Posts Tagged ‘new jersey’
A 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court has ruled that jails may constitutionally strip-search anyone admitted to the jail, no matter how minor the reason they’re in jail. Writing in dissent, Justice Breyer observed that “the harm to privacy interests would seem particularly acute where the person searched may well have no expectation of being subject to such a search, say, because she had simply received a traffic ticket for failing to buckle a seatbelt…”
Actually, in the case at issue in this decision, the subject of the strip-search was erroneously arrested for something that isn’t even a crime: Albert Florence was arrested for not paying a fine that in fact he had paid, and in any event not paying a fine is not a crime under New Jersey law, it’s a civil infraction. As I noted previously about this case:
This line of cases should be extraordinarily troubling for civil libertarians. When you combine cases finding no Fourth Amendment violation when the police arrest and detain you even for very minor offenses — even offenses that aren’t actually arrestable offenses under state law — with cases finding no Fourth Amendment violation when jail guards strip-search you after booking on a minor offense, basically we’re giving the police a green card to find any pretext to have anyone they don’t like arrested, jailed, and strip-searched. Read the Atwater dissent, Part II, if you don’t think this could be a real problem.
I haven’t yet had time to read the full SCOTUS opinions, so perhaps I’ll have additional thoughts later, but you can find all the opinions and other materials here at SCOTUSblog.
Some Twitter reactions:
Rutgers-Camden will host a public conference on Wednesday, June 23, “that aims to open a dialogue about the needs of children and families of the incarcerated and how the private and public sectors can better respond.” More details:
Panels will be held on policy issues surrounding the Adoption and Safe Families Act (AFSA); the role of educators supporting children and families; the developmental effects of trauma on children; interventions for children of incarcerated parents; and best practices for supporting child and parent relationships. Representatives from regional corrections facilities and social services agencies will also be speaking, in addition to the keynote speaker, a formerly incarcerated father who founded Frontline Dads, for fathers dealing with life before and after incarceration.
The occasion for the conference is Rutgers professor Jane Siegel’s new book, Disrupted Childhoods: Children of Women in Prison(Rutgers UP, 2011). The conference is open to the public, but it looks like there’s a $45 fee. Registration form here.
John McWhorter has an interesting piece over at The Root on prisoner reentry and black unemployment. McWhorter spotlights a few promising reentry/employment programs in Newark, N.J. McWhorter suggests that finding an employer willing to hire folks with criminal records is actually not the biggest hurdle for ex-prisoners — rather, it’s all the steps you have to go through before you can even think about going on an interview:
The immediate task at hand for an ex-offender is becoming able to work. Ex-cons often don’t have a Social Security number — and forget about a birth certificate. … Nine in 10 clients need detoxification or rehabilitation.
(BTW: Unlike Obama, Newark mayor Cory Booker has been known to voluntarily bring up the problem of mass incarceration in speeches where he could have gotten away with uplifting pablum. It’s probably no accident that Newark has some promising programs.)
Via Doug Berman, I noticed this Trenton Times op-ed by David Shebses, who worked for many years as supervisor for education and then as executive assistant to the warden at New Jersey’s East Jersey State Prison. Shebses provides a list of recommendations for curbing corrections costs and restoring proportionality to the criminal justice system. Here are the first few:
1) Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for all crimes. The Legislature should provide general ranges of time from which judges could impose more proportionate sentences that match up with the crime and its circumstances. Proportionality in sentencing serves the ends of justice.
2) Stop incarcerating most people who are convicted of using most drugs. The Legislature should figure out which illegal substances should be decriminalized, and to what extent. I would still prosecute drug dealers when their motivation is clearly profiting from the drug trade. But the guy who is mainly a user, or who deals drugs incidental to his own use, should not, generally, be incarcerated. Treated, yes; not imprisoned.
3) Abolish the parole system. Parole is based on a false premise, namely, that it is possible to predict human behavior. It is not possible. …
A few notable news stories from the past couple of days:
“With 8th suicide, appeals for change in prison system“–Boston Globe. The article begins:
Suicides in Massachusetts state prisons are occurring at a rate more than four times the national average this year, prompting advocates and inmates’ relatives to call for an urgent response from state officials — and spurring the Patrick administration yesterday to hire a suicide prevention specialist.
With the discovery of an eighth inmate found hanging in his cell at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater yesterday morning, Massachusetts prisons have reached a suicide rate of about 71 per 100,000 inmates so far this year, more than quadruple the average annual national rate of 16 per 100,000 inmates reported by the US Bureau for Justice Statistics.
