Monday, January 31, 2011

Ohio Should be the Next State to Abolish Capital Punishment

The man who helped craft the state's death penalty law wants to end capital punishment.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer wants the new governor, a fellow Republican, to abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences to life without parole.
At his swearing-in ceremony Pfeifer told reporters, "I think the time's right on this. You have Republicans in every direction. With that political configuration, it would be the most opportune time to seriously debate and discuss whether or not we have the death penalty."
Pfeifer called capital punishment a lottery.
He's right. Too often those who end up on death row are poor, people of color, and have mental illnesses or extremely low IQs.
Right now, Ohio has 157 inmates on death row. Of those, 43 were sentenced before a 1996 law gave juries the option of life without parole.
Here's the race breakdown according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction: 81 are African American, 69 are Caucasian, four are Hispanic, two are Arab Americans and one is a Native American. Only one person on death row is a woman.
Across the country, we've seen over 100 men walk off death row because eyewitnesses lied or were mistaken, because the DNA didn't match, because police, prosecutors or lab techs made mistakes or mishandled evidence.
There have been 266 post-conviction DNA exonerations, according to The Innocence Project. Across the country, 138 death row inmates have been exonerated, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Five have been in Ohio.
Kenney Richey spent 21 years on Ohio's death row. He is now a free man. An appeals court found his attorney was inept and the arson expert who testified in the case was no expert.
Joe D'Ambrosio was on Ohio's death row for 20 years. A judge ruled that prosecutors in Cuyahoga County withheld 10 pieces of evidence in his trial. He is now a free man.
We know we can't trust Ohio's justice system 100 percent. Just ask Michael Green, Donte L. Booker, Jimmy "Spunk" Williams, Brian Piszczek and Clarence Elkins. They were also wrongfully convicted.
And there are unresolved questions in other cases.
Tyrone Noling is still on death row for the 1990 murders of an Atwater Township couple. No physical evidence connected him to the crime. He was convicted based on what his three buddies said. They have all since recanted.
Arthur Tyler is on death row for killing a produce vendor. Minutes after the man was shot, another man confessed. He told friends, his mom, police and signed a confession. Then he got a deal with prosecutors and fingered Tyler.
Eleven years ago, the governor of Illinois declared a moratorium on executions after the death sentences of 13 people were overturned. Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, commuted all 167 inmates on death row. The committee he appointed to study the justice system came up with 85 suggested reforms.
Those reforms include having the police pursue all reasonable lines of inquiry even after a suspect has been identified, having all homicide suspect interrogations videotaped, not allowing the death penalty be considered for any murder convictions based on the testimony of a single eye-witness or accomplice, having all police, judges, prosecutors and attorneys working on capital cases get better training about the risk of false testimony by jailhouse snitches, the handling of forensic evidence, the risk of false confessions.
Unfortunately, we can't find and fix every flaw in the justice system.
Pfeifer is right. We need to do what Illinois did. Its House and Senate just passed a bill to abolish the death penalty.
Ohio should do the same.
Terry Collins watched the state of Ohio kill 33 men.
Every time he drove to work for each execution he wondered:
What if this one isn't guilty? What if somebody missed something? Are we really sure? What if we're wrong this time?
Collins retired last year as director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections. He worked in the prison system for 32 years. He served as the warden of three prisons, Lorain Correctional Institution in Grafton, Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville and Ross Correctional Institution in Chillicothe.
When Collins started working in the prison system in 1977, Gary Beeman was on death row. Beeman was exonerated in 1979.
"We have the greatest justice system in the world, but we're all still human," Collins told me. "As great as the system is, there can still be mistakes made. If you execute somebody, you cannot correct that mistake."
Across the country, we know of at least 138 mistakes that got corrected before it was too late. That's how many men have been exonerated from Death Row. Six were from Ohio: Beeman, Dale Johnston, Timothy Howard, Gary Lamar James, Derrick Jamison and Joe D'Ambrosio.
I called Collins after reading an opinion piece he wrote this week for the Columbus Dispatch. Collins is against the death penalty even though he carried out the law. He's watched 33 men die in the death chamber. He's also walked free men out of prison.
One man had served 10 years for a crime he didn't commit. It's hard to shake that joyful yet haunting scene in the prison lobby when an innocent man walks out of prison into his family's arms, a free man.
It frustrates Collins to read bloggers and hear comments from people saying they'd willingly do the executing.
Related coverage
Jan. 25: Retire Ohio's death penalty: Paul E. PfeiferJan. 26: Ohio switching to a new drug for lethal injectionsJan. 21: Ohio should abolish the death penalty: Regina BrettJan. 21: Lethal injection drug maker halting productionJan. 20: Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer wants to scrap the death penaltyNov. 29: Tennessee justices halt executions over 'death by suffocation while conscious'More about death penalty
"It's one thing to say that, it's another to do that," Collins said.
Executions take a toll on the staff. No one is assigned to the execution team; it's made up of volunteers.
"Often their own families don't know they're on that team," Collins said. "It's not an easy job to prepare somebody to be executed."
He's against capital punishment for many reasons:
The state doesn't always put the worst of the worst on death row. Sometimes the worst offenders get plea bargains and lighter sentences.
The death penalty doesn't make people safer. "Having a death sentence hasn't stopped people from killing and viciously harming people," Collins said. There is no statistical data to prove it deters crime, he added. In prison, those serving life terms are the least likely to violate prison rules, according to Collins.
Life without parole is cheaper than the death penalty, he said. The trial would cost less without the death penalty phase. There wouldn't be endless appeals, attorneys and judges to pay. There wouldn't be a special death row unit to maintain.
Life without parole could actually be easier on victim's families. They don't have to return to court for endless appeals and suffer the roller coaster ride of stays of executions.
Collins believes a life sentence without the possibility of parole should replace the death sentence. An inmate would never have the chance to leave prison.
Instead of bragging about being tough on crime or criticizing others for being soft on crime, Collins believes it's time we got smart on crime.
"Putting people in prison for the rest of their life without the possibility of parole is not soft on crime," he said. "That penalty is severe enough."
Anyone who thinks life in prison isn't that bad has never been in prison, Collins said.
"The greatest freedom we have is our freedom. You take that away, we tell you what to eat, what to wear, who can visit," he said. "I've never had anybody come to me and say, 'Let me in the door.'"

