Florida — The state’s felon voting policies have been ruled overly “arbitrary” by a federal court. Currently, felons have their voting rights permanently revoked; their rights can only be reinstated by waiting at least five years after completing their sentence and having their case decided by a four-person clemency board led by the state’s governor. Florida represents the most widespread case of felon voter suppression. In Maine and Vermont, individuals convicted of felonies never lose their voting rights.
Tallahassee, Florida —The Florida Supreme Court rejected 40 death-penalty appeals on similar legal grounds , The News Service of Florida reports. A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries.
Florida —More inmates died in Florida prisons last year than in any other year on record, leaving the state scrambling to identify causes and find solutions, reports the Miami Herald. The tally, 428 inmate deaths in 2017, showed a 20 percent increase over previous years. Those who died in 2017 averaged 56.3 years of age. Since 2012, the average age of death in the prison system has swung between 57.1 and 58.2 years old. The Florida prison population is getting older and inmates are serving longer sentences, thanks in part to the elimination of parole.
Knoxville, Tennessee —Since April 2014, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office has banned in-person visits at all county jail facilities, according to Face To Face Knox. In the place of in-person visits, the sheriff promoted a new “video visitation” system, requiring jail visitors to interact with residents through a video kiosk located inside the facility. Friends and family could also contact residents through a remote video call, but at the cost of $5.95 [now $5.99] per visit, assuming they had the necessary technology. Fifty cents of every dollar paid by a friend or family member on a video call goes directly into the county’s general revenue fund.
Alabama — Anthony Ray Hinton spent 30 years confined on Alabama’s death row for murders he did not commit, reports Death Penalty Information Center. He was arrested in 1985 and charged in connection with the murder of two fast-food restaurant managers, even though he had been working in a locked warehouse 15 miles away when that crime was committed. The prosecutor, who had a documented history of racial bias, said he could tell Hinton was guilty and “evil” just by looking at him. Hinton’s incompetent trial lawyer did not know and did not research the law, and erroneously believed the court would not provide funds to hire a qualified ballistics expert to rebut the state expert’s unsupported claim that the bullets that killed the victims had been fired from Hinton’s gun. Instead, his lawyer hired a visually impaired “expert” who did not know how to properly use a microscope, whose testimony was destroyed in front of the jury. Hinton was convicted and sentenced to death.
Minnesota —The state’s crime rate dropped 24 percent, but the incarceration rate increased 1 percent, reports the Star Tribune. A major factor has been a 55 percent increase in felony charges across the state, according to study by the University of Minnesota Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice. Minnesota is among the worst in the country for incarcerating people of color at disproportionate rates, according to a 2016 study from the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project. The study found Hispanics go to prison in Minnesota at a rate 2 ½ times higher than Whites. Blacks go to prison at a rate 11 times higher than Whites. Minnesota taxpayers spend $41,000 per inmate every year, according to a study by the Vera Institute of Justice.
Missouri —In 2016, about 5,000 inmates in the state’s prisons had hepatitis C, reports Kansas City National Public Radio KCUR 89.3 FM. That’s about 15 percent of the 32,000 people incarcerated in Missouri’s prisons. However, no more than 14 of them received the drugs, according to internal state data obtained by the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis. A full course of treatment carried an $84,000 price tag. In December 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union and MacArthur Justice Center sued to get the Missouri Department of Corrections to provide direct-acting antiviral drugs to inmates with hepatitis C who qualify for treatment.
USA — After peaking in 2008, the nation’s imprisonment rate fell 11 percent over eight years, reaching its lowest level since 1997, according to an analysis of new federal statistics by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Texas —William Earl Rayford was executed on Jan. 30 for killing his ex-girlfriend in 1999, reports the Associated Press. The 64-year-old asked his victim’s family for forgiveness and promised to keep them in his prayers, according to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman.
Virginia —There are now more than 30,000 people in Virginia prisons, costing taxpayers more than a billion dollars a year Radio IQ WVTF reports. A growing number are senior citizens with average healthcare costs of $68,000 a year. There were 540 of them, and the board released just 39.