Friday, December 09, 2016

Orlando 12/10: Florida Criminal Justice Reform Training for Faith Leaders

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Criminal Justice Reform comes to Pinellas County

Today Sheriff Bob Gualtieri put forward his Adult Pre Arrest Diversion Program. Among the highlights:

--The diversion program applies to a variety of misdemeanor offenses including theft, assault, battery, trespass, disorderly conduct, petit theft and possession of marijuana.
--If the offender meets the criteria, law enforcement must refer them to diversion instead of making an arrest.
--There is no cost to the offender for the diversion program. They will complete public service and possibly be referred to a program.
--The program will be adopted via a memorandum of understanding between all the local players in the criminal justice system. This means no ordinance has to be passed by the county or any of the municipalities.
--Successful completion of diversion means no record of arrest or conviction.
--The program is available to second and third offenders.

All in all, it appears that this program is a major improvement over the status quo. The goal is to reduce the number of admissions to the Pinellas County Jail, reduce the number of persons on probation, allow minor offenders an opportunity to avoid an arrest record, and promote fairness for all persons.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ACLU Reacts to Department of Justice Report on Racial Impact of Tampa Bicycle Stops

CONTACT:  ACLU of Florida Media Office,, (786) 363-2737

TALLAHASSEE, FL –  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has released a report on its investigation into racially disparate bicycle citations issued by the Tampa Police Department.

The report found that the Tampa Police Department’s bicycle stop program “burdened Black bicyclists by disproportionately stopping them,” but “did not produce a community benefit in terms of bicycle safety, bicycle theft, or crime generally” in Tampa.

Responding to the release of the report, ACLU of Florida staff attorney Adam Tebrugge stated:

“We are grateful for the DOJ COPS review which validates what the ACLU and Tampa’s Black community have said all along: that the Tampa Police Department’s bicycle stops disproportionately targeted poor Black communities, stigmatizing young Black people with no benefit toward disrupting and preventing serious crimes.

"Parents and young people impacted by this policy have been saying for years that, whatever their intent, the Tampa Police Department bicycle stop program failed to promote public safety and unjustifiably targeted and stigmatized Black youth.

“The report outlines several recommendations and goals going forward which will improve relations between the community and the police department tasked with protecting it that were broken down by the bicycle stop program. We are especially pleased with the recommendations about increasing public transparency and collecting and reporting data on police stops. We look forward to working with city leaders and the community to ensure that these recommendations are implemented in a way that fosters mutual trust and respect between citizens and police.”

Friday, February 05, 2016

Florida Faith Leaders Against the Death Penalty

   February 5, 2016

   At this moment, Florida has no death penalty thanks to a ruling from the United States Supreme Court. The Florida Legislature is attempting to enact a new death penalty statute. This new statute will clog the court system, prolong the suffering of the families of murder victims, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
    I am asking you to copy the letter below and bring it to your pastor, priest, rabbi, or faith leader. Ask them to endorse the sentiments contained in the letter. If your faith leader is agreeable, please contact me and confirm that I may add their signature to the letter.
    We are in the middle of a historic moment where we can stop state sponsored killings in Florida.

Adam Tebrugge

Voices of Florida Religious Leaders

     We, the undersigned clergy and religious leaders, reflecting the rich diversity of faith traditions in Florida, call for the end of the state's death penalty. Because we represent such a wide spectrum of belief and practice, we approach public policies, such as the death penalty, in as varied ways as we approach spiritual matters. However, we share the values of respecting the sacredness of all human life and in the human capacity for change. As leaders within our communities, the public often seeks our guidance on issues that require thoughtful consideration.
     We have concluded that the death penalty fails us. We join many in Florida who question capital punishment due to its record as an ineffective, unfair and fallible response to violence. The death penalty applies disproportionately to the poor and minorities and puts innocent lives at risk of execution. Since 1973, 150 individuals sentenced to death were later exonerated of their crimes. When a human life is at stake, there is simply no room for error.
     As religious leaders, we often serve as a resource to victims' families in the aftermath of murder. Given this responsibility, we have a special interest in advocating for policies that serve their needs and promote healing and well-being. There is growing evidence that the death penalty does the opposite: it prolongs victims' pain and delays healing while retrials, appeals, and reversals force families to relive their trauma.
      Finally, we cannot ignore the millions of dollars it costs to administer the death penalty system. In light of the serious economic challenges facing our state and the nation, the valuable resources expended on the death penalty would be better invested in programs to prevent crime and meet the needs of victims' families. As people of faith, we reaffirm our opposition to the death penalty in all cases and our belief in the sacredness of human life. We urge you, our elected officials, to examine the reality of Florida's death penalty and seek ways to achieve true healing for those who suffer because of violent crime. Please support the end of the death penalty. It is time for Florida to move beyond this broken and harmful system.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Press Release: An Evening with Van Jones

