Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: On George H.W. Bush’s legacy and who is afforded respect in death

  • Immigrant who fled gangs and torture challenges ICE detainers

  • Black Lives Matter DC’s battle to end stop-and-frisk in the nation’s capital

  • In a Utah courthouse, kids are placed in belly chains and even ankle cuffs

  • Massachusetts governor calls for temporary removal of judge who may have helped immigrant evade arrest by ICE

  • Civil rights abuses followed a prison riot

  • U.S. citizen detained for weeks after ICE flagged him for deportation

In the Spotlight

On George H.W. Bush’s political legacy and who is afforded respect in death

In 2014, retired federal judge Nancy Gertner wrote about the long shadow of the Willie Horton case. Specifically, she wrote about how “the publicity surrounding the case … set back criminal justice reform in Massachusetts—and still does to this day.” [Nancy Gertner / Boston Globe]

“The publicity surrounding the case,” of course, for most people refers to the notorious ad that was run in support of George H.W. Bush’s campaign for president in 1988. That ad, using Horton’s case to paint opponent Michael Dukakis as soft on crime, became, as Vox described it, the key reference point for dog-whistle politics thereafter. William Horton had been serving a sentence of life without parole in Massachusetts, where Dukakis was governor, when he was granted a weekend furlough. [Rachel Withers / Vox] While on furlough, Horton was charged and convicted of raping a women and stabbing her boyfriend. And while a local Massachusetts newspaper had also seen fit to run a series on Horton’s case (that went on to win a Pulitzer prize) and Al Gore brought it up against Dukakis during the Democratic primary, it was the Bush campaign ad and the sinking of Dukakis’s presidential election chances that would go on to haunt criminal justice policy in the United States for the decades after. [Beth Schwartzapfel and Bill Keller / Marshall Project]

In 2015, Beth Schwartzapfel and Bill Keller of the Marshall Project took a close look at the Horton case, the politics of criminal justice policy, and Horton himself. Furlough programs were relatively uncontroversial at the time Horton’s was granted. Over the course of the ’80s, all 50 states and the federal government offered them. As Schwartzapfel and Keller note, “murderers served an average of eight years before they were paroled or commuted, so furloughs were, in the toolkit of a previous generation, an uncontroversial proposition.” It was understood that furloughs “offered incentives for good behavior behind bars” and a chance for people “to reacclimate to the life they would almost certainly return to outside of prison.” [Beth Schwartzapfel and Bill Keller / Marshall Project]

The federal government also had a furlough program in place at the time. As vice president, Bush had done nothing to limit it, and after he was elected president, he showed no interest in restricting it. [Paul Waldman / Washington Post] When governor of California, Ronald Reagan defended the state’s furlough program after two men out on furlough committed murders. After the first murder, Reagan pointed out that “more than 20,000 already have these passes … and this was the only case of this kind, the only murder.” And he celebrated the fact that California was “leading the nation in rehabilitation,” saying, “obviously you can’t be perfect.” [Doug Willis / Associated Press] And while Massachusetts was unusual in that it made furlough available to certain people serving life without parole sentences, there were many other states where furlough was a possibility for people convicted of first-degree murder (for which in Massachusetts, life without parole was the automatic sentence). [Robin Toner / New York Times]

Massachusetts, Gertner wrote, went from being a state where a governor’s anti-crime council could agree that “mental health policy, juvenile justice, family services, even labor and employment had to be incorporated into solutions” to one where “mandatory sentences proliferated; alternatives to imprisonment were ignored” and “the media regularly attacked so-called lenient judges—ignoring those who were needlessly harsh.” The result was that “Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina have all gone farther to reduce prison populations than Massachusetts.” [Nancy Gertner / Boston Globe]

In 2017, writing in the Los Angeles Times, John Pfaff described the “Willie Horton effect”—“the powerful asymmetry that permeates our punishment policy: Even smart leniency is politically costly, but severity is not.” That reality has an especially pernicious effect in places where prosecutors and judges are elected. [John Pfaff / Los Angeles Times] Common-sense and compassionate policies are seen as too politically costly if the commission of a single serious crime by a person released on bail, after the completion of a sentence, or on parole, is then blamed on the judges, prosecutors, or parole commissioners involved.