Both articles by Regina Brett
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ask for the max on corrections reform: The State can Spend less, still protect the public, and turn lives around.

This week, the Legislature will be told how Florida can stop spending too much on prisons and getting too little back for its investment.
Today, two Senate committees that deal with criminal justice policy and spending will hear from reformers advocating that Florida join a national movement toward what has been called Smart Justice. On Tuesday, the members of the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice will get the same message. Among the statistics they will hear are:
In 2000-01, 38 percent of new prison inmates had been convicted of crimes less serious than a third-degree felony, which comes with a maximum 5-year sentence. It is the least serious felony. Anything less is a misdemeanor. In 2008-09, 47 percent of new inmates had been convicted of those less serious crimes, many of them non-violent.
Most incarcerated juveniles are guilty of nonviolent or property crimes. Forty percent of juveniles are in custody for probation violations.
Half of Florida's prison inmates read at a sixth-grade level or lower. The number of mentally ill inmates has tripled in the past 15 years.
Roughly one-third of inmates who are released return to prison within three years. That rate has varied little over the past decade. But only 1 percent of the Department of Corrections budget is spent on programs to reduce what is called recidivism.
Gov. Scott's CEO-like approach to state government won't work in all cases. With criminal justice, however, his like-minded transition team zeroed in on these deplorable numbers and spent nearly 150 pages blasting the Department of Corrections. This business-oriented approach can reverse the get-tough political approach that created the problem.
Beginning in 1983, with the establishment of sentencing guidelines and the elimination of parole, Florida has focused on putting people in prison. Next came habitual offender laws and the elimination of "gain time" - earlier release because of good behavior. In 1995, the Legislature required that inmates serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Then Jeb Bush brought 10-20-Life for crimes with a gun.
And while Florida's crime rate has fallen over the past decade, other states have adopted Smart Justice policies, saved money and seen crime rates continue to decline. Ironically, a leader in this reform has been Texas, hardly known as a criminal-coddling state. A former Texas legislator will be in Tallahassee this week to explain how he spearheaded the reforms.
Florida TaxWatch calculates that flexibility in the 85-percent rule could save $53 million a year. A slight change in sentencing guidelines could save $31.4 million. Greater use of electronic monitoring could save $43 million. More effective rehabilitation, including increased use of faith-based prisons, could cut recidivism.
Gov. Scott has appointed two reformers to lead the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, chairs the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. While stressing that "our first job is public safety," Rep. Baxley said, "I'd like to put a sign on the prison door that says 'Don't Come Back.' ' To make that happen, smart and justice must go together in Florida.

