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Injustice

Coronavirus Crisis Shows Need For Permanent Bail Reform

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Matt Morgan
Matt Morgan

As the world anxiously feels the effects of coronavirus seeping into all facets of our lives, we must be vigilant about recognizing and fending off the deadly consequences it could have on our vulnerable, marginalized populations. I am particularly concerned about the potential impact on the innocent inmates awaiting trial in our jails. Luckily, Florida is among a handful of states working to prevent utter devastation among this population.

State Attorney Andrew Warren of the 13th Judicial Circuit in Florida took several important steps to help contain the virus in our jails. Among other measures, he has ordered police to minimize arrests for nonviolent misdemeanors, to release pretrial detainees who do not pose a threat to public safety and is dismissing certain nonviolent misdemeanor and criminal traffic cases. He has also halted filing charges for local ordinance violations, nonviolent misdemeanors and criminal traffic offenses.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala of the 9th Judicial Circuit is also working to reduce the number of people held in jails unnecessarily.

Nationwide, every person currently sitting in a jail awaiting trial for a low-level offense should be released immediately. To do this, state attorneys should be reevaluating and easing how they charge people and set bonds, increasing the stipulations to release on one’s own recognizance and lowering bonds, and working with jails to identify all pretrial inmates that could reasonably be released without risking public safety. These are just some of the steps Ayala is taking in her district.

Further, police should be stopping all arrests of nonviolent misdemeanors and traffic violations (DUIs and those driving with permanently revoked licenses notwithstanding). These actions now will save lives.

I applaud the state attorneys for being leaders on this issue, and I urge the rest of the country to take note. This should be a model for every state and county jail in the country. When the coronavirus hits our jails, I expect we will see a terrifying number of severe infections and deaths.

However, the efforts to reduce our jail population should not stop once we get the coronavirus under control. While this pandemic is laying bare many of this country’s broken systems, the criminal justice crisis in America is largely swept under the rug. It began long before the coronavirus hit, and if we don’t act now, it will continue long after.

To understand the depth of this issue, consider some of the startling statistics. The U.S. has 5% of the global population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.[1] This disproportionately impacts African American and Latino communities. One out of every three black boys born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime and one of six Latino boys will go to prison, in comparison to one out of 17 white boys.[2]

It’s blatant racism in broad daylight, and collectively we allow it to happen. We all need to stand together and begin to scream at the top of our lungs about this injustice. It goes against every ideal this great country was founded upon. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, for all the people. There is no greater loss than the loss of one’s freedom.

Beyond the prison populations, a shocking number of people are incarcerated who have not yet been convicted of a crime — in jail at this very moment all because they do not have $100 to bail themselves out. They sit there, many on nonsense charges, for 30 to 50 days while they await their court date. A staggering 76% of the jail population is currently innocent, convicted of no crime.[3]

I see a lot of injustice in my line of work, but this tops the list for me. It’s unfair, and it’s un-American. Innocent until proven guilty — a tenet of American democracy and justice — just doesn’t apply to people of color in our country. Instead, our system runs on the basis of “incarcerated until proven rich.”

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, we should not be arresting and jailing people who commit low-level, nonviolent offenses. Driving with a suspended license is one of the most common and repeated themes about why people are incarcerated. Homeless people sleeping where they’re not supposed to be sleeping is another common arrest. Detaining these people until their trial when they aren’t able to post bond creates what Ayala calls a poverty penalty that punishes them for not having financial resources.

It should become common practice for prosecutors to recommend to judges defendants accused of certain low-level nonviolent offenses be released without having to post bail while their cases are pending. We should also stop holding low-level probation violators without bond.

As a nation, we should consider scrapping monetary bond altogether, opting instead to release those charged without bond or keep them in jail until trial, depending on the charges, as New Jersey has. At the very least, judges should be directed to consider whether a person can make bail before they set it, which is how it works in Maryland.

Mass incarceration hurts all of us. It destroys lives, devastates families and robs us of the potential of all those who are unjustly imprisoned. But it also costs us, the American taxpayers, $80 billion per year.[4] We sure could use that $80 billion at times like these.

It’s past time we level the playing field for low-income nonviolent offenders, and I’m so encouraged to see state attorneys Warren and Ayala be leaders on this issue. I urge all states across the country to follow their lead, and for everyone to use this tragic time as a catalyst to make lasting change in our criminal justice system.


Matt Morgan is an attorney at Morgan & Morgan and the founder of the Community Bail Fund.

