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Dispatch: A Light at the End of the Tunnel for Juvenile Lifers in Pennsylvania

Harrisburg, PA, October 25, 2017

Dispatch: A Light at the End of the Tunnel for Juvenile Lifers in Pennsylvania

On Labor Day 2017, Giovanni Jerry Reid of Philadelphia was released from Graterford Prison in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. He had served 26 years of a life sentence without possibility of parole, imposed when he was only 16 years old. On that warm, sunny morning, as he took his very first steps as a free adult, Giovanni was greeted by his family, his friends, and his lawyer in an emotional reunion. Giovanni Reid is not the first, nor will he be the last, “juvenile lifer” to leave prison behind. There is a quiet drama unfolding in Pennsylvania as more than 500 men and 10 women, many now in their 50s and 60s, are re-sentenced. Many will return to their communities.

Pennsylvania is ground zero in the struggle to free the last of the victims of one of the most egregious sentencing schemes of the “tough on crime” era: the sentencing of juveniles as young as fourteen to life without possibility of parole (JLWOP). Pennsylvania sentenced more children to die in its prisons than any other place on earth. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory JLWOP was a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, Pennsylvania, unlike other affected states, refused to make the ruling retroactive, leaving hundreds of juvenile lifers still serving unconstitutional sentences. It took another four years for the Supreme Court to hold that its ruling in Miller was retroactive, and Pennsylvania was finally compelled to begin the process of resentencing and releasing the hundreds of men and women who had grown up in prison.

As they emerge from what they had always believed would be a sentence of “death by incarceration,” these men and women are reentering a world of cell phones, email, and social media — inventions that existed only in the realm of science fiction when they were locked up. But it’s not only technology that has changed. The past decade has seen the rapid expansion of a new human rights movement led by the formerly incarcerated. And those of us on the outside have been fighting hard to provide those on the inside with the resources they will need to make a smooth transition: housing, employment, education, health care, emotional support, and also the opportunity to join our struggle. We understand how important it is to help our brothers and sisters rebuild their lives, not only out of a powerful sense of empathy, but also to expose the lie upon which mass incarceration is based. The unconscionably long prison sentences that characterize the American criminal justice system have little to do with protecting public safety, and much to do with continuing centuries of racial and class subjugation. Ending JLWOP is just the first act in the much longer drama of radically shortening criminal sentences across the board.

Pennsylvania’s juvenile lifers experienced their first glimmer of hope on March 1, 2005. That was the day the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the execution of people who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed violated the Constitution. A group of juvenile lifers at Graterford Prison took note. Although the ruling in Roper v. Simmons did not directly apply to them, they saw a crack in the previously impregnable wall of death by incarceration in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. He wrote, “When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the State can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the State cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity.” Couldn’t Justice Kennedy’s reasoning apply to them as well? They started group called Juvenile Lifers for Justice. John Pace, who was released in February of this year after 31 years of incarceration, was one of the founders. “We wanted to keep an eye on the legal landscape and track how the issue of juvenile culpability was evolving,” he explains.

Next came the Graham v. Florida decision in 2010 in which the Court ruled that juveniles could not be sentenced to life without parole for non-homicide crimes. The crack in the wall got a little bigger. In 2012 the crack became a potential escape hatch when the Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment applied to all mandatory juvenile LWOP sentences. Despite the fact that the Court was silent on the question of whether the Miller ruling was retroactive, the men in Juvenile Lifers for Justice began to plan for their own release. “We wanted to be a good example, to not re-offend, and to create opportunities for each other as we came out,” said Pace. And for that to happen, planning needed to start right away. Based on what they had learned from the lifers and their families, two young lawyers, Lauren Fine and Joanna Visser Adjoian, founded the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project which would be instrumental in guiding the juvenile lifers through the re-sentencing, parole and reentry process.

It took another four years for juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Pennsylvania was one of only four states that did not apply the Miller decision retroactively. But in 2016, the state was compelled to do so when the Supreme Court held in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its ruling in Miller was retroactive. Finally, the re-sentencing and release of juvenile lifers got underway. As of September 2017, 125 people had been re-sentenced and 76 had been released on parole. They join the more than 300,000 returning citizens in Philadelphia alone.

