Crime and Punishment Foster Care Immigration & Justice Juvenile Justice

Will SCOTUS Take on Gay Rights?, Few Federal Prisoners Receive Compassionate Release…and More


The Supreme Court was expected to announce Friday afternoon whether they were going to take on any or all of ten gay rights cases up for consideration. They didn’t announce their decision, nor did they even make one. They may still give us a decision this afternoon, Monday, or they may not.

Here’s what Gawker’s Mallory Ortberg has to say about the radio silence from the justices:

Maybe they’ll make an announcement Monday, maybe they’ll wait until they meet again in January. Maybe they’ll put their fingers in their ears and chant “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you” until the seas turn red and the sun wheezes itself into blackness. They had been “widely expected to decide whether to take up a case that could ultimately determine whether there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage,” but you can’t pin these nine free spirits down. They have their reasons for not making a decision yet, reasons like:

– Too focused on hunting down international person of interest John McAfee

– Preparing for winter hibernation; too sleepy and full of Ovaltine to listen to anyone present an argument

– Planning a justices-only slumber party (NO APPELLATE COURT JUDGES ALLOWED)

The list goes on.


The Federal Bureau of Prisons only averages a paltry twenty-four compassionate releases each year of prisoners who are terminally ill and no longer pose a threat to their communities, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

The federal prisons house more than 218,000 inmates but, on average, they release only about two dozen people a year under the program. By contrast, the state of Texas, no slouch when it comes to tough punishment, let out about 100 people on medical parole last year, researchers say.

“Why are so few people getting out?” asks Jamie Fellner, a senior adviser at Human Rights Watch who helped write the new study. “You have a prison system that is grotesquely overcrowded, you have prisoners who pose no meaningful threat to public safety and yet they’re being denied release?”

Fellner says she’s convinced the culture of the federal prisons and the Justice Department acts as an iron curtain for all but the sickest inmates — people with less than a year to live, who can’t even walk or use the bathroom on their own, let alone commit another crime.

“They’re in the business of keeping people in prison,” Fellner says. “Not to try to facilitate them getting out, however reasonable or compelling their request might be.”


Mary Price, general counsel at Families Against Mandatory Minimums, helped write the new report…

“We don’t sentence people to die alone in prison when we’ve given them a five-year sentence,” she says.


A new report commissioned by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (part of the DOJ) examines data on youth brain development and the counter-intuitiveness of treating kids in the juvenile justice system like adults. The report takes a look at counties across the nation that are taking kids’ brain development and restorative justice seriously (and those that are not), and gives recommendations for how the juvenile justice system can reform its policies to catch up with the facts of science.

Here are a couple of clips from the report‘s summary:

Adolescents differ from adults and children in three important ways that lead to differences in behavior. First, adolescents lack mature capacity for self-regulation in emotionally charged contexts, relative to adults. Second, adolescents have a heightened sensitivity to proximal external influences, such as peer pressure and immediate incentives, relative to children and adults. Third, adolescents show less ability than adults to make judgments and decisions that require future orientation. The combination of these three cognitive patterns accounts for the tendency of adolescents to prefer and engage in risky behaviors that have a high probability of immediate reward but can have harmful consequences.

Evidence of significant changes in brain structure and function during adolescence strongly suggests that these cognitive tendencies characteristic of adolescents are associated with biological immaturity of the brain and with an imbalance among developing brain systems. This imbalance model implies dual systems: one involved in cognitive and behavioral control and one involved in socioemotional processes. Accordingly, adolescents lack mature capacity for selfregulation because the brain system that influences pleasure-seeking and emotional reactivity develops more rapidly than the brain system that supports self-control.


The scientific literature shows that three conditions are critically important to healthy psychological development in adolescence: (1) the presence of a parent or parent figure who is involved with the adolescent and concerned about his or her successful development, (2) inclusion in a peer group that values and models prosocial behavior and academic success, and (3) activities that contribute to autonomous decision making and critical thinking. Schools, extracurricular activities, and work settings can provide opportunities for adolescents to learn to think for themselves, develop self-reliance and self-efficacy, and improve reasoning skills.

Yet the juvenile justice system’s heavy reliance on containment, confinement, and control removes youth from their families, peer groups, and neighborhoods–the social context of their future lives – and deprives them of the opportunity to learn to deal with life’s challenges. For many youth, the lack of a positive social context during this important developmental period is further compounded by collateral consequences of justice system involvement, such as the public release of juvenile records that follow them throughout their lives and limit future
educational and employment opportunities.


Every year, thousands of US-born kids in LA (and beyond) are separated from their families and thrown into the foster care system when their parents get caught in the deportation process. One such parent, Luis Ernesto Rodriguez, was picked up by police in a case of mistaken identity and found himself facing the reality of deportation and losing his young daughters forever. Rodriguez’s story is a moving example of the things deported parents often go through to reunify with their families.

The LA Times’ Richard Marosi has the story. Here’s a clip:

Rodriguez last caressed his daughters in the predawn darkness of their cluttered apartment in South Los Angeles. The girls were asleep under the pink sheets of their shared bed when he kissed them and then rushed out to seek day laborer work at the Home Depot store on Slauson Avenue.

It was there, on that morning in November 2008, where police converged on Rodriguez, weapons drawn, and arrested him on suspicion of armed robbery. A short man with a bristly mustache, Rodriguez, then 39, fit the description of a man who had swiped three gold rings from a woman.

It was an apparent case of mistaken identity. No charges were filed, but Rodriguez wasn’t going back to his girls.

An immigrant from El Salvador with a troubled past, he had a deportation order dating to 1991. He spent the next two months in jails.

The girls ended up with their maternal grandmother, who was destitute and suffered from memory lapses, so social workers took them away. They joined the thousands of children nationwide who are under custody of child protection agencies after their parents have been placed in deportation proceedings or deported. An estimated 5,000 such children are in foster care, about 1,000 of them in Los Angeles County, according to juvenile court attorneys and the Applied Research Center, a nonprofit racial justice think tank.

Many follow their deported mothers and fathers, if the parents can convince U.S. agencies that they can provide a stable life in their home countries. In such cases, social workers from Los Angeles escort the children to parents at joyous airport reunions, usually in Mexico and El Salvador.

But sometimes parents fail. Their children either languish in foster care or they’re adopted by American couples. Some never see their biological parents again.

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