The story of El Chapo’s escape from prison in a laundry cart and his triumphant return to Sinaloa

A book cover shows a colorful painting of El Chapo beneath the title, in bold white letters
The cover of El Chapo: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Drug Lord

In early 2001, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, the Mexican drug trafficker better known as El Chapo, decided he didn’t want to be in prison any longer.

El Chapo had been at Puente Grande, the maximum-security prison outside of the city of Guadalajara since 1995, locked up for his role in a bloody shootout in 1993 at the Guadalajara airport. And he’d been doing alright at Puente Grande, had enjoyed many of the same creature comforts during his years in Puente Grande as he had on the outside-good food, women, volleyball-and unlike his life on the outside, he even got to sleep in the same place every night. Much of this was thanks to his patronage of Dámaso López Nuñez, who’d taken over as deputy director of security in 1999 and had proved even more pliant than his predecessor in seeing to it that all of El Chapo’s needs were met. When Dámaso arrived, El Chapo immediately began to shower money and gifts on him: ten thousand dollars in cash here, a house there. When one of Dámaso’s children was injured in an accident, it was El Chapo who paid the child’s medical bills.

“When I needed anything, I would ask and he would give it to me,” Dámaso said years later.

Unfortunately for El Chapo, Dámaso had left Puente Grande in the fall of 2000, under a cloud of suspicion amid drastically belated efforts by the government to investigate corruption there. And on January 18, 2001 everything changed for El Chapo when the Supreme Court of Mexico ruled that the United States could extradite Mexican prisoners such as El Chapo, as long as the death penalty was taken off the table. His worst fear, an American prison cell, was suddenly much closer to reality.

A woman in a cramped shop holds up a shirt that reads "Who do you trust" with a picture of El Chapo.
A vendor in Sinaloa state, El Chapo’s birthplace in Mexico, shortly before he was sentenced in 2019.

So the next day he left, smuggled out the door tucked into a laundry cart, rolled to freedom by a guard known as El Chito. And nobody saw fit to stop him.

In the book Narcoland, journalist Anabel Hernandez argues that the laundry cart story was a tall tale cooked up in the wake of the escape to hide the real story: that El Chapo had simply walked out the door. Others have joined Hernandez in speculating that the laundry cart story was a fanciful tale ginned up to cover up a more mundane escape made possible by systemic corruption. (Years later, when El Chapo was finally put on trial at a U.S. federal court in Brooklyn, the laundry cart theory was retold repeatedly by multiple former accomplices.)

Regardless of whether El Chapo was rolled out, or walked out in a stolen guard uniform, it was his ability to buy the right people that allowed him to escape.

El Chapo was back. Within days, he was holding a series of meetings with his partners, including the man who in the ensuing years would become his most steadfast ally, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García. At one of the first meetings at a lieutenant’s ranch, El Mayo made it clear that he was backing El Chapo to the hilt.

“I’m with you one hundred percent,” El Mayo said. “I’m going to help you with anything you need. And any kilo of coke that I receive from Co- lombia, I’m going to give you half. So for now, just take care of yourself, stay in hiding.”

Two police are seen standing in the back of a vehicle and facing a prison complex, seen in the distance.
Mexican federal police patrol the surroundings of the Puente Grande State prison.

But the question was where. El Chapo was travelling with a hard-to-conceal entourage of armed men, and his face was plastered across televisions and newspapers all over Mexico. Where could he lay low without attracting attention?

El Mayo had an idea.

“Let’s go to Sinaloa,” El Mayo said. “Let’s go back to your native lands.”

“El Cielo”

Perched atop a peak that looms over La Tuna, a ring of cypress trees sits like a crown, blowing faintly in the breeze. From below, across the valley, the trees are all you can see of “El Cielo,” or the Heavens, the home El Chapo built for himself.

It’s a sanctuary he never got to truly enjoy, but which he visited from time to time, sneaking back into his hometown to throw a party or visit his mother.

A man is seen wearing a grey winter coat and looking tentatively to the side.
El Chapo is pictured on July 10, 1993 at La Palma prison in Mexico after being apprehended.

It sits unoccupied now. With El Chapo serving a life sentence at a supermax federal prison in Colorado, it’s unlikely he’ll ever set foot here again. (But don’t tell his mother that-the family once threw out a television reporter who had the temerity to ask Doña Consuelo directly how she felt about her son spending the rest of his life in prison.)

If he were to get out of prison, however, he might want to head to this mountaintop retreat. Indeed when he escaped from Puente Grande prison in January 2001, it was to El Cielo that El Chapo returned, to plot his new empire-and to see his mom.

