Goodbye Tent City; Philly’s Newspaper Makes A Crazy Endorsement; Oops — ICE’s Manual Tells Too Much … and more
Note: This first appeared in our daily In Justice Today newsletter. To get stories like these in your inbox every day, you can sign up here.
In today’s news roundup, we bring you stories about a turn away from punitive practices in the jails formerly run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a look at campaign contributions to Brooklyn’s next DA, an ICE asset forfeiture handbook that gets a little too honest about the agency’s fundraising priorities, a growing recognition of the role of childhood trauma in the commission of adult offenses, and many others.
- Injustice Roundup: Shaun King’s Weekly Roundup of Stories on Abusive Police Officers, Prison Guards, and Prosecutors. This past week, Shaun King highlights Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator, who complained about the impending release of prisoners and how he “hates seeing good men let go because they are the ones that ‘can pick up trash,’ ‘wash cars,’ ‘change oil in our cars,’ and ‘cook in the kitchen.’” To King, Prator’s comments show “how our current systems of mass incarceration are slavery by another name.” Also, in Orange County, California, Deputy District Attorney Sandra Lee Nassar deliberately withheld evidence from the defense. She also said she would “do it” again. King also highlighted the continued controversy over Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s and the appearance of a play to pay scandal in his office, the fact that Salt Lake City District Attorney Sim Gill decided that the fatal police shooting of Patrick Harmon in his back was “just fine,” and how several NYPD officers currently stand accused of rape and child prostitution. [Shaun King / In Justice Today]
- Elections Matter: Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone Announces Plan to Turn “Tent City” Jail Into A Rehabilitation Center. While former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is most notorious for his policing practices that viciously targeted Latinx people, he also treated prisoners with unbelievable cruelty. One example is Arpaio’s “Tent City” jail, where people were jailed in “tents through the sweltering Arizona summer heat and…issued old-fashioned striped prison jumpsuits and pink underwear.” Under the new sheriff, Paul Penzone, “Tent City” is closing, and Penzone announced that the space is being reappropriated in part as a“rehabilitation center for those dealing with substance abuse and opioid addiction.” Penzone called Arpaio’s “Tent City” a “tax money pit” and “drain on detention staffing.” [Jason Pohl & Craig Harris / Arizona Republic]
- Like Cy Vance, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez Takes Questionable Attorney Donations. Just like Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has accepted campaign donations from lawyers with clients prosecuted by his office. One example is attorney Joseph Mure, who represented a woman involved in a high-profile homicide case. Ted Hamm writes for In Justice Today that even if current rules for District Attorney campaign donations stay in place, the level of scrutiny for donations must increase. [Ted Hamm / In Justice Today] See also The New York Times editorial board wrote that Cy Vance’s statement that his office would review campaign donation policies marked “a welcome acknowledgment that what is legal is not necessarily what is proper.” [Editorial Board / The New York Times]
- Philly newspaper endorses Beth Grossman for District Attorney, riling up dissent from powerful city residents. In an unexpected turn, Philadelphia’s biggest newspaper endorsed Beth Grossman over Larry Krasner for District Attorney, predominantly because of her prosecutorial experience. Many people voiced displeasure almost immediately. Philadelphia City Councilmember at Large, Helen Gym, excoriated the paper over its failure to hold Grossman responsible for her role as former head of the office’s “Public Nuisance Task Force, which so abused the civil forfeiture law that a federal lawsuit forced change.”
Gym also challenged the editorial’s narrative that more incarceration equates with more concern for victims:
A reporter on staff with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Mike Newall, also replied to the editorial, stating: “I disagree. We need safe injection sites now & Krasner is only candidate who has come out in full-throated support.”
- How the United States Makes Migrants ‘Pay’ for Their Crimes — and Then Moves to Deport Them. Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a 34-year-old mother of two, came to the U.S. as a teenager in 2000. She needed work to survive, and she used someone else’s social security number to find employment. But then she was arrested for felony criminal impersonation, and an attorney advised her to plead guilty, telling her it would not affect her immigration case. After seven years of making amends — back taxes, jail, probation — Latorre now faces deportation to Peru. Her case highlights disturbing cracks in the justice system, including ineffective legal counsel for migrants and draconian laws that mingle immigration status with criminal offenses. [Tina Vasquez / Rewire] For more on how the federal government relies on local law enforcement to increase deportations and for a discussion on meaningful reforms that jurisdictions can implement to protect both citizens and noncitizens, see The Promise of Sanctuary Cities. [Sanctuary Cities / Fair Punishment Project & Immigrant Defense Project]
- A county in North Carolina wants to give its bail system a serious makeover. Mecklenburg County, the largest county in North Carolina, just received a $2 million grant to reduce its jail population. One solution on the table is to advance a bail system based on risk assessment rather than a person’s ability to pay for their pretrial release. The county has slowly implemented a risk assessment tool over the past few years, but many defendants are still behind bars because they are too poor to make bail. There are also concerns about risk assessment tools within the criminal justice community. Critics say the tools can be racially-biased and reductive. [Carimah Townes / In Justice Today]
- Leaked ICE Guide Offers Unprecedented View of Agency’s Asset Forfeiture Tactics. The Intercept obtained a manual used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to guide agents on when to seize assets belonging to individuals who may be under investigation. The manual advises agents to weigh the cost of seizure against the value of the property (and hence the financial benefit to ICE), and to refrain from taking assets when it does not make sense financially to do so. This squares with accusations that civil forfeiture is used primarily to generate revenue rather than to serve a particular law enforcement purpose. The manual does indicate that there are times when law enforcement priorities should trump profitability considerations, but the fact that this has to be specified — and indeed as a special case — does little to rehabilitate the image of a practice that has come under intense scrutiny in the past year, including a vote by the House of Representatives last month to limit its use. [Ryan Devereaux and Spencer Woodman / The Intercept]
Trauma and Crime
- A Gun to His Head as a Child. In Prison as an Adult. Rob Sullivan grew up watching his father beat his mother, and both parents were often drunk by the time he got home from school. Sullivan himself started drinking before reaching his teens. His mother and a cousin who was like a sister to him both died of heroin overdoses, and he himself eventually began to use heroin. One could hardly disagree with his characterization of his childhood as “chaotic.” Sullivan has been in and out of various kinds of incarceration or rehabilitation facilities since his early teens, and a growing body of research is helping to show how his substance use and criminal offending stem from his childhood trauma. Sullivan scored a 9 out of 10 on a questionnaire meant to determine the severity of childhood trauma. Even a score of 4 would have shown him to be at a “substantially elevated risk of chronic disease, depression, suicide attempts, substance abuse and violence.” Recent research has shed more light on the extent to which childhood trauma changes the brain in ways that persist into adulthood, leading to problems with impulse control, decision making, and executive function. However, this is not to say that traumatized youth are doomed. Developments in the understanding of the brain’s ability to forge new connections even well into adulthood provides some hope. However, it is incumbent on justice system actors to take this research into account and develop methods of dealing with trauma that ameliorate rather than exacerbate its lasting effects. [Audra S.D. Burch / New York Times]