Gun Rights, Gun Control and a Local Push to Tax Guns and Their Ammo

Ambitious and certain to draw criticism, President Barack Obama’s plan to rid the nation of the most powerful weapons on the market and attempt to arrest mass and everyday shootings was expected by Congress Wednesday, marking a sharp turn in a decades-long fight to curb America’s gun violence. As the debate was playing out in Washington, several local and national leaders gathered at the University of Chicago Tuesday evening to discuss guns and policy, with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose city holds the dubious “murder capital” title, among the group and pushing sweeping gun control legislation that cracks down on assault weapons. Also on the panel was Democratic political consultant David Axelrod, who this week said that the National Rifle Association’s recent assertion that Congress would not enact the sort of change that Obama and others were pressing, was off base. In fact, he said, real legislation will squeeze through the legislative process and signal real change in the nation’s laws and gun dialogue. Also in attendance was the head of the University of Chicago CrimeLab, who noted that while the United States has managed to improve its count of more common crime – property theft, etc.

Groups Urge Federal, State Legislation to End Solitary Confinement of Young People

Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Human Rights Watch published  a new report titled “Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States.”

The publication involved interviews with more than 125 juveniles in 19 states, alongside detention officials in 10 states. The authors of the report argue that solitary confinement harms young people mentally and physically, with juveniles frequently denied access to medical, rehabilitative and psychological treatments and services while in confinement. Furthermore, the report alleges that in jails and prisons across the United States, young people are routinely subjected to extensive stays in solitary confinement — in some cases, for weeks and even months at a time. “Solitary confinement of adolescents is unnecessary,” the report reads. “There are alternative ways to address the problems — whether disciplinary, administrative, protective or medical — which officials typically cite as justifications for solitary confinement.”

The authors of the report state that approximately one third of the young people they interviewed reported being held in solitary confinement for one to six months before turning 18.

New Report: Minors in ‘Solitary’ Hallucinate, Harm Themselves

Some minors locked up alone for all but a couple of hours to protect them from adults, other threats

A new report on solitary confinement of minors includes harrowing descriptions of the psychological and physical impact ‘solitary’ has on young people, as well as surprising revelations about why some authorities resort to isolating juveniles. In “Growing Up Locked Down,” the groups Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union report that a substantial number of detained juveniles minors are placed in solitary confinement as punishment, or as part of their rehabilitation plans – or even for their own protection. Some custodians, researchers found, say they put juveniles who are in adult lockups into solitary confinement as a way to protect them from attacks by adult inmates. Some minors interviewed said they were segregated in juvenile facilities for the same reason – to protect them from threats – and let out only for a couple of hours a day. Released in October, the report is based on research and interviews conducted in local and state detention facilities in Florida, Colorado, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.

Solitary for Youth: The Fight in Illinois

CHICAGO — Even as national organizations rallied this week to end solitary confinement for incarcerated juveniles across the country, the local branch of American Civil Liberties Union is working with prison officials and the federal court to focus on the issue here. The goal: settle a lawsuit on behalf of 2,217 incarcerated youth with the Illinois Department of Juvenile Corrections over the system’s inadequate services and often-hostile environment. A preliminary agreement calls for curbing the growing practice of solitary confinement in youth centers, which activists say constitutes “torture,” given its potential for causing long-lasting psychological harm. The proposed settlement, which is due for a fairness hearing in federal court in Chicago on December 6, would be the latest victory in a larger movement to end the punitive isolation of youth in custody. In June, Congress held its first hearing on the issue of solitary confinement within U.S. prisons, where roughly 80,000 inmates are in “restricted housing“ at any given time nationwide, according to a 2005 census of adult inmates by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

FCC Looks Likely to Cap Phone Rates for Prisoners

Nine years since it was first petitioned to do so by families of people behind bars, the Federal Communications Commission appears closer to imposing a limit on the soaring rates some prisoners have to pay to make interstate telephone calls. It won’t say when it will take action, however. The FCC’s consumer advisory committee submitted a list of recommendations last month urging the FCC to ensure that prices for phone calls from prison are kept to “reasonable” levels. And both the FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn have come out in support of limiting charges by private companies holding monopolies over prison telephone service in many states. The push to cap prison phone rates started when Martha Wright, a grandmother who could not afford to call her grandson when he was incarcerated, filed a petition in 2003 asking the FCC to take regulatory action.

ACLU, Human Rights Watch Press for End to Juvenile Solitary Confinement

CHICAGO — The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch published a stinging indictment Wednesday against the use of solitary confinement on minors – adding momentum to a lawsuit filed here last month claiming youth were locked in tiny, haunting cells for brushes as minor as speaking out of turn to a guard or disrupting a meal. Wednesday’s 141-page report, which captured harrowing accounts from youngsters locked in solitary for up to months at a time, if not longer, called for an end to the practice, the exploration of remedial alternatives and changes to state and federal laws that currently allow for the practice. Solitary — according to the report’s interviews with prison officials and 125 minors from 19 states, including visits to facilities in Colorado, Florida, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania — can cause irreparable harm to a minor’s psychological makeup at the very time their minds are maturing. Just as troubling, according to the report and experts in the field, solitary can re-traumatize juveniles who have grown up with abusive and violent pasts. “The hardest thing about isolation is that you are trapped in such a small room by yourself,” according to a March interview in the report with a Michigan inmate identified as Paul K. “There is nothing to do so you start talking to yourself and getting lost in your own little world.

Community-Based Intervention Programs May Be Beneficiaries of Youth PROMISE ACT

Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hosted a congressional briefing on the 2011 documentary film “The Interrupters.”
Sponsored by the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, the briefing featured statements from Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) and a panel discussion featuring Alex Kotlowitz, the producer of “The Interrupters” and author of the book “There Are No Children Here.”

“The Interrupters” focused on Chicago’s CeaseFire movement, a grassroots project in which members of communities seek to reduce acts of youth violence through localized, concentrated intervention programs.

CeaseFire employs “violence interrupters,” community members who work with youth in high-violence areas, to pinpoint and prevent potential crimes before they transpire. Two “violence interrupters,” Cobe Williams and Ameena Matthews, were present at the ACLU’S briefing in Washington, D.C.

The event drew the attention of a diverse group of attendees, including high school principals, public health officials, law professors and congressional staff. Congressman Scott hailed the Youth PROMISE Act — proposed legislation that would provide funding for comprehensive, community-based intervention programs, such as CeaseFire — as a potential means of curbing street gang activity and juvenile delinquency. The Youth PROMISE Act — officially titled the Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support and Education Act — would provide funding for evidence-based practices regarding the prevention of juvenile delinquency and gang activity. The bipartisan-sponsored bill would also amend the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 by creating a Youth PROMISE advisory panel to aid the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Civil Suit Challenges Life Without Parole for Kids

There are new legal challenges popping up across the country in the wake of the Graham v. Florida Supreme Court decision, which made life without parole sentences for juveniles unconstitutional in cases that don’t involve murder. Unlike appeals filed in Florida and Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing Michigan government officials on behalf of nine convicts who were sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for crimes they committed when they were minors, according to the Jurist. Michigan law requires mandatory life sentences for certain crimes committed by kids who are 14 to 17 years old. The ACLU argues their rights have been violated because they don’t have the chance for parole by demonstrating growth or maturity.