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
Adam@TebruggeLegal.com


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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Barbara Richards, Director, Project 180   
850-445-5682 
or: Adam Tebrugge
adam@tebruggelegal.com

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 https://goo.gl/qY4uCr 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 (www.project180reentry.org), 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: https://goo.gl/qY4uCr

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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

Newsweek
OPINION
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
http://s.newsweek.com/sites/www.newsweek.com/files/styles/embedded_full/public/2015/08/19/0819murdercases01.png

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.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Broken Windows Theory

[Policing]  Broken Windows Theory
ED JAMES II

In 1982, the late scholar James Q. Wilson published "The Broken Windows Theory," that he conceived as a new way to controlling crime. Wilson believed  that order in a neighborhood could be maintained by the prosecution of minor violations which would curtail more severe crime later. This broken windows policing, critics say, leads to police violence against black and brown men. Because of the deaths of an unarmed 18-year-old black male gunned down in Ferguson, Mo., an unarmed black man that died in a police chokehold in Staten Island, N.Y. when he resisted arrest, and a 12-year-old black boy armed with a toy gun who was arbitrarily shot to death by the police  in Cleveland, Ohio, many Americans have finally become aware that they live in a violent culture, at least in the treatment of black and brown men by the police.
What is the cause of this rampant police brutality against men of color? Incidents so uncivilized that the criticism seems justified when one considers that trivial violations led to the violence. Michael Brown was shot to death in Ferguson, Mo. for ignoring a police officer’s command to stop walking in the middle of the street. Eric Gardner died on a Staten Island, N.Y. street protesting his arrest by the police for selling cigarettes without a permit - a misdemeanor.  However, the problem of police violence against black men will not be resolved simply by ignoring the enforcement of petty offenses. There is no acceptable justification for this violent police conduct, although many would like to believe just the opposite, finding mitigating flaws in police rules and procedures. A common target of criticism is the so-called “broken windows” policing policies.
The  futility of that approach, not too long ago, was demonstrated by New York police after a mentally ill man shot and killed two of their fellow officers. During the funeral services for the slain officers, some policemen disrespected the Mayor by turning their backs during his remarks. The officers felt the mayor had shown too much sympathy to protesters of police violence. Mayor Bill de Blasio, the father of a bi-racial son and daughter, once said he, like many other parents of black and brown children, was concerned for the safety of his son should he be confronted by the police.
According to the New York Times, there has been a precipitous decline in the issuance of summonses by the police for public drinking, public urination and parking violations, as well as drug arrests. Nonetheless, there has been no demonstration of a reduction in the conflict between the police and black men.
Residents of urban neighborhoods will not likely feel closer to the police when their quality of life deteriorates because of police recalcitrance. The broken windows strategy works better when there already is a good relationship between the police and the community.
The police are public servants. Citizens with wealth and status in society will not tolerate abusive police behavior. The police understand that, so their conduct is respectful and professional. A major deviation from that standard will result in their dismissal.
The real objective of police reform is to establish that same standard of police conduct in low-income neighborhoods. Community policing is designed to establish an almost collegial relationship between the citizens and the police. The addition of body cameras has been shown to reduce excessive police force.
Americans must now be willing to adopt imaginative programs to end the police victimization of black and brown men.  
Ed James II is the host of Black Almanac

Friday, November 28, 2014

A Judge can have the power to save a kid

I read with interest the guest column by Adam Tebrugge of Nov. 25. I thought the timing could not have been better than to print the article the day after the passing of Judge Lynn Silvertooth.
Speaking from personal experience, I know Judge Silvertooth was a compassionate person who saw no need to ruin the life of a young man because of indiscretions and bad decisions.
The judge saw the wisdom in alternatives to incarceration. Were he on the bench today, he would have embraced the Teen Court, Drug Court, Veterans Court, and the Selah Freedom organization for the ways they have worked to reinstate judicial discretion and move away from mandatory minimums that the Florida statutes have imposed upon our courts.
Mandatory minimums have done more harm than good. Taking discretion away from the courts has caused many young people to be cast aside, denied opportunities, even cheated out of the opportunity to serve in our military. The military gave so many of us the opportunity and time necessary for us to grow up, earn the GI Bill, get an education and become responsible citizens -- the time to learn to manage our money, learn discipline, learn a skill, and serve our country.
Mandatory minimums have left our law enforcement agencies trying to find a diverse work force to serve minority or ethnic neighborhoods, because of felony convictions imposed. In the past Judge Silvertooth and other judges like him would have found a way to "save the kid," instead of "sentence the kid."