Paradoxically, the very extremity of the situation in Pennsylvania has given birth to a dynamic and diverse sentencing reform movement, driven in large part by the active participation and leadership of formerly incarcerated people — people like J. Jondhi Harrell, Director of the Center for Returning Citizens and Reuben Jones, Director of Frontline Dads, both of them graduates of JustLeadershipUSA’s Leading with Conviction program. John Pace, who cut his teeth as an organizer while still serving a life sentence, has organized a peer-support group to help his brothers adjust to life on the outside. He explains that they understand very well their responsibility to “do no harm.” Recognizing the incredible potential to bring about radical sentencing reform in Pennsylvania, JustLeadershipUSA held an Emerging Leaders training in Philadelphia last April for 35 formerly incarcerated people, John Pace and other juvenile lifers among them.

On October 25th, hundreds of Pennsylvanians, under the umbrella of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, rallied at the state capitol in Harrisburg, demanding an end to all LWOP sentencing in the state. Pennsylvania has 10 percent of all the people in the country serving life without possibility of parole sentences. They heard a message from Felix Rosado, a member of Right 2 Redemption, an organization inside Graterford prison:

“Life without parole says that in no amount of time and with no degree of effort can 50,000 people across the U.S. — and over 5,000 in PA — ever rise above their worst moment and become worthy of life outside towered walls and razor-wired fences. To be deemed forever irredeemable goes against what it means to be human.”

Glenn E. Martin is the President and Founder of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), an organization dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of In Justice Today.

Hawaii Law Enforcement “Power Couple” Faces Criminal Charges

Hawaii Law Enforcement “Power Couple” Faces Criminal Charges

Retired Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a deputy prosecutor, have been arrested on multiple federal charges, including conspiracy, making false statements to federal officers, obstruction and bank fraud.

Katherine Kealoha is also charged with aggravated identity theft. The couple both pleaded not guilty to all charges in federal court earlier this month. Each was released on $100,000 bond. Their trial is scheduled for Dec. 19.

Federal prosecutors had sought to hold Katherine Kealoha without bail, citing “multiple acts of obstruction,” including using 10 different phone lines to contact witnesses in the federal investigation and demonstrating a willingness to destroy and falsify evidence. However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi ruled against the prosecutors, stating they did not provide adequate proof to keep her in custody.

At a news conference following the couple’s arraignment, federal prosecutors painted the picture of a couple willing to use their powerful law enforcement positions to settle personal scores and seek personal gain. “The 20-count indictment describes a complex web of fraud, deception and obstruction by a husband and wife team so desperate to fund their lifestyle and maintain their self-professed status as Honolulu’s power couple that they swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks, credit unions and some of the most vulnerable members of the community, including a disabled uncle, a 98-year-old grandmother and two minor children who were under Katherine Kealoha’s guardianship,” said acting U.S. Attorney Alana Robinson.

Louis Kealoha was forced to retire as Police Chief last year after news of the federal investigation became public. His wife has been put on leave without pay from her position in the Career Criminal Unit of the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office pending the outcome of the case.

As In Justice Today has previously reported, the investigation stems from multiple situations involving Katherine Kealoha. The first involved a feud between Kealoha and her 98-year-old grandmother, Florence Puana. According to Hawaii News Now, “In 2011, Puana accused her granddaughter of emptying their joint bank account of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The money was from a reverse mortgage Kealoha arranged for Puana’s Wilhelmina Rise home, the home she raised her nine children in.”

Puana sued Kealoha. She claims her granddaughter tried, unsuccessfully, to have her declared incompetent before the trial. Puana lost the lawsuit, but their ongoing disagreements led to allegations by Puana that Kealohaattempted to criminally frame her son (Kealoha’s uncle), Gerard Puana, by faking the theft of her mailbox. Gerard Puana had taken his mother’s side in the dispute over her home.

According to the federal charges, Katherine Kealoha enlisted her husband, and he subsequently engaged police officers under his command in the conspiracy to frame Gerard Puana. Five police officers have now been arrested and accused of participating in this crime. One, Niall Silva, has pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy and acknowledged making false statements, falsifying records and obstructing official proceedings in an attempt to discredit Puana.

Prosecutors also have accused Kealoha of bank fraud. They claim she stole money that had been earmarked for two children under her care. According to the criminal charges, Kealoha used hundreds of thousands of dollars from a trust account set up for the children to cover her personal expenses and to provide collateral for a personal loan.

Criminal charges against Katherine Kealoha also go back to allegations she engaged in ticket fixing. Allegedly, her electrician received a ticket in 2014. Kealoha told him she would take care of it. She appeared at a court hearing and asked the judge to dismiss the charge, maintaining that a career criminal who’d stolen the electrician’s identity had been driving at the time.

