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Buying Judicial Elections

A new series of reports tracking spending trends in judicial elections since 2000, titled "The New Politics of Judicial Elections" shows an explosion of spending in the last 14 years.

Click here to read more in Mother Jones.

Black American Citizens Being Held At Interrogation Center

The Guardian reports that 3,500 people held at Homan Square, a police warehouse described by some of its arrestees as a secretive interrogation facility in Chicago, have been subsequently charged with everything from “drinking alcohol on the public way” to murder. But the scale of the detentions – and the racial disparity therein – raises the prospect of major civil-rights violations.

Click here to read the article in The Guardian.

Militarizing the Police

Tom Dispatch has a very good article about how society changes when we use the police to help solve social problems and sooner or later everyone will be treated like a criminal.

From the "War on Drugs", "The War on Crime", "School to Prison", Immigration etc. everything has been criminalized to the point where we are increasingly living in a police state.

Click here to read the article.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

There are approximately 210,000 people incarcerated in federal prisons, a huge increase from 1980, when there were 24,000 people serving time. This increase is attributed to the War on Drugs and their mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. Paul Cassell, a retired judge from Utah speaks about how unjust these guidelines are.

While talking to ABC News, Cassell talked about a young man who was being charged with a drug offense, "The system forced me to do it. If he had been an aircraft hijacker, he would have gotten 24 years in prison. If he’d been a terrorist, he would have gotten 20 years in prison. If he was a child rapist, he would have gotten 11 years in prison. And now I’m supposed to give him a 55-year sentence? I mean, that’s just not right,” he told ABC News.

Click here to read more.

 

Life Sentences For Petty Crimes

According to a recently released report by the ACLU, more than 3,200 people were serving life in prison without parole for nonviolent crimes. Most of these crimes were minor drug related offenses, others were petty crimes.  A big part of the problem is mandatory sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders. This alone accounted for 83% of the life sentences.

Click here to see charts and read the article.

Flashbang Policing

ProPublica shows how terrifying it is to experience the militarization of policing first hand. Without many details of crimes being committed, the police are launching grenades and storming private residences with guns drawn. These military style assaults are becoming more and more common with terrible results.

Click here to read the complete story.

Police Brutally Beat Up Man With Down's Syndrome

Another instance of police brutality occurred when a police officer in Vista, California savagely beat a man with Down's Syndrome. 21-year old Antonio Martinez was walking to his family's bakery on December 18, 2012 when according to witnesses he was pepper sprayed and beaten.

Click here to read the more.

Political Expediency Equals Unfairness

There are many things wrong with the American legal system, but the law giving a one year statute of limitations deadline to file habeas corpus appeals in the federal courts is definitely near the top of the list. People convicted of a crime who missed the filing deadline, through no fault of their own, by just one day have sacrificed strong claims. Some of these claims challenged what is know considered faulty analysis of evidence.

The Marshall Project has a very detailed article explaining how unfair the habeas corpus law is.

Click here to read the article.

False Confession Capitol

The Chicago Police Department is under investigation by the Federal Justice Department for coercing teenagers to confess to crimes they didn't commit. According to Peter Neufeld, the co-founder of the Innocence Project this happens all the time in Chicago.He says, "Quite simply, what Cooperstown is to baseball, Chicago is to false confessions. It is the Hall of Fame." He continues, "There are more juvenile confessions in Chicago than anyplace else in the United States...It's not because the kids are different...it's because of the way the police keep pounding and pounding and pounding away in those interrogation rooms."

Click here to watch the video or read the story.

Electing Judges At the State Level

Federal judges are appointed by the president and approved by congress, but states pick their judges in different ways. Some states chose their judges with partisan elections, some  have nonpartisan elections, others use legal experts to select a short list of qualified candidates, which the governor then choses one candidate and appoints them to the bench. (That judge later is voted on in a retention election.) Some of these methods bring in big campaign money which in some cases tarnish the legal system.

Click here to read more on buying judges in Mother Jones. 

Tactics Police Use That Would Shock You

For those of you who have never had dealings with law enforcement, AlterNet has a very interesting list of 10 legal tactics the police use that most of us would be shocked about. Between the war on drugs and the war on terror the rights we thought we had as US citizens have been eroded. 

Click here to read the entire story.

Bail Industry Discriminatory Against The Poor

Two-thirds of the 750,000 people in America's jails are because they are awaiting trials. Almost 90% of these accused felons are held until trial because they can't afford bail; which is why the American Bar Association, the National Association of Counties, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, and others have condemned commercial bail as discriminatory.

Click here to read an in-depth look into the bail industry.

Can Legal Reform Happen?

