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A progressive Democrat wins the Florida governor primary and calls for ‘real criminal justice reform’


What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: A progressive Democrat wins the Florida governor primary and calls for ‘real criminal justice reform’

  • As national prison strike continues, incarcerated people face retaliation

  • Two measures for police transparency pass California legislature

  • Jail staff let a woman in withdrawal die of seizures

  • In Dallas County, bail is set in a matter of seconds

  • Texas county jail replaced visits with video calls

In the Spotlight

Andrew Gillum wins the Florida governor primary and calls for ‘real criminal justice reform’

Last week, Andrew Gillum pulled off an upset to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for governor of Florida. Gillum is now the first Black major-party candidate for any statewide office in Florida. After his victory, Gillum told supporters: “Beneath my name is also a desire by the majority of people in this state to see real criminal justice reform take hold. The kind of criminal justice reform, which allows people who make a mistake to be able to redeem themselves from that mistake, return to society, have their right to vote, but also have their right to work.” [Natasha S. Alford / TheGrio] In November’s election, he will face Ron DeSantis, a former federal prosecutor, who was endorsed by President Trump. DeSantis has said little about what his criminal justice policies will be. [Andrew Pantazi / Florida Times-Union] See also The Aug. 30 edition of the Political Report newsletter looks at Gillum’s primary victory, the results of two other Florida primaries, and a trio of Massachusetts primaries for district attorney taking place today.

Florida is where 537 votes gave George W. Bush the presidency in 2000, at a time when 620,000 people were barred from voting because state records showed, in many cases mistakenly, that they had felony convictions. [Editorial Board / New York Times] It is where 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012 by George Zimmerman, whom authorities waited weeks to arrest, invoking the state’s Stand Your Ground law. [Ta-Nehisi Coates / The Atlantic] It is where Governor Rick Scott reassigned cases from elected Orlando state attorney Aramis Ayala after Ayala decided that her office would not seek the death penalty. [Merrit Kennedy / NPR] And Florida is where, in 2012, Darren Rainey, in prison at Dade Correctional Institution, died after being locked by corrections officers in a scalding hot shower for two hours—a practice other people in prison reported was common. [Eyal Press / New Yorker]

Gillum has pledged reforms on a range of issues if elected. As mayor of Tallahassee, he promoted a restorative justice program for youth and a Ban the Box initiative to prevent discrimination in hiring against people with criminal convictions. [Bob Moser / Rolling Stone] He has said he would suspend the use of the death penalty to review its application. [Jim DeFede / CBSMiami.com] He has called for marijuana legalization and extensive bail reform to reduce pretrial detention. Gillum also supports the creation of a commission to review the state’s criminal punishment code and supports the restoration of parole, which Florida did away with in the early 1990s. [Andrew Pantazi / Florida Times-Union]

Two issues that have been highlighted this year are the notorious Stand Your Ground law and Florida’s lifetime disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions. Gillum has been a vocal opponent of Stand Your Ground. The law has lived on, and has been expanded, since Trayvon Martin’s killing and received renewed attention this year after Michael Drejka, a white man, shot and killed Markies McGlockton, an unarmed Black man, in a grocery store parking lot in July. The Pinellas County sheriff declined to arrest Drejka, insisting that Stand Your Ground made Drejka’s actions permissible. Ultimately, Drejka was arrested and charged after a review by the local state’s attorney but in the aftermath of the sheriff’s refusal to arrest, people mobilized to denounce Stand Your Ground. Gillum called on Governor Scott to declare a state of emergency in order to suspend the law for 60 days. [Gray Rohrer / Orlando Sentinel]

In an interview with TheGrio, Gillum denounced Stand Your Ground as “giving license to vigilantes” and said, “We know that persons of color, particularly our Black boys are at-risk under Stand Your Ground. Black defendants who try to claim Stand your Ground are less likely to have judges allow them to claim Stand Your Ground as defense, compared to white defendants who claim Stand Your Ground as a defense. It is a law that has no place in civilized society.” [Natasha S. Alford and Chalise Macklin / TheGrio]

Gillum has also supported changes to Florida’s system of lifetime disenfranchisement for people with felony convictions. About 1.5 million people in Florida are disenfranchised now—roughly a quarter of all those disenfranchised nationwide. [Editorial Board / New York Times] And 21 percent of voting-age Black residents are disenfranchised. As governor, Rick Scott introduced an onerous system for regaining the right to vote that requires his personal approval in each case. Since 2011, when he took office, Scott has approved the restoration of the right to vote in only 3,005 out of over 30,000 applications. In comparison, more than 155,000 people had their right to vote restored in Florida during Governor Charlie Crist’s term in office. In February, a federal judge struck down the system as a violation of the First Amendment, but the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the decision and heard arguments in July. [News Service of Florida] It is not clear whether a decision will be issued before the November elections.

