A group of volunteer court observers across the country is coming together to launch a new national network to observe bail review hearings and other legal proceedings. Join Courtwatch PG director Carmen Johnson and Grammy-winning artist Fiona Apple, a volunteer court observer in Prince George’s County, Md., to discuss their push for more transparency and accountability in courtrooms nationwide.
A private prison in Arizona recently sued the state for having a lack of prisoners. For the sake of saving over $16 million in back pay, the state settled by paying the private prison $3 million. Arizona essentially paid a company $3 million because not enough people are committing crimes.
From her makeshift home office on the island in her kitchen, Carmen Johnson picked up her phone and dialed the number for the clerk of the court, beginning what had become her near-daily ritual since the pandemic upended the legal system and forced courts to go virtual.
In the United States, we owe formerly incarcerated people. This fact is abundantly clear when you evaluate the status quo. A person who completes their sentenced punishment after being found guilty has paid their debt to society. Unfortunately, laws across the country force formerly incarcerated people to continue to pay for their misconduct long after their release from the criminal legal system. These collateral consequences of incarceration are often unrelated to the person’s crime and dramatically hinder the reentry process. Cultural stigma, legal discrimination, and enhanced trauma describe the reality for hundreds of thousands of people in America because “free” society continues to make formerly incarcerated people pay. Hence, we owe them.
Since August of 2020, the Movement Lawyering Clinic (“the Clinic”) at Howard University School of Law has observed bond hearings in Prince George’s County District Court. The impetus of this project came from reports and a lawsuit from Civil Rights Corps, alleging that PG County’s jail was overcrowded, unsanitary, at risk of a COVID-19 breakout, and teeming with pre-trial defendants, many who are charged with non-violent crimes.1 The Clinic decided to observe PG County bond hearings to determine the extent of pre-trial detention in the County, or more specifically, who was being put in pre-trial detention and why.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed an omnibus criminal justice package that (among several victories) makes Illinois the tenth state to end prison gerrymandering. HB3653 ensures that, beginning in 2030, people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn.