This case reminds us how deeply racism permeates the nation, and, how painfully slowly cases move through the courts.
On the positive side, this country has provided more opportunities to more people than any in world history.
Maryland has finalized a $577 million settlement to end a 15-year federal lawsuit relating to underfunding at the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities, state officials announced Wednesday.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office signed the agreement with attorneys for the plaintiffs to settle the case. Lawmakers passed legislation earlier this year to set aside the money, and Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill last month.
“This settlement marks an historic investment in Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” Attorney General Brian Frosh said. “It will enable these valued institutions to expand their academic reach and to assist thousands of students with getting the education they deserve.”
The lawsuit dating to 2006 accused Maryland of underfunding these institutions while developing programs at traditionally white schools that directly competed with them, draining away prospective students. In 2013, a federal judge found that the state had maintained “a dual and segregated education system” that violated the Constitution.
“With today’s historic settlement of the HBCU litigation, we are finally able to move forward to give every college student in Maryland the chance to succeed,” said Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, who sponsored the legislation.
The money will be paid over a decade for scholarships and financial aid support services, as well as faculty recruitment and development. Funds also can could be used to expand and improve existing academic programs, including online programs, as well as the development and implementation of new academic programs.
The money will be distributed each year based on each school’s share of the total enrollment during the preceding academic year at all four of Maryland’s HBCUs: Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
“After more than a decade and a half of litigation, and with multiple bills passed by the General Assembly, we can finally ensure that our HBCUs receive the equitable funding that they deserve,” Senate President Bill Ferguson said.
The agreement was reached in cooperation with the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education and their attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis, and the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under the Law, Frosh said.
Frosh said he expects to meet a June 11 deadline with federal courts to confirm the terms. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has strongly encouraged Maryland to settle, and Frosh said he’s optimistic the terms would be accepted by the court.
We all should pray for this officer.
Two days later we have this report. Looks like Mr.Wilkerson, and perhaps others, will be doing prison time.
4/30/21 – UPDATE. Sorry to say the officer died yesterday. Mr. Wilkerson is now charged with murder.
Excerpts from the Article:
As a Delmar police veteran remained in critical condition Monday, details emerged on the incident that left him and a neighboring couple brutally beaten.
According to court documents, responding officers found Cpl. Keith Heacook, 54, in a residence unconscious and face down with blunt force trauma to the head. The 22-year department veteran had responded to the 11000 block of Buckingham Drive in the Yorkshire Estates Community for a reported fight in progress at 5:12 a.m. Sunday.
A resident there had called 911 and “reported that an unknown individual was fighting with everyone in the residence and destroying the house,” according to the affidavit of probable cause filed by Delaware State Police.
After Cpl. Heacook arrived, documents state, a police dispatch attempt to contact him for a status report was unsuccessful and additional police units were sent to the location. Upon finding Cpl. Heacook, responding officers initiated medical assistance until paramedics arrived. He was transported to TidalHeath in Salisbury, Maryland, police said and then escorted to Shock Trauma in Baltimore.
Officers removed a number of occupants from the home and following interviews with them, police said Randon D. Wilkerson, 30, of Delmar, was identified as a person of interest.
Within minutes of the 5:12 a.m. 911 call, police said another call came in across the street on Buckingham Drive.
Police learned that in a separate but related incident, Steven Franklin, 73, and his wife Judith, 76, were in their residence when allegedly assaulted by Mr. Wilkerson. Court documents state that the suspect knocked on the couple’s door and said there had been a disturbance across the street. After gaining entry, court records show, Mr. Wilkerson then struck them repeatedly with a glass figurine. Both sustained significant injuries.
One person in the original residence told police, according to the affidavit, that he had been punched in the face by Mr. Wilkerson around 3 a.m.
Arriving officers located Mr. Wilkerson walking in the rear of the property, documents said. He was then transported to DSP Troop 5 where police said in the probable cause document that he tried to kick a phlebotomist attempting to draw his blood. Mr. Wilkerson is charged with offensive touching of a medical professional in connection with that incident.
On Monday, Cpl. Heacook’s condition was considered “critical,” according to Delaware State Police spokesman Master Cpl. Gary Fournier, who said he did not have an update on the Franklin couple’s health.
