July 2016 News Briefs

Honolulu, Hawaii — An inmate serving time in a private prison in Arizona has filed a lawsuit over the prison system’s policy requiring all mail to and from inmates to be written in English, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports. The English-only mail policy prohibits prisoners from receiving letters written in Hawaiian and unduly burdens communications between families and their loved ones behind bars, the lawsuit claims.

Maryland — As the state eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, beginning October 2017, about 1,600 inmates will become eligible for release, The Washington Post reports. Hundreds of nonviolent offenders who have been given long sentences over the past three decades will be allowed to appeal to a judge to have their sentences reduced.

Iowa — The state’s high court ruled in a split decision that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional because it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Brent Appel wrote that juvenile character is “a work in progress” and that courts should not preclude the chance for juvenile offenders to be released for good behavior by parole boards after they have fully matured.

Brooklyn , NY— A federal judge says sentencing courts should pay closer attention to the effect upon a person’s life when they are sent to prison. The judge believes the collateral consequence of having a felony conviction is punishment enough. So, sending a person to prison instead of giving them probation has “no useful function other than to further punish criminal defendants after they have completed their court imposed sentences,” The New York Times reports.

Washington, DC — President Obama commuted the prison terms of another 42 federal felons in an effort to overhaul the nation’s sentencing laws for drug related crimes, the Washington Examiner reports. Obama already had commuted 348 sentences, which is more than any other president. The closest were Presidents Clinton and Nixon, with 61 and 60, respectively.

Oklahoma City, Okla. — Community leaders and organizations across the state submitted more than 220,000 signatures, more than the 65,000 necessary, for a November ballot initiative that would reclassify as misdemeanors instead of felonies some low-level offenses, such as drug possession and some property offenses of less than $1,000.

New Haven, Conn. — Ten years after Reginald Dwayne Betts was released from prison, he graduated from Yale Law School. While Betts was in prison, he realized he wasn’t being given all his time credits and he didn’t know how to properly apply for them, the New Haven Register reports. “I didn’t do it because I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said in the article. “I did it because I didn’t want to be in another situation where I didn’t know the answers to questions that affected my life.”

University of South Carolina, SC — Nearly half of Black males and almost 40 percent of White males in the U.S. are arrested by age 23, which can hurt their ability to find work, go to school and participate fully in their communities. A new study in the journal Crime & Delinquency provides the first contemporary findings on how the risk of arrest varies across race and gender, says lead author of the study criminology professor Robert Brame. The study is an analysis of national survey data from 1997 to 2008 of teenagers and young adults and their arrest histories, which run the gamut from truancy and underage drinking to more serious and violent offenses. The study excludes arrests for minor traffic violations.

Philadelphia, PA. — More than 40 police officers have been awarded commendations since December for resolving conflicts “without shooting, clubbing or otherwise using maximum force against anyone,” The Associated Press reports. The Los Angeles Police Department recently created a Preservation of Life award. And later this year, the U.S. Justice Department’s new Community Policing Awards will recognize officers who prevent tense situations from spinning out of control.

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a broad constitutional challenge from Louisiana asking whether the death penalty violates the Constitution. The high court, on the same day, May 30, reversed a death sentence in Arizona, The New York Times reports. In the case from Louisiana, the court turned down the appeal without comment. In the Arizona case, the court reversed a death sentence in an unsigned opinion, saying the jury had not been told an important fact: that the only alternative to a death sentence was life without the possibility of parole.

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