Showing posts with label criminal justice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label criminal justice. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Private prison operator holds close ties with lawmakers as it sidesteps state law

 By Sam Stockard

CoreCivic expanded in Tennessee with three local government contracts

Flush with donations from CoreCivic, Tennessee’s lawmakers have spent the past three years enacting tough-on-crime policy that could help the state’s private-prison operator in spite of complaints that profiting on the backs of inmates is bad business.

Moves to create laws that require teenagers to be tried as adults for certain crimes and remove rewards for prisoners’ good behavior are likely to lead to higher incarceration rates, critics say. 

The changes are expected to put Brentwood-based CoreCivic, a national prison operator, in better position to continue to exploit a little-known state loophole that allows it to run four Tennessee prisons. 

Privately-run prisons have been a point of contention in Tennessee since the mid-1980s, so much so that state law prohibited more than one state contract with Corrections Corporation of America — the company’s name until rebranded as CoreCivic in 2016 — when it obtained its first Tennessee deal with the help of Republican and Democratic state lawmakers.

The company contracts with Tennessee to run one of its prisons and has deals with two local governments to operate three other state prisons. 

The agreement has allowed CoreCivic to circumvent the original state law, enabling it to make $233 million last year from its Tennessee prison contracts. 

Overall in 2023, CoreCivic generated about $1.9 billion in revenue through state and federal contracts, though it recently lost a deal in Texas to run an immigrant holding facility there.

The company continues to hold a close relationship with Tennessee lawmakers, mainly Republicans, giving to them lavishly over the last 15 years. 

CoreCivic’s CEO, Damon Hininger, spoke at the most recent state Republican annual fundraising dinner, making overtures for a gubernatorial run in two years. 

CoreCivic also was one of the main sponsors at Tennessee’s recent Republican National Convention delegate dinner in Milwaukee. U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson of Franklin and House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville were among the speakers at the dinner. 

Other sponsors of the RNC dinner were FedEx, Lee Beaman and Julie Hannah, The Coggin Group, Eastman Chemical and Cash Express founder Garry McNabb.

Sexton was the main proponent of harsher sentencing laws that reduced early releases for inmates who showed good behavior and often got out after doing only 30% of their time. The Crossville Republican also is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would eliminate bail for numerous violent offenses, requiring defendants in most criminal cases to stay in jail until their court date. 

The company has donated $44,500 to Sexton since he first came into office in 2011. 

How the loophole works

CoreCivic contracts with Hardeman County in West Tennessee to run Hardeman County Correctional Facility at a rate of $51 million annually, Whiteville Correctional Facility for $46.4 million a year and with Trousdale County to operate Trousdale Turner for $77.7 million annually. 

Those entities, in turn, contract with the state for prison services. 

CoreCivic’s only contract with the Tennessee Department of Correction is for $47.8 million annually to run South Central Correctional Facility in Clifton.

The department received approval from lawmakers last year to increase payments to CoreCivic with the stamp of approval from Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Frank Strada who told the Lookout he is satisfied with the company’s efforts to improve their policies and operations.

The state boosted its payout to CoreCivic by $7 million despite a bad audit that showed persistent personnel shortages, the second weak report it received from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office in the last few years. For instance, the prison company sustained a 146% turnover rate in 2023 because of difficulty hiring correctional officers, making it harder to monitor prisoners and avert safety risks.

Frank Strada, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction: "Very comfortable" with private prison contract CoreCivic. (Photo: John Partipilo)
 Frank Strada, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction: “Very comfortable” with private prison contract CoreCivic. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Lawmakers approved the increase even though CoreCivic paid $20 million in liquidated damages in recent years for failing to meet contract requirements.

Parents of three inmates who died in CoreCivic-run prisons in a four-month period in 2021 accused the private company of prioritizing profits over safety in a lawsuit against the state.

Yet Brian Todd, a spokesperson for CoreCivic, said the partnership with the state has been a success.

“We’re proud of the innovative solutions we’ve provided to those individuals that the Tennessee Department of Correction has entrusted to our care, which help prepare them to successfully return to their communities, while also saving taxpayers money,” Todd said.

Todd did not specify what types of savings the company makes for the state. He pointed out the state determines prison capacity and operational needs and works with the governor’s office and lawmakers to address them.

