Dec 5, 2023 – Christmas behind bars…

Dec 5, 2023 – Christmas behind bars…


Criminal Library (UofT) “December’s monthly highlight, Christmas Behind Bars, showcases issues from our penal press collection to explore the experience of the holidays while incarcerated. On display for the month at the


The Marshall Project (US) – Closing Argument – Lakeidra Chavez

What’s a Hate Crime? Depends on Where You Live – A hodgepodge of state and local laws makes some violence a hate crime in some places, but not in others.  

A hate crime seems almost self-explanatory.  Yet the specific application to a crime incident suggests there are shades and complications, just when the allegations are widespread in generous application in the face of the Israeli / Hamas conflict.  Chavis takes a survey of the states and details how the hate laws, if they exist at all in the state and how they differ in states which have hate laws.  “We have vast data collection and prosecution deserts when it comes to hate crimes,” Brian Levin, a criminologist and former director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, told me recently. “All of this really is reliant on not only what part of the country you were in, but what jurisdiction you’re in.”


Canadian Press – Sarah Smellie

Amid housing crisis, decrepit N.L. jail seen as preferable to living on the street – N.L. man says he prefers jail to homelessness

The short story by O.Henry about breaking a glass window to earn a place in jail when there is no other place have come true for Michael Keough, 37, of St. John’s.  Keough admits losing his tent and starting a deliberate food stealing venture hoping tget caught and arrested.  Then he waived bail and went to the crumbling St. John’s Penitentiary when the comparison between prison and homelessness rendered a choice for a shameful and inhumane leftover from 167 years ago. “If I was released on bail back in September, I would have been back in the same boat. I would have had no resources to help me get on income support, or anywhere to be housed in. So I would have been just under the same circumstance, building up more and more criminal charges,” he said in an interview, adding that there are “several” other men in the penitentiary on purpose, because they were homeless on the outside.”  What have we become?   O.Henry’s short story The Cop and the Anthem (Downloadable)  Related article: CBC News – ‘Sudden death’ of 35-year-old inmate happened after he was taken to hospital, says Justice Department – Office of Chief Medical Examiner engaged in investigation (St. John’s Her Majesty’s Penitentiary) Related article: Toronto Star – Mahdis Habibinia   Why wasn’t Soleiman Faqiri sent to hospital? Inquest reveals jailhouse dysfunction ahead of mentally ill man’s death – Jail staff described a chain of decisions influenced by internal conflicts, frustration with the local hospital and key gaps in knowledge.   John Howard Society, Social Research and Demostration Corporation, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness  No fixed Address – The Intersection of the Justice Involvement and Homelessness  (A 58 page joint report on incarcerated people looking for housing.)


Tweet from Scott Hechinger on policing, costs, and advice on guns: “An interesting story for you. Was catching up w/ a friend at coffeeshop. The mother of her friend walked by & joined us briefly. She’s from Chicago. She told us a story about talking to a Chicago police officer. Thanking him for his service. What he told her will surprise you.” (Hechinger has a series of posts at the link tackling the gun and police expense focus.)  Related article: The Nation – Sharone Mitchell, Jr   There’s No Second Amendment on the South Side of Chicago – Why public defenders are standing with the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association in the Supreme Court.

Tweet from Alec Karakatsanis on crime and police budgets: “It puzzles me when people agree that we shouldn’t cage people for possessing drugs, not having shelter, or driving on a license suspended because they owe debts–but then don’t support reducing police budgets. These three activities alone comprise a huge chunk of police budgets.”


Blogger Russell Webster (UK)

Move to curb imprisonment of pregnant women – Sentencing Council consults on new guidelines for community & custodial sentences, including guidance to consider impact on unborn children.

The UK’s Sentencing Council has recently published (Nov. 29, 2023) a revision of the previous sentencing guidelines from 2017.  What has changed is the insistence on community options for what might have been less than 12 months in prison and consideration for the child of pregnant women.  ‘The consultation is published within the context of the Government promising a presumption of community sentences instead of short (under 12 months) prison sentences and an ongoing campaign against the imprisonment of pregnant women which has gathered force since the tragic deaths in prison of two newly born babies in 2019 & 2020. We must almost remember Aisha and her mother Rianna Cleary and Brooke and her mother Louise Powell.  The consultation runs until 21 February 2024.”   Related article: Vera Institute of Justice (US) “We filed a joint amicus brief with @NYCBarAssn  calling for the appointment of a federal receiver to take control of #RikersIsland. Rikers is a gangrenous limb within the DOC and its excision is necessary for the healing of the Department of Corrections (DOC) as a whole.” Full Press Release from Vera Institute of Justice:  City Bar and Vera Institute Submit Amicus Brief Urging Federal Receiver for Rikers


The Conversation (Canada) Ardavan Eizadirad and Gregory Leslie

Equitable sentencing can mitigate anti-Black racism in Canada’s justice system. 

The authors point to the Gladue measure as a mean of reducing over population of Indigenous people in Canada’s prison system.  Correctional Services Canada says the Black population of the prisons is at 9%, more than double the general population.  “As community activists, we delve into the pressing issue of anti-Black racism in the Canadian justice system and how the implementation of Impact of Race and Culture Assessments (IRCAs) can reduce the over-representation of Black people in the justice system. This is significant as it goes beyond a one-size-fits-all punitive approach that has shown to be ineffective.”  The commentary includes a look at Black youth as well as both federal and provincial admissions to prison.


Jacobin (US) – Eric Rhinehart

Chicago Has a Plan to Revolutionize Community Mental Health and End Police Violence 

The plan was born out of a decision by Chicago’s mayor to close the Woodlawn Mental Health Center.  Residents recognized that they were plagued by two problems: a lack of community care for the mentally ills and a proclivity for their problems to results in death or violence from police.  “…the Collaborative for Community Wellness, consists of three interdependent parts. First, to relieve police of their responsibility to function as mental health workers, it calls for the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) to build out a nonpolice mobile crisis response system for the entire city. Second, it entails reopening the network of nineteen public mental health centers that CDPH operated until the 1990s to now function as crisis reception and stabilization centers, as well as community hubs for everyday preventative outreach and supportive services… Third, TNT revolves around hiring a large-scale community care worker corps comprised of lay residents from Chicago’s most dispossessed neighborhoods who are then trained and employed by CDPH in dignified, career positions (i.e. with compensation, benefits, and protections parallel to those currently given to police officers).”


CBC News – Morning Brief – John Hutchion

2 jobs, 2 side hustles, but this gig economy worker can’t get ahead…

Twenty-four-year-old St. John’s (NF) resident Mika Purni is reminder of what is now known as the ‘gig’ economy in which only meager returns come from horrendous commitment to work.  She holds two jobs, two side hustles, a shared apartment with her sister, and a constant strategy to save money and provide for coming needs.  Brice Sopher, head of Gig Workers United, says:  “A lot of people that I speak to, myself included … started this type of work because life as we know it has become increasingly unaffordable.  It’s very difficult now for someone to sustain themselves, I think in most parts of Canada, with just one source of income.” Related article: Global News – Alex Cooke & Megan King   On the Brink: A Nova Scotia family and the ‘never-ending struggle’ to survive  (First of new series profiling people who live on the brink of poverty and adequacy)