Senators introduced S 2520 in bipartisan effort to put FCC back on track in regulating the cost of calling home from prison or jail.

by Aleks Kajstura, March 12, 2018

In bipartisan effort, Senators Duckworth (D-IL), Portman (R-OH), Booker (D-NJ) and Schatz (D-HI) recently introduced a bill (S.2520) to smooth the road for prison phone and video call regulation.

The bill clarifies that the FCC is required to ensure fair cost to customers, rather than only protecting phone company profits. The bill also clarifies that the FCC’s authority to regulate prison and jail phone calls includes all types of calling technology; this is particularly timely as many of the companies are pushing video calling to circumvent phone call regulation (and monetize visitation).

While a lot of this may seem like common sense, recent phone company litigation makes these clarifications necessary.

For more info, check out the Senators’ fact sheet.

At under two minutes, this is the shortest and sweetest version of our argument against license suspensions for drug offenses.

by Wanda Bertram, March 6, 2018

At under two minutes, this is the shortest and sweetest version of our argument against license suspensions for drug offenses. We made this case in more detail in our report Reinstating Common Sense and in The Washington Post – but you can get the quick and easy version from our Legal Director here:

If you want to take action and live in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, or Virginia, see fact sheets and active legislation on our Driver’s License Suspensions page.

New policy changes and legislative efforts designed to address correctional visitation policies are helping to chip away at the inhuman treatment of incarcerated people across the United States.

by Lucius Couloute, March 5, 2018

2017 was an important year for the movement to protect in-person visits in correctional facilities. Media outlets, grassroots organizations, and policymakers across the country spoke out and created real change that will positively impact the lives of incarcerated people and their families for years to come. And although there is much work still to be done, it appears that 2018 is already off to a strong start with new legislation introduced in New Jersey and policy changes in California.

  • New Jersey Assembly Bill 1025, introduced by Representatives Gordon Johnson and Elizabeth Maher Smith, would guarantee in-person family visits for incarcerated individuals, cap video costs at 11 cents a minute, and ban fees on professional video visits from lawyers and clergy. The bill will soon be heard in the legislature’s law and public safety committees.
  • Over in California, the Board of State and Community Corrections, an independent agency charged with ensuring correctional facility standards, recently approved revisions to its regulations of California juvenile facilities including that they “may provide access to technology as an alternative, but not as a replacement, to in-person visitation.” According to a press release, the BSCC will makes its final edits and the public will have a final opportunity to comment before the regulations become final.

If approved, the new policies in New Jersey and California would chip away at the inhumane treatment of both adults and youths held in correctional facilities. The Prison Policy Initiative supports these efforts and encourages lawmakers in other states to implement similar policies in order to protect incarcerated people from the exploitative nature of the video calling industry.

In a series of graphics, we explain how tens of thousands of youth who could be better served in their communities still end up in confinement.

February 27, 2018

Easthampton, Mass. – A map of juvenile justice in America would be daunting, covering 1,852 youth facilities of varying restrictiveness, not to mention thousands of youth held in adult prisons and jails. Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie offers a comprehensive view of this system, breaking down where and why justice-involved youth are locked up.

Pie chart showing the number of youth locked up on a given day in the U.S. by facility and offense type.

In a series of graphics, the report reveals how tens of thousands of youths who could be better served in their communities still end up in confinement. Far from confining “only those youth who are serious, violent, or chronic offenders,” as the juvenile justice system purports to do, this country:

  • Locks up 8,500 youths every day for technical probation violations
  • Detains over 9,000 youths before they’re even tried – and holds 900 in long-term secure facilities, essentially prisons, before they’ve been committed
  • Locks up over 7,500 youths for other low-level offenses, including status offenses (behaviors for which an adult would not be prosecuted)

Youths held pretrial or for minor offenses comprise 1 in 3 held in confinement today – children and adolescents who could be released at virtually no threat to public safety.

The report explores some of the worst harms of excessive youth confinement, including:

  • Disproportionately punishing Black and Native youth, with disparities exceeding even those of the adult justice system
  • Confining most youth in facilities indistinguishable from jails and prisons – or in actual adult jails and prisons
  • Holding youth in “temporary” reception/diagnostic centers for months or even years

The big-picture view offered by Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie suggests opportunities for immediate reform, such as transferring youth to community-based programs and drastically curtailing pretrial detention. “For advocates working to find alternatives to incarceration,” says report author Wendy Sawyer, “ending youth confinement should be a top priority.”

Read the full report.


The number of youth locked up in adult facilities remains on the decline, but new jails data shows how much further we still need to go.

by Maddy Troilo, February 27, 2018

One of the overlooked findings of last week’s Jail Inmates in 2016 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics was that the number of youth locked up in adult jails grew over the year prior. The number of youth locked up with adults overall remains on the decline, but the new data shows how much further we still need to go:

Graph showing the number of youth incarcerated in adult prisons and jails from 1990 to 2016. Despite a significant decline since youth incarceration peaked, there are still more youth in jails than there were in 1990.Despite a significant decline in the number of youth incarcerated in jails since the peak in 1999, there are still more youths in jail than there were in 1990. And the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that the number of jailed youths actually went up in 2016.