“This will be an active and ongoing investigation. Due to the nature of Cpl. Heacook’s injuries we will continue to conduct interviews,” Master Cpl. Fournier said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Csapo at 741-2729.
Mr. Wilkerson also was charged with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree assault (two counts), possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony (two counts), first-degree burglary, third-degree assault and terroristic threatening.
A combined $451,000 bail was set at Justice of the Peace Court 3 and Mr. Wilkerson was then held in custody at Sussex Correctional Institution. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in the Court of Common Pleas.
Read also: Most Cops ARE Good Cops = http://firststateupdate.com/2021/04/delmar-police-officer-critically-injured-in-beating-
We must protect our most precious right – freedom of speech!
Excerpts from the Article:
The high school cheerleader relegated to the JV squad for another year responded with a fleeting fit of frustration: a photo of her upraised middle finger and another word that begins with F.
“F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything,” 14-year-old Brandi Levy typed into Snapchat one spring Saturday. Like all “snaps” posted to a Snapchat “story,” this one sent to about 250 “friends” was to disappear within 24 hours, before everyone returned to Pennsylvania’s Mahanoy Area High School on Monday.
Instead, an adolescent outburst and the adult reaction to it have arrived at the Supreme Court, where the case could determine how the First Amendment’s protection of free speech applies to the off-campus activities of the nation’s 50 million public school students.
“This is the most momentous case in more than five decades involving student speech,” said Justin Driver, a Yale law professor and author of “The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind.”
“Much of the speech from students is off-campus and increasingly online,” Driver said. “When I talk to school administrators, they consistently tell me that off-campus speech bedevils them, and the lower courts desperately need some guidance in this area.”
That shouldn’t be a surprise, as cellphones have become an extension of almost every teenager’s hand and social media a preferred mode of communication. And for the past year, many students have not gone near a school campus, with their “speech” happening in their homes during Zoom classes.
The First Amendment does not “force schools to ignore student speech that upends the campus environment simply because that speech originated off campus,” says a brief filed by Mahanoy Area School District, which upheld the school’s decision to kick Levy off the cheer squad.
“Wherever student speech originates, schools should be able to treat students alike when their speech is directed at the school and imposes the same disruptive harms on the school environment.”
The school board’s brief, as well as Driver’s book title, refers to the foundational Supreme Court case regarding student speech, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The 1969 decision famously held that students and teachers do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
But it also held that schools have broader authority over students than the state generally does when restricting speech and that authorities can discipline students for on-campus speech that causes or is likely to cause “material and substantial” disruption of school functions. (The court ruled 7 to 2 for Mary Beth Tinker because, it said, the black armband she wore to protest the Vietnam War was not disruptive.)
In the half-century since, the Supreme Court’s decisions have been few and lean toward school administrators. The justices have upheld school disciplinary action regarding lewd speech by students, a student newspaper that operated at the direction of school officials and a nonsensical sign with a seemingly pro-marijuana message — “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” — held by a student at a school activity.
Levy’s case is different. It concerns speech far beyond the schoolhouse gate, made online and on a weekend, unconnected to a school event.
“This may seem like a very narrow case about a minor temper tantrum on Snapchat, but it is about speech anywhere and everywhere, by students of all ages,” said Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.
Because it is somewhat rare for the justices to take a student speech case, “they are writing broadly the standards that will apply for two or three generations,” LoMonte said. “And they are writing the standards for all forms of speech across all media.”
“I was just feeling really frustrated and upset at everything that day,” said Levy, now 18 and a college student studying accounting.
Besides the snap in which she and her friend posed with middle fingers extended, she sent another: “Love how me and [another student, whom Levy identified by name] get told we need a year of jv before we make varsity but that doesn’t matter to anyone else?” She signed off with an upside-down smiley face.
It was sent to about 250 people who received Levy’s snaps, which dissolve within 24 hours. “I didn’t think it would have had an effect on anyone, and it didn’t really,” Levy said.
But one person took a screenshot and showed it to another, who happened to be the daughter of one of the cheerleading coaches. Some cheerleaders complained about Levy’s message, and the coaches decided to suspend her from the squad for a year.
The coaches said Levy’s snap violated the team rules she had agreed to, including showing respect, avoiding “foul language and inappropriate gestures,” and a strict policy against “any negative information regarding cheerleading, cheerleaders, or coaches placed on the Internet.”
