Shorts archives

Bill Newman takes on injustice 90 seconds at a time. In the newest episode of his Civil Liberties Minute podcast, he takes on the practice of locking up poor people because they can't afford bail.

by Peter Wagner, September 27, 2016

Friend of the Prison Policy Initiative Bill Newman has again featured our research in his Civil Liberties Minute podcast produced with the ACLU. This time he takes on the epidemic of jailing the innocent before trial in a powerful 90 second explainer.

You can listen or subscribe on iTunes and the transcript with some links to some of the source material is below.

Thank you, Bill!

In Jail And Innocent

Why is your mother, father, sister, brother, lover or friend, who is presumed innocent, still locked up in jail?

Know this: he or she is not alone. Of the 664,000 people locked up in local jails today, 70% of them have not been convicted or sentenced for any crime. Really – 70% are locked up only because they can’t make bail.

In the past 15 years 99% of the growth in the jail population comes from people who don’t have the 50 or 100 or 250 or 400 dollars to get bailed out. When the person held on bail finally goes to court he will be offered a deal. Plead guilty and you can get out, time served, go home today. Or you can say you’re innocent and want a trial, and stay locked up for days, weeks, months, or years. What would you do?

The Eighth Amendment to The Constitution in theory guarantees a reasonable bail and bail in theory is only supposed to be used to help insure the attendance of the defendant at trial – not as a subterfuge for pre-trial detention.

But as the numbers and the lives ruined prove, the constitutional principles of reasonable bail and innocent until proven guilty really only applies to those who are economically well off enough to make their bail.


These 5 graphs break down just how riddled the U.S. criminal justice system is with racial disparities.

by Alison Walsh, August 15, 2016

Race is a defining characteristic of the criminal justice system.

It is common knowledge that Blacks are disproportionately represented in prison. Looking at different types of incarceration sentences shows us how pervasive these disparities really are. This slideshow scrolls through the various incarceration sentences one may receive compared to the U.S. population, broken down by race.

Once a person is sentenced to jail, we see that Blacks are overrepresented and Whites are underrepresented, compared to the U.S. population as a whole. This disparity endures in state and federal prison sentences, life sentences, life without parole sentences, and in the death row population.

Our criminal justice system is defined by stark racial disparitiesAt every stage.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those in jail.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those in state and federal prison.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those sentenced to life in prison.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those sentenced to life without parole.Graph comparing the racial composition of the U.S. with the racial composition of those on death row.

Compared to the U.S. population, Blacks are overrepresented in jails, state and federal prisons, life and life without parole sentences, and death penalty sentences. Conversely, Whites are underrepresented in those same categories.

Data sources:

The data:

White Black Hispanic
U.S. population 62.1% 13.2% 17.4%
Jail incarceration 47.4% 35.4% 14.9%
State & federal incarceration 33.6% 35.4% 21.6%
Life sentence 33.4% 48.3% 14.4%
Life without parole sentence 33.5% 56.4% 7.4%
Death row population 42.5% 41.7% 13.0%

by Peter Wagner, June 18, 2016

I recently had the opportunity to screen a new documentary, Off the Rails that tells the story of Darius McCollum:

“a man with Asperger’s syndrome whose overwhelming love of transit has landed him in jail 32 times for impersonating New York City bus drivers and subway conductors and driving their routes.”

As a boy in Queens, NY, Darius found sanctuary from school bullies in the subway. There he befriended transit workers who taught him to drive trains. By age 8, he memorized the entire subway system. At 15, he drove a packed train 8 stops by himself, making all the stops and announcements.

Over the next three decades, Darius commandeered hundreds of trains and buses, staying en route and on schedule, without ever getting paid. He attended transit worker union meetings, lobbying for better pay and working conditions for a union he didn’t belong to.

Although Darius has never damaged any property or hurt anyone in his decades of service, he has spent 23 years in maximum security prison. Darius’ recidivism embodies the criminal justice system’s failure to channel the passions of a harmless, mentally challenged man into a productive career and purposeful life.

The film demonstrates, through this unique and well-told story, that when confronting people with disabilities, the criminal justice system all too often has a one-track mind.

This is the trailer:

Upcoming screenings are in Provincetown, MA (June 19), Red Bank, NJ (July 7), Toronto Canada (July 20), Woods Hole, MA (August 1) with dates in New York to be added this fall.


An increasing number of fathers are spending Father's Day behind bars, away from their loved ones.

by Alison Walsh, June 17, 2016

Father’s Day is stereotypically a happy occasion. But an increasing number of fathers will spend the day away from their loved ones, separated by prison walls. The number of incarcerated men who reported being the fathers of minor children rose to nearly 750,000 in 2007 (the most recent year for which we have data available), a 57% increase from 1991. This holiday is a reminder that incarceration affects entire families, not just the people behind bars.

