More about the Criminal Justice System: For Students and Beyond
Use the following links and resources to begin your exploration of the Oregon and U.S. criminal justice systems. Links are not endorsements. Apply the Source Evaluation Worksheet guidelines in assessing any source’s validity and viewpoint, and how its message applies in your life.
Gender-responsive Corrections http://www.interlochenpublicradio.org/post/prison-discipline-comes-down-hardest-women
NPR spotlight on ways of approaching prisons differently, for men and women.
Crime Survivors Speak from Alliance for Safety and Justice. http://allianceforsafetyandjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/documents/Crime%20Survivors%20Speak%20Report.pdf
A national survey on victims' views of safety and justice.
Oregon Advocates and Abuse Survivors in Service (OAASIS) http://oaasisoregon.org/
A movement to prevent child sexual abuse and help survivors heal.
Help Hope Heal https://www.helphopehealguide.org/
Online tools for crime survivors and their loved ones.
The Center for Trauma Support Services http://thectss.org/
A Portland group that applies a Restorative Justice lens to working with crime survivors.
Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics https://www.ucrdatatool.gov/
The U.S. Department of Justice attempts to uniformly track crime rates throughout the nation. This data is based on reported crime rates, which does not reflect the actual amount of crime committed. It does not take into account why some crimes may be reported at different rates or if reporting rates vary over time.
Oregon General Election Voters Pamphlet (1994) – Measure 10 & 11 Voter’s Guide statements http://library.state.or.us/repository/2010/201003011350161/S-8V94-2-994-9.pdf
In 1994, Oregon voters approved Measures 10 & 11, which create mandatory minimum sentences that apply to people as young as 15 and make the repeal of these laws extremely difficult. Every eligible voter in Oregon receives an official Voters’ pamphlet, which includes fell text of each ballot measure, an objective explanatory statement and unlimited arguments for and against each ballot measure. Anyone can submit an argument for inclusion by either paying a fee or collecting a certain number of signatures. The arguments for or against ballot measures are not verified for factual accuracy.
Moving Beyond Sides: The Power and Potential of a New Public Safety Policy Paradigm (2011) http://www.njjn.org/uploads/digital-library/Moving-Beyond-Sides_Partnership-for-Safety-and-Justice_Dec-8-2011.pdf
This report amplifies the diverse voices of crime survivors and suggests ways that violence can be reduced and the needs of both crime survivors and people who have done harm can be met by criminal justice policy reforms.
Crime Victims United of Oregon http://www.crimevictimsunited.org/
An organization that elevates the voices of crime victims who believe that lengthier and harsher penalties make Oregon safer. This organization equates accountability with punishment.
Crime victims and offenders have a shared interest in transforming our justice system (2018) https://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2018/07/readers_respond_crime_victims.html
In this recent Oregonian Op-ed, the writer presents a pathway toward a public safety system that better serves survivors, the people who’ve caused harm, and the families and communities of both in the following op-ed published in The Oregonian.
North Dakota’s Norway Experiment https://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2017/07/north-dakota-norway-prisons-experiment/
Reforms in the North Dakota state prison system are featured in this recent article. It emphasizes the positive outcomes when the prison is transformed from a violent and punitive setting to a setting that facilitates relationship and rehabilitation.
Oregon Criminal Justice Commission https://www.oregon.gov/cjc/data/Pages/main.aspx
CJC provides interactive data about each county and region of Oregon, regarding prison usage and crime statistics.
Partnership for Safety and Justice https://safetyandjustice.org/
Oregon advocacy organization that advances legislation to reduce mass incarceration, releasing reports to support its mission, including a report on juvenile justice. PSJ involves voices of crime victims as part of the legislation it supports.
Oregon Justice Resource Center https://ojrc.info/
Oregon non-profit organization that works to end mass incarceration through education, events, and legal services. OJRC has focuses on women in prison, immigrant rights, and Oregon’s Innocence Project.
Oregon Knowledge Bank https://okb.oregon.gov/
This website profiles justice programs applied in different Oregon counties.
Metrocosm: Prisoners in the Free World – America’s Astronomical Incarceration Rate http://metrocosm.com/prison-population-map/
This article compiles various charts demonstrating ways the US uses prisons that make it an outlier in the world.
How Structural Racism Fuels the Response to the Opioid Crisis (blog) https://www.communitycatalyst.org/blog/how-structural-racism-fuels-the-response-to-the-opioid-crisis#.W2Oa-ihKjcs-https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2010/11/02/scoring-drugs
Consider the impact of the War on Drugs and a carceral/justice system approach to substance abuse, compared to a public health/treatment approach. Has the justice-based approach helped end drug abuse? Why does society respond differently to drug problems in different communities?
Other Organizations and Resources to Learn More
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson’s account of his decades-long career as a legal advocate for marginalized people who have been either falsely convicted or harshly sentenced. This account brings hope and inspiration into the pain and brokenness of the US legal system. This book is especially good for faith groups. Study guides available.
Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform by John F. Pfaff
Having spent fifteen years studying the data on imprisonment, John Pfaff takes apart the reigning consensus created by Michelle Alexander and other reformers…and urges us to look at other factors instead, including a major shift in prosecutor behavior that occurred in the mid-1990s, when prosecutors began bringing felony charges against arrestees about twice as often as they had before.
Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity by Melanie G Snyder
A woman named Marie Hamilton started visiting inmates in a Pennsylvania prison in the 1970s, and developed relationships over the decades that transformed her own vision of the system, and inspired transformation for those around her. Her service moved her toward the practice of Restorative Justice, touching thousands of lives and bringing humanity and respect to persons so often overlooked.
The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
A groundbreaking look at how racial discrimination in America influenced the mass incarceration of African-Americans. (study guides available)
From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America by Elizabeth Hinton
This book challenges the belief that America’s prison problem originated with the Reagan administration’s War on Drugs, Elizabeth Hinton traces the rise of mass incarceration to an ironic source: the social welfare programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society at the height of the civil rights era.
Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption by Walidah Imarisha
Portland author, teacher, and speaker explores her own relationships with loved ones in prison – and her relationship with the justice system as a whole.
After the Crime: The Power of Restorative Justice Dialogues between Victims and Violent Offenders by Susan Miller
A fundamental text in understanding the views of victims and survivors of crime, from a Restorative Justice perspective.
Prison Fathers: Parenting From Behind Bars by Latif Bossman
Prison Fathers is a memoir charting the journey of an incarcerated African American father faced with the dilemma of parenting from prison. He copes with the loss of his freedom and struggles to find ways to continue to communicate with his children, provide for them financially, manage stress, provide emotional support, and deal with the addition of new children. Hundreds of miles away from his children, family, and friends removed from a life of so-called normalcy to one filled with so much uncertainty, he faces issues like abandonment, acceptance, and visitation and other struggles in this new world as an incarcerated father. Through all that was a struggle became a strength. With an undying love for his children, his energy was focused in continuing to fulfill his duties as a father. With the help of family, friends, community and a desire to truly be a better father, he was able to remain a staple in the fabric of his children's lives until his release from incarceration. Prison Fathers is available on Amazon and from the Oregon-based author.
Compassionate Justice: an Interdisciplinary Dialogue with Two Gospel Parables on Law, Crime and Restorative Justice by Christopher D. Marshall. (published by Cascade Books, Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012)
Two parables that have become firmly lodged in popular consciousness are the parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the Prodigal Son. These simple but subversive tales have had a significant impact historically in shaping the spiritual, aesthetic, moral and legal traditions of Western civilization. Compassionate Justice draws on the insights of restorative justice theory, legal philosophy and social psychology to offer a compelling analysis of how the priorities commended by the parables are pertinent to the criminal justice system today.
The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr
Zehr is a pioneer of Restorative Justice, and this concise text lays out major themes and issues for both new and experienced RJ practitioners.
The Little Book of Biblical Justice: A fresh approach to the Bible’s teachings on justice by Good Books (Intercourse, PA 17534, 2005)
The Bible has had a profound impact on the development of Western culture. So exploring the biblical perspectives on justice can help us appreciate some of convictions and values that have helped shape Western political and judicial thought. Upfront, Marshall addresses the many complexities that surround “justice” in the Bible. Marshall’s honest treatment of this subject is direct, yet almost lyrical.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Available widely in 2017 as the Multnomah County Library “Everybody Reads” title, this nonfiction account traces the lives of a diverse series of individuals and families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who sharing one experience: eviction from their homes in the private rental market. The bulk of the book is intimate portraits of the struggles these families face as they navigate setbacks forced upon them. They are seeking shelter in a society where landlords have disproportionate power - backed by the state - to maximize profit at the expense of public health. Readers cannot help being both moved and frustrated at the struggles they face. The stories make a strong case for systemic reform of the housing market, to strengthen the hand of renters against the power of landlords. And if personal stories fail to elicit concern, the richly researched details about eviction statistics in the epilogue bring home the harm eviction does to society at large.