Brandi’s parents, Larry and Betty Lou, appealed to the athletic director, the principal, the superintendent and the school board, to no avail.
Then, with the help of the ACLU, they filed a federal lawsuit.
A district judge agreed that the suspension from the squad violated the First Amendment, noting that Brandi’s speech was not disruptive. He ordered her reinstated to the JV squad in her sophomore year, and she made varsity her junior and senior years.
“Schools need to deal with cyberbullying,” said Witold J. Walczak, head of the Pennsylvania ACLU. “What separates us [the ACLU and the school board] is how much power the school is given to address those problems. We feel like the school district’s approach is too big a power grab.”
Levy has drawn support from a wide and ideologically diverse coalition of more than 100 organizations, 250 individuals and nine Republican state attorneys general.
The issue comes before a Supreme Court that seems to pride itself on protecting unpopular speech. As LoMonte wrote in Slate, “The Roberts court has reliably said that . . . the First Amendment requires us to tolerate all manner of unpleasantness. That even includes anti-gay hate speech (Snyder v. Phelps), lying about military heroism (United States v. Alvarez), or selling videos of graphically violent dog fights (United States v. Stevens).”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has called himself “probably the most aggressive defender of the First Amendment on the court.”
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., who has complained about the speech rights of conservatives on campuses not being respected, reluctantly joined the majority in Morse regarding speech about illegal drugs. But he said he viewed that regulation “as standing at the far reaches of what the First Amendment permits. I join the opinion of the court with the understanding that the opinion does not endorse any further extension.”
Five of the justices were not on the court for Morse, the court’s last major student speech case.
But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, joined an opinion that sided with school administrators who barred a student from running for student council after she wrote in a blog post that officials were “douchebags” for interfering with a battle of the bands concert.
LoMonte said it is the relatively low stakes of student speech cases — the silly sign, a band concert, suspension from the cheerleading squad — that brings the possibility that judges and the public will trivialize them.
But he analogizes it to a police officer handing out $5 tickets to people wearing T-shirts with political statements the government doesn’t like.
“No federal judge in America would say, ‘Suck it up and pay the ticket,’ ” LoMonte said. “Even a very small amount of government punishment that is meant to deter you from speaking is enough to violate the First Amendment, and judges understand that very well every place other than schools.”
This is bullshit! Americans should be able to donate to causes – especially controversial ones – without having to disclose their identity.
Excerpts from the Article:
More than a decade after the Supreme Court upended campaign finance rules in a landmark case, the justices Monday hear arguments in a challenge to disclosure requirements that could make it easier for donors to spend anonymously.
At issue is a California mandate that nonprofits disclose their top contributors to state regulators. Two conservative groups, including one tied to Republican megadonor Charles Koch, say the state’s requirement violates the Constitution by subjecting the donors to threats of violence from political opponents and, thereby, chilling the exercise of their First Amendment rights.
The groups point to a landmark 1958 civil rights case in which the Supreme Court struck down a request by Alabama that the NAACP reveal its membership, a decision that required governments to weigh their need for information against the potential that its disclosure could make people nervous to join an advocacy group.
Though the case turns on a technical question about how to apply that standard, groups working to reduce the influence of money in politics fear a broad ruling by the high court in favor of privacy could weaken disclosure requirements in elections, making it easier for big donors to influence the outcome of political campaigns anonymously.
“Even though they’re saying the case had nothing to do with elections and is not about public transparency, if there’s a bad ruling here it could be leveraged to expand these exemptions from transparency in election spending,” said Beth Rotman, national director of money in politics and ethics at Common Cause.
The Americans for Prosperity Foundation, founded by Koch, and the conservative Thomas More Law Center say Americans should be able to donate to causes – especially controversial ones – without having to disclose their identity. They question California’s need for the donor lists. And they argue the case has nothing to do with campaign disclosure requirements, which the Supreme Court has recognizedserve a legitimate government function.
California says it uses the donor lists for fraud investigations. The groups say the state should ask for the lists once an investigation is underway, not beforehand.
“There’s no need for them to be asking for tens of thousands of confidential donor names and amounts in advance,” said John Bursch, vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the law center. “They testified that they never once had a problem getting it after the fact.”
While the appeal has drawn support from many conservative organizations, it has also been joined by organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. All of them say they fear the potential for retaliation against donors if their names are disclosed.