As our new report Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie discusses, most detained youth are held in various youth-specific facilities, but one in ten are held in adult facilities. To support the new report, I’ve been collecting the data and exploring why youth end up in adult facilities and what happens to them once they do.

In some states, seventeen-year-old youths are automatically prosecuted as adults. In other states, certain offenses automatically require adult prosecution, and some states give prosecutors and the courts discretion to try youths as adults. Thirty-one states have “once an adult, always an adult” policies, which mandate that if someone under eighteen has ever been charged as an adult, all of their future cases must also be handled in the adult system.

Thirty years ago, there were 2,300 kids held in adult jails. From 1990 to 1999, youth jail populations increased by 311%, peaking at 9,458. That number then began to decline, culminating in a 2016 population of 3,700, still far more than the already-high 1990 number.

The data for prisons, available from 2000 forward, follows a pattern of consistent decrease. 3,892 kids were confined in adult prisons in 2000; by 2016 this number had fallen to 956 — still far too high.

The decline in number of youths in adult facilities represents a more general decline in the number of youths coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of youths arrested dropped by 51.2%; similarly, between 1997 and 2013, the number confined in correctional facilities dropped by 48%. Some of the decline in youth incarceration, however, is the result of youths aging out of the statistics but remaining behind bars for crimes committed before they were eighteen.

Much of the general decline in youth confinement in adult facilities is the result of legal and legislative changes brought about by youth-focused criminal justice advocacy. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled in Roper v. Simmons that imposing the death penalty for a crime committed while the offender was under eighteen violates the Constitution. In doing so, the court established the principle that children cannot be held to the same standards of responsibility as adults, nor can their actions be considered evidence of an “irretrievably depraved character.” This decision established the legal precedent for rollbacks of mandatory life sentences for juveniles and other policies that kept youth imprisoned.

States have also been taking independent legislative action, including raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction. Since juvenile courts are more likely to hand down sentences other than confinement, these laws reduce the number of people under eighteen who end up in jail or prison. State legislatures have also focused on delinquency prevention efforts, creating intervention programs for at risk-youth and diversion programs for nonviolent offenders.

While these legislative decisions are steps in the right direction, they still leave thousands of children in adult facilities, condemning them to countless long-term harms. The 2006 Justice Policy Institute report The Dangers of Detention summarizes the academic research on the harms of incarcerating youth in juvenile facilities, and shows that putting kids in cages:

  • slows the natural process of aging out of delinquency,
  • exacerbates any existing mental illnesses,
  • increases the odds of recidivism,
  • reduces the chances of returning to school, and
  • diminishes success in the labor market.

Incarcerating youth in adult facilities is even more harmful than incarcerating them with people their own age. Of all incarcerated people, youth held with adults are at the highest risk of sexual abuse; they are also 36 times more likely to commit suicide than youth in juvenile facilities, and are at a greater risk of being held in solitary confinement than they would be in juvenile facilities.

These devastating and life-long effects come as the result of decisions made before age eighteen — an age when, according to research, youths’ brains are still years away from full development. This research further legitimizes the Supreme Court’s argument that children shouldn’t be held to the same standards of responsibility as adults. With that in mind, there’s absolutely no reason to punish them as adults.

Black and brown youth face a significantly higher chance of being held as adults than do white youth, an unjust disparity reflective of the racism that permeates the entire criminal justice system. According to the Campaign for Youth Justice, Black youth are 8.6 times more likely than their white peers to receive an adult prison sentence, while Latino youth are 40% more likely than white youth to be admitted to adult prison. These disparities reinforce those in the rest of the system by disproportionately subjecting youth of color to the harms of being incarcerated with adults.

Groups like the Campaign for Youth Justice and the Children’s Defense Fund are fighting against youth confinement in adult facilities by spearheading campaigns to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction, advocating humane alternatives to confinement, and opposing policies that automatically place youths in the adult system. These are common sense reforms that should already be the law.

Data sources:

My Washington Post Op-ed explains how states continue to use the war on drugs to meddle with drivers' licenses.

by Aleks Kajstura, February 12, 2018

In The Washington Post this weekend, I explained how states continue to use the war on drugs to meddle with driver’s licenses:

You’d expect to lose your driver’s license if you drove dangerously, but what if you ran afoul of the tax code, mail regulations or controlled-substance statutes? Sadly, in Virginia, that’s not a hypothetical question.

Virginia currently suspends nearly 39,000 driver’s licenses annually for drug offenses unrelated to driving. This is a relic of the war on drugs, and, while most states have opted out of the federal law that created these automatic suspensions, Virginia motors on.

As do 11 other states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Utah.

