Joe Arpaio Is Running for Sheriff, Again

Also today: A Q&A with Jim Hingeley, a longtime public defender who is running for prosecutor to fight “family separation”


In This Edition of the Political Report

August 29, 2019: 

  • Virginia: A longtime public defender runs for prosecutor to fight “family separation”

  • Arizona: Joe Arpaio is running for sheriff, and pledges to reopen his “concentration camp”

  • Mississippi: Medicaid expansion foe wins GOP primary, sets up November clash on issue

  • The politics of prosecutors: Florida prosecutor rolls out new Brady policy, Texas DA fights bail reform, Seattle continues to decriminalize drugs, and more

You can always visit our interactive tracker of legislative developments, our interactive tracker on the politics of prosecutors, and our portal on local elections. 

Virginia: A longtime public defender runs for prosecutor to fight “family separation”

Every year, the United States’s enormous reliance on incarceration separates millions from their families for some period of time, a reality that has yet to stir a transformation of our criminal justice practices. “Every day, we lock parents up for decades in our prisons regardless of how it will affect their children, and no one bats an eye,” Sarah Lustbader of The Appeal wrote in the Washington Post last year, at the height of the protests against President Trump’s immigration policies. “Those who are demanding that children not be treated as collateral damage when it comes to immigration should be just as vocal when it comes to criminal sentencing.”

A candidate for prosecutor has picked up the challenge in Albemarle County, the Virginia jurisdiction that surrounds Charlottesville. “Family separation is not just an ICE policy,” Jim Hingeley wrote on Facebook this month, linking it to pretrial detention and mass incarceration. Hingeley was the chief public defender of Albemarle County and Charlottesville from 1998, when he opened the office, to 2016. He is now running as the Democratic nominee against Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci, a Republican.

I talked to Hingeley about his concerns regarding family separation, and why he thinks the prosecutor’s office is a place from which to fight it.  “I saw families that were torn apart, and I saw the consequences of that,” he replied, alluding to people he represented as a public defender. He denounced the isolation produced by incarceration, from the impact of prisons’ geographic remoteness to the way in which pretrial detention cuts people off from resources they may need for a strong defense. “Their prospects for success after incarceration were very considerably diminished because of family separation,” he said. He also evoked the effects on children, who studies have found experience more hardships when a parent is incarcerated.

Prosecutors have the discretion to alleviate these problems via charging or sentencing decisions that divert more people from incarceration, and Hingeley said he would pursue approaches that keep more people “in the community” and “out of jails and prisons.” For one, he has also pledged to not seek cash bail, which is a system that keeps people detained pretrial over a financial inability to pay.

He also wants to charge more cases at the misdemeanor level, instead of the harsher felony level. In Albemarle County, a higher share of the more serious arrests result in felony-level convictions than in most of the state’s other large jurisdictions, according to an analysis published by Justice Forward Virginia, a nonpartisan political action committee.

Reducing charges in this way would make people eligible for diversionary programs they would otherwise be barred from, so that their offense triggers consequences other than incarceration. If more people faced “some kind of sanction … in the community,” as opposed to receiving a prison sentence, it would lower “the number of people who are going to be separated from their family and from community resources,” he explained.

Lower charges would also mean shorter sentences in cases where prosecutors recommend incarceration, and fewer collateral consequences. State law provides that anyone who is convicted of a felony loses the right to vote for life, and Tracci, the incumbent prosecutor, joined a legal brief in 2016 against then-Governor Terry McAuliffe’s attempt to reform this. By contrast, Hingeley said he applauds McAuliffe’s policy, and that he would be mindful of the loss of voting rights when deciding whether to charge an offense as a felony.

Other candidates are also running for prosecutor elsewhere in Virginia on a platform of ending mass incarceration. Hingeley says he is keeping an eye on their races to form an alternative to the politics of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys, the group that lobbies on behalf of state prosecutors. “I’ve worked against the prosecutors’ association in the legislature on behalf of poor people,” he said, calling them “a very regressive force.” “If I’m elected and other progressive prosecutors are elected,” he added, “we would be small in number, but we can constitute a different voice.”

Our full interview with Jim Hingeley is available here.

Arizona: Joe Arpaio is running for sheriff, and pledges to reopen his “concentration camp”

Joe Arpaio announced on Sunday that he will run for his old position as sheriff of Maricopa County (a huge jurisdiction that includes Phoenix and most of Arizona’s population) in 2020. Arpaio was sheriff for 24 years before disregarding court orders that he stop rounding up Latinx residents and losing his 2016 re-election bid. If he wins the GOP nomination against multiple opponents, he is likely to face Sheriff Paul Penzone, the Democrat who ousted him.

As sheriff, Arpaio detained people in horrid conditions that were continually denounced for human rights abuses. He held immigrants outdoors, often in blistering heat and in chain gangs, in a facility (Tent City) he himself called a “concentration camp.” He oversaw a string of gruesome jail deaths. And he effectively treated his department as a branch of federal immigration enforcement, conducting street patrols that courts and government reports found amounted to systematic racial profiling. In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department documented a “pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos” in the sheriff’s office.

When Arpaio ignored rulings that he must stop racial profiling, a judge found him guilty of contempt of court. But President Trump pardoned Arpaio in 2017. The two men, who have built careers on their nativist politics, could now share the ballot next year in Maricopa County.

