Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Prisoner Re-entry (HBO) – Published on Nov 8, 2015


Former offenders face enormous obstacles once they leave prison. John Oliver sits down with Bilal Chatman, an ex-prisoner, to discuss the challenges of reentering society.

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The biggest prisoner release in US history, explained – Updated by Dara Lind on November 1, 2015, 2:42 p.m. ET


Between October 30th and November 2nd, the government is releasing 6,000 federal prisoners — the biggest prisoner release in United States history.

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This wasn’t sudden: The release has been in the works for more than a year, and was actually delayed so the federal government would have time to review individual prisoners’ cases and build up its capacity to help ex-prisoners reenter society. And ironically — even though it’s happening at a time when elected Democrats and Republicans alike are making efforts to reduce mass incarceration, especially for drug crimes — neither Congress nor the White House deserves credit.

An independent federal commission has already been working to guide judges toward shorter sentences for drug offenders. This fall’s prisoner release is a matter of fairness: the result of the commission’s decision that just because someone was sentenced to a long prison term during the peak of the tough-on-crime era, he shouldn’t automatically have to serve more time than he’d get if he were sentenced today. It’s also a reminder that people throughout the criminal justice system are taking a hard look at incarceration and trying to reduce it — and that the biggest changes aren’t necessarily the highest-profile ones, or the most politically contested.

The beginning of a process that could release more than 40,000 prisoners

The 6,000 prisoners getting released between October 30 and November 2 are all serving time for federal drug crimes.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress (as well as the Obama administration) have stressed in recent years that too many people are going to federal prison for too long for nonviolent drug offenses. Both the House and Senate have introduced bills this summer to tackle one of the causes: mandatory minimum laws that require judges to sentence drug offenders to a certain amount of time. But mandatory minimums aren’t the only factor in determining how long someone goes to prison for; the exact sentence is set by a judge, with the assistance of federal sentencing “guidelines” that recommend a sentence within a certain length (based on the seriousness of the crime and the offender’s criminal history).

Article continues:

http://www.vox.com/2015/10/7/9470683/prisoners-released-early

Is The War On Drugs Working? – The People Speak – Vice News Published on Oct 30, 2015


VICE News traveled around the world speaking to people about what they think about the war on drugs.

Find out what people from Washington, DC to Bangkok, Thailand had to say about about the global approach to narcotics.

Watch the People Speak on immigration – http://bit.ly/1OdnuwP

It’s Not Easy Giving Gifts to an Ex-GITMO Detainee (Extra Scene from ‘Life After Guantanamo’) – Vice News Published on Oct 29, 2015


What happens after detainees are released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility? The answer to that question has, for the most part, been shrouded in secrecy.

When five former Guantanamo detainees were resettled to Kazakhstan in late December 2014, a senior official in the Obama administration was quoted as saying the ex-captives were now “free men”. But what does that actually mean? VICE News traveled to Kazakhstan to find out.

Abdul Mohammed Rahman, also known as Lotfi Bin Ali, was captured in 2003 and recommended for release or transfer out of Guantanamo as early as 2004. Joint Task Force-Guantanamo determined that he posed a “low risk” due to his medical condition, noting his severe heart condition and chronic breathing and sleeping problems. Twelve years later, he was resettled to Kazakhstan.

In this extra scene, VICE News visits Lotfi Bin Ali in the remote city of Semey, where attempts to deliver gifts are met with suspicion and hostility from local authorities.

Watch “Guantanamo: Blacked Out Bay” – http://bit.ly/1Lis61W

“Freedom” in Kazakhstan (Excerpt from ‘Life After Guantanamo’) – Vice News Published on Oct 23, 2015


What happens after detainees are released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility? The answer to that question has, for the most part, been shrouded in secrecy.

When five former Guantanamo detainees were resettled to Kazakhstan in late December 2014, a senior official in the Obama administration was quoted as saying the ex-captives were now “free men”. But what does that actually mean? VICE News traveled to Kazakhstan to find out.

Abdul Mohammed Rahman, also known as Lotfi Bin Ali, was captured in 2003 and recommended for release or transfer out of Guantanamo as early as 2004. Joint Task Force-Guantanamo determined that he posed a “low risk” due to his medical condition, noting his severe heart condition and chronic breathing and sleeping problems. Twelve years later, he was resettled to Kazakhstan.

In this excerpt, we meet another former Guantanamo Bay detainee who was also resettled in Kazakhstan. Like Lotfi, Sabri al Qarashi was resettled in remote Semey and has also had problems accessing health care.

Watch “Guantanamo: Blacked Out Bay” – http://bit.ly/1Lis61W

The Government Just Made Prison a Little Less Terrible – —By Madison Pauly | Thu Oct. 22, 2015 5:14 PM EDT


Bastiaan Slabbers/iStock

For the families and friends of inmates, hearing the sound of a loved one’s voice can be an unaffordable luxury, with phone companies sometimes charging up to $14 per minute for calls from correctional facilities. The Federal Communications Commission took a step to change that today, voting to approve new rules on the rates companies can charge for inmates’ in-state calls.