Things were looking good for him then. He was free, back in the mountains in which he had grown up and gotten his start, where much of the population loved and supported him, and where the remoteness and the rugged terrain provided a natural defense that allowed him to move about with relative ease.

He was moving coke again, and marijuana and heroin as well-there was always more money to be made in cocaine, but the local economy of his sanctuary still relied heavily on the production of those two trusty cash crops, the hills dotted with red poppy flowers and redolent stalks of cannabis.

By purchasing these drugs from local farmers, he could make a handsome profit, prop up local business, and buy an enduring base of support. Who’s going to turn on the guy who pays wholesale for their crops?

Among the farmers El Chapo bought from in those days was a man named José,* an affable father of three, born, raised, and still living in a small town just off the highway. (Names marked with an asterisk are pseudonyms.)

An elderly woman is seen seated in a car and looking out the window.
Maria Consuelo Loera, El Chapo’s mother, leaves the US embassy in Mexico City in 2019 after applying for a visa to visit her son.

Like El Chapo, José and his neighbors learned how to grow weed and opium from their fathers, using tried-and-true methods to grow the crops on little plots of land in the hills above their village. In the early 2000s, José was working an area of land roughly equal to the size of about five football fields. The area was under the protection-or the control-of El Chapo, to whom José and other growers paid a 30% tax in exchange for protection from the soldiers who might otherwise raid the area, burning crops and sending months of work up in smoke.

For several years after the escape from Puente Grande, José did not meet the man to whom he paid taxes. But that finally changed in 2005, when, short on funds, he decided he wanted to make a proposition. A friend agreed to make the introduction, and they drove together up the highway, onto the dirt road, and on to La Tuna. When El Chapo received them, José made his proposal: What if El Chapo covered the expense of planting, and then they split the eventual profit fifty-fifty?

El Chapo readily agreed; that’s just the kind of guy he was, José recalled.

“He was a very simple man, and very natural,” José said. “You just felt like talking to him, never found him to be aggressive.”

The relationship between trafficker-strongmen and the people who grow opium and weed is rarely an even one, and can sometimes be downright feudal: Growers rarely have much choice in whom they sell to, so the people buying are able to set the asking price. The exchange is one of constant negotiation, and often features a certain degree of coercion-whether through the direct threat or deliverance of violence, or through the local boss withdrawing his protection and opening the farmer up to the full fury of a state that is, technically, dedicated to wiping out the farmer’s livelihood.

A small white and red church is seen in a lush and hilly stretch of land.
A cemetery known for the many prominent narco-traffickers who are buried there sits on a hilltop in Santiago De Los Caballeros, in Mexico’s in Sinaloa state.

Until very recently, small-time, self-employed farmers like José formed the backbone of the opium and marijuana industries. (This status quo has been upended in recent years as widespread legalization of marijuana in the United States and the introduction of synthetic opioids like fentanyl into the heroin supply have caused prices of both crops to plummet.)

As in any good capitalist system, farmers did most of the work, and were exposed to the most risk at the hand of the state. It pays well, better than most legal work; but by the time a stamp of heroin or a dime bag of weed has been sold on the streets of New York or Philadelphia, only about 1% of the total profits find their way back to the farmer.

The real profits, the billions of dollars that flow from the street sales to the money launderers to the front companies and bank accounts of traffickers, don’t trickle all the way down to little villages nestled in the mountains of Sinaloa or Guerrerro, or to the streets of the border towns through which the drugs pass on their way north. But it’s on the heads of these small-timers that most of the violence of the drug war falls.

Origin stories of the drug trade in Sinaloa often highlight the region’s legacy of upheaval, banditry, and rebellion. But early drug-trafficking clans of Sinaloa were hardly treated as outlaws.

The Mexican sociologist Luís Astorga writes that early Mexican drug traffickers emerged from within the state power structure, rather than as actors outside of it. They came along at a time when that power structure itself was just taking shape, and managed to negotiate for themselves a cozy little cubby within it, one that worked for the state, for the wealthy elite, and for the drug traffickers and cultivators. To a more limited extent, it also worked well for the poor peasants living in areas like Sinaloa.

There is a proud tradition of independence and autonomy in the Sierra, and the drug trade allowed the people of the Golden Triangle to continue to fend mostly for themselves without posing a true threat. The drug traffickers who came before El Chapo acted as local power brokers, playing a key role as unofficial intermediaries between the government and the people of the Sierra. The government allowed them to get rich trafficking drugs as long as the traffickers kept a relative peace in rural areas and made sure the local peasants showed up to vote for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

A man faces the camera wearing a black button-down short.
The author Noah Hurowitz

José and others in the highlands of Sinaloa talk of those years right after El Chapo’s escape as something of a Golden Age, when you knew who ran things and you could look the boss in the eye, make a deal with him, and then have a pleasant chat. As this went on, El Chapo would often pay José, who played in a band in his spare time, to perform at his parties. It felt good to hang out with a guy like El Chapo, José said, to be in the presence of someone regarded in these parts as a great man.