Graph showing the number of fathers of minor children incarcerated from 2001-2007


Ohio follows in Massachusetts' footsteps by ending unnecessary driver's license suspensions.

by Alison Walsh, June 15, 2016

In Ohio this week, Governor John Kasich signed a bill into law that allows judges to choose whether to suspend driver’s licenses for non-driving related drug offenses. Prior to this reform, these suspensions were mandatory.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Bill Seitz, argued that the suspension policy created an unnecessary barrier to employment. The governor of Massachusetts cited similar concerns when he ended automatic license suspensions for drug offenses unrelated to road safety in March.

Several states, including Texas and New York, still enforce this outdated law, but momentum is on the side of reform. In Seitz’s words, “We’re not doing anything radical — we’re kind of catching up to the crowd.” Which state will be next?

Stay tuned for a Prison Policy Initiative report on the remaining states that have yet to repeal this regressive law.


We created an animated GIF showing the growth of the unconvicted population in jails compared to those convicted

by Meredith Booker, May 26, 2016

When talking about jails and jail growth, it’s really important to emphasize that what’s driving jail growth is the portion of those in jail that are unconvicted.

Peter made a graph for his article Jails matter. But who is listening?, and an animated version for the Detaining the Poor:
How money bail perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty and jail time
report. But that image wasn’t something that could be shared on Twitter. Until now:

Animated image showing the growth of the unconvicted population in jails compared to those convicted

Detailed data sourcing can be found in our Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2016 report.


We share some suggested language.

by Peter Wagner, April 26, 2016

One of our donors asked how to remember the Prison Policy Initiative in her will, and I thought it might help others to share the suggested language here:

I give, devise and bequeath _______________ (insert dollar amount or item of property to be donated) to the Prison Policy Initiative, Inc., EIN 20-3671130 http://www.prisonpolicy.org, or its successor organization, a nonprofit corporation as described in section 501 (c) of the Internal Revenue Code, to be used to fight for a fairer justice system.

Thank you to all of our supporters for all of the generous ways that you make our work possible.


Oliver illustrates the various ways that we set formerly incarcerated people up to fail and says we're all responsible

by Bernadette Rabuy, November 11, 2015

John Oliver explains another broken aspect of the criminal justice system, re-entry. Oliver illustrates the various ways that we set formerly incarcerated people up to fail, from restrictions on housing and employment to the rolling back of Pell grants. According to Oliver, because of the resounding and bipartisan support for enacting barriers to re-entry during the tough-on-crime era, we should all feel responsible for the lack of opportunity available to people trying to turn their lives around.


Sam Durant's installation "Labyrinth" in Philadelphia uses our research

by Peter Wagner, October 30, 2015

image of Sam Durant's Labyrinth installation

Prison Policy Initiative reseach used in Sam Durant's Labyrinth installationFor the month of October, some of our research is hanging in a public art installation about mass incarceration just outside of Philadelphia City Hall. The central element of artist Sam Durant’s installation “Labyrinth”, designed in collaboration with men incarcerated at Graterford State prison, is a large maze made of chain-link fencing.

Within and around the maze are some facts about mass incarceration and the public is invited to leave their comments.

While we often collaborate with artists, that our research was used in this show was a pleasant surprise. We intend our work to be used in new and exciting ways to advance the movement against mass incarceration, and we are thrilled that Sam Durant found a way to do so.

For more on this exhibition, see these two great articles with more pictures of the entire exhibition:

And thanks to Patrick Griffin and Angus Love for sending us these photos of our work in action!

Sam Durant's Labyrinth installationPrison Policy Initiative research used in Sam Durant's Labyrinth installation

 


The Federal Communications Commission today approved a new order regulating the prison and jail telephone industry and reducing the cost of calling home from prisons and jails

by Peter Wagner, October 22, 2015

The Federal Communications Commission today approved a new order regulating the prison and jail telephone industry and reducing the cost of calling home from prisons and jails.

You can read the FCC’s press release and summary of the decision and see our October 1 analysis of the FCC’s “fact sheet” that compares the proposed order to the exploitative status quo.

We’ll have a detailed analysis after the full text of the FCC’s order is publicly available, but for now we note only one possible change from our October 1 post: The FCC is proposing to give the industry an additional 3 months to bring their contracts in jails into compliance with the new rules. That means that people with loved ones in state prisons should see the impact in about February, and with those in jails in about May 2016.

Thank you Commissioner Clyburn, Chairman Wheeler, and Commissioner Rosenworcel for taking such strong action to protect the most vulnerable families in this country from this exploitative industry.




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