Thousands of demonstrators march to the Alabama Capitol completing the final leg of the 25 anniversary of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery civil rights march in Montgomery on Saturday, March 10, 1990. The marchers began their trek at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
“When the government is infringing a right, they need to try to do so through the narrowest means possible,” Bursch said. “And the reason for that…is because if they do it more narrowly it violates less rights.”
If the court applies that heightened standard groups advocating for stricter campaign finance laws fear the next lawsuit will challenge disclosure requirements for elections as well.
“If you’re going to expand those exemptions so broadly, then you’re going to really take away a lot of the transparency that we have in political disclosure laws,” Rotman said.
A decision in the case is expected in June.
Seriously! How does such a MORON get to the U S Senate!?
He is dangerously stupid! Idiots like this guy are making criminal justice laws and policies!
Excerpts from the Article:
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, of Wisconsin, questioned the need for widespread COVID-19 vaccinations, saying in a radio interview “what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?”
Johnson, who has no medical expertise or background, made the comments Thursday during an interview with conservative talk radio host Vicki McKenna. Contrary to what medical experts advise, Johnson has said he doesn’t need to be vaccinated because he had COVID-19 in the fall. On Thursday, he went further, questioning why anyone would get vaccinated or worry about why others have not.
“For the very young, I see no reason to be pushing vaccines on people.” Johnson said. “I certainly am going to vigorously resist any kind of government use or imposing of vaccine passports. … That could be a very freedom-robbing step and people need to understand these things.”
Johnson’s comments come as health officials in the U.S. and around the world urge people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible, saying that reaching herd immunity is the best shot at stopping the uncontrolled spread of the virus.
Herd immunity occurs when enough people have been vaccinated or have immunity from natural infection that the virus can’t easily spread and the pandemic fizzles out. Nobody knows for sure what the herd immunity threshold is for the coronavirus, but many experts say it’s 70% or higher. And the emergence of variants is further complicating the picture.
In Wisconsin, more than 41% of the population has received at least one shot of vaccine and roughly 30% has been fully vaccinated. But demand for vaccinations has slowed in parts of the U.S. in a worrisome sign.
Johnson, a former plastics manufacturer with a bachelor’s degree in business and accounting, said he doesn’t think people should feel pressured to get vaccinated.
“The science tells us the vaccines are 95% effective, so if you have a vaccine quite honestly what do you care if your neighbor has one or not?” Johnson said. “What is it to you? You’ve got a vaccine and science is telling you it’s very, very effective. So why is this big push to make sure everybody gets a vaccine? And it’s to the point where you’re going to shame people, you’re going to force them to carry a card to prove that they’ve been vaccinated so they can still stay in society. I’m getting highly suspicious of what’s happening here.”
The interview ended before Johnson explained what he was suspicious of.
On Friday, Johnson issued a statement doubling down on his earlier comments.
“Everyone should have the right to gather information, consult with their doctor and decide for themselves whether to get vaccinated,” Johnson said, noting his support for former President Donald Trump’s Operation Warp Speed program to quickly develop a vaccine. “Now I believe government’s role (and therefore my role) is to help ensure transparency so that people have as much information as possible to make an informed decision for themselves.”
Johnson said it was legitimate to question whether people with a low risk of suffering a serious illness from COVID-19 should get vaccinated. He promised to “vigorously oppose” vaccine passports.
Republicans have portrayed vaccine passports as a heavy-handed intrusion into personal freedom and private health choices. They currently exist in only one state — a limited government partnership in New York with a private company — but that hasn’t stopped GOP lawmakers in a handful of states from rushing out legislative proposals to ban their use.
Johnson has not said yet whether he will seek a third term in 2022. A number of Democrats have already announced they are running, including Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.
Nelson tweeted that Johnson’s “scientifically illiterate beliefs are deadly and will only prolong the Covid crisis. Time for a new Senator.”
Godlewski also blasted Johnson, saying he “is literally campaigning against widespread vaccines. His denial of science isn’t just irresponsible, it’s downright dangerous, and Wisconsinites deserve so much better.”
Ohio officials release more body cam video of fatal police shooting of Black teen and urge community to await the facts
I have read the reports and seen all the videos available, and it certainly seems to me that this shooting was justified!
