for dozens of torture victims connected to former Chicago police Commander Jon Burge and his so-called midnight crew of rogue detectives, the Chicago Tribune reports. The proposal, negotiated with a key plaintiff's attorney and supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would offer free city college tuition for victims and their families and free counseling for psychological issues and substance abuse as well as other assistance to more than 50 potential victims. The city would issue a formal apology, create a permanent memorial recognizing the victims and ensure that eighth- and 10th-grade students attending Chicago Public Schools would be taught about the Burge case and its brutal legacy.

While Emanuel said it would "close this book, the Burge book, on the city's history, it is unlikely to stanch the flow of torture claims from victims. A Loyola University Chicago law school dean appointed by a judge has identified 20 additional cases in which inmates may have been Burge victims. Other inmates who have made torture claims continue to fight to overturn convictions and win their freedom. And one lawsuit over the torture is pending. Already, the stubborn scandal has cost taxpayers about $100 million in lawsuit settlements, judgments and other legal costs. As many as 120 men, mostly African Americans, were tortured from early 1972 to late 1991. Burge and his detectives had gained a reputation for solving brutal murders, rapes and deadly arsons in some of the South Side's most violent neighborhoods by obtaining confessions. Suspects and their lawyers claimed that the officers used suffocation, electric shock and even Russian roulette to coerce the confessions, but those claims were ignored by prosecutors and rebuffed by criminal court judges.

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Singer John Legend Starts "FREE AMERICA" To Fight Mass Incarceration

Grammy-winning singer John Legend has launched a campaign to end mass incarceration, "FREE AMERICA," the Associated Press reports. Legend, 36, will perform tomorrow at a correctional facility in Austin, Tx., where he will be part of a press conference with state legislators to discuss Texas' criminal justice system. "We have a serious problem with incarceration in this country," Legend told AP. "It's destroying families, it's destroying communities and we're the most incarcerated country in the world, and when you look deeper and look at the reasons we got to this place, we as a society made some choices politically and legislatively, culturally to deal with poverty, deal with mental illness in a certain way and that way usually involves using incarceration."

Legend will visit a California state prison and co-host a criminal justice event with Politico in Washington, D.C., this month. The campaign will include help from other artists and organizations committed to ending mass incarceration. "I'm just trying to create some more awareness to this issue and trying to make some real change legislatively," he said. "And we're not the only ones. There are senators that are looking at this, like Rand Paul and Cory Booker, there are other nonprofits that are looking at this, and I just wanted to add my voice to that."

 

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Tulsa Victim's Family Asks Sheriff To Address "Callous Statements"

A Tulsa sheriff's deputy who made a callous comment to a man who had just been shot did not hear the gunshot and didn’t know the man had been wounded, officials told the Tulsa World. A second-degree manslaughter charge was filed yesterday against Robert Bates, a reserve deputy who said he mistook his gun for a Taser when he shot Eric Harris, who was on the ground and unarmed. In the video, Harris can be heard saying, “I’m losing my breath,” to which Deputy Joseph Byars replies, “F- — your breath.”

Deputy Michael Huckeby is shown in the video kneeling on Harris’ head as a deputy yells at Harris, “You shouldn’t have ran,” and “Shut the f- — up.” Bates can be heard on the video saying he had shot Harris, stating: “Oh, I shot him. I’m sorry.” The video shows someone, apparently Bates, bending down to pick up his revolver, which had fallen to the ground. Harris’ family called on Sheriff Stanley Glanz to address the deputies’ words and actions. “Sheriff Glanz has not addressed the callous statements made by a deputy to Eric after he had been shot. … We have not heard Sheriff Glanz address the deputy who forcefully grinded Eric’s head into the concrete with his knee while Eric was in need of medical attention,” the family’s statement says.

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NYC Seeks To Cut Jail Population 25%, Partly By Speeding Court Cases

New York City inmate advocates and correction officials agree that the surest way to fix the city's Rikers Island jail complex is to empty it, the New York Times reports. Mayor Bill De Blasio and the state’s chief judge today are proposing a plan to gradually reduce the inmate population at Rikers by clearing the backlogs at state courts, a pocket of persistent dysfunction that has long frustrated improvement efforts. Such backlogs can keep people locked away for hundreds of days while they await trial. As of late March, 400 people had been locked up for more than two years without being convicted of a crime. A half-dozen Rikers inmates have been waiting on pending cases for more than six years. De Blasio said, “For the first time, our city will work with the courts, law enforcement, district attorneys and the defense bar to immediately tackle case delays head-on and significantly reduce the average daily population on Rikers Island." The mayor has devoted political capital and tens of millions of dollars to curbing the violence in city jails.