Taking aim at CoreCivic

Private prisons leave a bad taste with many members of the state Legislature, even though many prefer not to speak about the situation publicly.

Democratic state Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis has opposed CoreCivic’s arrangements for years.

“I’m not comfortable with anybody making money off of prisons. Any time you have a profit incentive, that’s directly counter-intuitive to making the best decisions for your clients who are a combination of the inmates and the public,” Hardaway said.

Hardaway contends “justice” should be paid for and managed by the public/government.

“That’s the only way it’s gonna be balanced,” he said. “You can’t always make decisions that are going to be profitable for the management. That’s why you’ve gotta keep private management out of it.”

Democratic state Rep. Justin J. Pearson of Memphis argues that several criminal justice bills approved this year are “intended to fund the corporations who are profiting off of the backs of Black folks, white folks, poor folks and everyone in between.”

I’m not comfortable with anybody making money off of prisons. Any time you have a profit incentive, that’s directly counter-intuitive to making the best decisions for your clients who are a combination of the inmates and the public.

– Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis

While state officials continue pouring money into CoreCivic contracts, Pearson argues the “litany of unjust laws” won’t get at the root causes of crime or lead to rehabilitation.

“Our state should invest in its people and our future, not promulgate destructive policies that only incarcerate,” he said.

Both parties brought CoreCivic in

Despite criticism from today’s Democrats, both parties played a role in the company’s ascension in Tennessee, though Republicans have been its biggest boosters.

Founded as Corrections Corporation of America in the early 1980s, it obtained its first contract with the state in 1985 under Lamar Alexander, the former Republican governor and eventual U.S. senator. His wife was a stockholder in the company, as was then-House Speaker Ned Ray McWherter, a Democrat who in 1999 became a board member of Prison Realty Trust, the holding company for CoreCivic, years after leaving office.

When Republican Don Sundquist became governor in 1994, the company made more inroads around 1995 but had to find a way around the state law allowing only one contract with a private prison operator. 

It started working with local governments.

Access through donations

CoreCivic and its predecessor have long been a financial backer of the state’s top leaders, and the practice continues. 

Prison Legal News reported that during the Sundquist era, company executives gave nearly $60,500 to state lawmakers, $38,500 of that to Sundquist’s election campaign in 1994. 

At the time, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Randy Rinks received $2,000, and Democratic Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis, chairman of the Select Oversight Committee on Corrections, received $1,350 from executives, according to a Prison Legal News article.

Sundquist supported the local government deal in 1995 allowing CoreCivic to contract with Hardeman County for a 1,540-bed facility paid for with $47 million in municipal bonds backed by the state. The former governor’s chief of staff, Peaches Simpkins, also reportedly held company stock in that era, and House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh’s wife, Betty Anderson, was a company lobbyist, Prison Legal News reported.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, has received $65,000 from private prison contractor CoreCivic over the last 15 years. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, has received $65,000 from private prison contractor CoreCivic over the last 15 years. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The relationship between CoreCivic and top lawmakers remains tight.

Since 2009, the company has given $138,000 to Republican Party and caucus political actions committees and $7,500 to the Tennessee Democratic Caucus.

Gov. Bill Lee has been its biggest beneficiary over the last few years, receiving $69,000, including a donation to his inaugural funds, according to a Tennessee Lookout analysis of campaign finances.

But Lee has not always been a proponent of harsher sentencing, running on a criminal justice reform platform in 2018. He did not support the law making it harder to be released for good behavior, but instead of vetoing it, he let it become law without his signature. 

Other top recipients since 2009 include

  • Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, an Oak Ridge Republican, $65,000 over the past 15 years
  • Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager of Kingston: $17,500
  • Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin: $14,500 
  • House Republican Majority Leader William Lamberth of Portland: $14,250
  • Rep. Johnny Shaw, a Bolivar Democrat, $13,500. Two prisons are located in his West Tennessee district.
  • Senate Republican Majority Leader Johnson of Franklin: $9,000 
  • Republican Rep. Bud Hulsey of Kingsport: $8,500 
  • Republican Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald: $8,000
  • Republican Sen. Bo Watson of Hixon: $7,500, 
  • Republican Sen. Ed Jackson of Jackson: $7,200, 
  • Republican Rep. Mary Littleton of Dickson $7,000.

