1. California — (AP) A nine-member reparations task force approved a set of recommendations in late April, advising the state how to compensate and apologize to its Black residents for the harm caused by a history of discrimination. The task force’s draft report included a recommendation to pay “cash or its equivalent” to eligible Californians. The recommendations, which included a description of the historical discrimination and harmful policies, were the result of nearly two years of committee meetings. The report will now go to Legislature for consideration. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, was present at the meeting. “Reparations are not only morally justifiable, but they have the potential to address longstanding racial disparities and inequalities,” said Lee.
2. Washington — (KIRO 7) The state’s death penalty went through its final throes on April 20 when Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill that ended it. “Equal justice under the law is the state’s primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I’m not convinced equal justice is being served,” said Inslee. The governor imposed a moratorium on the ultimate penalty in 2014 when he said it was “inconsistent and unequal.” The state’s Supreme Court in struck the penalty down in 2018 and the Senate removed it as a sentencing option for aggravated murder in 2020. “I think the death penalty is a perfectly appropriate punishment in certain cases, and we need to keep it on the books,” said Republican Sen. Keith Wagoner.
3. Nevada — (AP) The state will pay $1.6 million to the family of Carlos Manuel Perez, a prisoner gunned down while handcuffed in 2014. The guard who fired the three fatal shotgun blasts was a trainee. The Perez family lawsuit alleges that guards at the prison had set up a “gladiator-like scenario” by allowing Perez and another handcuffed prisoner to fight. The trainee ended the fight by firing a warning shot and three live rounds into the space. “Carlos was unarmed and handcuffed and died tragically and unnecessarily,” said the family’s lawyer Paola Armeni. Perez was 28 at the time of his death. The guard who fired the shots pled no contest to a gross misdemeanor “an attempted act of willful or wanton disregard of public safety.” He underwent mental health counseling and served 240 hours of community service.
4. Arizona — (AP) U.S. District Court judge Roslyn Silver issued an injunction in April making permanent an order aimed at improving the health care provided to inmates in the state’s prisons. Litigation of the matter has spanned almost a decade. The permanent injunction is substantially the same as a draft Silver issued in January. Besides improvements in the delivery of health care, the order calls for repairs of equipment and structures in cells. “As a matter of common decency,” wrote Silver in a footnote, “an order should not be required to prompt defendants to repair leaking pipes, repair inoperative toilets, or collect trash. However, defendants’ conduct throughout this litigation demonstrated defendants cannot be relied upon to perform such basic tasks.” Failure to comply with the judge’s order could result in federal oversight of the state’s prison health care system.
5. Illinois — (Bloomberg Law) Confiscation of an inmate’s contraband books by Cook County Jail officials was not a violation of due process ruled the Seventh Circuit Court in April. Officers conducting a search confiscated about 30 books from Gregory Koger’s cell. The jail’s prisoner handbook includes the three-book policy. The court noted that Koger received advance notice of the taking of the books and had various options to arrange for removal of the books from his cell prior to the search. Koger died in 2020. Brian Orozco continued the litigation in his place.
6. Florida — (AP) A unanimous jury decision will no longer be required to impose the death sentence in the state after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in April. Florida becomes one of only three states that allow the ultimate penalty without unanimity among jurors. The others are Alabama and Missouri. Impetus for the law arose from the case of the Parkland school shooter, who killed 17 people, and who was spared a death sentence for lack of a unanimous jury vote. “Once a defendant in a capital case is found guilty by a unanimous jury, one juror should not be able to veto a capital sentence,” said DeSantis in a statement.
7. Washington D.C. — (Reuters) Federal prisoners released to home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic will not necessarily return to prison when the public health emergency ends on May 11. The U.S. Justice Department released the pertinent regulations in early April, providing reassurance to inmates serving their prison terms in their homes. “This final rule makes clear that the Director of the Bureau of Prisons has the discretion to ensure that those who have made rehabilitative progress and complied with the conditions of home confinement are not necessarily returned to prison,” said a statement from Attorney General Merrick Garland. The BOP is still able to return inmates to prison if they commit infractions. More than 12,000 have been in home confinement under the emergency arrangement. Only a fraction of 1% have returned to prison because they reoffended.