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Number of people locked up in rural jails is skyrocketing

Number of people locked up in rural jails is skyrocketing

A new report shows that the number of people locked up in rural jails has continued to significantly increase, making it difficult to decrease the total number of people locked up in the United States.

The report, written by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, argues that the real challenge to reducing the prison population requires reform in the rural counties where the population is under 250,000 people.

This will likely be a surprise to many, with the conventional wisdom being that the major issue lies in big cities. But pretrial incarceration rates in rural counties increased 436 percent between 1970 and 2003.

That is a concern because many rural counties struggle to “fund and deliver justice,” the report said.

“America’s 3,283 local jails are the ‘front door’ to mass incarceration,” wrote research director Christian Henrichson at the start of the report. “But for too long, county jail systems have operated and grown outside public view.”

Researchers who worked on the report found two major issues causing the rural jail boom. More people are being held in pretrial detention and either being denied bail, or have bail so high that can’t pay it, and there are more people locked up in rural jails who were actually arrested somewhere else.

That is primarily because a number of rural jails are now moneymakers for the counties they are in, with many renting out beds to federal, state and other local governments.

“In some cases, jails are even building new capacity to meet external jail bed demands unrelated to crime in their own jurisdiction,” a report summary said. “In 11 states in the South and West, for example, more than 30 percent of the people in jail were held for other authorities.”

Henrichson said the use of jails has declined in urban areas even as their use has skyrocketed in rural areas.

“While it may not seem like a matter of national significance when a single jail expands from, say, 100 beds to 200, these numbers add up quickly when it is multiplied over thousands of counties,” Henrichson said. “Consequently, it is mathematically impossible to end mass incarceration if the jail populations in small towns do not take the same downward trajectory as big cities.”

Longtime Miami prosecutor faces criticism after failing to prosecute corrections officers

Longtime Miami prosecutor faces criticism after failing to prosecute corrections officers

After almost a quarter century in the job, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle is facing criticism like never before.

Her decision to not seek charges against corrections officers for the death of a mentally ill inmate who was locked in a scalding hot shower for 90 minutes has enraged the community and created doubt on how much longer Rundle will be the chief elected prosecutor.

Darren Rainey, 50, who suffered from severe mental illness, smeared feces on himself at the Dade Correctional Institute in June 2012, and guards responded by locking him in the shower. Before he died, other inmates said he was screaming for mercy.

According to the Miami Herald when guards came into the shower to check on Rainey he was on his back and dead. “His skin was so burned that it had shriveled from his body, a condition referred to as slippage, according to a medical document involving the death.”

It has also been reported that the shower had been used to punish other inmates and keep them in line.

An autopsy report found the death to be accidental, a finding that has been widely criticized. But Rundle has declined to bring charges against any of the corrections officers working that day.

That decision has prompted a backlash against Miami’s longest serving public official. The Miami-Dade Democratic Party considered passing several resolutions condemning Rundle, with one calling for her resignation.

No resolution passed because there were not enough Democratic Party officials at the meeting to form a quorum. But the meeting was packed with people angry at the decision and critical of Rundle, with many saying she had failed to hold police officers accountable.

Rundle defended herself at the forum, arguing that the Medical Examiner did not believe Rainey’s death was a homicide, and that proving a crime had been committed would be impossible when the medical examiner’s report argued otherwise. She also said the public’s concern about the case was a “mob mentality.”

But two other medical examiners who examined the case at the request of the Miami Herald disagreed with the findings of Miami-Dade Medical Examiner Emma Lew, and argued that the burns were severe enough on Rainey’s body that his death was not an accident. According to the Herald those medical examiners “believe that his injuries showed that he was scalded prior to his death.”

The criticism is shocking for Rundle, the first female Hispanic state attorney in Florida and someone who has racked up impressive reelection margins when she’s been challenged.

The state attorney has also started indicating she may run for governor of Florida, although if she did she’d likely have fences to mend with Democrats she’d need to win the primary. And Rundle is continuing to generate controversy by blocking critics on Twitter.

Rundle became State Attorney in 1993. She was appointed to the position by Florida Governor Lawton Chiles after her predecessor, Janet Reno, became the U.S. Attorney General.

Rundle has been reelected seven times. She was last elected in 2016 with no opposition.

Rundle is 67 and will be 70 when her current term expires in 2020. And if she chooses to run again, a strong Democratic challenger will likely be waiting for her.

By 2020 Rundle will have been the chief elected prosecutor of Miami-Dade for 27 years. The views of criminal justice have changed radically in that time, and the elected state attorneys in Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville were all thrown out of office by voters in 2016 and replaced by people who seemed more in tune with criminal justice reform efforts sweeping the country.

But no matter what happens, it is now highly unlikely that anyone will ever answer for what happened to Darren Rainey. That will be part of Rundle’s legacy, not matter how much longer she serves in her current position.

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Utah case shows difficulty in holding unethical prosecutors accountable

Utah case shows difficulty in holding unethical prosecutors accountable

Prosecutors have an enormous amount of power, and are very rarely held accountable when that power is abused.

Take this recent case out of Utah. Prosecutors listened in on conversations former Provo Councilman Steve Turley had with his attorney after he’d been arrested and charged with 10 counts of fraud in real estate deals, violating attorney client privilege.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, a copy was made of the feed, but was later destroyed.

A judge later ruled that Turley’s rights had been violated, but found that no harm had been done. All the charges against him were later either dismissed or dropped.

“This has been a lot of hell,” Turley said in 2015 when the charges were dropped. “And yet we’re here today, proud to have the judge confirm what we’ve always known, that there was no criminal activity on my part.”

But Turley also said the criminal charges had ruined his life, and he doubted the damage could be repaired.

“It has devastated our family, and it’s a shame we had to go through that — that some overzealous prosecutors had the ability to do that to an innocent family’s life,” Turley said. “I don’t know how something like this can be made right.”

But County Attorney Jeff Buhman and all of his subordinates that were involved in the case have not been punished, or suffered any negative repercussions to their careers. And that’s not unusual.

“There is no disincentive for these guys to ever play by the rules,” Turley said.

Turley has filed a lawsuit, but that suit will have to overcome the immunity prosecutors normally enjoy as a part of doing their jobs. An argument could be made that what prosecutors did in this case was so egregious that they are not immune, similar to what happened in the Duke rape case. The challenge is that the judge originally ruling that no harm was done.

But the problem goes beyond Turley. State bar associations have been noticeably reluctant to go after prosecutors, and the public seems to prefer believing that prosecutors are acting in an ethical way, even though many defense attorneys will tell you that prosecutors are happy “forgetting” to give them important discovery and convictions are often reversed when prosecutors make inflammatory and prejudicial statements to jurors.

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity has found that 43 percent of wrongful convictions were attributable to misconduct. That includes failing to turn over Brady material required by law and introducing evidence into trials that should have been ruled inadmissible.

But the public may be changing its view. Many people have a skeptical view of the criminal justice system, and cases like Turley’s will make even conservative law and order people wonder if something is rotten with the countries prosecutors.

It’s up to the ethical prosecutors to fight back. We’ll see in the next few years if anything changes.

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