CoreCivic’s spokesman points out the company supports local elected officials “in accordance with all applicable laws. Any insinuation otherwise is false.”

Adam Friedman contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in Tennessee Lookout on July 23rd, 2024

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Monday, July 15, 2024

Some police officers leave big cities for smaller towns to avoid heightened scrutiny

 By Amanda Hernandez

Larger departments struggle to hire, despite big salaries and bonuses.

Four years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the police murder of George Floyd, many big-city law enforcement agencies are struggling to fill their ranks.

Departments have tried offering hiring bonuses, expediting background checks and increasing salaries. Some have dropped bans on visible tattoos, lowered physical fitness exam requirements and expanded eligibility to noncitizens. Yet the hiring that has happened is not enough, data shows. Some law enforcement agencies don’t face a shortage of officers but need other key personnel, such as crime analysts and victim advocates.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

If Tennessee was its own country, it would have the 9th highest incarceration rate in the world

By Adam Friedman

Tennessee has one of the highest rates of people put in jail or prison, a report released by the Prison Policy Institute found.

With more than 5,500 people in local jails or state and federal prisons, Tennessee has the ninth-highest incarceration rate in the world based on population if each U.S. state were considered its own country. Seven states, mainly in the U.S. South, and El Salvador are the only places that have higher rates of people in jails or prisons.

The Prison Policy Initiative is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that produces research and reports to “expose the broader harm of mass criminalization.”

The incarceration rate report analyzes prison data from various U.S. counties, states and other countries, using population data to find which ones have the most people locked up.

“Many of the countries that rank alongside the least punitive U.S. states, such as Turkmenistan, Belarus, Russia, and Azerbaijan, have authoritarian or dictatorial governments, but the U.S. — the land of the free — still incarcerates more people per capita than almost every other nation,” wrote Emily Wildra in the report, published at the end of June.

The Prison Policy Initiative has produced this prison rate report since at least 2016. Tennessee’s incarceration rate has slightly dropped over time, but not at the rate of some other U.S. states.

Arizona’s incarceration rate is 18% lower compared to 2021. Tennessee’s rate dropped by 2% over the same period.

New state laws, referred to as “Truth in Sentencing,” to restrict how quickly those convicted of certain felonies can qualify for parole are likely to reverse some of these trends.

State Republican lawmakers are also pushing for changes to Tennessee’s bail system, making it easier to revoke it. The change would require a constitutional amendment, which could appear on the ballot for voters as soon as 2026

This article originally appeared in the Tennessee Lookout on July 3rd, 2024

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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Federal lawsuit challenges new Georgia cash bail law

By Stanley Dunlop 

A federal lawsuit seeks to block a new Georgia law that it claims would effectively eliminate charitable bail funds by imposing unfair and severe restrictions.

The lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union and Georgetown University Law Center challenges a new law created by Senate Bill 63, which requires charitable organizations that offer free bail assistance to follow the same rules as private bail bond companies. That means required background checks, payments, licenses and cash escrow accounts.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Greater focus on crime sparks another wave of juvenile justice bills

By Amanda Hernandez 

Nearly every state considered changes in juvenile age limits, detention or education programs.

For decades, state legislators and criminal justice advocates have worked to change the juvenile legal system, striving to expand access to rehabilitation and keep young people from returning to crime.

During this year’s legislative session, nearly every state has considered some form of juvenile justice legislation, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures database.

These efforts across at least 43 states plus Washington, D.C., have seen varied levels of success and come from a diversity of viewpoints. Some legislatures considered policies that would create alternatives to incarcerating teens, while others debated bills that would toughen potential penalties for kids as young as 10 years old. Criminal justice advocates warn that strict new policies could roll back previous overhauls of the system.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Tough-on-crime bill imposing adult sentences on juveniles heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk

By Anita Wadhwani

Senator says the measure brings “massive repercussions,” complicated jurisdiction and legal questions

Teens as young as 14 years old who commit serious crimes in Tennessee will face up to five years of adult incarceration or probation once their juvenile sentence ends under a bill now awaiting Gov. Bill Lee’s likely signature.