It is a shame we will never have more judges with the opportunities that Judge Silvertooth had to save kids. Others like Katie Self, Judge Lee Haworth and Carolyn Mason keep trying, but until our Legislature has the courage to ignore the potential fears of the "soft on crime" mailers that others may use against them, we will continue arresting and sentencing young men and women for smoking a bit of marijuana, or just raising hell like I did.
Judge Silvertooth will be missed by all for his compassion and true understanding of justice. I will always remember the man who called me into his office and gave me a chance instead of being the judge who would have had his hands tied by a system that is destined to ruin so many lives.
Your headline was correct: "Judge's reputation was legendary."

Michael S. Bennett, a former state senator, is the supervisor of elections for Manatee County.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Improve justice by providing alternatives to incarceration

     I have been part of the local criminal justice system for 30 years. During that time, I have seen thousands of young men and women sentenced to lengthy jail and prison sentences. Among the reasons for mass incarceration are lengthy "minimum mandatory" sentences that result in addicts being locked up until they are elderly.
Crime rates are significantly down in our area, our state and our nation. Yet the United States continues to have the highest incarceration rates in the world.
The prisons in Florida provide little in the way of education opportunities, addiction treatments or mental health counseling. Inmates are released back into our communities with few prospects for jobs or reintegration.
I had the opportunity to discuss these topics with about 100 engaged citizens who participated in a recent "Einstein's Circle" held at the University of South Florida. As one of the programs produced by the Lifelong Learning Academy, this is an opportunity to interact, engage and discuss important topics with people who can add their own insights and experiences to the mix.
When I use the term "criminal justice reform," I am primarily referring to the elimination of minimum mandatory sentences in order to return discretion to the local judiciary, where it belongs. But I am also talking about ending our overreliance on prison sentences when nothing is done to address underlying issues.
My argument is that we need to expand alternatives to incarceration, like Drug Court and Veterans Court, while making victim compensation a primary goal of the system. It also means working to reintegrate offenders into our communities and not denying them the right to vote after the completion of a court's sentence.

The citizens involved with Einstein's Circle had a lot to add to this discussion. Among the questions asked and points raised were the following:
Does the privatization of the prison system incentivize incarceration over better rehabilitation strategies? Would additional community mental health treatment centers be a good investment?
Why is there resistance to paying for long-term drug treatment as an alternative to imprisonment? Shouldn't we provide extra educational incentives to prisoners in Florida's jails and prisons?
Aren't our limited financial resources better spent on treatment, education and victim compensation? With crime rates down, can we reduce the amount of money spent on law enforcement and corrections? How can we work with employers to give offenders a second chance at meaningful work so that they can make restitution to victims?
Many people in the audience had experience working with offenders. There was general consensus that we need to work with inmates to tackle issues such as illiteracy while they are incarcerated. We can't keep people locked up for years at a time and then release them with out the necessary skills to survive.
We must also strive to understand the disproportionate impact that our present criminal justice policies have had upon African-American citizens and neighborhoods, and adopt educational and community strategies other than incarceration.

At the national level, some progress has been made in reducing prison sentences for certain drug offenses. States such as Georgia, Texas, California and New York have implemented reform efforts that have resulted in significant cost savings and no increase in criminal behavior.
One interesting aspect of these reform efforts is that they are usually bipartisan. Saving scant resources, eliminating wasteful incarceration costs, and providing for more effective treatment of offenders are neither Democratic nor Republican policies. They just make sense.
In Florida, despite our declining crime rates, the prison population continues to increase. We will spend approximately $2.4 billion this year just on housing prisoners. Our state's incarceration rate is 26 percent higher than the national average, and we have the third-largest correctional system in the nation. Approximately 102,000 people are locked up in Florida prisons and many more are housed in our county jails.
Unfortunately, legislators are reluctant to tackle meaningful reform efforts for fear of being portrayed as "soft on crime." As citizens, it is our job to let our elected leaders know that we want them to examine different priorities for our criminal justice system.
For further information on this subject, I recommend that you review websites maintained by the Sentencing Project, the Marshall Project, "Right on Crime -- The Conservative Case for Reform," and others.
Locally I maintain a Facebook page called "Sarasota Criminal Justice Reform," where I collect articles and moderate discussions on this topic. I encourage you to join the conversation.

Adam Tebrugge of Sarasota is a Bradenton-based defense attorney.