Think big!

Aug 21, 2020

N.Y. Times – John Roman
Why Criminal Justice Reform Needs to Think Big – There are too many police officers in the US. We need patient, tolerant, unbiased, hard-headed, soft-hearted cops. But we only need a few.

This article may be especially helpful in framing the discussions around police and corrections reform.  Much of the discussion to date has resulted in a critique that the proposed changes are peripheral to the issues and cannot result in substantive and structural changes to the present practices.  The assumption is that most police officers are good and do not engage in reprehensible behaviour – the few bad apples in the barrel perspective.  The view ignores the deeply racist structural of not only policing but all types of administration of justice.  Roman thinks there are too many police already and there is very doubtful benefit to adding more. He identifies two serious inhibitions to big thinking around reform and then offers solutions with the big ideas to propel the changes needed.  Related article: Panama City News Herald – The cruel, wasteful prison policies

Toronto City Life – Paula Osmok
The post-pandemic future: We will drastically reduce the number of people in Ontario jails—and prevent more crimes in the process

What will the criminal legal system look like after Covid-19?  The provincial government more than the federal has released a significant number of prisoners on remand – those charged but no trial yet, driving home the cost of jailing most people charged with a crime from the first appearance in court.  The moment brings the realization that there has been no consequent uptick in crime because so many were released under these new regulations.  Osmok, Director General of John Howard of Ontario, thinks we need to stop using jails and prisons as the first resort and by adding and improving alternates, relegate jail to the last resort.

 CBC News
Ford government hires 200 new OPP officers as some question decision amid calls to defund police – Province says it’s responding to a report on officers’ mental health, occupational stress

The article raises the question about whether this decision is tone deaf by ignoring the larger problem or if there is a genuine solution in spending $25 million to hire 200 more OPP officers as a response to mental health and stress of those serving now.  Thirteen OPP officers took their lives from the end of 2012 to early 2019.  Critics also pointed out that the timing of the funding is conflictual with many other pressing needs.  Added to the recent decision to purchase body cameras the issue of appropriate priorities is a much needed discussion.  Related comments: Jude Oudshoorn  Pam Palmeter

Toronto Star – Jennifer Pagliaro
Federal government funds first major safe drug supply program in Toronto amid overdose crisis

The point is preventable deaths from opioid use – 27 in July alone, double the June stat.  Ottawa will spend $1.58 million to study the impact of reliable and safe supply of the drugs to those addicted. The province will not participate.   “The new federal funding will allow the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre and South Riverdale Community Health Centre and partners to provide pharmaceutical-grade medication as an alternative to a street drug supply that is unpredictably potent and increasingly toxic. The program will run for a year.”  Related article: Huffpost Canada – Samantha Beattie  Canada’s Prosecutors Take ‘Historic’ Step Towards Decriminalizing Drugs – The move comes as Canada grapples with a devastating opioid crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic.   Related article: Globe and Mail – Jeff Gray   Ottawa funds ‘safer supply’ pilot project for severely addicted opioid users in Toronto  Related article: Concord (NH) Monitor New law requires opioid treatment in county jails – Teddy Rosenbluth

The Marshall Project (US)
A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons – The Marshall Project is collecting data on COVID-19 infections in state and federal prisons. See how the virus has affected correctional facilities where you live.

“By Aug. 18, at least 102,494 people in prison had tested positive for the illness, a 7 percent increase from the week before… New cases among prisoners reached an all-time high in early August after slowing down in June. The growth in recent weeks was driven by big jumps in prisoners testing positive in Florida, California and the federal Bureau of Prisons as well as outbreaks in Arkansas, Hawaii and Oklahoma.”

 The (US) – Michael Kwet
The Microsoft Police State: Mass Surveillance, Facial Recognition, and the Azure Cloud – Microsoft helps police surveil and patrol communities through its own offerings and a network of partnerships — while its PR efforts obscure this.

What’s the latest face of Big Brother?  A comprehensive Mircosoft effort – largely without any substantial public scrutiny – to address the use of electronics and software, especially surveillance, by police.  “But Microsoft, which has largely escaped criticism, is knee-deep in services for law enforcement, fostering an ecosystem of companies that provide police with software using Microsoft’s cloud and other platforms. The full story of these ties highlights how the tech sector is increasingly entangled in intimate, ongoing relationships with police departments.”

Birmingham Times (Alabama)
Beth Shelburne on How a Heart Attack and ‘Mugshot Parades’ Changed Her Life

A heart attack at age 45 changed this lady’s life from a Fox News TV reporter to an advocate for prison reform.  Her entrée into the world of prisons was much more restricted as she found out that “I’m not really welcome by the [State of Alabama] Department of Corrections. They barely even respond to me anymore, but I do have a network of people inside the prisons that I’m in regular contact with,” she said. “I have been into the prisons on multiple occasions, … [and] it opened up this whole world of more reporting.”  Shelburne is now an investigative reporter for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The lesson after two years:  “I’ve learned that there are a lot of really good people who have done some bad things. A lot of people in prison are like that.”

Lawyer’s Daily (Canada) – John Schofield
Surge in COVID-19 justice issues could spur Legal Aid Ontario funding crisis, lawyers warn

Legal aid, especially for Family Court, has long been on tenuous purse strings.  Now its tenuous status is further stretched by Covid-19.  “The impact of the pandemic and interest rate cuts could leave Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) with as much as a $70-million hole in its 2020-21 budget, according to David McKillop, the organization’s vice-president, strategy and public affairs.”  Partially funded by the Law Foundation, Legal Aid has had a now expiring reprieve due to the slow-down in court cases of all kinds.  The return to normal with considerable backlogs is at the heart of the current crisis compounded by provincial cuts last year of $133 million.

N.Y. Times – Ashley Southall
323,911 Accusations of N.Y.P.D. Misconduct Are Released Online – The records had been sealed for decades, but last month, New York repealed a law keeping them secret after national protests against police brutality.

Southall is offering the recently released records – an entire database – from the NY police Department, published by the New York Civil Liberties Union, on the disciplinary cases from 1985 reported to the Civilian Complaint Board.  The article suggests that the record is typical of the route and outcome for complaints made against police.  The complaints involved 81,550 officers with a 3% rate of penalization and 12 officers fired.