Today's proposal reflects an acknowledgment at City Hall that making lasting reforms at Rikers will require looking beyond the jail complex itself to make changes to a criminal justice system that top officials now say has become too dependent on incarceration. Under the proposal, officials hope to shrink the jail population 25 percent over the next 10 years. Given recent history, that would be a modest reduction. In the past two decades, the number of inmates on any given day has already decreased from a high of over 20,000 to about 10,000 today. The courts have defied efforts to address the problems. Over the last two decades, New York courts have taken longer and longer to resolve felony cases even as the number of arrests has generally declined, said Michael Jacobson, a former correction commissioner who now heads the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York.

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Manslaughter Charge In Tulsa Deputy's "Erroneous" Killing Of Unarmed Man

A Tulsa reserve deputy who fatally shot a man during an undercover gun sting was charged with second-degree manslaughter, the Tulsa World reports. Sheriff Stanley Glanz described Reserve Deputy Robert Charles "Bob" Bates as a longtime friend who made "an error" last week when he fatally shot an unarmed man trying to flee deputies during an undercover operation to retrieve stolen guns. Glanz also said he had no plans to change the deputy reserve program but that it will be looked at as part of the Sheriff's Department routine review of operations. The Sheriff's office said Bates had intended to use a Taser on Eric Courtney Harris as Harris was being subdued during an undercover gun buy, but instead pulled his gun and fired one shot.

"He made an error," Glanz said. "How many errors are made in an operating room every week?" An investigator retained by the Sheriff's office found that Bates violated no policies. Asked if he thought the shooting was justified, Glanz said, "That is a hard word for me to answer." He added: "It was unintentional. You know, justified means you had reason to do something. He had reason to get the gun out when the guy was fleeing." The incident occurred near the parking lot of a store. Harris, a convicted felon, later died at a local hospital.

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At Least Eight Police Killings Of Black Men Have Involved Stun Guns

Before a bystander's video led to his murder charge and firing, North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager said he killed a fleeing suspect in a traffic stop after a struggle over his Taser. Slager's attempt to subdue Walter Scott with a stun gun points to a policing paradox that has civil rights advocates alarmed, the Associated Press reports. Promoted as tools to avoid lethal force, stun guns can sometimes become part of a deadly equation, AP says, citing at least seven other fatal shootings of black men by police in confrontations involving stun guns in recent years. Stun guns are useful, but can give officers "a really false reassurance that you have more control over a situation than you do," said Eugene O'Donnell, a former New York City police officer now at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"Officers need to be spending more time de-escalating situations, instead of resorting to the use of this very convenient tool," said Emma Andersson of the American Civil Liberties Union. "The jury's still out on whether or not it's lethal force, but it's not nothing; it's very dangerous." Stun guns are used in more than 15,000 U.S. law enforcement and military agencies. TASER International Inc. says it has sold more than 800,000 devices to law enforcement agencies, which have used them more than 2.3 million times in 20 years. Tasers are "safe, effective and accountable," said company spokesman Steve Tuttle, "But it's not a magic bullet. ... There is no magic bullet." The ACLU and Amnesty International say hundreds have died from the shocks alone. The potential for deadly consequences has prompted many law enforcement agencies to limit how officers use them.

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Judge Orders Release Of Undocumented Immigrants Without Posting Bond

In a move that could affect tens of thousands of detainees, a federal judge in Seattle ordered the U.S. Justice Department to obey a law that allows for the release of some undocumented immigrants without posting a bond, reports the Seattle Times. Immigration-rights leaders say the law is routinely ignored because of a conflicting DOJ policy that requires immigrant detainees to post at least a $1,500 bond regardless of whether they pose a danger or flight risk. “People should not be locked up while they are in immigration proceedings simply because they do not have money to pay a bond,” said Matt Adams of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik certified a lawsuit filed on behalf of one such detainee as a class-action, sweeping in hundreds of plaintiffs who are being detained on immigration holds solely because they cannot post bonds. Adams said that while Lasnik’s ruling now only affects about 500 undocumented immigrants held in Western Washington. the DOJ policy affects tens of thousands of detainees nationally. “We are hopeful this ruling will have an impact,” on a practice that has been in place for 15 years, he said. “This is a national problem.”

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Some Criminal Justice Questions For The 2016 Presidential Candidates

Washington Post blogger Radley Balko says the presidential campaign announcement of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and an expected similar announcement from former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) suggest that there will be discussion of criminal justice reform on the campaign trail soon. Balko lists some issues that he thinks candidates should answer, even if there is "little to no chance this will happen."

Among them: The Justice Department's investigations of abuse and civil rights violations by local police departments, the role of the National Commission on Forensic Science, the Justice Department's civil asset forfeiture policy, whether unconstitutional federal laws should be defended by the Justice Department, prosecutorial misconduct, and "wat do you believe is the primary function of prisons: to punish people for doing bad things, to isolate dangerous people from society, or to rehabilitate criminals so they can reenter society as productive citizens?"

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