- Randy Schultz, for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Want to Save Taxpayer Money? Stop Building Prisons!

The United States accounts for less than 5 percent of the world population, but if you're a prisoner, chances are you're locked behind bars in the land of the free, which accounts for 25 percent of the globe's incarcerated men and women -- nearly 2.4 million people.
Fueled by the war on drugs and “tough on crime” demagoguery, the U.S. prison population has surged over the past three decades, to the point that roughly one out of every 100 Americans is incarcerated – and one out of 32 is under some form of correctional supervision. As it stands now, an African-American male is more likely to be convicted of a felony than to graduate college.
That has to change.
Indeed, “There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,” writes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (!) in a recent Op-Ed coauthored by fellow conservative criminal justice reformer Pat Nolan of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Writing in The Washington Post, Gingrich and Nolan argue that the over-reliance on incarceration in the U.S. is a problem the new Republican Congress needs to address – for both moral and pragmatic reasons. “We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections - 300 percent more than 25 years ago,” they write. “The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.”
For years, debate over criminal justice policies has fallen into a traditional conservative-liberal trap, with Republicans on the one side calling for ever-more draconian laws to look “tough” on crime, and Democrats … well, doing the exact same thing, though presumably with not quite as much enthusiasm. Democracy!
But Gingrich and Nolan say the time for demagoguery is over, noting that throwing more and more non-violent offenders into prisons doesn't make us safer – more than half of those released from prison head right back within three years – and it's a practice both state and federal governments can ill afford to continue as they struggle with record budget deficits. While locking away prisoners and throwing away the key might make for a good campaign ad, “We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons,” they write, “and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.”
Gingrich and Nolan's piece is part of campaign launched last month called “Right on Crime” – which includes the likes of former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese and the American Conservative Union's David Keene – that seeks to recast the debate over criminal justice policies by showing that even the most conservative right-wingers believe the country's prison building boom has gone too far, making the debate more about pragmatism than ideology. As they write in the Post, “If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to fundamentally rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.”
While not quite ready to do away with the war on drugs, Gingrich and Nolan say it's a waste of taxpayer money to send non-violent offenders to prison, where criminality is often nurtured rather than extinguished. And, notably, they take head-on the argument that the country's prison-building spree over the last few decades is responsible for improved public safety.
“While crime fell in nearly every state over the past seven years,” they note, “some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York's decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida's. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety.”
Gingrich and Nolan aren't bleeding-heart liberals, and they aren't proposing that murders receive manicures instead of prison time. As conservatives, they're proposing modest, pragmatic reforms to the criminal justice system -- reforms Republicans would do well to consider if they're really serious about cutting the nation's deficit (I have my doubts). And really, if you're so concerned about the growth of state power, nothing says "Big Government" more than locking up a person -- literally taking away all their freedom -- over a non-violent offense that displeases some jerk in Washington.

