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Entries by Saki Knafo

'It Ends Today': Eric Garner's Parting Words Become Rallying Cry At Vigil

(241) Comments | Posted July 22, 2014 | 9:34 PM

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Dozens of New Yorkers gathered Tuesday near where Eric Garner died for a candlelight vigil in memory of the gentle giant whose videotaped death after NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold has sparked citywide anger.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton also visited...

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Chokehold Death Puts New York's Controversial Police Chief Back In The Spotlight

(112) Comments | Posted July 21, 2014 | 8:31 PM

NEW YORK -- On a freezing day this past winter, a small group of protesters gathered outside police headquarters in downtown Manhattan. They were barely noticed by the throngs of reporters who streamed through the doors of 1 Police Plaza to watch a celebrated cop be sworn in...

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White House Admits Prison Won't Solve The Drug Problem, But Drug War Grinds On

(113) Comments | Posted July 9, 2014 | 8:35 PM

The Obama administration's drug czar admitted Wednesday that locking people up won't keep them from using drugs, but he stopped short of renouncing punitive policies that have made America's long war on drugs widely unpopular.

Michael Botticelli, head of the Obama administration’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in...

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Study Finds Racial Disparities In Manhattan DA's Office

(11) Comments | Posted July 8, 2014 | 9:25 PM

A new report may shed light on why blacks and Latinos are often punished more severely than whites for the same crimes.

The study, released on Tuesday by the Vera Institute for Justice, shows that prosecutors in the office of Manhattan’s district attorney have cracked down...

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Nation's Capital Takes Next Big Step Toward Legalizing Marijuana

(9) Comments | Posted July 7, 2014 | 3:39 PM

Thousands of residents of Washington, D.C., have signed a petition calling for the nation's capital to join Colorado and Washington state in legalizing recreational marijuana.

The petition, submitted Monday by the D.C. Cannabis Campaign to the D.C. Board of Elections, bears 58,000 signatures, more than twice the number needed...

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Director Of 'The House I Live In' Declares The Drug War A 'Vulnerable Adversary'

(1) Comments | Posted June 30, 2014 | 5:02 PM

When documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki began directing "The House I Live In," his acclaimed 2012 manifesto against the war on drugs, he believed he was taking on a "very tough enemy." America still has the world's largest prison population, and blacks are still far more likely than whites to be...

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Why The U.S. Is Still The Only Country Where Youth Are Sentenced To Die In Prison

(50) Comments | Posted June 24, 2014 | 8:49 PM

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered states to stop sending youth offenders to prison for the the rest of their lives without the possibility of parole. Until then, the U.S. held the distinction of being the only country in the world where people were sentenced to...

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Police In D.C. Embrace A Progressive Approach To Drug Overdoses

(3) Comments | Posted June 20, 2014 | 11:27 AM

For years, police departments around the country have treated drug use as a crime, not as a public health problem. But on Thursday, drug reform activists and community organizers in Washington, D.C., made it clear that the Metropolitan Police Department is supporting a new law that calls for a different...

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The Country That Gave Us Bob Marley And Peter Tosh Is Set To Relax Its Ganja Laws

(1) Comments | Posted June 13, 2014 | 2:42 PM

Jamaica's government announced plans on Thursday to relax its marijuana laws, in part by lowering the penalties against the possession of small amounts of pot.

Justice Minister Mark Golding stressed in a statement that the proposed changes are “not intended to promote or give a stamp of approval...

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New Film Decries The Return Of Debtors Prisons

(132) Comments | Posted June 4, 2014 | 7:36 AM

Over the past decade, towns and counties across the United States have been locking up a growing number of people for failing to pay their debts. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Brennan Center for Justice documented the practice in 2010, and Human Rights Watch released the results of its own investigation earlier this year.

Critics have decried the return of the debtors prison, the reviled institution of Charles Dickens' day. Now, a short documentary, "To Prison for Poverty," sheds light on a particularly contentious aspect of the story.

In Alabama, Georgia, and other Southern states, many local governments have signed contracts with "private probation" companies -- for-profit firms that specialize in collecting fees and fines from people who owe the courts money for low-level infractions, usually traffic-related. Halli Wood, an unemployed 17-year-old from the small town of Columbiana, Alabama, told Brave New Films she was placed on probation with one of the largest of these companies, Judicial Correction Services, or JCS, after she couldn't come up with the money to pay off a seat belt ticket.

Although Wood couldn't afford the $41 ticket, the company charged her an additional 45 dollars in fees. Like other private probation companies, JCS bills its services not to the court but to the defendant, a policy that helps explain its appeal to cash-starved municipal governments. If these defendants then fail to pay their debts to the company, they can end up in jail. According to the film, that's where Wood may be headed.

Wood paid $10 toward the ticket, but the money went straight to JCS, knocking her fee down to $35 without making a dent in the original $41 dollar seat belt fine. The next month, she paid another $10 dollars, but the fine stayed the same.