“Perspectives” is a regular feature written by guest authors from the access to justice field. To pitch article ideas, email expertanalysis@law360.com. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients or Portfolio Media Inc., or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/04/30/does-the-united-states-really-have-five-percent-of-worlds-population-and-one-quarter-of-the-worlds-prisoners/

[2] https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Race-and-Justice-Shadow-Report-ICCPR.pdf

[3] https://www.prisonpolicy.org/factsheets/pie2019_allimages.pdf

[4] https://eji.org/news/mass-incarceration-costs-182-billion-annually/

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Injustice

Osaka, Billie Jean King get Laureus World Sports Awards

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Monaco, May 8 (IANS) World No. 2 tennis player Naomi Osaka has been named ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ at the Laureus World Sports Awards for her achievements on and off the court, while tennis legend Billie Jean King was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ by the Laureus Academy.

This is Osaka’s second recognition at the Laureus Sports Awards. She won the ‘Breakthrough of the Year’ award in 2019 after a season that saw her win her first WTA title at the BNP Paribas Open and begin her ascent to the top of the game with her first US Open title that fall.

Osaka was also nominated for ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ in 2020 after a season in which she captured her first Australian Open title and become the first Japanese player to ascend to World No.1.

“I’ve watched so many of my role models win this (Sportswoman) award, so it definitely means a lot now to be holding it,” Osaka said on Friday. “I am so happy to receive it. It really means a lot to me.”

Coming out of a season interrupted by the sport’s shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Osaka emerged as the dominant force on hard courts. The 24-year-old marched through the US summer season, making the Western & Southern Open final before capturing the US Open, her third major title.

She continued her form in 2021, winning back-to-back Slams for the second time in her career after capturing her fourth major, at the Australian Open in February.

Osaka’s impact was not limited between the tramlines. During the Western & Southern Open, the Japanese joined in the athlete-led protests regarding racial injustice in America, a decision that led to a one-day stoppage in play. At the US Open, in an effort to raise awareness about racial injustice, Osaka wore seven masks with seven names of black victims of racial violence.

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova presented Billie Jean King with her ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, in recognition of her excellence on the tennis court as well as her life’s work in pursuit of gender and racial equality.

–IANS

akm/kh

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Injustice

Pope to VAX Live: “We need light and hope, paths of healing and salvation”

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In a video message sent Saturday to participants in the VAX Live concert, Pope Francis stresses the need for deep healing, both from the effects of the Covid-19 virus and the virus of individualism and closed nationalism.

By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ

“Receive a cordial greeting from this old man, who does not dance or sing like you, but who believes as you do that injustice and evil are not invincible,” said Pope Francis in a video message to participants at “VAX Live: The Concert to Reunite the World.”

The event, which takes place on Saturday, aims to celebrate the hope that Covid-19 vaccines are offering families and communities around the world. It is also part of a growing chorus of voices seeking wider and more equitable distribution of the vaccines.

Need for healing from the roots

Amid the “darkness and uncertainty” brought about by the ongoing pandemic, “we need light and hope. We need paths of healing and salvation,” Pope Francis said.

Elaborating further, he specifies that he is referring to is a “healing from the roots, which cures the cause of evil and is not limited only to the symptoms.”

The Holy Father, therefore, encouraged everyone not to forget the most vulnerable in the face of the pandemic, which has “produced death and suffering, affecting the lives of all,” and also contributed to exacerbating already existing social and environmental crises.

Individualism makes us indifferent to sufferings of others

Illustrating some of the ills we need to heal from, the Pope noted that within “these diseased roots, we find the virus of individualism, which does not make us any freer or more equal, nor more brothers” but rather makes us indifferent to the sufferings of others.

Other variants of this cultural virus, he said, are closed nationalism which prevents sharing of vaccines, and putting the laws of the market or intellectual property above the laws of love and the health of others.

Likewise, another variant is “when we believe in and foment a sick economy that allows a very rich few to possess more than all the rest of humanity, and when models of production and consumption destroy the planet, our ‘common home’.”

Everything is interconnected

Pope Francis went on to highlight the interconnectedness of everything, pointing out that we are united in nature and person, and thus every social injustice and act of marginalization against poor people also affects the environment.

He added that God instills in our hearts a new and generous spirit that enables us to abandon individualism in order to promote the common good.

It is a “spirit of justice that mobilizes us to ensure universal access to vaccines and the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights; a spirit of communion that allows us to generate a different, more inclusive, just, sustainable economic model,” the Pope said.

A better, post-pandemic society

The Pope then reminded everyone that “we do not come out of a crisis the same, we either come out better or worse.”

However, he noted that “the problem lies in having the inventiveness to look for paths that are better” in our efforts to deal with the crisis we are experiencing due to the pandemic.

He thus prayed that God may comfort the suffering and welcome those who have died into His kingdom.

He also implored our Lord that for us, pilgrims on earth, He may grant “the gift of a new brotherhood, a universal solidarity, so that we may recognize the good and beauty he has sown in each of us, to strengthen bonds of unity, of common projects, of shared hopes.”

The Holy Father concluded his video message with an expression of gratitude to the participants for their efforts and a request for prayers for himself.

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Injustice

Art exhibits reflect on racial injustice and Tulsa Race Massacre – KTUL

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