by Charles Davis

Saturday, January 15, 2011

California Ignores Obvious Budget Solution: Cut the Death Penalty:

California's new governor Jerry Brown confronted the state's dire budget crisis this week when he released his budget proposal. True to his word, the proposal contains hard cuts to social services across the board, ensuring that California's most vulnerable will have an even tougher time staying healthy and making ends meet.
He was slightly less true to his word, though, when it came to his oft-repeated slogan that "everything is on the table." At least one overfunded, broken government program was allowed to keep its bloated budget without a single cut: the state's billion-dollar death penalty.
Did the governor miss this massive drain on funds, or is there a sacred cow in California's budget after all? Maybe he can be excused on the grounds that there's no "death penalty" line item anywhere in the budget. But, of course, the reason there's no "death penalty" line item is that the $1 billion the death penalty will cost over the next five years is hidden throughout a half-dozen judicial and corrections budget items — any one of which could be trimmed by the governor. Let's go down the line:
There's the $1 million per death penalty trial over and above the cost of non-death penalty murder trials, which comes from county prosecutors' budgets.
Then there's the $63 million per year extra spent housing people on death row and another $60 million spent on their appeals, again over and above the cost of housing and appeals for life without parole. Those costs are tucked away in the budgets for corrections, the Supreme Court, the attorney general's office and public defense.
Finally, the kicker is the brand new death row facility we're about to build that will cost $400 million.
Over five years, that tally comes to just over $1 billion.
Now, repealing the death penalty in California can only be done at the ballot box, but defunding the whole system can be done with a few strokes of the governor's pen: just ask any senior citizen, recipient of in-home medical care, or single working parent. They'll tell you how powerful that pen can be when it comes to cutting government programs.
Alternatively, if the governor converted the sentences of California's more than 700 residents of death row to life without parole, he'd save that whole billion dollars in one swoop: no more extra housing costs, no more extra appeals costs, no more new death row. That's a lot of money that could go towards much-needed programs and services.
And it's not as if the people of the state are clamoring for more death penalty spending over other issues, like, education, crime prevention, health care, or social safety nets. While Gov. Brown may have assumed that the death penalty really is precious to California voters, his own election proved otherwise. Even after Meg Whitman saturated the airwaves bashing Brown for his anti-death penalty record, Californians still elected the guy. We also voted down a Senate candidate who campaigned on being pro-death penalty, and elected an anti-death penalty attorney general, Kamala Harris, over a prosecutor known nationwide for his aggressive pursuit of death sentences.
Why did we vote in Jerry Brown again? Maybe we're ready for some realistic and pragmatic change. Maybe we're ready to prioritize victims, community safety, and health above executions. Maybe we're ready to Cut This. Send Gov. Brown a message that if he's going to cut anything from California's budget, he should cut the death penalty.

Hey Florida, this applies to you as well !

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reduce wrongful convictions: Florida's new innocence panel must start to change the rules

