Criminal Justice

Mark Zuckerberg Goes to Prison…..Koch Brothers Explain Criminal Justice in 60 Secs….Dems Debate Justice Reform…SCOTUS Looks Again at Juvie Life


Since its release in 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has been one of the go to texts for those interested in criminal justice reform. In her book, Alexander, a former litigator-turned-legal-scholar, uses a blizzard of statistics and legal citations to argue that we have not ended Jim Crow in America, we have simply redesigned it. Alexander goes on to describe how the tough on crime legislation of the last fifty years, along with the war on drugs, has had a calamitous effect on black America.

We have just learned, via Facebook, that Mark Zuckerberg is one of the latest converts to Alexander’s thesis. At the beginning of the year, it seems that Zuckerberg challenged himself to read a new book every other week; The New Jim Crow wound up on his list and ignited an interest in criminal justice.

This week the new-found interest precipitated a visit by Zuckerberg and his wife to California’s San Quentin prison. The couple was particularly interested in the 1852-built San Quentin in that, while it is the oldest lock-up in the state, it is also often an incubator for model programs that later are franchised elsewhere in the system. There is, for instance, a program in which selected inmates spend a four-days-a-week, eight-hours-a-day for six months learning to write computer code, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The code class is part of a broader program called The Last Mile (that we reported on here), which aims to prepare prisoners for a successful reentry through training and instruction in business and tech.

Naturally Zuckerberg made a point of visiting the coding prisoners.

Here’s a clip from what he wrote after his visit to the Q.

US jails hold around 2.4 million people — about 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Blacks and Hispanics are significantly more likely than whites to be arrested for possession and sale of marijuana and to receive a conviction and criminal record, even though the majority of marijuana users are non-Hispanic whites. Almost 40 percent of prisoners are black. More than half the people entering prison live below the poverty line. Our entire society pays the price for an unfair, broken system.

San Quentin has one of the best track records of people not returning to jail in the country. They run programs to teach valuable skills to help inmates find jobs and avoid criminal activity.

In this photo [see above], I’m talking with inmates who are taking a coding course. I was impressed by their spirit to return to their communities and provide for their families, as well as the dedication of the staff to help them reclaim their lives.

Making our criminal justice system fairer and more effective is a huge challenge for our country. I’m going to keep learning about this topic, but some things are already clear. We can’t jail our way to a just society, and our current system isn’t working….

Welcome aboard, Mark. It’s good to see you. We hope you stick around awhile.


The Charles Koch Institute has produced a" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen> series of six one-minute videos to explain different aspects of the world of criminal justice that the Kochs think could use some reform. And, while brief, the videos are really remarkably good.

There’s one each on the topics of:

Collateral Consequence in 60 Sec.

The Role of Policing in 60 Seconds

Civil Asset Forfeiture in 60 Seconds

Overcriminalization in 60 Seconds

Mandatory Minimums in 60 Seconds

Mens Rea in 60 Seconds

In the past, the Koch brothers have been best known for donating gargantuan amounts of money to conservative political candidates and causes, claiming, for example, that they will spend nearly a billion dollars to elect conservatives to office during the 2016 election season But, more recently, (as we’ve reported in several instances) they have also thrown some of their considerable funds behind the growing effort to take a long hard look at the pattern of what they describe as an over criminalization, which results in the over-incarceration for which the U.S. has become infamous.

The Kochs now donate money to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) to combat prosecutorial abuses, and to help make sure that lower income defendants have adequate legal representation. They have teamed with the ACLU and other liberal leaning organizations like George Soros’s Open Society Foundation on such topics as mass incarceration and a “Ban the Box” push, which aims to eliminate the dreaded box that job applicants must check on if they have a criminal record.

And now the one-minute video explainer videos.



The Republican presidential candidates danced only briefly around marijuana use and the war on drugs in their 2nd debate. On Tuesday night the Democratic candidates talked more about the issue but, as Reason Magazine points out, they didn’t have much in the way of solutions for the problems they brought up.