“N.J.’s prison population declines, officials credit less crime, prisoner re-entry programs”–Newark Star-Ledger. Highlights:
With 25,263 inmates in the system as of this month, state prisons still hold more people than they were designed for. And 600 additional inmates will be double-bunked this year to save money. But officials say the overall population shrank because crime was cut, drug courts diverted many people from jail, and programs helped inmates prepare for life on the outside.
“It’s a pretty impressive reduction,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy organization. “We’re not just talking about a tinkering. It comes about through conscious changes in criminal justice policy.”
“Groups sue over banned handbook at Virginia prisons“–Washington Post. Download the complaint PDF here. The basics:
Two civil rights groups have sued the Virginia Department of Corrections for banning a handbook from state prisons that explains the court system, methods for legal research and constitutional rights.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild filed suit Wednesday morning in the Western District of Virginia, claiming that the state violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Look, right or left, we all have to agree that we waste billions of dollars in our economy warehousing human potential in the “Land of the Free” in places called jails. We have to agree that this is a profound waste that is costing states like New Jersey billions of dollars and unless we change this, we will be an affront to everything that we claim to the world that we are.
– Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., speech to the American Constitution Society, Washington, D.C., June 19, 2010. To help ex-offenders avoid “legal entanglements” like parole violations and find employment, Booker created the Newark Prisoner Reentry Initiative, which has slashed recidivism rates among participants to below 10%. (That’s the program he’s discussing in the YouTube video above.)
UPDATE: In similar news, USA Today has this report on the Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative, a four-year-old experimental program that connects prisoners with mentors, job leads, housing assistance, addiction and mental health treatment, etc., beginning in their final months behind bars and extending after their release. The state Department of Corrections says the program has cut recidivism from 55% to 38% in the Wolverine State — and to as low as 11% in some counties. Says John Cordell, the head of Michigan’s prison system: “After years of just warehousing humans, it was time to go in a new direction.”
Almost a year ago, Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez ruled unconstitutional the policy of two New Jersey county jails to strip search all detainees upon arrival, even if arrested for failing to pay a traffic ticket, or, in Judge Rodriguez’s hypothetical, even if a “priest or minister arrested for allegedly skimming the Sunday collection.” (The cite is Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of County of Burlington, 595 F. Supp. 2d 492 [D.N.J. 2009]). The plaintiff was strip searched
follow[ing] his erroneous arrest during a 2005 traffic stop for a fine he had already paid. He was ordered during the searches to squat naked and, while standing in front of prison guards, to lift his genitals.
According to a corrections official quoted by the Star-Ledger, the justification for a blanket strip search policy is that “streetwise” inmates might “pass contraband to those accused of lesser offenses, knowing they will be subjected to a less thorough search.” However, federal courts have tended to reject blanket strip search policies as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, holding that a jail officer should strip search a detainee only upon “reasonable suspicion” that he actually has contraband or a weapon.
Burlington and Essex counties have appealed Judge Rodriguez’s ruling to the Third Circuit, and the ACLU recently filed an amicus brief for the plaintiff, along with a coterie of former New Jersey attorneys general. The ACLU brief makes the following arguments in favor of the reasonable suspicion standard (I’m paraphrasing):
The Newark Star-Ledger has uncovered an internal affairs investigation by the New Jersey corrections department, revealing allegations that in October 2009, inmate Javier Tabora was subjected to a fake electrocution while in custody at a specialized facility for sex offenders. Supposedly, the fake electrocution was a ruse conducted to frighten a second inmate (Robert Grant) whom officers were planning to question later that day. Prison officers don’t deny that Tabora was seated in an electronic chair (which is used routinely to search prisoners for contraband) but counter that they did not pretend to electrocute him. The IA report did not come down on either side of the he-said, he-said debate (unfortunately there’s no video of the incident, so it’s just the prisoners’ word against the guards’); the three officers involved in the incident pled guilty to various disciplinary infractions including conduct unbecoming an officer, and will be transferred to other facilities after a suspension period, but they are facing neither termination nor criminal charges.
Whatever the merits of Tabora’s allegations, another troubling aspect of the story is that complaint forms regarding the incident filed by Grant (the second inmate) were apparently treated by New Jersey as “threats”:
Officers told investigators they were questioning Grant because he was making threats against an officer, but the internal report concluded the “threats” were only the filing of “remedy forms,” which give inmates a way to express concerns. And, when pressed, no one could locate the “threatening” complaints Grant was accused of writing.
Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, expressed concern that inmates were being discouraged from complaining.
“Respect for internal affairs and prisoners’ rights to address grievances is essential to the integrity of prisons and other such institutions,” she said. “The only way to create a silver lining to this tragic and appalling incident is to use it as a springboard for establishing grievance and oversight systems and training programs to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again.”