When Linda Zavatkay identified her neighbor as the man who robbed and stabbed her in her Port Salerno home, she did so only after investigators pressed her to choose a suspect. She had been checking out the lineup for a while, and wasn't sure that she saw her attacker's face.
"It should have stopped right there," state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said of the witness identification procedure. "But because of the detective, she continued to look and felt pressured to ID someone." That someone was Todd Patrick Neely. Despite evidence that he was having dinner at a restaurant 12 miles away at the time of the 1986 crime, a judge convicted Mr. Neely of attempted murder and burglary based on Ms. Zavatkay's eyewitness identification and sentenced him to 15 years.
Six months later, an appeals court ordered a new trial for Mr. Neely after ruling that prosecutors improperly withheld information about another suspect. Prosecutors then dropped the charges.
Mr. Neely's case attracted national attention. Yet more than two decades later, most area police and sheriff's departments have not changed the procedures they use to obtain eyewitness identifications. Sen. Negron, who represented Mr. Neely and sits on Florida's Innocence Commission, wants to change that.
When the commission meets today in Jacksonville, Sen. Negron plans to suggest that it review the recommendations issued by the U.S. Justice Department 11 years ago designed to make eyewitness evidence more accurate. As reported by The Post's Susan Spencer-Wendel, the majority of law-enforcement agencies in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast have failed to adopt those recommendations in their written policies and procedures. It's time they do so.
The Florida Supreme Court established the Innocence Commission last summer to study of the causes of wrongful conviction and measures to prevent such convictions. A national expert on eyewitness misidentification told commissioners in November that more than 30 percent of all eyewitness IDs are wrong, resulting in a huge number of innocent people behind bars. Gary Wells of Iowa State University said 12 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence in Florida, but an estimated 200 innocent people probably are still being held.
Sen. Negron will push for a pair of Justice Department recommendations that he believes are most important - "cautionary instruction" and double-blind administration of photo lineups. "Those are the two," he said, "that I think are the most promising to reduce wrongful convictions."
Cautionary instruction involves telling an eyewitness that the suspect may or may not be in the lineup, and that the investigation will continue whether the witness chooses someone or not. Double-blind administration means the person showing an eyewitness a lineup has no idea who the suspect is, which keeps him or her from influencing the eyewitness' choice. Although double-blind administration was not included in the Justice Department's 1999 guide, it was mentioned as a "direction for future exploration and field testing." That future is now.
According to a survey by The Post, only three of 32 area law-enforcement agencies have specific eyewitness ID policies and include key elements recommended by the Justice Department: the Indian River County Sheriff's Office, and the Jupiter and Palm Beach Gardens police departments.
Although the Innocence Commission's final report is not due until 2012, Sen. Negron said members can agree to make certain recommendations sooner. If so, he will file a bill for the legislative session. If law-enforcement agencies will not adopt better procedures, the Legislature must act. Given the number of innocent people already exonerated, it's already been too long.
- Rhonda Swan,
for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
Posted: 11:50 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Death Penalty Support Wanes Amid Errors and Debate:

