I sometimes forget that the criminal justice system is a function of government, which I have no excuse for. I should remember, both because it’s my job but also because the rampant dysfunction in policing and prisons makes a whole lot more sense once you think of it as a government entity.
The Big Takeaway
We’ll begin rubbernecking the collision of government and criminal justice in Louisiana, where the Public Defender’s Office spent $7.7 million providing legal counsel to people facing the death penalty — even though the state hasn’t executed anyone since 2010, per the Louisiana Illuminator.
The pause stems from a chronic shortage of the drugs needed to carry out lethal injections that began in 2011, when pharmaceutical companies started blocking their products from being used in executions. After years of struggling to obtain supplies, state officials simply stopped scheduling executions.
But the unofficial stay doesn’t negate a death sentence. There are 62 people on death row in Louisiana, and federal law requires that the state mount a vigorous defense for each of them. The state Public Defender Board outsources most of that work to nonprofit organizations that specialize in death penalty defense cases. And that expertise doesn’t come cheap. Four of the groups — the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, Baton Rouge Capital Conflict, Inc. and the Capital Appeals Project — were among the priciest legal contracts in all of state government in the most recent budget cycle.
Last year’s $7.7 million allocation went toward initial trials, appeals and post-conviction legal challenges. Statewide, there were just 18 open capital cases and two appeals, but officials said the money also funds representation for roughly two-thirds of people on death row. The cost of that work has long been an issue for the state’s beleaguered public defense system, which has been operating in crisis mode for nearly a decade.
"The capital waitlist casts a dark cloud over, and threatens the solvency of, the entire Louisiana statewide public defense system," State Public Defender Rémy Voisin Starns wrote in a 2020 report. "An outsized portion of the public defense budget is consumed by these relatively few cases."
Starns on Monday asked legislators for an additional $5 million to relieve the strain. The money would go toward office space for public defenders and salary for six social workers to help with juvenile defendants. But the request was reluctant. The better solution, Starns said, would be to abolish capital punishment altogether.
Lawmakers in Nevada on Monday considered a proposal that aims to improve conditions for incarcerated women by providing free feminine hygiene products and ensuring access to preventive care like gynecological screenings and mammograms. Proponents of the bill said it would address care gaps in correctional facilities that often do not consider the specific needs of female prisoners, even as they house more and more of them, the Nevada Current reported.
“Women have different needs than men, especially when we’re talking about being incarcerated,” Lilith Baran, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, told members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee at a legislative hearing on Monday.
Some of the provisions build on existing amenities, according to James Dzurenda, director of the Nevada Department of Corrections. For example, incarcerated females already receive free sanitary napkins, he said — but most are required to purchase tampons through the commissary, where prices are marked up by 40% or more. And while the state’s correctional facilities do not offer annual gynecological exams, a prison physician can refer patients based on the results of an initial screening. (Mammograms are “offered but not mandatory,” Dzurenda added.)
Those policies leave plenty room for improvement, advocates said. Gynecological exams and routine mammograms are key to detecting certain types of cancer, said Athar Haseebullah, head of the ACLU of Nevada. The organization, he added, is investigating multiple reports of “individuals who have received (pelvic) exams, had irregularities, were not given any follow-up exams or treatment and ended up with cervical cancer.”
The legislation would also expand prenatal and postpartum care for pregnant women, guaranteeing access to prenatal vitamins, counseling, nutrient-rich foods, a lactation plan and, when possible, extended time to bond with a newborn. As written, the bill would require correctional facilities, “to the extent reasonably practicable,” provide new moms with the opportunity to “reside with a baby delivered while in the custody of the jail or detention facility in a safe and secure location … for a period of time appropriate to facilitate bonding.”
The bill’s sponsor said she would amend that language based on input from Dzurenda, who said it seemed to mandate construction of an entirely new facility.
“We don’t take the babies into the prison system,” he added.
Democratic Assemblywoman Cecelia González said the revised bill will also exclude a provision that would have created an ombudsman to monitor policy implementation and investigate complaints from correctional facilities. But she won’t be changing provisions that seek to ensure that incarcerated people are treated in accordance with their gender identity, despite significant concern from Republicans.
“I don’t want to lose sight of what this bill does, which is to provide dignity and respect to incarcerated women,” she said. “Yes, there is a section in there that includes having respect to a person’s gender identity, and we are working on that section. This is not a transgender bill.”
Dignity and respect: (Alabama) Advocates seek state funding for stable housing for formerly incarcerated people … Alaska homicide statistics detailed in new report show gender and ethnic disparities … Meet the 15 appointees set to guide legalization of magic mushrooms in Colorado … On hold with 911? Indiana bill seeks to increase operators, decrease emergency wait times … Kansas attorney general seeks authority to take on prosecution of organized retail crime … (Minnesota) Law firm, some police lobbying hard against bill to rein in disability costs … Montana Highway Patrol campus proposed to be named after late AG chief deputy Kris Hansen … (North Carolina) Notable prison system appropriations in the governor’s budget … Philly to pay record settlement for police misconduct in 2020 protests … (Wisconsin) Republican bill would increase penalties related to overdose
The assault on LGBTQ+ people continued apace in Nebraska on Monday as lawmakers opened debate on a proposed ban on gender-affirming care for minors. The bill was not original — at least eight states have passed similar bans; another 23 are under consideration — and neither were the arguments, which included the perennial favorite, “It’s about protecting children,” and the newer go-to, “We’re just following the precedent set in Europe.”
In the end, the endeavor was notable mostly for its pointlessness: A morning-long debate over a bill that likely does not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster, per the Nebraska Examiner.
The filibuster is all but guaranteed, courtesy of state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, an Omaha Democrat who pledged to use the tactic to stall every bill, measure and gubernatorial appointment until GOP lawmakers drop their anti-trans and anti-abortion agenda. State Sen. Megan Hunt reminded the chamber of that promise on Monday as she filed a motion to kill the bill rather than subject it to another time-consuming filibuster. But the motion failed 13-31, likely leaving the bill two votes shy of the 33 needed to overcome the filibuster.
Debate on the (pointless) measure is expected to extend into Thursday, when it will likely fail to advance. That’s according to math, and the bill’s opponents, and also its sponsor, State Sen. Kathleen Kauth, who said last week it’s “entirely possible” she won’t be able to wrangle enough supporters.
“It is going to be an uphill battle,” she said Friday. “This is a very, very tough, tough discussion.”
You could just … stop talking: Alaska state school board supports barring transgender female students from participating in girls’ sports … (Arizona) Senate Republicans agree to ban books with gender fluidity, pronouns … Indiana House passes ban on gender-affirming care for minors … Missouri Senate approves four-year ban on medical procedures for transgender minors … (Montana) Bill to ban diversity and inclusion training for state employees heard in House committee … Oregon lawmakers hear testimony on abortion, gender-affirming care … Texas Senate panel advances bill that would hinder transgender kids’ access to puberty blockers and hormone therapies … West Texas A&M University president cancels student drag show, saying it degrades women
From The Newsrooms
One Last Thing
A total of five (5) Trump supporters showed up outside the Manhattan Criminal Court Tuesday to protest the twice-impeached 2020 election loser’s potential indictment, per Politico. The wee crowd of MAGA faithful wandered around with their George Soros signs across the street from the court, where an anti-Trump rally with far more attendees garnered most of the attention.
“I wish more people had shown up,” one supporter said.
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