The measure also requires juvenile court judges to automatically transfer 16- and 17- year olds facing first and second degree murder, or attempted murder, to adult court. 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Ohio House holds first hearing for new nitrogen gas death penalty method

By Nick Evans

House lawmakers have begun hearings on a controversial new execution method known as nitrogen hypoxia. The protocol, used in Alabama for the first time recently, subjects a prisoner to a high concentration of nitrogen which causes them to eventually suffocate. Right now, four states explicitly allow nitrogen hypoxia and four other allow for “lethal gas” generally. Outside of Ohio, Nebraska lawmakers are considering the approach as well.

In its initial hearing, Reps. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, and Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, presented the proposal as procedural update rather than a wholesale change. Currently there are almost 200 people on death row in Ohio, but executions have been on hold since 2018.

Juvenile sentencing bill in Tennessee House sparks constitutional questions

Kids as young as 14 could get up to five years in prison on top of juvenile sentences without a jury trial

A get-tough-on-juvenile-crime bill is raising concerns among Tennessee juvenile judges, advocates and attorneys, who call portions of the measure “likely unconstitutional.”

The House bill from Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville could stack up to five years in adult prison on top of a juvenile sentence for kids as young as 14 who have committed serious crimes.

A separate component of the bill would require juvenile court judges to automatically transfer 16- and 17- year olds facing charges of first and second degree murder, or attempted murder, to adult court.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

DeSantis OKs bills halting police civilian oversight, stopping bystanders from getting close


Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills Friday morning that would prohibit civilian oversight boards from investigating police misconduct and stop people from getting too close to first responders doing their jobs.

The governor received both bills (HB 601 and SB 184) on Wednesday and held the signing ceremony on Friday in the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office in St. Augustine. During the ceremony, DeSantis portrayed the bills as efforts to protect law enforcement officers from people who wanted to abuse them publicly.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

‘Tough-on-crime’ policies are back in some places that had reimagined criminal justice

Several states are considering or have already enacted legislation undoing more progressive policies.

Fueled by public outrage over the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and other high-profile incidents of police violence, a seismic shift swept across the United States shortly afterward, with a wave of initiatives aimed at reining in police powers and reimagining criminal-legal systems.

Yet less than half a decade later, political leaders from coast to coast are embracing a return to “tough-on-crime” policies, often undoing the changes of recent years.

Advocates to Gov. Moore: Veto juvenile justice measures

Respective committees from each chamber must now review some of the differences in House Bill 814 and Senate Bill 744 such as when the legislation goes into effect, specific diversionary programs for children ages 10 to 12, and who would serve on a Commission on Juvenile Justice Reform and Emerging and Best Practices.

If lawmakers pass the legislation with what advocates call “regressive provisions,” then Gov. Wes Moore (D) should veto the bills when they come to his desk, the advocates said Thursday.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Legislature approves $26M in spending during crime session. Here’s where the money’s going.

By Greg Larose

It was difficult for lawmakers and fiscal experts to pinpoint an exact cost of the stricter crime prevention measures Republican Gov. Jeff Landry called on the Louisiana Legislature to approve during a special session on criminal justice policy that concluded Thursday. 

Just how many more people will be incarcerated and how much longer they will stay in prison as a result of the new laws is a moving target, meaning so is the price tag.   

But what we do know is that legislators approved nearly $26 million in spending in an  appropriations bill authored by Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, the top budget architect in the Louisiana House. He and other GOP members of the Legislature countered arguments from Democrats that the unforeseen cost of higher incarceration rates won’t be justified. 

Friday, March 1, 2024

Death penalty on trial as Racial Justice Act hearing begins

By Kelan Lyons

In 1968, days after the Ku Klux Klan marched through Black neighborhoods in Benson following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., five young Black adolescents tried to burn down the Klan’s meeting hall in the Johnston County town. The fire did not travel past the doorway. The boys, all of whom were between the ages of 16 and 20 and did not have criminal records, were each given 12 years of imprisonment and hard labor, harsher than the sentences meted out to white defendants who were found guilty of similar crimes in the county.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Michigan State Police releases independent report on racial bias, ACLU calls it ‘concerning’


The Michigan State Police (MSP) has released an independent report centered on the issue of whether it has carried out racially discriminatory policing practices.

In a news release, MSP said that “racial disparities observed in the traffic enforcement activities of Michigan State Police troopers do not appear to be the result of widespread discriminatory policing practices.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan has argued that African Americans have been stopped disproportionately by state troopers. The group pushed for the external review.