Excerpts from the Article:
Columbus, Ohio, officials released additional body camera video on Wednesday of a police officer fatally shooting a Black teen who charged two females with a knife.
“We don’t yet have all of the facts but we do know that a 16-year-old girl, a child of this community, tragically died last night,” Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther told reporters.
“Bottom line: Did Ma’Khia Bryant need to die yesterday?” he added. “How did we get here? This is a failure on the part of our community. Some are guilty but all of us are responsible.”
Police body cam video shows Ma’Khia Bryant charging a young woman with a knife Tuesday before she was shot by officer in Columbus, Ohio.
Police identified the officer who fired the shots as Nicholas Reardon, who was hired in December 2019. The officer is off street duty pending an investigation. Calls seeking comment from the police union have not been returned.
Hundreds gathered in different sections of Columbus throughout the day as they headed toward police headquarters.
In a series of clips from police body camera video, the girl is seen holding a knife during a tussle with another young woman. An officer arrived at the scene and opened fire when the girl appeared to attempt to stab a second woman.
In the video, one officer is heard asking, “Where is she hit?” The officer starts lifesaving measures. “Stay with us,” he tells the girl, asking bystanders her name. “Stay with us, Ma’Khia,” he implored.
Officials asked the community to wait for all the facts to come out.
In Tuesday’s shooting, police received a call at 4:32 p.m. indicating “females were there trying to stab them and put their hands on them,” Columbus Interim Police Chief Michael Woods said.
The video shows a teen quickly move toward another girl with what appears to be a knife, and the girl falls to the ground. The officer yells, “Hey, hey, hey, hey. Get down!” before she appears to lunge at a second girl with the knife, according to the video. The officer tells her to “Get Down! Get down! Get down! Get down!” and then fires four shots in the direction of the teenager.
The Whole Story
Another of dozens of serious prison abuse articles I see every week!
Excerpts from the Article:
A Vermont civil rights chapter is attempting to pry open the cover of secrecy between a health-care contractor and the state of Vermont.
Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Vermont filed an amicus brief in support of the Human Rights Defense Center’s (HRDC) effort to look into the state of Vermont and a corrections health-care contractor. HRDC is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to advancing the rights of prisoners.
Behind the brief is the issue that some Vermont prisoners have alleged inadequate health care by Wellpath, a firm contracted by the state.
By legal definition, amicus briefs (literally, “a friend of the court”) are filed “by people who typically take the position of one side in a case, in the process of supporting a cause that has some bearing on the issues in the case.”
The ACLU of Vermont’s brief is supporting an effort by the Florida-based Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) “to obtain records of legal claims filed against Vermont’s former prison healthcare provider over a period of five years.”
Is it legal for a state contractor to withhold public records involving a core government function, in this case, the provision of healthcare in Vermont prisons? That’s what the ACLU and HRDC are attempting to ascertain.
The issue has been presented to the Vermont Supreme Court to consider in the hopes of a ruling this year.
The most notable official supporting the ACLU and HRDC is Secretary of State Jim Condos, a long-time outspoken advocate of government transparency. Along with Condos, Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office, and the New England First Amendment Coalition have joined the amicus
According to a March 23 news release, ACLU of Vermont Senior Staff Attorney Lia Ernst said, “Vermonters expect their government and its contractors to be accountable. For that to happen, we can’t allow private corporations performing traditional, core government roles to evade our public records laws. Transparency is especially important in this context, given the continuing failures of our prison healthcare system and the resulting harms to incarcerated Vermonters and their families. The state can choose to outsource its work, but its legal obligations do not just disappear.”
The ACLU brief essentially outlines that, from 2010 to 2015, private for-profit Correct Care Solutions/Wellpath, contracted with the state to provide health care for all people incarcerated in Vermont prisons. “In return, the state paid Wellpath roughly $94 million,” according to ACLU Vermont. “HRDC…requested copies of settlements of the lawsuits filed against Wellpath. Wellpath refused to disclose those records, prompting this lawsuit.” Vermont’s Department of Corrections “contractually delegated to Wellpath a function that the DOC is both constitutionally and statutorily mandated to undertake and argues that, because it was operating as a ‘functional equivalent’ of the government, Wellpath took on the government’s transparency obligations under the state’s public records law.”
