This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: There were many criminal justice-related issues on the ballot this year, from sheriff and prosecutor races to state and local initiatives on police oversight, drug policy, and over-incarceration. Pieces from Time and the Brennan Center survey the results of a mostly-promising Election Day for criminal justice reform. The Nation reports from California, where the reform movement won major ground on Tuesday as voters turned out to support a series of ambitious criminal justice-related changes, approving a statewide ballot measure to re-enfranchise parolees and rejecting an initiative that would have toughened sentencing in criminal cases and reduced opportunities for early parole. In Los Angeles County – one of the nation’s largest criminal jurisdictions and a longtime trendsetter on issues of criminal justice – voters appear to have ousted incumbent DA Jackie Lacey in favor of reformist George Gascón. And Vox reports that in a “huge win for the defund the police movement,” voters in LA also approved a local ballot initiative known as Measure J, which will permanently require the county to spend 10% of its unrestricted general funds on “alternatives to incarceration” such as housing, mental health care, and criminal justice diversion programs.
Reform was a common theme on Tuesday as voters around the country turned out to demand accountability from prosecutors and police. WBEZ reports that Democratic state’s attorney Kim Foxx is headed for reelection in Cook County, Illinois, while The Appeal highlights wins for the “progressive prosecutor” movement in Austin and Orlando. And the Wall Street Journal reports from deep-red Glynn County, Georgia, where voters have ousted a district attorney who drew widespread criticism earlier this year for her mishandling of the investigation into Ahmaud Arbery’s death.
But perhaps the biggest win of Tuesday’s criminal justice-related races was drug policy reform. MSNBC reports that five states – Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Mississippi – voted to legalize some form of marijuana use; and The Intercept reports from Oregon, where, in a historic first, voters approved a measure to decriminalize the personal possession of all illegal drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Instead of jail time, those found in possession of drugs will now have the option to either pay a $100 fine or sign up for addiction services. The measure is predicted to reduce criminal convictions for drug possession by nearly 90%, and to reduce racial disparities in drug arrests by up to 95%. Overall, Tuesday’s results constitute an unprecedented drug law overhaul in the US, and a “long overdue challenge to the racist, carceral logic of drug criminalization.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from Bloomberg CityLab focuses on felony disenfranchisement. Thanks to rule changes in many US states, the number of formerly incarcerated people eligible to vote has increased to as many as 18 million – more than the entire population of Pennsylvania. But misinformation around those reforms, and the complexity of state-by-state laws, remain significant barriers for those who have had their rights restored. And there are still more than five million people around the US – close to 3% of the eligible voting population – who are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. For Black and Latinx communities, that percentage is much higher, especially in southern, Republican-leaning states – not a bug in the system, but a feature of its design, the result of criminal disenfranchisement laws enacted after the Civil War to intentionally deprive Black people of their right to vote. A piece from the New Yorker, from February, also focuses on felony disenfranchisement, outlining the long, dark history of criminal disenfranchisement in the US – and of the growing movement for voting-rights restoration both within prisons and on the outside. And Undark Magazine asks, “Is mass incarceration driving racial disparities in the pandemic?”. The piece centers on a study, published in June, that linked 16% of all COVID-19 cases in Chicago and across Illinois to a single outbreak at the Cook County Jail. The study found that jail cycling – the constant flow of people into and out of jails – was the single greatest predictor of COVID-19 community spread. Black Chicagoans comprise about 30% of the city’s population, but almost 75% of the detainee population at Cook County Jail; they also represent a plurality, at 42%, of the city’s COVID-19-related deaths. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen Black communities around the country hit especially hard by COVID-19; these findings suggest that mass incarceration could be the reason, or part of the reason, why.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from Bloomberg CityLab focuses on Minneapolis, where, since the killing of George Floyd in May, police response times have slowed by more than 80% — especially in the city’s 3rd Precinct, where Floyd was arrested, and the surrounding neighborhood, a center of anti-police brutality protest and activism. As city officials struggle to explain the slowdown, and with rates for some violent crimes spiking amid economic devastation from COVID-19, the community has stepped in to fill the void, with a handful of ad hoc resident-led groups emerging on the city’s south side to reimagine public safety for themselves. And, in a piece for The Marshall Project, formerly incarcerated people share their experiences of voting in the 2020 election. For some, sentenced as juveniles to decades behind bars, 2020 was their first-ever opportunity to vote; others had to fight tooth and nail, overcoming endless legal challenges, bureaucratic hurdles and red tape, to regain their voting rights. For all of them, voting meant inclusion in the democratic process and a chance to make their voices heard.
And in culture/true crime: WHYY highlights “Rendering Justice,” a new exhibition at the African American Museum in Philadelphia. Featuring work by incarcerated and formerly incarcerated artists, the show seeks to give voice to those whose lives have been directly affected by the criminal justice system. “Just Over the Line,” a new documentary from Blue Ridge Public Radio, examines how justice can vary from county to county. The film centers on the story of Daniel Noell, a homeless man who was arrested and charged in two North Carolina counties for the same crime, recounting his parallel journeys through two separate criminal justice systems. And, in a conversation with the Los Angeles Times, three crime-fiction writers discuss writing about law enforcement during a national reckoning with police brutality.