“He is a legend, truly, a legend,” José said. “It was a privilege to speak with him, to have a friendship with him like I did.”

Even if José was giving the sanitized-for-gringo-reporters version, many people in the mountains of Badiraguato knew only this side of El Chapo, the magnanimous local chieftain. This area of Sinaloa was, for many years, spared the violence that the drug trade-and the war on drugs-wreaked on other areas of Mexico. And when violence did arrive, it usually came in the form of the heavy hand of the state, rather than the cruelty of narco hit men.

But even as El Chapo was spreading his goodwill around his hometown and surrounding villages, he and his allies were inflicting violence elsewhere. For when El Chapo arrived back in La Tuna in 2001 and began to rebuild his empire, he was a man hell-bent on revenge.

* * *

Excerpted from El Chapo: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Drug Lord, published by Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2021 by Noah Hurowitz.

Noah Hurowitz is a journalist based in New York City. He covered the trial of El Chapo for Rolling Stone.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Leading Democrats oppose Biden plan to end house arrest and potentially return inmates to prison after the pandemic

In this Feb. 18, 2020, file photo, prisoners stand outside the federal correctional institution in Englewood, Colo.
Prisoners stand outside the federal correctional institution in Englewood, Colo.

  • Since March 2020, more than 28,000 people have been released from federal prison due to COVID-19.
  • Those released were assessed to face severe health risks if they contracted the coronavirus.
  • Those released currently have to return to prison a month after the pandemic formally ends.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Two leading Senate Democrats are urging the White House to reconsider a legal opinion that could potentially return thousands of people to a federal prison.

At issue is a pandemic-era policy, approved by Congress, that allowed the federal government to release inmates who were deemed to have especially serious health issues putting them at heightened risk from the spread of COVID-19 behind bars. Those prisoners – 28,587 since March 2020 – were allowed to serve out the remainder of their sentences under house arrest.

On Monday, The New York Times reported that the Biden administration had concluded, like its predecessor, that the authority to transfer prisoners to home confinement would expire once the federal government lifts the state of emergency declared due to the pandemic.

There are currently 7,225 federal inmates in home confinement, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that there is no reason to return those people to prison.

Since being released, those now in home confinement “have posed no threat, and are already reintegrating into society, reconnecting with their families, and contributing to our economy,” he said in a statement.

Durbin urged the administration to other reconsider its legal analysis or use other tools, “like compassionate release and clemency,” to ensure that no one is returned to prison.

Sen. Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey and leading advocate in the upper chamber for criminal justice reform, said he was “deeply troubled” by the Biden administration’s interpretation of the law.

“The Trump-era’s Office of Legal Counsel opinion that will require incarcerated individuals return to prison once the public health emergency ends serves no public health purpose,” he said in a statement, “and only works to unnecessarily incarcerate people who have succeeded in re-entering society.”

In April, Durbin and Booker sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland arguing that Congress never intended to rescind home confinement. They say have not heard back.

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

Read the original article on Business Insider

Airlines and regulators turn to eye-poking flight attendants and eye-popping fines amid sharp rise in unruly passenger incidents

As a row of woman look on, a female trainer demonstrates how she gets out of the restraints of someone lying beneath her and holding her down. l
Frontier Airlines flight attendants study self-defense at a training in Denver in 2007.

  • Airlines and federal regulators are scrambling to contain a sudden uptick in unruly passengers on planes.
  • The FAA has received 3,420 “unruly passenger” reports in 2021, and 3,000 weapons have been seized at airports.
  • Under zero-tolerance policy, fines are larger than ever, and some are pushing for federal prosecutions for in-flight assaults.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In undisclosed locations near airports around the country this month, flight attendants are receiving training in aggressive self defense moves that are specially designed for close-quarters.

Flight attendants learn the double-ear slap, the eye-poke, and the groin-kick. They learn tricks to swiftly disarm passengers with sharp weapons, and how to use items readily available aboard a plane for defense.

The moves are designed to de-escalate and quickly subdue passengers because in the words of former trainer Scott Armstrong, “you don’t want to get into a long, drawn-out fight.”

This is, as they say, not a drill. Just last week, the training was famously put to good use, when a female passenger on an American Airlines flight to North Carolina attacked and bit several flight attendants and tried to open the plane’s door mid-flight.

Resourceful flight attendants grabbed a roll of duct-tape, and the woman arrived at her destination, subdued and bound tightly to her chair. It might not have been standard protocol but it was effective and American Airlines later applauded its crew.