And sheriff elections have consequences. Penzone promptly undid Arpaio’s signature policies after beating him; he closed Tent City and stopped honoring ICE detainers (requests that people suspected of being undocumented be held beyond their scheduled release date). The fate of those reforms is on the line in the 2020 elections. Arpaio said in launching his bid that he would reopen Tent City if he is elected. 

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drew backlash for using the expression “concentration camp,” but here we have a prominent law enforcement official who used those same words to describe a facility he himself was overseeing, and who is now running for office to bring that camp back.

All of this said, the issues that plagued Arpaio’s tenure were not unique to him. This fall alone, elections will direct immigration policy in counties like Prince William in Virginia and shape detention conditions in many jails.

Mississippi: Medicaid expansion foe wins GOP primary, sets up November clash on issue

The prospect that Mississippi will expand the Medicaid program suffered a blow on Tuesday when Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves won the GOP nomination for governor. 

Reeves is staunchly opposed to expanding Medicaid as provided under the Affordable Care Act, and he ran ads attacking his Republican opponent Bill Waller for supporting this. “Bill Waller would expand Obamacare in our state,” said one ad. “Three hundred thousand more people on welfare.” An estimated 300,000 Mississippians could qualify for Medicaid if the state implemented this policy.

Reeves next faces Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, who unlike Reeves favors expanding Medicaid. 

Mississippi has one of the country’s highest rates of uninsured residents, alongside other states that have not expanded Medicaid. Having a minimum wage job is enough to make one too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid under the current rules, according to Mississippi Today

Poor access to healthcare is also furthering a dire crisis in the state’s rural hospitals. A report published by the Mississippi Center for Justice in 2015 documents that poor areas with a higher share of uninsured residents are also facing a severe shortage of medical providers, which impedes everyone’s access to treatment whether or not they have insurance. “Mississippi is at the bottom of the pile when it comes to issues of need for access to quality healthcare,” Jennifer Riley Collins, the executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi and the Democratic nominee for attorney general this year, told me. “Citizens of the state of Mississippi are dying, literally, because they can’t access healthcare.”

A lack of insurance coverage also blocks people with substance use or mental health issues from receiving treatment, which makes them likelier to interact with law enforcement. Mississippi is essentially using its carceral system as its response to matters like the opioid crisis. 

Expanding Medicaid could enable more of a public health approach to issues presently funneled through prisons and jails. Stacey Abrams, Georgia Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee in 2018, ran on a platform that called Medicaid expansion a “vital investment” in “public safety,” a connection that studies have documented.

A governor who supports this policy may not be sufficient to achieve expansion (Mississippi Today reports that expansion “likely” requires legislative action), but could facilitate negotiations already in progress between state actors and add pressure on lawmakers.

Ten percent of the voting-age population will be barred from voting in this governor’s race due to Mississippi’s harsh Jim Crow-era rules regarding felony disenfranchisement. In Mississippi as elsewhere, many formerly incarcerated people face health issues but do not qualify for Medicaid under current eligibility rules. They will not be able to weigh in come November.

The election is further shadowed by another Jim Crow-era state law, which requires that a candidate win a majority of the state’s 122 House districts in addition to winning the most votes; otherwise, the election is thrown to the legislature. The rule effectively gerrymanders the governor’s race.

A standalone version of this story is available here.

The politics of prosecutors: Florida prosecutor rolls out new Brady policy, Texas DA fights bail reform, Seattle continues to decriminalize drugs, and more

Florida: Aramis Ayala, the prosecutor of Orange and Osceola counties, announced an expanded process to place people (such as some law enforcement officers) on a so-called Brady list of people with documented credibility issues. Prosecutors will be barred from calling some of those individuals as a witness, and for others on the list they will be warned to proceed with caution. 

Missouri: St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner is trying to vacate the murder conviction of Lamar Johnson because of large amounts of prosecutorial and police misconduct. “Police and prosecutors made up the evidence, according to a 67-page motion,” reports the Washington Post. A long list of issues in Johnson’s 1995 trial was uncovered by a conviction integrity unit (CIU), and 43 reform-minded prosecutors filed an amicus brief in support of Gardner. But on Friday, Judge Elizabeth Hogan refused to grant Gardner’s motion for a new trial, arguing that a circuit attorney has no such authority and that deadlines long expired. The Appeal’s Vaidya Gullapalli reminds us that few prosecutors set up CIUs, and those that do face intense blowback. 

Texas: Harris County (Houston) is on the verge of a major restructuring of its bail system, but DA Kim Ogg just threw a wrench in the planned reform. To recap: A federal judge found the county’s bail rules for misdemeanor offenses unconstitutional in 2017, and this year local officials unveiled a settlement that expands public defense services and provides for the pretrial release of most people arrested for misdemeanors. But last week Ogg filed a legal brief objecting to the settlement, in part over its perceived leniency toward defendants. Audia Jones, who is challenging Ogg in the county’s 2020 DA race, told The Appeal in March that she was “all for” the settlement, and would favor also reforming the way cash bail is used for felonies.

Washington: Seattle has steadily moved toward decriminalizing drugs, and Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times about the policies implemented by local officials, including Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, to promote a public health response to addiction. “Anyone caught here with a small amount of drugs—even heroin—isn’t typically prosecuted. Instead, that person is steered toward social services to get help,” Kristof writes. A program launched in 2011 to divert people toward treatment was expanded last year when Satterberg announced he would stop prosecuting possession of less than one gram of any drug.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week!