The rules close a loophole created in 2013, when the FCC limited rates on interstate calls to 21 cents per minute but did not regulate in-state calls. The commission will now cap the cost of prepaid in-state calls from state and federal prisons at 11 cents a minute. County jails will use a tiered system, with calls from the smallest jails costing the most (22 cents a minute) and calls from the biggest jails costing the least (14 cents a minute).

The new rules also ban companies from charging a flat rate for calls, phase down collect call rates, and eliminate most of the add-on charges like payment and billing fees, which right now can bump up the cost of a call by 40 percent. Additionally, the rules increase the access to calling services for people with hearing or speech disabilities.

Industry giants like GTL and Securus have fought the move, and many have introduced exorbitantly priced video visitation services that have replaced in-person visits in some places.

“This system has preyed on our most vulnerable for far too long,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn told the Washington Post. “Families are being further torn apart and the cycle of poverty is being perpetuated.”

http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2015/10/fcc-caps-rates-prison-phone-calls

Is Life Retroactive? – By Dahlia Lithwick OCT. 13 2015 7:46 PM


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Montgomery v. Louisiana could affect the fates of prisoners sentenced to life without parole as juveniles. Sakhorn/Shutterstock.

At the white-hot center of retroactivity doctrine and federal/state jurisdiction roils an oral argument that may or may not have something to do with sentencing juveniles to life without parole. This morning, during arguments in Montgomery v. Louisiana, we hear a good deal from the Supreme Court about the forced incarceration of witches and lots more about the eternal raging war between “substantive” and “process” changes to the law. Whether that will come to mean much of anything for the more than 2,000 people sentenced as juveniles to life without parole before the Supreme Court ruled that such sentences—when mandatory—violate the constitution is anybody’s guess.

Back in 2012, the high court decided in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for young people who committed their crimes as juveniles violate the Eighth Amendment. The court left open the possibility that life sentences could be on the table if the sentencing judge carefully considered a host of factors that took the offender’s age into account, “among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences.” Following Miller, some state courts or legislatures opted to re-examine LWOP sentences. Fourteen state supreme courts decided to apply Miller retroactively. Seven and some federal appeals courts don’t think it looks backward.

So the issue in Montgomery is simply whether, post-Miller, every state must offer a new sentencing or parole hearing to anyone serving life for crimes they committed before age 18. Retroactivity is a bit like The Matrixall flawless internal logic that goes down easier with vodka. But before the justices can wade into the question of whether Miller can be applied retroactively, they need to decide whether they even have the authority to hear the case. Over 75 minutes, four attorneys argue those two questions, on which hang the fate of more than 1,000 juveniles.

The young person at the center of the case is Henry Montgomery, who in 1963 was a black teenager convicted for the murder of a white deputy sheriff in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, amid a backdrop of racial strife. Montgomery was 17 at the time of the shooting. He is 69 today. He has spent the last 52 years in prison. He was sentenced to death in a trial that was so compromised by Ku Klux Klan threats that the original conviction was tossed. After a retrial, Montgomery was sentenced to mandatory life without parole. In the wake of Miller he sought to revisit that sentence, but Louisiana’s Supreme Court ruled Montgomery wasn’t entitled to a new sentencing. He’s at the court today asking whether he really has to die in prison, even though the Supreme Court has said youthful offenders should not.

But before we do battle over retroactivity, the court needs to sort out whether it can even hear the case—because if the Louisiana Supreme Court decided Montgomery’s appeal based on state law rather than federal law, the supremes might not be able to wade in. Since both parties believe the court has jurisdiction to hear this case, the court reached out and appointed Richard D. Bernstein to argue that it doesn’t.

Everyone seems to agree that this is one of those all-eyes-on-Kennedy cases. So it may or may not be important that one of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s few questions at oral argument is: “If a State says, we acknowledge that we are holding a prisoner in contravention of Federal law but we choose to do nothing about it, the State can be required under the Supremacy Clause, under its own procedures, to enforce the Federal law?”

Justice Stephen Breyer asks a hypothetical question about masses of Americans incarcerated under a sedition law the Supreme Court then finds unconstitutional. Doesn’t the court have jurisdiction to hear the case when “there are human beings who are in prison, who are there without having violated any valid law, because it was always protected by the First Amendment?” Or, as he rephrases the question: “I mean, why doesn’t it violate the Constitution to hold a person in prison for 20 years, for conduct which the Constitution forbids making criminal?” When Bernstein evades the hypothetical, Breyer changes it up, now proposing that the masses of people unconstitutionally rotting in prison were charged with being witches. In Massachusetts. Before that was found to violate the constitution. In 1820.