It’s not just your imagination; there really has been an extraordinary amount of mayhem in the skies recently.

Last month, an off-duty attendant on a Delta flight to Los Angeles from Atlanta overpowered flight attendants and took charge of the PA system. Passengers had to step in to help subdue him.

A video of a woman attacking a Southwest flight attendant and knocking out two of her teeth before another passenger stepped in to help recently went viral.

The annual flight attendant training, which the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) started in 2004 and paused due to Covid19, resumes at a time of record-breaking reports of delays due to passenger misbehavior on commercial flights.

Three flight attendants restrain fellow flight attendants in a training drill.
A Korean Air flight crew demonstrates a mock anti-terrorist drill ahead of the 2002 World Cup.

During a year when many travelers stayed home due to Covid-19, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it has received 3,420 reports of “unruly passenger” incidents on planes as of July 13. More than three quarters of those incidents have been related to passengers refusing to abide by the federal mask mandate.

With five months left in the year, the average number of reports has already been surpassed roughly threefold, and the FAA has set up a new special task force to investigate.

There are also more firearms being discovered during routine x-ray screenings of carry-on luggage, according to the TSA. As of mid-July, roughly 3,000 weapons have been intercepted so far in 2021, and 85% of them were loaded, the TSA told Insider in an email.

Over the 4th of July weekend, 70 guns were discovered at airport checkpoints. This month, six firearms were seized at airports in Oregon over a single 10-day period, an “astounding” number, according to the TSA. Nationally, the TSA says we are on-trend to double the yearly average for weapons seizures.

Flight attendants are on the front lines, and say the self-defense training is sorely needed.

Sarah Nelson, the president of the International Association for Flight Attendants (AFA), believes the training should be made mandatory. In a town hall posted on YouTube, she said that flight attendants have become “literal punching bags” for the public and that many had left their jobs.

“This should send a message to the public that these events are serious and flight attendants are there to ensure the safety and security of everyone in the plane,” Nelson told the press.

Nelson’s group says it received over 5,000 responses to its fact-finding survey on unruly passengers. According to an AFA spokesperson, more flight attendants than ever have been requesting support and advice from the union.

What can be done?

And yet, in the face of all of this, the options that are available to airlines are limited.

There are not necessarily enough federal air marshals – officials who dress in civilian clothes and are tasked with protecting against the most extreme in-flight scenarios – to be aboard every flight, and their responsibilities have never covered keeping the peace for fellow travelers. For security reasons, the TSA does not disclose the number of federal air marshals or discuss their specific duties or routes.

Regulations say that cabin safety is the responsibility of flight attendants.

A flight attendants with a cart carrying cups and juice boxes smiles at an unseen passenger
An American Airlines flight attendant serves drinks to passengers.

Meanwhile, unruly behavior in the skies has traditionally been met with warnings and relatively small federal fines, as well as bans imposed by individual airlines. When an arrest is made, it is generally by state law enforcement.

Nick Calio, the CEO of Airlines for America, an aviation coalition, wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland in May to urge swift action against unruly passengers, and proposed that the FAA refer the most severe cases to the Justice Department for federal criminal prosecution.

Looking for new ways to shame travelers into exhibiting better behavior, the FAA has broken with its usual protocol and began publishing details about the incidents. The FAA has previously kept this information private but, a spokesperson explained, figured the details might make people think twice before acting out on a plane.

Also, the FAA has chosen to get creative.

The agency has tweeted jocular memes, including one featuring Brad Pitt as part of a public awareness campaign.

In another campaign launched in early July, adorable kids starred in a public service announcement that lampooned poorly-behaved adults. A wise, winsome toddler cautions that grown-ups can go to jail if they keep “doing that stuff.”

“They should know better if they’re, like, adults,” another child says – quite reasonably – while swaying past the screen perched in a swing.

A woman throws a punch at a second woman, who blocks it, during a training.
An Air Tran Airlines flight attendant learns how to deal with a knife-wielding attacker in a self-defense course at the company headquarters in Atlanta, Ga.

Since January, the FAA has had in place a zero-tolerance policy, which did away with warnings and made it possible for fines – which accused passengers can contest in court – to be larger than ever.

When FAA’s chief administrator Steve Dickson announced the policy in January he cited the events of Jan. 6, when supporters of President Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, but more recently incidents have been tied to the mask mandate. Passengers deciding to bring alcohol aboard flights was another common thread to the incidents.

That policy will be reviewed in September, when the mask mandate is set to expire, and there is some discussion of making it permanent.

As a result, in-flight misbehavior has become increasingly expensive. Under zero-tolerance, the FAA has handed down a whopping $682,000 in fines year-to-date against 84 passengers, many over $10,000.