The Washington Examiner helpfully lays out who said what on various justice topics.

They observed that Bernie Sanders talked most about the issue, noting that the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. He also said “that instead of building more jails and providing more incarceration, maybe — just maybe — we should be putting money into education and jobs for our kids.”

As for Hillary:

Clinton raised criminal justice reform a couple of times, noting that she has talked at length about tackling mass incarceration. She spoke out in support of police officers using body cameras and was the only candidate to note that criminal justice reform is a bipartisan issue.

(Advocates, however, are not quick to forgive Hil and Bill’s support of catastrophically damaging tough-on-crime legislation in the 1990s.)

Neither Chafee nor O’Malley talked much about the issue, but Webb rightly touted himself as an early champion of criminal justice reform, which he made one of his signature issues as early as 2008.


In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an historic ruling in the case of Miller v. Alabama, which held that issuing mandatory life-without-parole sentences for children 17 or younger convicted of homicide is unconstitutional, and that the kids’ mitigating circumstances must be considered.

What the court did not do, however, is to make clear whether Miller (which, by the way, was argued by lawyer/author Bryan Stevenson) was retroactive. In other words, if juveniles had the bad fortune to be sentenced before the 2012 decision, were they simply out of luck?

One of SCOTUS’s most closely watched cases for this term takes on precisely that question with a case known as Montgomery v. Louisiana, which was argued before the court on Tuesday.

The case in some ways is less than ideal due to the emotions attached to it. It involves Henry Montgomery, who was seventeen, and reportedly a young man coping with mental disabilities, when he shot and killed a well-liked Baton Rouge police officer whom Montgomery thought was going to arrest him for truancy.

Yet, from a legal perspective, the emotions should not matter if Miller is found to be retroactive.

On Wednesday, the LA Times editorial board wrote about Tuesday’s SCOTUS hearing and its hope that the Supremes will face the issue of retroactivity squarely, and rule in Montgomery’s favor.

We at WLA agree.

Here’s a clip from the Times’ editorial:

Montgomery vs. Louisiana involves the question of whether the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling was “substantive” (in which case it can be applied retroactively) or merely “procedural.” It is complicated by an even more technical dispute over whether the Supreme Court even has jurisdiction over this state court issue. We hope the court focuses on the big picture: that its 2012 ruling is indeed a substantive change in the law that must be applied retroactively in all proceedings.

There is no doubt, as Justice Elena Kagan put it Tuesday, that the 2012 ruling “fits on the substantive side.” Although the court in that decision stopped short of holding that juveniles could never be sentenced to life in prison without parole, it required judges and juries to consider “youth and attendant characteristics” as possible extenuating factors before imposing such a sentence. As a result, the court suggested, life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles in the future would be “uncommon.”

That was almost as significant a change in legal doctrine as the court’s 2005 decision holding that states couldn’t execute murderers who were younger than 18 when they committed their crimes. Both rulings were based on the court’s recognition that juveniles have “diminished culpability and greater prospects for reform” — an insight that reflects recent research on how adolescent brains function. It would be an injustice if prisoners such as Montgomery were kept behind bars simply because they committed their crimes before the court saw the light.


  • Mark ever went on a ride along? President ever visited a place like Rampart or even a smaller department like Pasadena? How about Holder? When four Oakland officers were murdered in one day the Obama’s sent a card. Didn’t visit, to much effort I guess. They sent nothing to Lakewood PD from what I was told after the four officers were executed there before work. I like people not going back to the joint but I don’t like people hiding their past from employees. I don’t get to hide mine. Social Justice zombies all remind me of Susan Sarandon who stuck with Jack Abbott even after he murdered a second time. Even named her first born after him. That’s some sick and twisted stuff to me. There’s something wrong with your brains, seriously.

  • Good for Mr. Facebook himself. Maybe he can put his money where is mouth is hire some of these cons for his own company. Sooomehooow however, I don’t think that’s going to happen. He’s just looking for another tax write off…..

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