After George H. W. Bush died last week, there has been a discussion of whether, and when, a political figure can be criticized after death for the harms they caused while alive. An article in Out, which described Bush’s failure to address the AIDS epidemic, as vice president and as president, noted how media accounts regularly deny dignity to many who die at the hands of the criminal legal system. The civility and restraint urged by those who would like Bush—in elected politics nearly his entire adult life—commemorated in an entirely positive light is selectively extended. If “we really did have a cultural consensus that all humans are entitled to respect in death,” Naomi Gordon-Loebl writes, then “perhaps Michael Brown, just seventeen years old and far from a public figure, would not have been described as ‘no angel’ in a national newspaper just days after his murder at the hands of an adult police officer. Sandra Bland might have been spared the constant emphasis on the ‘marijuana in her system’ the same month she was laid to rest. Trayvon Martin’s school suspension record might not have been dredged up one month after he was killed on a trip home from the store to buy Skittles.” [Naomi Gordon-Loebl / Out]

Stories From The Appeal

An ICE operation in Atlanta targeting immigration fugitives, re-entrants, and convicted criminal undocumented immigrants in February. [Photo illustration by Anagraph. Photo by Bryan Cox/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Getty Images]

Immigrant Who Fled Gangs and Torture Challenges ICE Detainers. Attorneys for a Honduran woman are suing over the widespread jailhouse practice of honoring ICE requests to hold incarcerated immigrants for pickup. [Debbie Nathan]

Black Lives Matter DC’s Battle to End Stop-and-Frisk in the Nation’s Capital. Advocates say the city has dragged its feet on legislation meant to ensure transparency on the police practice, and that data released so far—from 2010 to 2016, nearly 82 percent of stops involved Black people—signals that it’s time to end stop-and-frisk entirely. [Ella Fassler]

Stories From Around the Country

In a Utah courthouse, kids are placed in belly chains and even ankle cuffs: Young people are routinely shackled while waiting to appear before a judge with “their hands bound to a belly chain that rests on their hips” in one rural courthouse in Utah, according to reporting by the Salt Lake Tribune.  They often remain shackled even during their appearance before the judge. If children are ordered detained, then officers “cuff[…] their ankles to a steel plate in the jury room,” while awaiting their transfer to a detention center. The shackling takes place despite a 2015 juvenile justice bill and a judicial rule that followed, which require judges to make a decision to order shackling on a case-by-case basis if someone presents a flight risk or potential harm to others in the courtroom. Court officials at Sanpete County Courthouse invoke the “exigent circumstances” exception in the judicial rule to argue that the building, which dates back to 1935, presents security issues that necessitate shackling. [Jessica Miller / Salt Lake Tribune]

Massachusetts governor calls for temporary removal of judge who may have helped immigrant evade arrest by ICE: Governor Charlie Baker is calling for the temporary removal of a Massachusetts judge who is under investigation for allegedly helping an undocumented man evade arrest by ICE. It would be a highly unusual action to take against a sitting judge. A federal grand jury is investigating whether Judge Shelley M. Joseph and other Newton District Court personnel allowed a man facing deportation to leave through a rear courthouse door while ICE officers were waiting to arrest him in April. Baker argues that Joseph may have violated court policies. The town of Newton previously declared itself a sanctuary community. The executive director of Massachusetts Communities Action Network, an immigrants’ rights group, praised the court staff’s actions, telling the Boston Globe: “I would see it as a form of civil disobedience. It’s just unusual that a judge might be the one who did it.” [Andrea Estes, Maria Cramer, and Matt Stout / Boston Globe]

Civil rights abuses followed a prison riot: During a violent encounter between officers and incarcerated people in an Arizona state prison in March, officers used firearms, pepper spray, and tear gas. One man was fatally shot and 37 others were injured. Yet a man incarcerated at the Yuma prison told KJZZ, “The worst part was the aftermath.” Trent Bouhdida and 70 others allege violations of their civil rights. Over 1,000 men were locked outside in the recreation yard, where they did not have access to restrooms for a night, were unable to shower, had to sleep in the cold, had little access to drinking water, and were subjected to violence that included “dogs in face” and “boots on backs.” One of the men told KJZZ, “The first night, our hands were zip tied behind our backs,” causing him to lose feeling in his hands. People did not receive their prescription medications, including one man who required anti-seizure medication twice a day and ended up having an epileptic seizure while detained in the yard. [Jimmy Jenkins /]

U.S. citizen detained for weeks after ICE flagged him for deportation: The ACLU, the ACLU of Florida, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher filed a lawsuit in federal court in Miami yesterday, on behalf of a U.S. citizen who was detained by a Florida sheriff’s office for weeks to be deported. Peter Sean Brown was born in Philadelphia and has lived in Florida for 10 years. When he went to the Monroe County sheriff’s office in April to turn himself in on a probation violation, he ended up detained after deputies told him that ICE had placed a detainer request on him and that he would be deported to Jamaica—a country where he has spent a total of one day, while on a cruise. Though the sheriff’s own case file stated that Brown was a U.S. citizen and he repeatedly offered to arrange for his birth certificate to be sent, the deputies detained Brown for weeks until ICE picked him up. He was ultimately released after ICE officers agreed to look at his birth certificate. This is Brown’s second experience with the federal government trying to deport him: ICE’s predecessor, INS, mistakenly tried to deport him 20 years ago. [Jerry Iannelli / Miami New Times]

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

Have a tip for The Appeal? Write to us at A good tip is a clear description of newsworthy information that is supported by documented evidence.

The Appeal in Your Inbox

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.