The FBI began investigating her testimony the next year. Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, Katherine Kealoha’s boss, now also appears to be under investigation for falsely backing up Kealoha’s claims, and then questioning the integrity of the ticketing officer.

“This is just the beginning,” said Robinson, the acting U.S. Attorney, at the press conference after the Kealohas were arraigned.

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Commentary: Ripping Off Cy Vance’s Mask

The “reformer” still prosecutes farebeaters

Commentary: Ripping Off Cy Vance’s Mask

The “reformer” still prosecutes farebeaters

On October 19th, a few dozen public defenders and grassroots activists showed up outside the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to rip the reformer mask off of one of America’s most well-known prosecutors. While Cyrus Vance is deservedly being raked over the coals for his non-prosecution of Harvey Weinstein, the most disastrous legacy of prosecutors like him is that they haveprosecuted poor, everyday people for low-level, nonviolent offenses while enjoying reputations as reformers.

As speakers from groups like VOCAL-NY and Why Accountability broke down Vance’s role in the meatgrinder of New York City’s criminal justice system, a long line continued to grow outside criminal court, which was across the street. Everyone on the line, as usual, was Black or Latino and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone on that line who thought the justice system was anything but a conveyor belt of punishment.

So as reporters, hungry for quips about Vance or Weinstein, crowded around our rally, it occurred to me that Vance wouldn’t have been able to pass himself off as a reformer without their help. Take, for example, Vance’s announcement this past summer that he’d stop prosecuting people arrested for fare-beating in Manhattan, the classic Broken Windows policing arrest. Local media outlets, of course, drank in the tale of the merciful, progressive prosecutor.

“Manhattan DA will end criminal prosecution of fare beaters this fall,” read a Gothamist headlineThe Atlantic said Vance “would stop prosecuting fare beating, offering alternatives like community service instead of criminal charges.” NPR’s Marketplace headline even went so far as to proclaim that “New York won’t arrest you for stealing a subway ride anymore,” which is a strange take considering it’s police, not prosecutors, who do the arresting in New York City.

But months after the headlines, you can still get arrested for jumping the turnstile in Manhattan and, in many cases, you’ll still get prosecuted. Indeed, looking closer at Vance’s proposal, you can see that the Manhattan DA’s mercy will be extended for cases “unless there is a demonstrated public safety reason to do so.” This means that Vance’s prosecutors, with strong influence from arrest-obsessed NYPD, can, and will, make exceptions.

While the press marveled at the notion of a prosecutor vowing to not prosecute, most public defenders I spoke with pointed out the problems with Vance’s announcement from the very beginning. For starters, transit recidivists (i.e. people who’ve had multiple transit arrests, like, say, someone who’s been arrested for fare-beating twice), will more than likely not benefit from Vance’s proposal. And there are, of course, other key questions.

What about people who are on parole or probation? Will those with felony convictions avoid prosecution? And what will happen to those who didn’t want to do community service or diversion programs? There is also the bigger picture question as to whether having to perform community service or being mandated to attend a diversion program is a fair way to deal with someone who is too poor to afford the fare (hint: it’s not).

The ballyhooed announcement raised concerns and questions and we (The Coalition to End Broken Windows) criticized it shortly thereafter in July. Still, Vance, with fawning approval from the media, successfully stuck another reform feather in his cap — at least until the Weinstein scandal broke.

So it came as little surprise that stories eventually would start to roll in about Vance, you know, prosecuting farebeating cases. Volunteers with Police Reform Organizing Project’s court monitoring program saw at least two farebeating prosecutions during their most recent visit to Manhattan criminal court two weeks ago. A public defender also tweetedthat week that 12 people had been prosecuted for fare-evasion by Vance in one 8-hour stretch alone. If this sounds familiar it’s because this dynamic also played out in 2014 when the Brooklyn DA’s Office, under the late Ken Thompson, announced they kinda, sorta wouldn’t prosecute low-level marijuana possession cases — except when they would.

So yea, Weinstein’s non-prosecution exposes a criminal justice system that favors the rich and influential but let’s not lose sight of the prosecutors and re-faux-mers who have their hands on the levers of power and continue to hurt people on a daily basis despite attempts to brand the criminal justice system as kinder and gentler.

Josmar Trujillo is writer and activist based in East Harlem. He organizes with the Coalition to End Broken Windows, a coalition of grassroots groups based in New York. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.

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