Archive for the ‘Remembrances’ Category
William Stuntz, a renowned scholar of criminal justice at Harvard Law School, an evangelical Christian and a teacher much beloved by students and colleagues, died March 14 after a long battle with cancer. …
A year ago, in March 2010, a large group of his many admirers, including legal scholars, colleagues, friends, and students—“a simply dazzling array of conference participants,” as Dean Martha Minow said in opening remarks—gathered at HLS for a two-day conference, “A Celebration of the Career of Bill Stuntz.” …
Present at the conference, Stuntz described factors that had led to what he called the “disaster of criminal justice in our time,” in particular, the massive and “racially unfair” prison population in the U.S., but held out hope that the system might become fairer.
We can look forward to Stuntz’s two forthcoming books, including one from Harvard University Press on the collapse of the criminal justice system. At The Volokh Conspiracy, Orin Kerr rounds up some links for readers interested in learning more about Stuntz’s legacy. Within the legal academy Stuntz was one of the most perceptive observers of the manifold failures of the criminal justice system, and he will be greatly missed.
Many in East Palo Alto and surrounding areas are shocked and heartbroken today after learning of the death of David Lewis, 54, a leader in the community and a national model for outreach to former prisoners. Lewis spent much of his young adult life as an inmate in California prisons but after his release in 1991, at age 35, he spent the rest of his adult life helping prisoners like himself to break the cycle of drug addiction and incarceration. At a time when East Palo Alto had the highest per capita murder rate in the country, Lewis and Stanford student Priya Haji established Free At Last, a community-based treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction. Lewis received national recognition for his work to build a statewide network of support for parolees and ex-offenders, and was featured in the Bill Moyers documentary “Circle of Recovery.” Local news coverage here. (UPDATE: More local coverage here, SF Chronicle article here.)
In addition to those charged with or convicted of crimes, the United States also incarcerates some 300,000 men, women, and children each year under the auspices of immigration detention. Edwidge Danticat wrote in last week’s New Yorker about her cousin Maxo, who died in the recent Haitian earthquake. Maxo had spent some time in immigration detention in the United States:
His time in detention in the United States had sensitized him to prison conditions and to the lack of prisoners’ rights in Haiti. He often called asking for money to buy food, which he then took to the national penitentiary.
Maxo had wound up in detention after coming to the U.S. with his elderly father — Danticat’s uncle, Joseph Dantica, a Baptist minister in Port-au-Prince — who was seeking temporary asylum from gang threats. As Danticat recounted in her memoir, Brother, I’m Dying (Knopf, 2007), Joseph Dantica never made it back to Haiti. From the New York Times review:
When Dantica fled Haiti in 2004, after a battle between United Nations peacekeepers and chimères — gang members — destroyed his church and put his life in jeopardy, he was 81, with high blood pressure and heart problems, and yet for 30 years had resisted his family’s pleas to emigrate to the States. He intended to return and rebuild his church as soon as the fighting stopped. But to the Department of Homeland Security officers who examined him in Miami, his plea for temporary asylum meant he was simply another unlucky Haitian determined to slip through their fingers. When he collapsed during his “credible fear” interview and began vomiting, the medic on duty announced, “He’s faking.” That refusal of treatment cost him his life: he died in a Florida hospital, probably in shackles, the following day.
Oxford University Press has posted this remembrance of John Irwin (1929-2010), a long-time sociology professor at San Francisco State University and a founder of the convict criminology school, “which examined imprisonment from the perspective of the academically-trained convict.” Irwin’s books include The Felon, The Warehouse Prison, and most recently, Lifers, which was reviewed here by the California Corrections Crisis blog. Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle ran this obituary of the noted “criminal turned criminologist.”
To be sure, Irwin’s story is an exceptional one. Nonetheless, in reading the inspiring story of how he turned his life around after a five-year prison term for armed robbery, going on to earn a B.A. from UCLA and a Ph.D. from UC-Berkeley, I couldn’t help but wonder how many ex-prisoners might have made similar strides had states spent recent decades expanding, rather than gutting, educational, rehabilitative, and reentry programs. It’s especially poignant that Irwin was educated at the flagship institutions of the University of California, and spent his career teaching at another California state university — given that the Golden State, whose higher education system was once the envy of the nation, now funnels more of its budget to its prisons than to its cash-strapped schools.
When I was researching an earlier post on Judge Morris Lasker, who oversaw prison reform litigation in the Southern District of New York, I came across this obituary of Judge Anthony Alaimo of the Southern District of Georgia, who also died late last year. Like Judge Lasker, Judge Alaimo oversaw litigation in the 1970s to reform squalid conditions in a local penal institution in his district. In Judge Alaimo’s case, the jail in question was the notorious Georgia State Prison at Reidsville, where
Alaimo found racial violence and almost routine stabbings, rats in the prison’s hallways, standing waste water in the cell blocks and sewer lines hooked into the drinking water. More than 3,000 inmates were crammed into a prison that should have held only 1,000.
A Georgia lawyer shared his admiration for Judge Alaimo with the Jacksonville Times-Union:
“Judge Alaimo was my hero,” said lawyer Douglas Alexander, who as a Georgia Legal Services lawyer worked on a federal suit over conditions at the state prison at Reidsville and others in county jails.
“Having been a prisoner of war, he certainly knew what it was like to be a prisoner,” Alexander said.
Fittingly, there’s a recent biography of Judge Alaimo available from Mercer University Press, subtitled (what else) “American Hero.”
I’m a bit late in posting this news, but wanted to note the death late last year of federal judge Morris Lasker, who oversaw litigation over conditions in New York’s notoriously overcrowded, vermin-infested city jails. As noted in this obituary by the New York Times‘ Robert McFadden,
Judge Lasker, a soft-spoken jurist who often found himself at the center of controversies, was best known for rulings in the 1970s and ’80s in the Southern District of New York that forced the city come to grips with horrendous conditions in its jails and violations of the constitutional rights of prisoners that, as he once put it, “would shock the conscience of any citizen who knew of them.”
Though today, many judges shudder in fear of being labeled that worst of epithets — a “judicial activist” — Judge Lasker was unrepentant for his role in instigating reforms. As the New York Times obituary concludes:
Judge Lasker was often called an “activist” judge, intervening in government executive affairs in ways that critics said usurped legislative functions. But he defended the role of litigation in prison reform, especially “when either the legislature, or the executive, or both, are failing in their duties to assure constitutionally adequate conditions,” he wrote in an article for The Pace Law Review in 2004. [Note: That article can be downloaded here.]
He cited “gratifying progress” but an “unfinished agenda,” and warned: “Today, some 30 to 35 years after the courts began to accept responsibility for assuring decent prison conditions, the corrections community faces an even larger and more difficult problem — that is what I call America’s love affair with imprisonment.”