Contact: Barbara Richards, Director, Project 180   
or: Adam Tebrugge

Van Jones to Speak About US Criminal Justice System Reform
Sarasota, FL (January 13, 2016) – On Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 7:30 PM, the Hermann & Sally Boxser Diversity Initiative and Project 180 will present Van Jones, nationally acclaimed CNN political analyst and leader in the movement for criminal justice reform, at Sainer Hall on the New College campus.

As the head of #cut50, a national bipartisan initiative, Jones advocates a safe and smart reduction of the incarcerated population in the US by 50 percent over the next ten years, contending that “Reliance on excessively long sentences and the incarceration of low-level offenders is both morally indefensible and economically unjustifiable.”  At a time when families are homeless and schoolchildren go hungry, America spends $80 billion every year on the incarceration industry—an expense that has a devastating impact on individuals, communities and society as a whole.

Barbara Richards, Executive Director of Project 180, applauds the work of Van Jones and says, “Our current criminal justice system negatively impacts the life course of offenders and their families, strains public budgets and has limited resources to provide the whole-life rehabilitative services offenders need to succeed.”

The evening’s proceeds will benefit Project 180 and the Boxser Diversity Initiative. For tickets and more information see or contact Barbara Richards at 941-677-2281.

The Boxser Diversity Initiative, based in Sarasota, promotes diversity programs throughout Southwest Florida by partnering with like-minded organizations in the presentation of speakers and programs promoting diversity and inclusion.

Project 180 (, a Sarasota-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is a prisoner reentry program. Project 180 seeks to reintegrate former offenders into community life by providing practical educational programs in Gulf Coast prisons and jails and by offering an annual lecture series on reentry for the public.

Event Details:
Who: Van Jones
What: Presentation about the Need for US Criminal Justice System Reform
Where: New College Sainer Art & Music Pavilion
5313 Bay Shore Rd Sarasota FL 34243
When: Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 7:30 pm.
Suggested donation $10. Students are free. To obtain tickets:


Thursday, September 03, 2015

Minimum Mandatory Sentencing in Florida

A comprehensive overview of the history of minimum mandatory sentences by the State of Florida and Federal governments has been prepared. Any rational legislator should see that this type of sentencing scheme is a bad idea.

You have to spend a little time, but this power-point is truly worth the effort.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

If the Death Penalty does not Deter, it must be Abolished

Does the Death Penalty Deter Killers?
BY JOHN DONOHUE 8/19/15 AT 12:43 PM

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

Capital punishment is such a costly, controversial and divisive issue that, unless it succeeds in saving lives, it clearly should be abolished–as it already has been in the European Union and 101 countries around the world.

But does the death penalty save lives? Let’s consider the relevant factors and the evidence.

Some feel the question of whether the death penalty deters can be argued as a matter of theory: Capital punishment is worse than other penalties, therefore it must lead to fewer killings. This contention misses much of the complexity of the modern death penalty.

First, theory can’t tell us whether the spectacle of state-sanctioned killings operates to unhinge marginal minds into thinking that their own grievances merit similar forms of retribution that they then try to inflict on their own. Even if some other criminals were deterred by the death penalty, one must ask whether these avoided crimes would be more than offset by the possible brutalization effect.

Second, operating a death penalty regime—at least in the United States—has been incredibly costly, as each case resulting in a death sentence will spend years in various types of legal appeals, eating up the valuable time of judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, overwhelmingly at government expense.

