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The ACLU of Utah Activist

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Latest news: Prison relocation and justice reinvestment!

04 February 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
The big question at the legislature...Will they or won't they?

Criminal Justice on the Hill (part two)

28 January 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
As promised, for those of you who can't get enough of the legislative process, here are a few more big criminal justice issues to keep an eye on up here at the Capitol until March 12.

Criminal Justice at the Capitol (part one)

26 January 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
Welcome to the 2015 Utah Legislative Session, everyone! The Session officially kicked off yesterday, mainly with ceremonies and networking. And this first week will see mostly appropriations meetings (budgets for various agencies will be presented), with some committee meetings in the afternoons.

Op-ed: Changing the prison more important than moving it

11 January 2015 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
By now, we’ve all seen the buttons, the hand signs, the T-shirts: “No Prison In (Insert Your Community Here).”

Mutually Reinforcing: Mass Incarceration and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

30 November 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
Current criminal justice and education policies and practices have led to the United States to incarcerate more people than any other country, with disturbing racial inequity.

First Hurdle Cleared: Justice Reinvestment Recommendations Sail Out of CCJJ!

16 November 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
After months and months of endless meetings, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) deserved a big pat on the back last week.

"De-felonizing" Drug Possession: The Sky Will Not Fall

05 November 2014 Published in Prison Relocation & Justice Reinvestment in Utah
It wasn't MEANT to be the biggest announcement during the Prison Relocation Commission meeting on October 22.

Zero-Tolerance = Zero Sense, Students Need Better

02 November 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
Zero-tolerance policies are a fundamental component of the School-to-Prison pipeline and lead to suspensions, expulsions, and sometimes arrests-for minor misbehavior.

The Director’s Chair: This is a prime time in Utah to make substantial inroads into criminal justice and policing reform.

28 October 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
This is a prime time in Utah to make substantial inroads into criminal justice and policing reform. The tragic police shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American man in Ferguson, Missouri along with the police shooting of a 22-year-old African American man in Saratoga Springs, Utah have become flash points raising serious questions about racial bias in policing.  In the days following Mr. Brown’s death and the resulting protests, it was revealed that in Ferguson, where the police force is almost all white, over 85% of all traffic stops involve motorists of color and over 90% of all those arrested are African American. Here in Utah, we’re also looking closely at how racial bias may impact our policing. 

Honoring Our Volunteer Attorneys

28 October 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2014 Fall Newsletter >> The ACLU of Utah has limited staff and funding, yet is faced with a huge number of requests for legal assistance from individuals and organizations. In almost all of our cases, we co-counsel and team up with volunteer attorneys. Since 1958,  volunteer lawyers have provided invaluable support to the ACLU of Utah legal program. These volunteers include sole practitioners, recent law school graduates, as well as some of the state and nation’s most prominent lawyers and firms. In addition to litigation, attorneys help in several other important ways. For example, we sometimes need help analyzing proposed legislation that affects civil liberties. In addition, we sometimes provide comments on policies or address complaints to administrative agencies. Volunteer attorneys also assist in reviewing complaints and requests for assistance from the public.  We could not have accomplished many of the significant victories we have achieved this year without the dedicated assistance of the following attorneys. We are grateful for their time and energy. We are always on the lookout for more cooperating attorneys. If you are interested in becoming involved, please visit our website at www.acluutah.org/legal-work/become-a-cooperating-attorney Michael S. Anderson, Parr,…

Prison Relocation: No News Is Good News...but Good News is Even Better!

28 October 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
Many folks who turned out for the Prison Relocation Commission's most recent meeting on October 22 were likely disappointed, because the big news that they were hoping for never came. 

"Justice Reinvestment" Effort Lumbers On...Destination Unclear

The state's "Justice Reinvestment" effort is creeping ever closer to reality!

Breaking Down the School to Prison Pipeline

06 October 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
There is an alarming trend that pushes out students from school and into the juvenile justice system or pushes them to drop out of school increasing their risk of entering prisons as adults.

OP-ED: We should educate, not incarcerate, our young people

05 October 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
A Salt Lake City West High School senior writes eloquently about the need to fight the growing trend, locally and nationally, to push some students out of school and into the criminal justice system.

