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This Week in Mass Incarceration: NYPD Inspector General Bill, Budget Cuts to Public Defenders

The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning mass incarceration and the ongoing need for criminal justice reform. Here’s a roundup of this week’s top stories.

  • Abigail Finkelman
August 24, 2013

The Brennan Center regularly compiles the latest news concerning mass incarceration and the ongoing need for criminal justice reform. The breaking news this week centered around the New York City Council voting 39–10 to override Mayor Bloomberg’s veto on the NYPD inspector general bill. The overruling took place Thursday afternoon and also included a 34–15 vote to expand people’s ability to sue the NYPD over alleged bias-based profiling from stop-and-frisk.

For ongoing updates on this, and the mass incarceration news below, follow #override4Justice and #massincarceration on Twitter.

  • The Guardian addressed the effects of mass incarceration on the children of people in jail or prison. According to the article, “one in 28 kids has a mother or father, or both, in lockup. [And] 14,000 or more children of the imprisoned annually enter foster care, while an undetermined number enter juvenile detention and adult prisons." There is much disagreement on the proper way to treat those in the correctional system, but no one thinks that children deserve to be punished for what their parents did (or didn’t) do; they are a sad example of the toll that mass incarceration takes on the entire country—both now and in the future.
  • Time wrote about the increasing tendency to charge inmates various fees and fines. The goals of the program differ by municipality—ranging from saving taxpayers money to teaching inmates responsibility—but the outcomes are all equally inappropriate. These perverse incentives serve to make the poor poorer, and end up adversely affecting people far removed from any crimes committed, as the financial and social effects ripple out through all of society.
  • Attempts to help prisoners may be hindered by severe cuts to federal public defenders (but not prosecutors). In the Wall Street Journal, two former federal judges (one nominated by George W. Bush and one by Bill Clinton) wrote about the “decimated” federal public defender system. Additionally, the cuts “will end up costing taxpayers much more than they save,” wrote Attorney General Eric Holder in the Washington Post. It turns out that even aside from the undemocratic and unjust effects on the indigent, this narrow focus on fiscal savings is fiscally irresponsible.
  • Brooke Astor’s son, 89-year-old Anthony Marshall, is being given medical parole under the “compassionate release” program. The program allows inmates who are (among other things)  “so physically or cognitively debilitated or incapacitated” that they likely pose no threat to society to be paroled. Attorney General Holder recently expanded the criteria for eligibility for compassionate release.