Can we reform our legal system when politicians refuse to discuss the real issues. The only time politicians, judges or DA's seem to mention our legal system is when they talk about putting more people behind bars or "being tough on crime". Even though for the past 20 years crime has consistently dropped, we don't typically look at past laws to see how they are working instead we are giving incentives to police departments to become more militarized. This has lead the U.S.A. to have a higher percentage of it's population behind bars than any other any other country in the world, that is not just for western countries but for all countries.

To read more about this issue click here.

Crowdfounding For Clemency

In 1994 Jeff Mizanskey was sentenced to prison for life without the possibility of parole. His crime was for possession and intent to distribute cannabis. Now, there is a campaign at crowdfunding to raise money to bring awareness of the case to the Governor of Missouri for clemency. 

Who's Buying Our Courts?

In the 39 states where judicial elections are held, judges running for re-election have spent 4 times the amount of television ads than was spent just two years ago. Hundreds of cases going back decades show that the more businesses donate to judicial campaigns the more the rulings favor businesses.

Click here to read the full story and view the charts.

Judge Vacancies Cause Delays In Courts

The Brennan Center for Justice released a study regarding the devastation the court system faces when politicians refuse to fill court vacancies. Interviews with more than 20 court employees, including judges, lawyers and clerks in 10 federal court districts, show that judicial vacancies are causing delays in courts which results in pressuring the accused to accept pea bargains.

 

Click here to read more.

Prosecutors Not Held Accountable (2)

On May 6th, 20120 Barry Scheck of The Innocence Project wrote a letter to the American Statesman, an Austin Texas newspaper regarding prosecutorial misconduct. Groups affiliated with   Innocence Projects studied cases in Texas from 2004-2008 and found prosecutorial misconduct in 91 cases but only 1 case between 2004-2011 where a prosecutor was disciplined for prosecutorial misconduct.

Click here to read Barry Scheck's letter to the American Statesman.

Grants Incentivize Police Departments

Over the past several months, protesters alleging police misconduct have pummeled  Durham, N.C. police headquarters with rocks. Lawyers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice requested public records to try to find why there was such divisiveness. Their findings revealed that a federal grant subsidizing drug enforcement operations at the department had a key “performance measure” emphasizing that police report their sheer volume of arrests. This appeared to be incentivizing the department to raise its overall number of drug arrests, which overwhelmingly affect the city’s black community. 

Read the full story here.

Control of Prisons Going to Private Companies (2)

A proposed contract in Virginia between the state and the nation's second-largest private prison operator, GEO Group and a company managing mental health institutes, Liberty Healthcare Corp., would give these private companies authority over convicted sex offenders enrolled in a controversial program known as "civil commitment". The state designates some inmates as sexually violent predators, that label gives the state the right to hold inmates indefinitely while administering mental health treatment. Virginia has advanced deliberations on this contract without official public input or legislative hearings even though both GEO Group and Liberty Healthcare Corp. have had incidents managing a similar facility in Florida. It should be noted according to state records that GEO Group was one of the largest single contributors to Republican Bob McDonnell. The GEO Group has also made smaller contributions to Virginia legislative leaders. In the past two years, a subsidiary, GEO Care has spent more than $13,000 on lobbying related to the sex offender facility. The intriguing part about the contract is the fact that these institutes will be able to profit by being the agencies that determin whether these inmates have been reformed or not. In other words they will be able to decide to keep people incarcerated indefinitely to keep the prison full.

Click here to read the full story.

Risk of Detaining Low Risk Offenders

Many low-risk detainees are held in jail during pretrial. When these defendants are held for longer than 24 hours, they are nearly 40 percent more likely to commit new crimes before their trial, and 17 percent more likely to commit another crime within two years, according to a report released last month by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, a private foundation that funds criminal justice research.

Click here to read the article.

Are Private Prisons Cost Effective?

Three convicted murderers escaped from a private medium-security prison in Kingman, Arizona. As a cost saving measure Arizona has given up control of most of its prisons to private companies. Private companies like Management Training Corp. and Correction Corporation of America claim they can save governments money by housing their prisoners, but a 2007 audit by the firm MAXIMUS found that private prisons only saved the state $5.49 per inmate per day. An internal report done by the Arizona Department of Corrections found the savings to be just $2.75 per inmate per day with some private prisons actually costing more than government run prisons. When you factor in that private companies pay lower wages and fewer or no benefits, the small amount of savings don't make sense. Paying private companies actually hurts communities because tax money is now going out of state as corporate profits instead of as wages to city, county or state employees.

Citizens in Arizona are questioning what the true costs are when using private companies to house prisoners. The dollar savings doesn't add up to what they were told and now they are wondering how secure these private facilities are.

Click here to read the full story in CNN Money.