Each month, the fees went up. By the end of the year, she owed the company nearly $300, more than seven times what she had owed -- and couldn't afford to pay -- in the first place. When the filmmakers caught up with Wood, she said she was getting ready to go to court, where she would be required to pay the full $300 fee, plus the original $41 ticket. "I'm gonna have to figure out how to come up with half of it right there," she said. "And I cannot leave the building till I do, or I will get locked up."

JCS didn't respond to requests for comment from The Huffington Post Tuesday afternoon. On its website, the company assures defendants that its officers are "trained in tolerance and equal opportunity. Nobody will be 'out to get you' and many probationers eventually end up appreciating their contact with the probation officers."

According to government data gathered by Human Rights Watch, hundreds of thousands of people are sentenced to probation with private companies in the United States each year. It's unclear how many are jailed for failure to pay their debts to these businesses.

In an interview with HuffPost, Daniel Evans, an attorney in Birmingham, Alabama, called the company's strategy a "horribly flawed business practice that sounds attractive to these municipalities because it allows them to save money."

Evans has filed a class-action complaint against JCS, alleging that the company's practices violate a number of laws, including the Eighth Amendment's ban on "excessive fines."

The company's employees "dress themselves up as probations officers, with a badge and all of that, but they're essentially debt collectors," said Evans. "The irony is they're only assigned by these courts to people who don't pay the fine to start...

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This Drug Sentencing Reform Could Save Taxpayers Billions

(52) Comments | Posted May 29, 2014 | 4:22 PM

A proposed change to the nation's rigid drug sentencing laws could save taxpayers billions, according to a new report by the United States Sentencing Commission, the agency that guides sentencing policy for the federal courts.

The report, released Tuesday, examines the impact of a reform that would...

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This Man Was Sentenced To Die In Prison. Now He Wants To Fix The Law That Put Him There.

(81) Comments | Posted May 21, 2014 | 2:27 PM

WASHINGTON -- Reynolds Wintersmith wasn't supposed to be here. Not in front of the White House, or in the halls of the Justice Department, or meeting with reporters and congressional staffers in a crowded room of an office building on Capitol Hill.

More than two decades ago, when he was...

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Georgia Accused Of Sentencing Transgender Woman To 'Torture'

(95) Comments | Posted May 13, 2014 | 2:47 PM

Georgia's prison officials will have to explain themselves in court if they continue to refuse hormone therapy to transgender inmates, warns a letter delivered to the state's Department of Corrections on Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an advocacy group based in Alabama.

Starting in 2012, department employees violated...

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California Lawmakers Take A Stand Against Racist Drug War Policies

(195) Comments | Posted May 2, 2014 | 12:58 PM

California lawmakers made a move this week toward reforming a drug policy that has been widely criticized for unfairly punishing black people.

The California Fair Sentencing Act, which passed the state Senate’s Public Safety Committee on Tuesday by a vote of 4-2, would revise a decades-old sentencing policy under which...

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Top Military Officials Say U.S. Pot Legalization Efforts Are Harming War On Drugs

(168) Comments | Posted April 29, 2014 | 4:57 PM

Two top military officials suggested at a congressional hearing Tuesday that the push by many U.S. states to legalize marijuana has rattled the confidence of some of America’s closest allies in the war on drugs.

Countries like Colombia and Nicaragua are “confused by the signals that our legalization sends, and...

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Why Brooklyn Is Taking A Major Step Toward Marijuana Reform

(168) Comments | Posted April 25, 2014 | 5:06 PM

Alfredo Carrasquillo and a friend were smoking cigarettes in the hallway of a Harlem housing project last summer when two police officers appeared out of nowhere and ordered them to put their hands against the wall. When the cops searched Carrasquillo’s pocket, they found a little weed -- enough to...

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'I Was Sentenced To Life In Prison -- And Then I Got A Second Chance'

(364) Comments | Posted April 22, 2014 | 7:30 AM

Last week, Stephanie George, a single mother of two, changed out of her prison khakis and into a white blouse and white slacks, then stepped outside the gates of the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Fla. After spending 17 years behind bars for a minor role in a drug-dealing operation,...

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Terry McAuliffe Expands Voting Rights For Convicted Felons In Virginia

(195) Comments | Posted April 18, 2014 | 12:54 PM

Virginians who have been convicted of violent felonies have to wait at least five years after getting out of prison before they can apply to regain the right to vote. But that’s about to change, thanks to a decision announced by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Friday morning....

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How Pot Legalization In The U.S. Hurts Mexico's Illegal Marijuana Industry

(263) Comments | Posted April 8, 2014 | 3:24 PM

Last week, Michele Leonhart, the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and a prominent critic of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington, made headlines when she suggested that marijuana legalization efforts could create new money-making opportunities for Mexico’s illegal cannabis industry.

However much legal weed costs...

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Law Enforcement Lobby Quietly Tries To Kill Sentencing Reform

(117) Comments | Posted April 2, 2014 | 3:45 PM

WASHINGTON -- Several organizations representing state and local law enforcement are quietly trying to kill a bipartisan bill that would roll back tough mandatory sentences for people convicted of federal drug offenses under legislation passed during the height of America’s drug war three decades ago.

These groups include the National...

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