The ACLU of Vermont litigated the same issue in 2013. At that time, the Vermont Supreme Court ordered the Corrections Corporation of America to disclose records ACLU Vermont requested.
ACLU of Vermont stated, “that the Public Records Act’s purpose of ensuring governmental accountability cannot be achieved if agencies can outsource their core responsibilities – but not their transparency obligations – to private entities.”
The text of the amicus brief may be read online at https://www.acluvt.org/sites/default/files/2020-308_hrdc_v._ccs_secretary_condos_et_al._amicus_brief.pdf.
Folks celebrated nationwide, because this was not about one case, it was not about one decision, it was not about one cop. It was about far too many cops killing people unjustifiably, for decades, with no accountability.
Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
New Yorkers breathed easily after jurors hundreds of miles away rendered that verdict against Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis cop who murdered George Floyd.
Moments after Chauvin was found guilty on all counts, celebrations unfolded in a spring day in New York City.
At Barclays Center — where raucous, thousands-strong protests occurred nightly last spring — a relatively subdued demonstration began Tuesday. When it began there were almost as many reporters as demonstrators, but the group gathered enough strength to march and close down a lane of Flatbush Avenue.
“Whose streets? Our streets,” they chanted.
Other demonstrations peacefully unfolded in Times Square, across the Manhattan Bridge and elsewhere in New York City.
This has been an ongoing battle in many states. Because our prisons are so out of control, they try to hide everything with a blanket of secrecy. They say it is for “security” reasons, but that is total BS!
Excerpts from the Article:
Exacerbating the alarm for civil and human rights organizations is the record of malpractice that private prison companies in Florida have. Human Rights Defense Center is appealing to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami, arguing that by working in prison on a state contract, Armor must comply with Florida public records laws. “Any lawyer who represents people in prison can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to get information on what is going on behind bars,” said Kelly Knapp, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
African Americans comprise about half of the more than 100,000 inmates in Florida prisons and jails.
Black males ages 30 to 34 have the highest incarceration rate of any race, age, or gender group in the Sunshine State, which boasts the third-largest prison population in the United States.
Against that backdrop, an amicus brief filed this week in the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami is critical.
The First Amendment Foundation, ACLU of Florida, and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the brief supporting the plaintiffs in Human Rights Defense Center v. Armor Correctional Health Services Inc.
According to a news release, the organizations filed the brief because of their “longstanding interest in preserving an open and transparent government and protecting the public’s right to access public records, including public records held by private companies that provide services to Florida’s incarcerated population.”
The Human Rights Defense Center filed a public records request with Armor Correctional Health Services, which provides medical care in Florida prisons, seeking details of its treatment of incarcerated people.
The release noted that the trial judge dismissed the case because Armor is a private company, and any request for information needed to go through the Florida Department of Corrections.
Human Rights Defense Center is appealing to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami, arguing that by working in prison on a state contract, Armor must comply with Florida public records laws, the release further stated.
“Any lawyer who represents people in prison can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to get information on what is going on behind bars,” Kelly Knapp, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, stated.
“Organizations like ours rely on Florida’s public record laws to make sure that the law is being followed. But with the privatization of so many prison functions, it has become harder than ever to uncover what is happening to people inside. Private companies getting public money should be required to answer to the public.”
The organizations have argued that the steady increase of privatization in administering medical care provided to incarcerated people naturally calls for robust monitoring of prison conditions.
“The public must be able to access information about the government in an open and transparent way,” Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement emailed to NNPA Newswire.
“Our democracy depends on the public’s right to know what the government is doing, and access to public information is a constitutional right that must be protected,” Stevenson determined.
In 2013, Florida entered into a five-year, $1.2 billion contract with Corizon, a Tennessee company, to provide medical care to thousands of incarcerated people in Florida. Reportedly, in the five years before Corizon’s partnership, the private company faced over 600 lawsuits stemming from allegations of malpractice.
In December 2012, the Florida Department of Corrections also entered into a $240 million contract with Wexford Health Sources, a Pennsylvania-based company, to provide medical services to incarcerated people in nine institutions throughout South Florida.
Reports indicated that between January 2008 through 2012, Wexford faced over 1,000 claims of malpractice from people in prisons.
The organizations argued in their brief that the sheer number of lawsuits against private contractors providing prison services underscores the need for effective monitoring in prisons.