Update: Criminal Justice Reform Effort Appears Serious...So Far

16 September 2014 Published in Prison Relocation & Justice Reinvestment in Utah
Last Tuesday, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice had an exciting meeting about the state's ongoing "Justice Reinvestment" effort. During this meeting, all the CCJJ subcommittees - working groups focused on a particular part of the criminal justice system needing reform - reported back to the full Commission as to their progress. Before I get into what each subcommittee reported, I'd like to share some cautious optimism. Actually, I'd like to share some real excitement about how well Utah's Justice Reinvestment process is going - especially when compared to other states that didn't fully embrace the possibility of meaningful reform. Many other states - from Texas and South Carolina, to Hawaii and Oregon - have engaged in Justice Reinvestment efforts in the past eight years. Some have been heralded as true successes. In South Carolina, for example, significant enough reforms were made - and backed by serious enough funding! - to result in an 8% drop in the state's overall prison population. South Carolina policymakers engaged in sentencing reform, reform of paroling and release policies, expansion of community-based treatment options, and more. Republican South Carolina Senator George E. Campsen III remarked of the state's omnibus Justice Reinvestment legisiation: “This…

Getting It Dead Wrong for 30 Years

07 September 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
By Cassandra Stubbs, Director, ACLU Capital Punishment Project According to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Henry Lee McCollum deserved to die for the brutal rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie. There's just one problem, and a frequent one in death penalty cases: Henry Lee McCollum didn't do it. Instead of tracking down the true killer, police and prosecutors went after Henry Lee McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown, two intellectually disabled and innocent teenagers. While his mother wept in the hallway, not allowed to see her son, officers interrogated McCollum for five hours, ultimately coercing him to sign a confession they had written. In a trial without forensic evidence and plagued by racial bias, these two half-brothers with IQs in the 50s and 60s were sent to death row. Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown, whose sentence was later reduced to life in prison, have been behind bars for the last 30 years. Read more >>

Welcome to Fall - Part Two: So...How's That Prison Relocation Thing Going?

04 September 2014 Published in Prison Relocation & Justice Reinvestment in Utah
Okay, you're starting to wake up to the cool crisp air, and you've gotten up to speed on Utah's "Justice Reinvestment" criminal justice reform project. Hmmm...what was that other super huge major important thing you were concerned about before you checked out for the summer? The prison relocation! That's right: the state's ongoing effort to move Utah's primary correctional facility from its current location in Draper to...somewhere else. Nope, you didn't miss out on that detail. There is NO SITE selected yet for the new prison. In fact, there is no official recommendation. There is also no public list of potential sites. But that doesn't mean nothing is happening! When we last left the Prison Relocation Commission (PRC) back in July, it had split into several subgroups to discuss major decision points for the new prison project: where to site it (Site Selection Working Group); what programs and how many beds to put into it (Reform & Programming Working Group); and how to pay for it (Finance Working Group). You can refresh your memory with our run-down of the working groups here. The full PRC met for the first time in two months on Sept. 3. Here's a good write up…

Welcome to Fall - Part One: So...How's That Criminal Justice Reform Thing Going?

01 September 2014 Published in Prison Relocation & Justice Reinvestment in Utah
If you're anything like the rest of us, you've been blissfully tuned out of all the usual "work-and-society-and-boring-meetings" news for a couple of months. Well, summer's over, and it's time to get ourselves up to speed on how the state's criminal justice reform efforts are coming along. Note: if you've been tuned out so long that you can't even remember what I'm talking about, read this Tribune story by Robert Gehrke about the state's "Justice Reinvestment" initiative, undertaken with the Pew Public Safety Performance Project.  The Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) officially launched the effort with Pew in April 2014. Since we are five months in (though the media are just now starting to pay attention!), this seems a good time to take stock of the effort. To refresh your memory of the Justice Reinvestment process and timeline: Justice Reinvestment began with Pew collecting data, conducting research and investigating Utah's criminal justice system.  Pew reviewed the data with CCJJ to identify what is driving Utah's prison population growth. Pew evaluated how well Utah is incorporating criminal justice "best practices" into various aspects of its system. CCJJ will work with Pew to craft legislation, to be put before the…

Op-ed: Board of Pardons and Parole needs support, attention and reform

21 August 2014 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist
The Tribune recently reported on Utah’s “Justice Reinvestment” effort, undertaken with support from the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. These reports mention reforms that, if adopted, could reduce Utah’s prison population: tweaking sentencing guidelines, improving community supervision practices, and ensuring that “evidence-based practices” are used by judges, agents and counselors.

Where Evidence-Based Practices Will Fail Us

As Utah's public agencies and criminal justice entities hum with enthusiasm about data-driven approaches and evidence-based practices (for example: here, here, here, here, you get the idea), I hate to be the one to point this out but... ...it is inevitable that Utah's favorite criminal justice buzz term - "Evidence-Based Practices" - will run into the buzz saw of reality at some point. And by reality, I mean decades of policies - in law enforcement, housing, education, and other areas of government involvement - that discriminate against certain Americans based on their race and class. Luckily, I'm not the only one pointing this out. I highly recommend this excellent article in Time last week describing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's concerns about increased used of risk assessment tools, particularly in pre-sentencing processes. While this data-driven approach to criminal justice may save money, it is very likely to perpetuate terrible and unjustified racial disparities in our criminal justice system. Before we get too far in the weeds, let's take a second to define "evidence-based practices' as the term is used in the criminal justice world. An "evidence-based practice" or "EBP" is an approach or intervention that has been evaluated - with some academic…