US Midterm results…

Nov 15, 2018

Sentencing Project:  US Election impact
State Criminal Justice Reform and the 2018 Midterms

The link provides a summary of changes in criminal justice consequent to the US mid-term elections.  Striking among them is the Florida Amendment 4 that passed at the 60% level restoring voting rights to disenfranchised former felons.  Many of the states – Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio and Washington State – had votes deriving from state initiated prison reform items.  Note as well the decision by the Sentencing Project (lower part of link page) to begin to over-turn a life sentence.   Related article: US News – Kevin McGill and Rebecca  Santana  Associated Press   Louisiana Votes to End Non-Unanimous Jury Verdicts   Related article: Palm Beach Post (US) – John Pacenti  Sheriff to end solitary confinement for teens at Palm Beach County jail under settlement  Related article: Detroit Free News (US) – John Evans   Opinion: Raise the Age for Michigan teens is good policy

Vox (US) – German Lopez
Congress’s prison reform bill, explained – The First Step Act has Trump’s support — but faces some Democratic opposition.

The act is a bipartisan agreement in that it has already passed the house but faces a more difficult future in the Senate.  The Bill does not change criminal justice substantively – mainly because the incarceration on the federal level is small compared to state level – but mainly incentivizes rehabilitation while incarcerated with early release without addressing any of the sentencing elements underlying the mass incarceration.  This bill only addresses what are often called the “back end” rather than the “front-end.”  “…the two main kinds of prison reform: the “front end” and “back end.” Front-end changes are what people typically describe as sentencing reform: They focus on reducing the amount of people sent to prison and the amount of time people spend in prison by changing what happens before someone is locked up — meaning, when someone is arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced. Back-end reforms, meanwhile, focus on cutting prison time once people are already incarcerated — by, for instance, offering credits for good behavior that may let someone get out earlier than they were sentenced for.”    Related article: Prison Policy Initiative (US) – Jorge Renaud    Eight Keys to Mercy: How to shorten excessive prison sentences

Prison Policy Initiative (US) – Aleks Kajstura
Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018

The word of prison reform in the US at the state level is drawing attention to the plight of women enmeshed in the criminal justice system.  The article paints the picture of the consequences of mass incarceration, usually focused on men, when our attention is focused on women.  There is a considerable difference in the picture when the location of the prison is considered – federal, state or local jails – and when the rate of growth in incarceration is considered – for women the growth rate is now twice that of men.   Further factors:  “Looking at the big picture shows that a staggering number of women who are incarcerated are not even convicted: a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial. Moreover, 60% of women under local control have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.”  Also the number of women on parole is a major factor for prison reform.   Related article: The Crime Report – Kate Pastor   Are Americans Finally Turning Away from ‘Tough-on-Crime’ Era?   

 The Guardian (UK) – Damian Gayle
Maternal absence cited as major factor in rise of youth violence

Five people were stabbed to death in London this week bring the knife along as a favourite weapon of the city.  The incidents happened as a new informal study connected the perpetrators with a personal history of absent mothers.  The study also suggested that there was frequently the absence of a trusted adult in the case of maternal absence.  Additionally, all the perpetrators were excluded from school and mothers frequently also known to authorities.

CBC News – Katherine Starr and Vassy Kapelos
More than 20 child killers sent to healing lodges since 2011, figures show

The McClintic presence and eligibility for treatment in a healing lodge continues to stir passions in the House.  The specific case at hand is not unique and in fact even under the Harper government child killers – 14 in total – were sent to healing lodges.  What is not clear is why the reversal of the decision in the McClintic case and her return to a medium security prison.  The issue – whether one goes to jail for more punishment or if jail is itself the punishment, hopefully with programs that offer a chance to rehabilitate – is now blinded by purely political discourse.  Related article: CBC – Power and Politics    Child killer transfer revelations    Related article: Globe and Mail – Canadian Press   ’Deliberate destruction:’ Alberta judge concerned about Indigenous justice

The Tyee (BC) – Paul Willcocks
A Botched Murder Case and Secrecy at the Top

The “Mr. Big” investigatory approach has been controversial for some time, both politically and legally.  Kristy Morrey, 28, was found dead in her Port Alberni apartment in 2006; the case floundered at first but was re-opened nine years later by the RCMP, using the Mr. Big approach.  The Government spent over $2 million on the investigation and the suspect was arrested and spent two years in jail awaiting trial until the evidence dissolved.  An investigation of the investigation has left few answers but perhaps some secrets.

Policy Options – Noah Zon
The Poverty Reduction Act is toothless but not pointless…

The Liberal Government wants to be able to address concerns in the long term, not just within the four year life of an election cycle.  The idea is to make poverty reduction goals federal law and oblige future governments of all stripes to provide for the goals.  The problem with all efforts to bind future governments is that they still have the power to unbind: witness the previous efforts in 2009 in Ontario’s poverty reduction law.  In the final analysis, only the voters can decide if the law is binding.

Star Phoenix (SK) – Canadian Press
AFN national chief urges action on ‘gross human-rights violation’

First Nations national chief Percy Bellegarde wants the practice of forced sterilization of Indigenous women stopped immediately and the scope of the historic practice detailed.  The sterilization involved the severing, burning or tying of the Fallopian tubes.  A class action lawsuit with some 60 litigants has begun against several government jurisdictions and the Saskatchewan Health.

Canadian Families Corrections Network (CFCN) and the Church Council on Justice and Corrections (CCJC) –
Expanding the use of Restorative Justice: Exploring innovations and best practices

The Canadian Senate recently held a forum on how to expand RJ practices to more than the 52% they identified as knowing about RJ.  This article, by Louise Leonardi and Katheryn Bliss, is somewhat dated (Published in 2016) but still have some sticking power on the topic.  It may prove helpful to anyone looking for a refreshing “how to” for RJ in Canada.  The article reviews the origins of RJ, its national and international status as of 2016, and offers a host of specific ways of improving the practice of RJ.