“Access to records of government contractors is critical as more prison services are privatized. These records are necessary for the public and the press to oversee the conditions of Florida prisons and jails,” Pamela Marsh, President of the First Amendment Foundation, argued.
“Forcing the public to sue a government entity, rather than a contractor acting on behalf of an agency, unnecessarily drags out the enforcement of a public records request and increases the costs of enforcing the constitutional right of public access.”
A bad decision; the earlier cases recognized that the brain is not fully developed until age 25 …. so maybe some juveniles deserve a break. This court washed all that away.
Excerpts from the Article:
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a life term in prison without parole for a defendant who was 15 when he fatally stabbed his grandfather in Mississippi, ruling that a sentencing judge need not decide that the young person was “permanently incorrigible.” The 6-3 decision retreats somewhat from a pair of earlier rulings, which said that such life sentences for minors convicted of murder should be extremely rare and limited to cases in which there was no reason to hope the young person could be rehabilitated.
California and 24 other states have abolished life terms with no hope for parole for offenders under 18. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor said such prison terms remain shockingly common in parts of the Deep South, particularly for young people of color.
As of last year, “Louisiana had imposed LWOP [Life Without Parole] on an astonishing 57% of eligible juvenile offenders” since 2012, when the court called for restricting such sentences, she said. In 2016, the court gave these inmates a chance to seek a new sentence with possible parole, but the Mississippi courts have rejected one-fourth of such appeals, she said.
“The harm of from these sentences will not fall equally,” Sotomayor added. “The racial disparities in juvenile LWOP sentencing are stark: 70% of all youth sentenced to LWOP are children of color,” she said, citing a study from the Juvenile Law Center.
Five years ago, the court gave new hope to the more than 2,000 inmates who had been sentenced to life terms for crimes they committed as minors. The justices said they had a right to seek a new sentencing hearing and possible parole in the future. But the court’s opinion did not say precisely what judges must consider in deciding such cases.
At issue Thursday was whether the defendant’s life term with no parole should be set aside unless the judges concluded he was “incorrigible” and could not be rehabilitated. The justices divided along ideological lines, with the six conservatives in the majority and the three liberals in dissent.
Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, speaking for the court in Jones vs. Mississippi, said judges are required to weigh the defendant’s age as a mitigating factor before imposing a punishment for a homicide. “The court’s decision today carefully follows” the earlier rulings, which did not prohibit such life terms, he said. Kavanaugh added that the sentencing decision remains in the hands of the judge who heard the case, and the judge need not go further and decide the defendant was beyond redemption.
“Today the court guts” its earlier rulings restricting such life terms, Sotomayor said in a sharp dissent for three liberals. She noted that one of the decisions held that “a lifetime in prison is a disproportionate sentence for all but the rarest children, those whose crimes reflect ‘irreparable corruption.’”
The outcome reflects the retirement of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Kennedy had repeatedly spoken out against harsh punishments for juvenile offenders, and he wrote the court’s ruling that ended capital punishment for them, as well as those that limited the circumstances for imposing life prison terms on those under 18.
Sotomayor said Thursday’s ruling means that even if a “juvenile’s crime reflects ‘unfortunate yet transient immaturity’, he can be sentenced to die in prison,” quoting a passage from Kennedy’s earlier opinion. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined the dissent.
The case before the court began in 2004 when Brett Jones, age 15, was living with his grandparents Bertis and Madge in a small town in northern Mississippi. He and his grandfather exchanged angry words when it was learned that Jones’ girlfriend was in a bedroom upstairs. The two later fought in the kitchen, and the teenager stabbed his grandfather and fled.
He was convicted of the murder and at the time, state law mandated a sentence of life in prison without parole.
The Supreme Court overturned such mandatory sentences in 2012 and ruled in 2016 inmates may seek a new and lesser sentence. But a judge decided the life term was the proper sentence for Jones, and that decision was upheld by the state courts.
In upholding the sentence, Kavanaugh said such sentencing decisions should remain in the hands of judges who can weigh all the facts. Moreover, “our holding today does not preclude the states from imposing additional sentencing limits in cases involving defendants under 18 convicted of murder,” he said. “States may categorically prohibit life without parole for all offenders under 18. Or states may require sentencers to make extra factual findings before sentencing an offender under 18 to life without parole.”