The steepest fine proposed so far this year was $52,500 for a Delta Airlines passenger who, last December, tried to open the cockpit door, assaulted a flight attendant, and was subdued and cuffed with the help of passengers. The woman, who was flying from Honolulu to Seattle, then freed herself of the cuffs to assault the flight attendant a second time, and was met by law enforcement upon arrival.

Another fine of $21,500 went to a Frontier Airlines passenger who argued about the mask policy, drank alcohol not served by the airline, and argued with a nearby passenger before striking the passenger in the head.

And a woman in Indianapolis was fined $18,500 because she argued with the captain of the plane, and punched a nearby passenger in the back of the head, while the passenger was holding an infant.

Because of the enormous caseload, the task force has not yet processed fines for the incident involving the flight attendant who lost teeth.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The man who got the FBI’s fake messaging app off the ground says pulling off one of the biggest police stings in history wasn’t the only goal

Operation Trojan Shield
The FBI partnered with law enforcement around the world to target suspected drug and gun traffickers with a fake messaging app.

  • Authorities arrested hundreds of suspected criminals after tricking them into using an FBI-controlled chat app.
  • The former prosecutor who oversaw the operation told Insider the sting warned criminals that encrypted technology can’t hide their wrongdoing.
  • He wouldn’t expand on whether extremist groups that organize over encrypted apps should heed the warning, too.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The arrests of more than 800 suspected drug and gun traffickers last week in one of the biggest police stings in history wasn’t the only goal of the FBI developing a fake encrypted chat app for criminals, according to the former prosecutor in charge of the operation.

The FBI partnered with law enforcement around the world to get 12,000 devices loaded with a fake encrypted messaging app into the hands of suspected criminals – and then read every word. Monitoring the FBI-controlled app, called ANOM, gave law enforcement an opportunity to learn the inner workings of transnational drug and firearms trafficking organizations.

Andrew Young, the former assistant US attorney who oversaw Operation Trojan Shield, told Insider a primary goal of the operation was to send a message to suspected criminals that encrypted technology will not protect them.

“Building the evidence on all these other people, and all the arrests and the seizures, and certainly the murders that were prevented was incredible,” Young said. “But one of the main goals was actually sort of that public relations goal: to show that the FBI is willing and able to do something like this, and that there’s no reason to think they aren’t doing it now or again.”

Young wouldn’t expand on whether domestic extremist groups that organize over encrypted apps, like the Boogaloo Bois and Proud Boys, whose members have been tied to the January 6 insurrection, should interpret Operation Trojan Shield as a sign the FBI could be monitoring their communications.

“That’s harder for me to say just because I’m not in their minds and I don’t know what they think, or what they intend to do, or what they should do to be better at what they’re trying to do,” Young said.

“I think what they should take from this is that law enforcement is not just going to sit back and say, ‘This isn’t a solvable problem so we just can’t do anything about it at all,'” he added. “There’s creative people and innovative people within the government and within law enforcement who are trying to solve these problems, and they’re going to continue to work at it regardless of whatever platform they have.”

Cocaine was shopped in tuna cans, Operation Trojan Shield
Drug traffickers hid cocaine in tuna cans while shipping it internationally, the FBI learned through Operation Trojan Shield.

How one of the biggest police stings in history got its start

Young was the Justice Department’s lead prosecutor on the ANOM case until August 2020, when he left to take a job at the law firm Barnes & Thornburg. He told Insider how what began as a investigation into a small-time gambling ring morphed into one of the biggest police stings in history.

“One of the best achievements of this entire operation was that it never got out,” Young said, given that more than a dozen nations participated.

The case got its start when investigators looking into the organizer of a gambling ring in 2015 realized the man was actually making most of his illegal proceeds from drug trafficking, according to Young. The man kept the gambling and drug businesses siloed, and used an encrypted communications device to be especially secretive when it came to the trafficking, he said.

That led the Justice Department to set its sights on Phantom Secure, a company they believed was creating encrypted devices and marketing them toward criminal enterprises that used them to freely share details about their operations. In 2018, Vincent Ramos, the chief executive of Phantom Secure, pleaded guilty to leading a criminal enterprise that facilitated the transnational importation and distribution of narcotics. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

At that time, Young’s team considered using the Phantom Secure technology for wiretaps, but he said it fell through.

“Then we were at the stage where you can just shut everything down and move on to something entirely different, or think, ‘Is there something left here to do?'” Young said. “That’s around the time we were presented with a device and the opportunity to have a covert operation. That was the early, early stage of the idea.”