A little more than one generation after the United States Supreme Court reinstalled the death penalty as a sentencing option in criminal cases, and despite otherwise strong support for tough-on-crime laws, capital punishment in America is markedly on the wane. Executions are down dramatically. Death sentences are being recommended less frequently by juries and endorsed less often by judges. And wrongfully convicted death-row inmates in increasing numbers are being released from prison as a result of DNA testing and other exonerating evidence. Today, nearly half of the jurisdictions in the United States have not had an execution within the past 10 years.The statistics go on and on. Executions in America were down 12 percent in 2010 from 2009. They are down approximately 50 percent since 1999. Only seven states carried out more than one execution in 2010 -- almost all in the South or Southwest.The reasons for the decline are numerous and often interconnected. Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a clearinghouse for information about capital punishment, told me Thursday: "In essence, I believe that one issue, innocence, caused a cascade of other changes, such as improved quality of defense, more careful appeals, more thorough trials, and more acceptable alternatives for juries, all of which have contributed to the declining use of the death penalty."Indeed, in Texas, there have been 41 death-row exonerations in the past nine years, 21 alone in Dallas County. The Innocence Project, whose lawyers and investigators scour state court case files across the country for evidence of wrongful convictions, reported that its organization generated 29 exonerations in 2010. These are just some of the examples where the criminal justice system in the past has demonstrably made grievous errors in processing capital defendants. And what each of those specific examples has done is encourage both a renewed interest in examining dubious convictions (which in turn leads to more exonerations) as well as a heightened commitment by prosecutors, lawmakers, juries and judges to get capital cases right in the first place.Even though general support for the death penalty remains relatively high -- 64 percent of Americans supported it in an October Gallup poll and only 29 percent said there were opposed -- political and legal developments over the past decade or so have contributed to the slowing rate of executions and death sentences. As more Americans have become aware of parole restrictions -- as they have come to learn that "life sentences" can, indeed, be "life sentences -- they have eased their eagerness for executions. When given an option between capital punishment and life in prison, Gallup's respondents split almost evenly: 49 percent favored the death penalty, 46 percent favored the life sentence.These numbers are impacting the political dynamics of the debate over capital punishment. In 2007, for example, New Jersey became the first state to abolish capital punishment since it was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976 in Gregg v. Georgia. (Four years earlier, in Furman v. Georgia, the court had banned the death penalty across the country as a violation of the "cruel and unusual" clause of the Eighth Amendment). In Maryland, there has been a practical moratorium on capital punishment for at least the past year -- and it's going on six years since the last execution there. In New York, a judge struck down the state's capital statute in 2004, prompting lawmakers to study the matter in great depth but not reinstate it.Several other death penalty states, including Kansas, South Dakota and Colorado, have seen in just the past two years meaningful legislative debates over whether to repeal capital punishment. In Illinois, following a then-Gov. George Ryan-imposed moratorium against capital punishment arising from systemic abuse in the criminal justice system, lawmakers are poised to repeal the death penalty, a striking turnaround in a decade for a state that once had hundreds on its death row. Even in Texas, perpetually at or near the top in executions each year, serious talk about the repeal of the death penalty has emerged from the ashes of one embarrassing capital case after another.And while there is discernible movement away from the death penalty in some jurisdictions, there does not appear to be much movement toward it anywhere in the United States. In fact, even some conservative politicians and advocates have begun to make a fiscal case against the practice. In their view, the death penalty is simply too expensive to implement and an unnecessary drain upon precious state resources. California has spent, by many accounts, hundreds of millions of dollars since capital punishment was reinstated. Other states have spent similar amounts sending men and women to death row. The cost of a capital case, including appeals and other expenses, exceeds by an order of magnitude the cost of a non-capital murder case.Dieter says this trend could ultimately carve out a renewed push by the federal courts to again outlaw capital punishment everywhere. He told me: "If the current trend of fewer states using the death penalty continues, I believe the Supreme Court will eventually follow its Eighth Amendment precedents and find that our standards of decency have evolved to the point that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment. The number of states banning capital punishment will have to increase to numbers comparable to those that barred the execution of juveniles and the mentally retarded." He's referring here to the two big death penalty cases of the past half-decade or so in which the Supreme Court has sharply limited the circumstances in which capital punishment may be applied.
Analysis byAndrew Cohen

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Prisoner reentry becoming a priority

Attorney General Eric Holder today convened the inaugural meeting of the Cabinet-level "Reentry Council" in Washington to identify and to advance effective public safety and prisoner reentry strategies.

In addition to the Attorney General, the council includes Departments of Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan; Labor Secretary Hilda Solis; and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Members also include Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Michael Astrue; Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, R. Gil Kerlikowske; Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Melody Barnes; Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Joshua DuBois; and Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Jacqueline Berrien.

The council will address short-term and long-term goals through enhanced communication, coordination and collaboration across federal agencies. The mission of the council is threefold: to make communities safer by reducing recidivism and victimization; to assist those returning from prison and jail in becoming productive, tax paying citizens; and to save taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.

"Reentry provides a major opportunity to reduce recidivism, save taxpayer dollars and make our communities safer," said Attorney General Holder. "More than two million people are behind bars, and 95 percent of them will be released back into their communities. By developing effective, evidence-based reentry programs, we can improve public safety and community well-being."

Among its goals, the Reentry Council will meet semi-annually to leverage resources across agencies to reduce recidivism and victimization; identify evidence-based practices that advance the council’s mission; promote changes to federal statutes, policies and practices that focus on reducing crime; and identify federal policy opportunities and barriers to improve outcomes for the reentry community.

I am pleased to hear that this "Reentry Council" is up and running, and I am hopeful that they can and will get a lot done in the months ahead. And I think it would be especially cool if the Council had a public event with high-profile former felons like Martha Stewart and Michael Vick and Marion Jones to talk about some of their (especially positive and uncommon) reentry experiences.

From the Setencing Law and Policy blog