The experiences detailed in this book are located in Wisconsin but they translate to Oregon, as we face a crisis in affordable housing statewide, as well as legislative stubbornness to make needed changes. In 2017, the Oregon state legislature failed to pass reforms to allow rent control or to prevent the rampant no-cause evictions that create havoc and suffering for marginalized Oregonians. The power of landlord lobbies is strong here, too.
Connections between the housing crisis and criminal justice reform are worth emphasizing. The challenge of eviction might elicit the most sympathy when children are impacted, but the instability of the rental market greatly impacts anyone with criminal convictions (many of whom also have children!). One of the biggest challenges facing people after prison is housing, so when it’s hard for anyone to find housing, it’s even harder for people with records to find housing. Add on a history of sexual offenses, and the barriers to stable housing are great. In a society that expects people who’ve done their time to seamlessly reintegrate into society - with few formal resources to ease the transition - the barriers that anyone in poverty faces can land doubly hard on people who must continue to wear the label of felon. In addition, evictions can force individuals into the criminal justice system, leaving them scarred with a record. The issues of housing justice and criminal justice reform thus cannot be tidily separated; this is intersectionality at work.
“This American War on Drugs,” On the Media episode, broadcast by WNYC, August 24, 2017, 50 min.
This episode of the popular weekly National Public Radio show covers the history of the “War on Drugs” and how political machinations created, not the drug epidemics themselves, but the highly punitive, racist societal responses to drug problems.
Featuring a diverse mix of views and voices, the podcast explains how political leaders have used mass hysteria about drug use to feed personal political agendas. It tells the story of Harry Anslinger, a man few people have heard of yet all of us have been impacted by - in that he invented and shaped the modern concept of the war on drugs. Heartbreakingly, he also had a hand in the racist forces that drove musical genius Billie Holiday to her death.
This podcast episode also argues effectively about the ways drug abuse is driven by economic forces - especially despair of the working classes - while at the same time responses to drug use often exploit racist and xenophobic tropes, to exacerbate a hierarchical socio-economic and racial social order.
Thirteenth Documentary by Ava duVernay
Available on Netflix, 13th explores the "intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States;" it is titled after the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which freed the slaves and prohibited slavery … unless as punishment for a crime. Several discussions guides are available on the internet.
Rikers: An American Jail
The U.S. is facing a crisis of mass incarceration with over 2.2 million people packed into its jails and prisons. To understand the human toll of this crisis, Rikers Island is a good place to start. Of the more than 7,500 people detained at Rikers Island on any given day, almost 80% have not yet been found guilty or innocent of the charges they face. All are at risk in the pervasive culture of violence that forces people to come to terms with what they must do for their own survival. This new documentary from Bill Moyers brings you face to face with men and women who have endured incarceration at Rikers Island. Their stories vividly describe the cruel arc of the Rikers experience—from the shock of entry, to extortion exercised by other inmates, oppressive interactions with corrections officers, torture of solitary confinement and the many challenges of returning to the outside world. Study guides online: www.RikersFilm.org
Films Available on YouTube
Racism in Oregon’s Justice System
A short movie by Portland State University students for a class under Professor DeEtte Beghtol Waleed in 2017, detailing the impact of racism on Oregon’s correctional system: https://youtu.be/vIT16y-lH9c
Transcripts of court documents and interviews reveal the harrowing ordeal endured by innocent death-row inmates. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4qGMdydmpU
Actor Forest Whitaker narrates the story of a group of inmate volunteers who staff their own hospice inside a maximum security prison in Louisiana where the average sentence is more than 90 years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyyoYVNox_o
Prison Kids (Juvenile Justice in America)
We incarcerate children at a higher rate than any other developed country. Kids make mistakes—sometimes large, sometimes small. And every day in America, they can be locked up in stark, mismanaged hellholes and marked for life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NifPxtGi-Ns
Also consider Ted talks and YouTube videos by Adam Foss
TED Talk: Adam Foss, a Prosecutor’s Vision for a Better Justice System
“American Inferno,” Danielle Allen. New Yorker magazine, July 24, 2017.
Dean at the University of Chicago, Allen sought to assist her young cousin as he navigated the challenges of a new life after a long prison sentence. But even with her efforts, his life ended violently. She shares deeply as she ponders whether other outcomes would have been possible, for a teenage boy with felony convictions (even one with an educated, well-connected, motivated cousin like her).
“Remembering the Murder, You Didn’t Commit” Rachel Aviv. New Yorker magazine, June 19, 2017.