The 18-month independent evaluation report conducted by the CNA Corp. was released in December. It came after MSP announced in January 2022 a five-point plan to address racial disparities in its traffic stops

“As a law enforcement agency, we are committed to fair and equitable policing,” stated Col. James Grady, MSP director, who is African American. “Although previous research conducted by the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University has identified the presence of racial and ethnic disparities in MSP traffic stops, the reasons for such disparities remain unknown.

“Discriminatory behavior is not an acceptable practice within this agency and anyone engaging in it will be addressed through training, discipline or termination, dependent on the circumstances of the incident. Today, as always, we reaffirm our commitment to the highest standards of anti-discrimination education and training and always look to serve Michigan to the best of our ability.” 

To assess the department’s traffic enforcement policies and programs, CNA studied document reviews, targeted interviews, focus groups, ride-alongs and quantitative data analysis. MSP commissioned as part of its five-point plan announced in January 2022 to address racial disparities in its traffic stops. 

Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU of Michigan, told the Advance that MSP has some “cultural, systemic features of the agency that lead to discriminatory outcomes.” 

“We find the conclusions very concerning, if not alarming,” he said. 

However, Fancher did point out the ACLU was “pleased” that MSP agreed to have the independent review carried out. 

“The report validates many of the conclusions that we reached on our own, and identifies some specific problems that make it possible for MSP to try and address them in an effective way,” Fancher added. 

The report includes 54 findings and associated recommendations. Among them emphasize policies and programs that require greater attention and improvement.

Key findings of the independent evaluation: 

  • MSP has a defined, comprehensive hiring process for applicants. 
  • MSP has consistently emphasized a written commitment to recruiting a diverse workforce in its strategic plans and recruiting strategy, but the department can improve on its followthrough and accountability for such commitments. 
  • As part of recruit training, MSP provides eight hours of implicit bias training, six hours of ethics training, and 15 hours of a cultural diversity speaker series. 
  • Disparities exist in graduation and attrition rates by demographics. 
  • MSP has made tangible efforts to institute recruiting and hiring practices that reduce barriers to applying for the trooper position.
  • MSP has several policies that provide guidance to troopers to ensure constitutional and bias-free policing. 
  • MSP’s policies on traffic enforcement do not sufficiently recognize the community being served nor provide sufficient guidance on the use of discretion. 
  • MSP has recently delivered two trainings on bias and policing, one that was not well received and a more recent one that was well received. 
  • MSP does not provide sufficient training on the use of discretion, particularly with the concept of “going beyond the stop.” 
  • Supervisors do not sufficiently manage where and how troopers patrol, leading to disproportionate “congregation in high-population areas with greater minority populations.” 
  • MSP now takes a more systematic approach to provide training and address identified gaps. 

On Friday, MSP issued a statement that the “employee-led African American Employee Resource Group (AAERG), one of the department’s commitments to diversity” that has been highlighted in a new video series celebrating Black History Month.

“Being part of and leading the AAERG is a source of gratitude for me,” said Sgt. DiJon Ware, AAERG co-chair. “It not only instills a sense of belonging but also nurtures inclusivity, fosters a supportive community and encourages diverse perspectives, thereby enriching the workplace culture. Over the past year, we’ve educated both our members and allies about African American culture and we’ve proactively forged connections within our communities through various outreach events across the state.”

This article originally appeared in Michigan Advance on February 21st, 2021. 

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Bill to make juvenile crime records public advances to Louisiana House


Juvenile crime once again took center stage at the State Capitol as a bill that would publicize the confidential court records of young people accused of crimes moved forward to the Louisiana State House.

The Administration of Criminal Justice Committee approved the proposed legislation 13-1 Wednesday, just one day after a Senate committee greenlit a bill that would lower the age teens can be tried as adults from 18 to 17.

House Bill 1 by Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, would create a “Truth and Transparency” program to require clerks of court to provide public electronic access to some criminal court records of teenagers accused of serious crimes, including their names.

The public information would include but not be limited to the name of the defendant, arrest details, custody or bail decisions, and court dates, among other facts associated with the case.

Most youth criminal case records are currently confidential in Louisiana.