However, a constitutional amendment to largely end lifetime disenfranchisement will be before voters in November. Amendment 4 would automatically restore the right to vote after completion of a sentence, except to those convicted of murder or sex offenses. The amendment requires 60 percent of votes for passage. [Steve Bousquet / Tampa Bay Times] Gillum, who has said his brother is disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, supports Amendment 4, as did all the Democratic candidates. In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times before the primary, Gillum said, “Floridians who have paid their debts deserve a second chance and they should have a voice in our state’s future. Our current system for rights restoration is a relic of Jim Crow that we should end for good.” [Steve Bousquet / Tampa Bay Times]

Stories From The Appeal

Before the strike even began, prisoners in several states reported retaliation and repression because of it.
[Caspar Benson/Getty Images]

As National Prison Strike Continues, Incarcerated People Face Retaliation. A strike staged by prisoners over poor conditions, low wages, and other issues is resulting in consequences, including harsh conduct reports and placements in solitary confinement. [Raven Rakia]

Stories From Around the Country

Two measures for police transparency pass California legislature: After decades of secrecy around police misconduct, California lawmakers passed two bills last Friday that would give the public access to internal investigations of police misconduct and to body camera footage of officer shootings. Existing confidentiality rules shield misconduct records from the public and even from prosecutors. Senate Bill 1421 would make the records from internal investigations open to the public and has been described as an effort toward transparency and building trust between communities and the police. The body camera legislation, Assembly Bill 748, mandates that footage of most officer shootings and other serious uses of force be released within 45 days, unless doing so would interfere with an ongoing investigation. An attorney with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press described the bill as representing “one of the strongest commitments to transparency for body cameras,” among laws that have been passed around the country. Both bills are now before Governor Jerry Brown for his signature. [Liam Dillon / Los Angeles Times]

Jail staff let a woman in withdrawal die of seizures: Kelly Coltrain died after three days in withdrawal in a Nevada county jail last summer after jail staff ignored her repeated pleas to be taken to a hospital. Coltrain had informed the sergeant at the Mineral County jail of her history of substance use and seizures when in withdrawal. An hour before her death when she began vomiting, trembling, and “making short, convulsive type movements,” according to a state investigators’ report, the sergeant’s only response was to order her to mop the vomit off the cell floor. Coltrain experienced seizures and died an hour later. Jail staff who went into the cell hours later did not call for medical assistance until the next morning. The 300-page report by investigators faulted jail officials for violating multiple policies and denying Coltrain medical care, but the county district attorney who reviewed the case refused to bring charges. [Anjeanette Damon / Reno Gazette Journal]

In Dallas County, bail is set in a matter of seconds: In January, groups including Civil Rights Corps and the ACLU filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of six plaintiffs to challenge Dallas County’s system of money bail. The lawsuit also challenges, on behalf of two community groups, the secrecy of bail hearings, which are held at the county jail and which neither the public nor the press is allowed to attend. Videos of these hearings, that were submitted as evidence by the plaintiffs and obtained by the Observer, show assembly-line hearings in which judges routinely spend less than 15 seconds on a case and refuse to consider financial circumstances when making their bail decisions. Defendants often do not speak. One magistrate announced that she would only grant personal recognizance bonds—an alternative to cash bail—to people who did not have criminal records. [Michael Barajas / Texas Observer]

Texas county jail replaced visits with video calls: A 2013 contract between the Denton County jail and Securus Technologies made the introduction of video calls using the company’s software contingent on banning visits. The contract spells out (in an amendment that went into effect in 2013) that, “For all non-professional visitors, Customer will eliminate all face to face visitation through glass or otherwise at the Facility and will utilize video visitation for all non-professional on-site visitors.” According to the Denton Record-Chronicle, Securus said in 2014 that it would not enforce the prohibition on visits but the jail continues to ban visits from family and friends. The county has said that it introduced video calls to cut down on the use of the county buildings and parking lots. The contract expires at the end of October. [Dalton LaFerney / Denton Record-Chronicle]

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