Six defendants in Beatrice, Nebraska, confessed to a murder they remembered clearly but, according to DNA evidence, had not committed. The shocking fallibility of human memory intersects with the heavy consequences of involvement in the US legal system. Whose interests (if any) are served by the wrong people ending up in prisons?
“Building a Prison-to-School Pipeline,” Larissa MacFarquhar. New Yorker magazine, December 12, 2016.
Incarcerated adults are motivated to seek the opportunities they may have lacked when they were younger, and reverse the nationwide trend of the “school-to-prison pipeline.” A healthy, successful life requires as much inside prison as outside: education, employment, and positive mentors.
“Prison Revolt,” Bill Keller. New Yorker magazine, June 29, 2015.
Some conservatives are joining the movement for criminal justice reform, with their own ideas and proposed solutions. Many have faced personal experience of the justice system along the way. Is the criminal justice reform movement strengthened by bipartisan motivations - from the fiscal arguments of right-leaning reformers to the moral arguments of the left? Can it contain this diversity?
“The Forgotten Ones: Queer and Trans Lives in the Prison System,” Grace Dunham. New Yorker magazine, February 8, 2016.
Reviewing the anthology “Captive Genders,” this article highlights the voices and experiences of a population who are no less marginalized within the prison system than outside it. In the starkly binary gender system of mass incarceration, the full spectrum of human life still cries out for recognition.
Organizations in Oregon
Criminal Justice Commission
Oregon’s CJC provides a rich online database of facts and figures describing Oregon’s prison population. https://www.oregon.gov/CJC/Pages/index.aspx
Oregonians Against the Death Penalty
Oregon has thirty-sex people (thirty-five men and one woman) on death row.
Oregon Justice Resource Center
OJRC promotes civil rights and improves legal representation for communities that have often been underserved in the past: people living in poverty and people of color among them. They train future public interest lawyers, and educate our community on civil rights and current civil liberties concerns. www.ojrc.info
ACLU of Oregon
Amongst other services, They Report to You is a new campaign by Oregon’s ACLU to raise awareness about the impact District Attorneys have on sentencing, and mass incarceration as a whole. www.aclu-or.org
Partnership for Safety and Justice (PSJ)
Key to advocacy for reform in Salem, PSJ has helped craft and pass groundbreaking legislation, most lately around justice reinvestment and alternative sentencing approaches for parents. www.SafetyAndJustice.org also lists resources for transition services.
Oregon Abuse Advocates & Survivors in Service empowers survivors of sexual violence. With a new website at www.oaasisoregon.org and a renewed mission to build a movement to prevent child sexual abuse and help healing, OAASIS is in the heart of true transformation for what justice looks like in Oregon.
Fight against Sex Trafficking/Fight Against Slavery/Trafficking
FAST connects groups working to end human trafficking. The FAST monthly email newsletter lists events and ways to plug into the work across Oregon.
Provides county-by-county data about jails and prison usage, as part of its effort to reform the wider system for more equitable and effective outcomes. http://trends.vera.org/rates/multnomah-county-or?incarcerationData=all&incarceration=rate&similar=population
The Marshall Project
The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan nonprofit news organization that seeks to sustain a sense of national urgency about the justice system, striving to enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice. www.themarshallproject.org
San Francisco Children of the Incarcerated Parents Partnership
This group has advanced a Children’s Bill of Rights to raise the needs of children of the incarcerated as part of sentencing and justice reforms. www.sfcipp.org
The Fair Punishment Project
The Fair Punishment Project is helping create a fair and accountable justice system through legal action, public discourse, and educational initiatives. www.fairpunishment.org
Equal Justice Initiative
Led by Bryan Stevenson, EJI works to end wrongful convictions and get justice for children in the system. A new project is creating a museum and monuments for the victims of racist lynching. www.eji.org
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
CLINIC compiles daily news and advocacy about justice for immigrants in the US, based in Catholic values of welcoming the stranger, per Biblical teachings. www.cliniclegal.org
Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute of Justice’s vision is to tackle the most pressing injustices of our day—the causes and consequences of mass incarceration, racial disparities, the loss of public trust in law enforcement, and the unmet needs of the vulnerable, the marginalized, and those harmed by crime and violence. www.vera.org
The Sentencing Project
Founded in 1986, the Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U. S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and advocating for alternatives to incarceration. www.sentencingproject.org
The Prison Policy Initiative
Looks at the global state of incarceration, and where the United States (and Oregon) fit into the picture. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2018.html