May 2017 News Briefs

New Mexico — Lawmakers passed a bill forbidding “restricted housing” — defined as 22 or more consecutive hours in a cell “without daily, meaningful and sustained human interaction” — for pregnant women in the state’s county jails and prisons and for children in juvenile lockups, New Mexico in Depth reports. The measure also would limit how corrections officers and administrators in the state’s 28 county jails and 11 prisons could use restricted housing on people with mental illness.

Oklahoma — There are more than 1,000 inmates in the state’s prisons serving sentences of life without parole, costing at least $17 million a year, according to the Tulsa World. Since 2000, about 35 inmates with life without parole sentences enter the prison system each year, while four with the same sentence leave, usually after dying.

Florida — Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that requires a jury to unanimously recommend the death penalty before a judge can impose it. The bill is a response to two court challenges that left the state’s death penalty process on hold for much of 2016, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

New York — Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to close Rikers Island jail. The jail has brought federal investigations and waves of protests, becoming a “byword for brutality,” according to The New York Times. The decision to close the jail came as an independent commission was about to release a 97-page report that recommended replacing the jails on Rikers with a system of smaller, borough-based jails, at a cost of $10.6 billion.

Alabama — State Sen. Hank Sanders, 74, is an opponent of the death penalty. He told The Associated Press that his proposals to end the death penalty have “no chance in a state that clings to capital punishment, but he believes it’s morally right to end it.” Alabama has the country’s fourth-largest death row population with 183 inmates. Records show more than half of them are Black, though African-Americans comprise about a quarter of the state’s population.

Lincoln, Neb. — The state legislature gave initial approval to a compromise bill that would eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders in what supporters say is an important first step toward comprehensive sentencing reform. The measure would apply to people convicted of possessing and intending to distribute cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine, reports The Associated Press.

Louisiana — With a higher incarceration rate than any state in the country or any nation in the world, leaders of a criminal justice task force are looking to shed 13 percent of its prison population and save taxpayers $154 million over the next 10 years, The Advocate reports.

Louisiana — Inmates on Death Row are confined in isolation for 23 hours a day in windowless cells “the size of an average home bathroom,” according to a class action lawsuit. The lawsuit claims the conditions are inhumane and jeopardize prisoners’ physical and mental health, reports The Associated Press.

Washington, D.C. — In a 5-3 decision, the U.S Supreme Court concluded that current medical standards must be considered when determining whether someone facing the death penalty is intellectually disabled and therefore cannot be executed under the Eighth Amendment.

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