A similar bill introduced last year by Rep. Debbie Villio was dogged by accusations of racism as it proposed a two-year pilot program focusing on three majority-Black parishes: Caddo, East Baton Rouge and Orleans. Last year’s bill passed the House but ultimately died in the Senate; the bill lacked funding to enable parishes to implement the initiative. Bacala said his new bill will be funded through a fee collected by the Louisiana Clerks Remote Access Authority.

The juvenile records bill was introduced as part of a special session on crime called by Gov. Jeff Landry that started this week and will run through March 6. The newly elected governor made juvenile crime a key issue throughout his campaign and during a speech he gave Monday to open the session.

“These juveniles are not innocent children any longer; they are hardened criminals,” Landry said during his comments before the Legislature. “They violently attack our citizens, our law enforcement officers, and even our juvenile correction officers without hesitation.”

During the debate on Bacala’s bill, supporters of the measure included the mothers and grandmothers of crime victims who were fatally shot or left permanently disabled. Sheralyn Price, whose son Brandon “Boogie B” Montrell was shot to death in 2022, pushed back against those who voiced concerns about privacy.

“If your kid’s name is splattered all over the internet, you won’t have to pick out a casket. You won’t have to plan a funeral,” Price told committee members. “My child is dead. … I buried him in the last gift I gave him for Christmas, his Saints jersey.”

In 2019, Darrelle Scott, was shot and paralyzed by 13-year-old Lynell Reynolds, who was later found guilty and sentenced to remain in state custody until the age of 21. Scott’s grandmother, Dorothy White, told lawmakers that making the public aware of the extensive criminal histories of juveniles might spare someone from suffering the same fate as Scott.

“We must hold these juveniles accountable,” White said during Wednesday’s hearing. “This is not about Black and white. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s about our lives, our safety. We have to go out and tell the public. We need to put the names out. We need the faces out.”

Opponents of Bacala’s bill warned that the goal of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate juveniles. The bill’s critics argued that publicizing the names of young defendants, especially of those later found to be innocent, will make it harder, if not impossible for them to get a job, housing, or even go to college.

“For juveniles who are adjudicated and are not convicted, that has an extremely serious impact on them in their future,” said Sarah Whittington, an attorney with the Justice and Accountability Center. “It is not the same as losing a child. It is not the same as losing a family member. I am not making that correlation. But it will follow that child forever.”

Others noted that the law already requires the courts and district attorneys to provide information to victims and their families, but in many cases they are failing to do so. Instead of passing legislation that might harm children, the state should ensure that prosecutors are following the existing law, said Natalie Sharp, an investigator with the Promise of Justice Initiative.

“I recently spoke with a person whose brother was shot and killed in the 1990s. They never even knew that an arrest had been made, let alone that someone had been incarcerated for decades,” Sharp said. “The prosecutor never took the time to speak with them.”

Despite later voting in favor of Bacala’s proposal, Rep. Alonzo Knox, D-New Orleans, said the bill would not prevent or deter crime. Knox warned that publicizing the names of youths suspected of shooting or killing someone could lead to retaliation, causing “chaos in the streets.”

“I think that’s an unintended consequence, that many of my colleagues sitting up here don’t know and realize about our community,” Knox said, referring to the majority-white committee. “And when I say our community, let me specify and be clear if there’s any doubt: in my Black community, in my district of New Orleans. When this goes out, and someone’s actually not guilty, we’re going to have some serious unintended consequences.”

Bacala defended his bill as being about one thing: transparency.

“If I have a son or daughter who’s murdered, and someone is arrested who happens to be a juvenile, should I have the ability to see what’s happening with the case?” Bacala said.

Ashley Hamilton, director of policy with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, rejected Bacala’s argument, saying the public’s money would be better spent on programs helping disadvantaged children who might resort to violence.

Hamilton told the committee members she spoke from experience, noting that yesterday would have been her sister’s 31st birthday.

In 2021, Hamilton’s sister was murdered. Knowing the killer’s identity has not brought her family any comfort, Hamilton said.

“What does bring me comfort is being in a community, with organizations … working tooth and nail with limited resources to ensure disadvantaged children have the support they need to prevent things like this from happening, and to build healthy and productive adults. Any money we have, put it there.”

Rep. Joy Walters, D-Shreveport, was the lone vote against the bill.

This article originally appeared in Verite on February 22nd, 2024. 

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