January 2017 News Briefs

National News – Last November, one of every 40 American adults was not able to vote because of state laws that bar people with past felony convictions from casting ballots, The Sentencing Project reports. The report estimated 6.1 million Americans did not vote because of these state laws. The laws vary widely. Florida, Iowa and Virginia have some of the harshest laws. They impose lifetime voting bans on felons. However, in these states, voting rights can be restored on a case-by-case basis by a governor or a court. Maine and Vermont are the only states that place no restrictions on people with felony convictions. Citizens can even vote while incarcerated in Maine and Vermont.

Sacramento – Opponents of the new law, Proposition 66, which would speed up executions in the state, are asking the state Supreme Court to block its implementation. The law would require the state Supreme Court to rule on death penalty appeals within five years, set a five-year deadline for second-stage appeals (habeus corpus) and require defense lawyers to file those appeals with the trial judge within a year. The law also would expand the pool of defense lawyers by including attorneys who take on non-capital appeals, and it eliminates administrative review of the single drug execution method, the new rules for which are currently under review at the Office of Administrative Law.

Folsom – The cost for the record-keeping system used by California prison officials to track nearly 130,000 inmates’ medical and mental healthcare has doubled from the original estimated cost to almost $400 million, The Associated Press reports. The extra cost comes from maintaining the system, replacing worn-out equipment, and additional hardware like mobile devices along with the software to run them. Most of the extra costs have been added into the prison system’s healthcare budget of $1.9 billion.

Arizona – Maricopa County voters ousted the 24-year reign of Joe Arpaio, known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” and replaced him with retired Phoenix police sergeant Paul Penzone.  “No longer will we be known by the notoriety of one,” Penzone told azcentral.com. “The only division we should see in the community is between those who commit the crime and those (who) are willing to hold them accountable.”

Nebraska – More than 60 percent of state voters said they want to reverse lawmakers’ elimination of the death penalty. Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts led the effort, saying voters want the death penalty.

Oklahoma – About two-thirds of state voters agreed to change the state constitution, stating that “any method of execution shall be allowed, unless prohibited by the United States Constitution” and that the method “shall not be deemed to be, or to constitute, the infliction of cruel or unusual punishment.”

Houston, Texas – The American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit against the southeast city of Santa Fe, accusing it of being a debtor’s prison and “prioritizing raising revenue of the city over administering justice fairly,” reports ABC7 El Paso. According to a report filed by the ACLU, during a four-month period in 2015 and 2016, 48.9 percent of the people the Houston municipal court system jailed were Black. The city’s Black population is about 24 percent. In nearby Texas City, the study found that during an unspecified six-month period, 60 percent of the people its municipal court system jailed were Black. In Texas City, Blacks make up about one-third of the population.

New York –Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has ordered a statewide inquiry into what has been called “pervasive racial bias by prison guards” in the state’s 54 prisons, The New York Times reports. The action was taken after a report by the Times documenting racial disparities in the prison disciplinary system that found that Black and Latino inmates were punished at twice the rate of White inmates at some prisons, sent to solitary confinement more often and were held there longer.

Philadelphia – Last April, the city received a $3.5 million grant to reduce its jail population by a third. City officials are focusing on reducing recidivism by sealing records of low-level crimes from everyone except law enforcement. The effort, city officials say, would increase the offenders’ chance of getting a job. Since late last year, nearly 2,000 people with criminal records signed up for free clinics around the city. Experts estimate about 1,200 people would benefit from the project.

Hookerton, NC – Vietnam veterans doing time in one of the state’s prisons, along with other inmates who served in the military after Sept. 11, have their own dormitory. “They’re still inmates,” Kenneth Lassiter, deputy director of operations for the state Department of Public Safety, told newsobserver.com. “They’re still incarcerated. They’re still heroes, though.” According to the report, the state has about 1,900 veterans – 5 percent of the state’s prison population.

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