After overcoming the logistical and bureaucratic obstacles to getting the operation off the ground both in the US and in Australia, Young’s team learned through the FBI-controlled app how criminal enterprises communicate and ship illegal drugs internationally – often times by hiding it in shipments of food items, like hollowed-out pineapples or tuna cans.

Information gleaned from the app had led to the arrests of more than 800 people in Australia and across Europe as of last week, according to the FBI and Europol. In addition to the drugs, law enforcement also seized 55 luxury vehicles and more than $48 million in various currencies as part of the operation, Europol said in its release.

Read the original article on Business Insider

More than 130 justice organizations urge Biden to fulfill campaign promise of ending solitary confinement

Solitary Confinement
A protective custody cell in the county jail in Clearwater, Florida.

  • During his campaign, Biden vowed to overhaul “inhumane” prison practices, like solitary confinement.
  • Now, more than 130 social justice organizations are calling on the president to fulfill his pledge.
  • In a letter sent to the administration this month, activists urged the president to “end the pain.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the Biden administration approaches more than four and half months in office, a collection of social justice and civil rights groups are calling on President Joe Biden to fulfill one of his criminal justice campaign pledges.

Months before he was elected president, Biden said he would call for an “overhaul of inhumane prison practices” if he won the White House. His first step, he said, would be to end the practice of solitary confinement with “very limited exceptions.”

Now, in a letter sent earlier this month and made public on Monday, more than 130 organizations and signatories are calling on the president to follow through on that promise.

In the letter, The American Civil Liberties Union, the Innocence Project, The Bail Project, and several other groups offer multiple recommendations for ending the practice on the federal level while urging the president and Vice President Kamala Harris to begin implementing plans immediately.

“Ending the practice of solitary confinement would end the pain, torture, and trauma of tens of thousands of people languishing in harsh and harmful conditions,” the letter states.

The request comes as a growing number of states take measures to end long-term solitary confinement amid a years-long fight for reform.

Prison reform activists have long been working toward abolishing solitary confinement, also known as punitive segregation. Multiple studies suggest a link between long term isolation and an increased risk of self-harm and suicide. Research also shows solitary confinement often leads to mental illness and higher rates of death after release, according to The New York Times.

Activists have also been critical of the racial inequalities rampant in the use of solitary confinement. According to The Times, in New York, Black and Latino people make up nearly 70% of the state’s prison population, but represent more than 80% of those in solitary confinement.

The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated immediate action toward ending the practice, advocates say, as the number of inmates in solitary confinement grew five-fold during the pandemic, according to a June 2020 report.

Experts say the practice was increased during the pandemic, in part because of concerns over the spread of the virus in prisons. In the letter, organizers called on Biden to develop a plan to contain and treat COVID-19 in prisons and jails without the use of solitary confinement or lockdowns.

Activists recommended that the federal government take several other measures:

  • Provide meaningful financial incentives to states to reduce solitary confinement.
  • Call on Congressional leaders to hold hearings on solitary confinement and pass federal legislation banning the practice.
  • Select a director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement with a commitment to humane practices.
  • Create a new senior-level position within the Department of Justice to investigate and oversee the federal Bureau of Prisons.

The White House did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Johnny Perez, director of the US prisons program at the nonprofit National Religious Campaign Against Torture and a former inmate who experienced solitary confinement, told NBC News ending solitary confinement federally would be watershed win for the fight.

“If we’re able to end solitary on the federal level, it would send a strong message that we are a country that does not torture its own citizens and that states also need to follow the president’s lead,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

I’m an incarcerated person. I know for a fact that Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict isn’t ‘accountability,’ it’s just punishment

derek chauvin verdict reactions
Two women embrace in Minneapolis, Minnesota after a jury announced their verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial.

  • When Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, many people heralded the concept of “accountability.”
  • As an incarcerated person who has strived to better myself, we need to learn the difference between accountability and simple punishment.
  • Christopher Blackwell is a writer who is incarcerated at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, Washington.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

“Accountability” is a word that’s often thrown around with little to no understanding of its true meaning and purpose. This has never been more true than with the recent conviction of Derek Chauvin and the dialogue around it.

When NBA superstar LeBron James responded to the conviction with one word, “ACCOUNTABILITY,” it got over 228,000 likes and over 30,000 retweets, it showed that people have lost touch with what accountability actually means.

Yes, Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, as he should have been, but this is not accountability, this is just punishment. The criminal justice system conflates these two concepts, but we cannot follow suit.

Worth a thousands words

The false equivalency between punishment and accountability has been dished-out to society through our dysfunctional justice system. We’ve been led to believe that punishment will solve all our problems, but it won’t. What makes an arbitrary number of years spent in prison equivalent to accountability? How does that right the harm that was caused?

