Saturday, May 14, 2016

Who's Getting Jailed and Why?

The day after posting my previous blog on debtor's prisons, Fresh Air host Terry Gross conducted a really informative radio interview with Nancy Fishman, the project director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections for the Vera Institute for Justice.

Vera is a progressive non-profit established in 1961 that works to ensure fairness in the justice system and address issues related to mass incarceration and injustices embedded within America's jails and prisons.

Fishman, the co-author of a report entitled 'Incarceration's Front Door: The Misuse of America's Jails',  shared some really troubling insight about U.S. jails.

Including the disturbing fact that for-profit companies that operate local jails for municipalities and counties across the nation actually charge people held there fees for their own room and board.

A fact made more absurd in light of statistics posted on the Vera Institute for Justice Website that show that local jails currently admit some 11.7 million Americans a year, most of whom are being held for low-level non-violent offenses or minor traffic violations based on their inability or failure to pay fees for tickets and fines.

62% of those people are actually innocent and haven't even been convicted of an actual offense or crime, and the vast majority of them are poor.

As Fishman told Terry Gross about the approximately 730,000 Americans currently in U.S. jails:

"They are legally of the great travesties, frankly, of jail admissions right now is that we have innocent people sitting in jails for long periods simply because they can't afford to pay [bail]."

As a recent New York Times article reported, the problem of backlogged court cases for minor offenses has gotten so bad in the Bronx that Bronx Defenders (which provides legal services to the poor) and two law firms filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan last Tuesday alleging that excessive wait times and delays for people awaiting court appearances actually constitutes a violation of the right to fair trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Now obviously that doesn't mean that there aren't people who deserve to be in jail.

Speaking of which....

Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back
Former North Charleston Police Officer Michael Slager was back in the news earlier this week after the Justice Department announced that he will face federal indictment on three counts for the 2015 shooting death of unarmed African-American veteran Walter Scott.

In fact it was just about this time last year that Slager made headlines after he stopped unarmed African-American veteran Walter Scott for driving with a broken tail light.

After a brief and fairly cordial verbal discussion, Scott abruptly got out of the car and took off running.

Following a brief foot chase, Slager caught up with Scott and there was a brief physical struggle before Scott got away; it was then that Slager opened fire with his handgun, killing Scott as he was running away.

Slager initially told investigators that he fired in self defense as Scott was coming towards him, but a bystander caught the incident on a cell phone camera and it showed that not only did Slager shoot the Navy veteran in the back, he actually picked up his taser weapopn which had fallen during the physical struggle, and brought it over and dropped it near Scott's body in an effort to try and plant false evidence that Scott had tried to attack the former officer,

As I said, some folks do belong in jail.

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