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Why Do We Place Our Most Vulnerable Prisoners in Solitary?

By Joseph Galanek

Last month, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections announced that placing inmates with mental illness in solitary confinement will no longer be part of their management practices.  It was a response, in part, to a civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ)  that found Pennsylvania inmates with mental illness were “in solitary confinement for months and sometimes years, with devastating consequences to their mental health.”

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How the ‘New Normal’ Convicts the Innocent

By James M. Doyle

Terence Miller is a New Jersey man convicted of a drug offense in 2011, and sentenced to five years in prison. In 2013, he appealed his conviction on the grounds that the trial court judge violated his rights by refusing to delay his trial until he received the assistance of adequately prepared counsel. His appeal was denied by the New Jersey Supreme Court in New Jersey v Miller.

But what could we learn if we assume that Terence Miller is innocent? Examining Miller’s case based on that assumption can show us how a criminal justice system reacts to the pressure of huge caseloads. Too often, quality and safety are sacrificed to generate “production.” The system drifts inexorably up to, and then past, its safety margins until its safety devices lose all meaning, and the system breaks down completely. 

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Let’s Bring Sunshine Into Private Prisons

By Alexa Capeloto

Will someone please sue the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)? Or The GEO Group, Inc.? Or the Management and Training Corporation? I don’t have a problem with these companies, per se. Nor am I saying they do anything particularly wrong or illegal as they operate private prisons on behalf of government agencies across the country.

But challenging them for information related to the 137 facilities they collectively manage in the U.S. might help tighten a loophole that government contractors often slip through with ease.

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Top 10 Youth Justice Reads for Loretta Lynch

By Liz Ryan

It's that time of year. Preparations are being made for a new cabinet member in the Administration. This time it is for a new Attorney General. The Obama Administration's nominee, Loretta Lynch, has a tremendous track record in the justice system, but she is still expected to run the gauntlet of tough questioning by Senate Judiciary Committee members at upcoming confirmation hearings this week. 

To get ready for the hearings, it is almost certain that a staffer somewhere in the caverns of the Department of Justice is going to be working feverishly to put together a briefing notebook for the nominee.

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When Cops Take Their Beefs to Work

By Robin L. Barton

Let’s consider the possible impact a future police slowdown could have on the criminal justice system beyond just the number of new cases added to the system. Suppose the Staten Island grand jury had voted to indict an NYPD officer in the death of Eric Garner based on evidence presented by Daniel Donovan, the Richmond County District Attorney.

Given the current tensions in New York City and the attitude of the police union, it’s not hard to imagine officers refusing to cooperate with the assistant district attorneys in that office on other cases as a form of protest against what they regard as the unwarranted prosecution of their colleague. What are the implication of such a refusal to cooperate? To answer that question, you must understand that the role of police officers doesn’t end once they’ve made an arrest.

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Something To See Here: Don’t Move Along

By James M. Doyle

The world of criminal justice and the media that monitor it act as if whenever there is no one to hang, there is nothing to learn. We think “accountability” is the same thing as punishment.

But medicine, aviation and other high-risk fields recognize the need for a “forward-looking accountability” that aims to understand and lower the risks of repetition.

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We Can End the Abuse of Mentally Ill Inmates

By Joseph Galanek

The recent reports of abuses of mentally ill prisoners on Rikers Island have brought this issue to the forefront of the agendas of New York City policy makers and correctional administrators. Over $47 million has now been allotted to security measures and specialized programs for mentally ill inmates. 

But these abuses, which in some cases resulted in the deaths of inmates, highlight how little we understand correctional institutions.   

During a press conference in which he discussed the city’s response to the abuses at Rikers Island, Bill De Blasio, New York’s mayor, summed up the lack of understanding by stating: “For most people, (jail is) an abstraction, literally isolated from the rest of the city.”

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What DAs Across the Country Can Learn From Ferguson

By Caleb Mason

With all the charges by commentators that St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch “sandbagged” the grand jury presentation on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., it is easy to overlook the pretty astounding fact that we, the public, were given the transcripts and evidence in the first place. We should hope that district attorneys across the country will follow McCulloch’s lead in two important procedural respects:

  1. make full-evidence presentations to grand juries in controversial police shootings, even when the DA would personally choose not to charge; and
  2. promptly release to the public the full grand jury proceedings in the event of a vote not to charge.

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