We need to understand what accountability actually is. When used properly, true accountability can bring growth and healing, and this is what we should all strive for when harm occurs. True accountability allows us to learn from the pain we caused and break the cycle of our harmful ways. I know, because when I was 22 years old, I took a human life during a drug robbery. This led me to receive a 38 year-long prison sentence. When I first received my sentence I thought, “I deserve this. I took a life, and now I have to pay the price.” This was what I had been taught growing up in a dysfunctional system that never had my or my community’s best interest at heart.

Years went by before I realized that being accountable for my actions had nothing to do with the prison sentence I received. Being accountable was about me doing deep personal work that would help me see I needed to own the harm I had caused, and most importantly, I had to stop making excuses for my actions and acknowledge that only I was responsible for the damage.. Of course, there are mitigating factors and circumstances that lead us to live certain lifestyles – especially criminal lifestyles – nevertheless, our actions are our own and must be acknowledged as such.

When I took an individual’s life, it didn’t matter what my intentions were – whether it was an accident or self defense or a rash moment of confusion – I had chosen to do a robbery and during that robbery I had taken a human life. I needed to be accountable for that harm. I could serve a hundred life sentences, but that wouldn’t make me accountable, nor would it do anything for those I’ve harmed.

When doing the work to hold myself accountable, I found that the extremely broken criminal justice system doesn’t offer accountability, or even a path towards it. It merely offers a conviction through the law and then warehouses those convicted. That’s it. I came to the conclusion that only I, and I alone, would be able to begin the process of holding myself accountable.

I do want to acknowledge that it’s easy, after being stepped on for a lifetime, to lose sight of the end goal and mistake a conviction through the courts as accountability. Even after all my years of training as a restorative justice facilitator in accountability, I fell victim to wanting to see Derek Chauvin suffer. When they said he would be held in solitary confinement, an evil laugh escaped my lips because I have spent countless days in there and I wanted him, a cop, to feel that isolation and pain I and others have been forced to feel. However, I quickly realized that as a prison abolitionist, this isn’t what I actually want. I don’t want to accept this broken system of justice as my own.

Over the last decade, I have committed myself to understanding accountability and how to best hold myself accountable for the harm I’ve caused. I’ve learned how to do this while also taking into account those I’ve harmed: my community, my loved ones and myself. Building these skills while facing the harm I had caused didn’t happen overnight, and I’m still working on it. I will be for the rest of my life. This was the only way to begin to atone for the life-ending harm I caused in my youth.

In Derek Chauvin’s case, accountability will only come if he does the work to hold himself accountable. As a society, we can punish him, but that’s all we can do. Accountability is his responsibility. Being held responsible by someone else is much different then being held accountable by ourselves.

As a society, we need to decide: are we looking for the kind of justice and accountability that will stop police from killing people of color in our communities, or are we just willing to buy into the broken system of so-called justice that has destroyed our communities and countless lives within them?

We cannot continue to allow these racist, over-zealous cops to continue to murder people in the streets. But we also don’t want to fall victim to believing that their version of justice is the same as ours, because in the end their policing system will always target those it was designed to oppress: impoverished communities of color like the one I grew up in. We owe them and ourselves so much more.

Christopher Blackwell, 40, is incarcerated at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, Washington, and is working toward publishing a book on solitary confinement. His writing has been published by The Washington Post, HuffPost, BuzzFeed, Jewish Currents, and many other publications. He is serving a 45-year sentence. Follow Christopher on Twitter.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Former Philadelphia prosecutor campaigning for DA accused of lying about role in wrongful conviction case

AP64311557604
Former Philadelphia prosecutor Carlos Vega was co-counsel in the 2016 retrial of Anthony Wright, who was tried again despite DNA evidence linking another man to the murder for which he had been imprisoned.

  • Carlos Vega has denied playing much of a role in the 2016 retrial of Anthony Wright.
  • But Wright’s legal team said Vega was jointly responsible for the case.
  • Wright, who was accused of rape and murder, was acquitted after serving 25 years in prison.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A former prosecutor campaigning to be Philadelphia’s next district attorney has downplayed his role in a murder case against a man who was exonerated by DNA evidence after spending some 25 years in prison.

But according to that man’s legal team, Democrat Carlos Vega – who is seeking to unseat the liberal incumbent – played a far bigger role than he now claims.

In an interview this week with The Philadelphia Enquirer, Vega described the allegation that he played a key role in the case of Anthony Wright as a “bald-faced lie.”

“I was brought in at the eleventh hour, two weeks before trial, just to question three witnesses,” he told the paper.

“My only participation in that case was calling civilian witnesses and I think the crime scene personnel,” he said in an interview with The Intercept earlier this year. “With respect to the rest of the case, I was not involved at all. It was not my case.”