It’s time for these states to leave this practice in the dust. Or take the next legislative exit ramp. Or change lanes on reform. Or put the pedal to the metal… ok, you get the idea. More info available on our driver’s license campaign page.

A new report highlights how the replacement of in-person visits with video calling makes jails less safe, but more profitable for sheriffs.

by Lucius Couloute, January 30, 2018

In April 2014 the sheriff’s office in Knox County, Tennessee banned in-person visits at its jail facilities and entered into a contract with Securus Technologies, forcing incarcerated people to interact with their loved ones through video screens alone. The sheriff’s office cited concerns about contraband, safety, and efficiency to justify the switch from in-person visits to video chats, but failed to illustrate how a new video calling system would provide the magic bullet.

In a new report from Face To Face Knox, a grassroots coalition of citizens in Knox County seeking humane treatment for incarcerated individuals, data from an open records request shows that the replacement of family visits with video calls has resulted in more violence, no drop in the rate of reported contraband, and higher levels of disciplinary infractions, putting more demand on staff.

assaults.staff assaults.contraband.disciplinary infractions.

Scroll to the right to see the impact of eliminating in-person visits on assaults, contraband cases, and disciplinary infractions over time. Data compiled by Face To Face Knox through a public records request.

The video-only “visitation” system did exactly the opposite of what the sheriff’s office intended – except for turning a profit. At a cost of $6 a visit, the sheriff’s office has generated nearly $70,000 from the 50% commissions it makes on the backs of people attempting to stay in touch with their incarcerated loved ones.

As the report explains, “The results are clear: The ban on in-person visits makes the jail more dangerous, does nothing to stop the flow of contraband, and strips money from the pockets of families. It’s time to end the ban and give visitors the option to see their friends and loved ones face to face.”

The push to end driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses is picking up steam in Pennsylvania.

by Wanda Bertram, January 24, 2018

In case you missed it, the push to end driver’s license suspensions for drug offenses is picking up steam in Pennsylvania. Only twelve states continue to enforce this obsolete federal policy, which requires states to suspend driver’s licenses for reasons completely unrelated to driving. Pennsylvania alone has suspended the driving privileges of around 150,000 people since 2011.

Now, with the governor’s vocal support, the state legislature is considering multiple bills to end the practice. Separately, the nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law is suing the state on behalf of two victims of this counterproductive policy.

Nationally speaking, close to 200,000 people are impacted by this outdated law every year, and we’re glad to hear arguments for reform coming from across the political spectrum. The eleven other states where this law is still active should follow Pennsylvania’s lead.

A new poll from Latino Justice PRLDEF shows that the Latinx community is deeply concerned about mass incarceration.

by Lucius Couloute, January 24, 2018

Earlier this month LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a national not-for-profit Latino civil rights organization, released findings from a new national poll of the Latinx community on their views of the criminal justice system. Whereas most survey research on criminal justice issues tend to abide by a Black-white binary, this poll brings to light the impact of mass incarceration in the lives of people often left out of the conversation.

Senior Analyst Edward D. Vargas finds that, like most Americans, the majority of Latinxs favor rehabilitation over more punitive responses to crime, such as added police or prisons. Almost 60% of Latinx respondents felt less safe in the wake of Trump’s presidency. Other findings include:

  • In the context of widespread attention to the treatment of African Americans by the police, 64% of respondents believed that Latinx people face similar treatment at the hands of the police.
  • 57% of all respondents and 70% of Afro Latinx-identified respondents believed that the police are more likely to unjustly use deadly force against Latinx people than against whites.
  • 84% of respondents believed that police officers should not stop and search people simply because of their race or ethnicity.
  • 83% of Democrats and 70% of Republican respondents support the voting rights of people who have “paid their debt to society” after being convicted of a crime.
  • 67% of respondents believe that the Department of Justice should collect better data on Latinx people in the criminal justice system.

The Latinx community is diverse, making it difficult to conclude that any one view defines their experience as a whole. But one thing is clear: mass incarceration is a Latinx issue.

Latinx people make up about 20% of the U.S. incarcerated population, they experience differential treatment at the hands of the police, face stiffer school discipline than their white peers, and are increasingly subject to harassment by ICE, making this poll both timely and informative. The majority of Latinx people want reform. As Juan Cartagena, President of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, explains in a recent piece for HuffPost, “their voices need to be heard.”

We share our favorite recent episodes of Bill Newman's excellent podcast, each just over a minute long and covering a current threat to civil liberties.

by Wanda Bertram, January 22, 2018

Attorney, director of the Western Massachusetts ACLU, and friend of the Prison Policy Initiative Bill Newman publishes an excellent weekly podcast that highlights threats to civil liberties and what you can do. (Don’t be intimidated – they’re just 90 seconds long.) (website | iTunes)

Here are some of the recent highlights that are still timely:

January 2018:

December 2017:

November 2017:

October 2017:

September 2017:

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