The best research on the issue suggests that life imprisonment is a less costly penalty, since locking someone up is far less expensive than both locking them up and paying a team of lawyers for many years—often decades—to debate whether a sentence of death should be imposed. In California, for example,execution is only the third leading cause of death for those on death row (behind old age and suicide).

Some might contend that the lengthy appeals are a needless burden that should be jettisoned so that the penalty is administered more cheaply and quickly, but the large number of exonerations of those on death row (155, including 21 by DNA evidence, at last count) underscores the danger of any effort to short circuit the judicial process.

Killing a few innocent defendants is an unavoidable consequence of having a capital regime—so unless there is some clear evidence of deterrence, it is hard to argue positively for the death penalty.

Lack of Evidence

So what is the evidence on deterrence? Here the answer is clear: There is not the slightest credible statistical evidence that capital punishment reduces the rate of homicide.

Whether one compares the similar movements of homicide in Canada and the U.S., when only the latter restored the death penalty, or in American states that have abolished it versus those that retain it, or in Hong Kong and Singapore (the first abolishing the death penalty in the mid-1990s, and the second greatly increasing its usage at the same), there is no detectable effect of capital punishment on crime. The best econometric studies reach the same conclusion.

A number of studies—all of which, unfortunately, are only available via subscription—purported to find deterrent effects, but all of these studies collapse after errors in coding, measuring statistical significance, or in establishing causal relationships are corrected. A panel of the National Academy of Sciences addressed the deterrence question directly in 2012 and unanimously concluded that there was no credible evidence that the death penalty deters homicides.

The report went on to say that the issue of deterrence should be removed from any discussion of the death penalty given this lack of credible evidence. But if the deterrence argument disappears, so does the case for the death penalty.

Those familiar with criminal justice issues are not surprised by the lack of deterrence. To get the death penalty in the United States one has to commit an extraordinarily heinous crime, as evidenced by the fact that last year roughly 14,000 murders were committed but only 35 executions took place.

Since murderers typically expose themselves to far greater immediate risks, the likelihood is incredibly remote that some small chance of execution many years after committing a crime will influence the behavior of a sociopathic deviant who would otherwise be willing to kill if his only penalty were life imprisonment.

Any criminal who actually thought he would be caught would find the prospect of life without parole to be a monumental penalty. A criminal who didn’t think he would be caught would be untroubled by any sanction.

Wasted Resources

A better way to address the problem of homicide is to take the resources that would otherwise be wasted in operating a death penalty regime and use them on strategies that are known to reduce crime, such as hiring and properly training police officers and solving crimes.

Over the past three decades, there has been a downward trend in the number of murders that lead to arrest and conviction to the point that only about half of all murders are now punished. The graphic below shows the steady decline in the number of homicides cleared by arrest in Connecticut, which mimics the national trend. Of course, even if there is an arrest, there may not be a conviction, so the percentage of killers who are punished is smaller than this figure suggests.

Murder cases cleared by arrest or other means: 1970 - 2009 JOHN DONOHOE

Far better for both justice and deterrence is if the resources saved by scrapping the death penalty could be used to increase the chance that killers would be caught and punished—and taken off the streets.

To give a sense of the burden of capital punishment, note that over the past 35 years the state of California spent roughly $4 billion to execute 13 individuals. The $4 billion would have been enough to hire roughly 80,000 police officers who, if appropriately assigned, would be expected to prevent 466 murders (and much other crime) in California—far more than any of the most optimistic (albeit discredited) views of the possible benefits of capital punishment.

In other words, since the death penalty is a costly and inefficient system, its use will waste resources that could be expended on crime-fighting measures that are known to be effective. It is not surprising that last summer a federal judge ruled that California’s capital regime is unconstitutional on the grounds that it serves no legitimate penological interest.

The sharp decline in executions in the U.S. from the peak of 98 in 1999 down to 35 last year (with death sentences falling from a 1996 peak of 315 to 73), coupled with the steady pace of states abolishing the death penalty over the past eight years (including conservative Nebraska in May), shows that “smart on crime” entails shunning capital punishment.

With zero evidence that the death penalty provides any tangible benefits and very clear indications of its monetary, human and social costs, this is one program about which there can be little debate that its costs undeniably outweigh any possible benefits.

John Donohue is C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith professor of law atStanford University.