But that’s not true, according to the Innocence Project, which represented Wright at his 2016 retrial. The group said in a statement on Wednesday that Vega was in fact one of two prosecutors assigned to “jointly handle” the case, noting her served as co-counsel for the full three weeks of the trial. And while he did question three witnesses, he also questioned Wright himself “at great length,” challenging the exonerated defendant’s “integrity, veracity, and his claims of innocence.”

Vega’s statements suggesting otherwise, the group said, “are false.”

“Mr. Vega has not apologized to Mr. Wright for the role he played in seeking his return to prison on a second life sentence, nor publicly acknowledged Mr. Wright’s innocence,” the Innocence Project added.

Vega did not immediately respond to a message from Insider requesting comment.

Anthony Wright’s wrongful imprisonment

Wright, then 20 years old, was arrested in the fall of 1991 and charged with raping and murdering a 77-year-old woman in North Philadelphia. He was convicted two years later after a jury was convinced by a confession that Wright said was coerced by police threats of abuse, the testimony of purported acquaintances who said he’d told them of the crime, and blood-stained clothing that law enforcement said he had been wearing the night of the incident.

The case, detailed by The National Registry of Exonerations, began to fall apart in 2013. That year, DNA testing revealed a rape kit linked the crime to a since-deceased dealer of crack cocaine, not Wright. Testing also showed that the clothing presented at Wright’s trial had been worn by the victim, not him, as police claimed.

Previous state witnesses also recanted their testimony, saying they had been pressured by detectives.

But instead of releasing him, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office took Wright to trial again and presented a new theory: that he had been an accomplice. Jurors were not only unconvinced, but angered by the evidence they were presented with – “The city should never have brought this case,” the jury forewoman said afterward – taking less than an hour to acquit him.

Wright went on to sue the city, settling for just under $10 million.

Political implications

Vega was fired in 2018, along with the other prosecutor in the Wright case, by a new Philadelphia DA, Larry Krasner, a former defense attorney who took office promising an end to business as usual in the criminal justice system. But Krasner, one of the country’s foremost “progressive prosecutors,” has been battered by claims his light touch has allowed criminals dodge consequences for serious crimes.

There is no question violence has gotten worse, in Philadelphia as elsewhere during the pandemic.

In 2020, just under 500 people were killed in Philadelphia, the highest death toll in 30 years. And 2021 is not looking any better, with the city already suffering 142 homicides, up from 107 by this time last year.

Critics have pointed to a decline in the conviction rate for people accused of illegal gun possession. Krasner, in turn, has argued that police are presenting his office with weaker cases (arrests have tripled, but only 49% of those charged have been convicted during his tenure, down from 63% under the previous DA).

Vega has campaigned on putting a stop to a surge in violence, attributing it to the incumbent rather than a deadly virus and a national trend.

“He promised us justice that would make us safer,” Vega said in a press release last month. “But there is nothing just about turning a blind eye to illegal guns, and it certainly isn’t making us safer.”

Still, while promising more law and order, Vega – endorsed by Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police – has also sought to emphasize his working-class roots while promising to address “unfairness in our criminal justice system” in this overwhelmingly Democratic city.

But Vega’s role in what the city now concedes was a wrongful imprisonment – a “tragic case,” in the words of Mayor Jim Kenney – will make it more difficult for the former prosecutor, ahead of Philadelphia’s May 18 primary election, to pitch himself as equally committed to security and reform.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

Read the original article on Business Insider

Portland police officers used force more than 6,000 times against protesters last year

portland protests
A demonstrator is pepper sprayed shortly before being arrested during a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse Wednesday, July 29, 2020, in Portland, Ore.

  • Portland police used force 6,000 times against protesters last year, according to DOJ attorneys.
  • These incidents at times violated department policies and top brass didn’t question it, they said.
  • Portland became a flashpoint for protest activity and police response after George Floyd’s death.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In late May, after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon, erupted as a hotbed for protest activity, with demonstrators taking to the streets for more than 100 consecutive days.

It also became a flashpoint for clashes between police and protesters. Demonstrators were at many times peaceful but in some instances engaged in violence and vandalism, while federal and local law enforcement repeatedly used aggressive tactics in response to the protests.

But legal documents filed by attorneys for the Department of Justice last month have started to paint a picture of just how frequently officers turned to force.

Portland Police Bureau officers used force “more than 6,000 times” during “crowd-control events” between May 29 and November 15 – an average of 35 times per day – the attorneys said, summarizing the DOJ’s review of PPB officers’ conduct as part of a previous settlement agreement.

“PPB has failed to maintain substantial compliance with the Agreement’s force-policy requirements,” they said.

PPB did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on this story.

“Some of this force deviated from force policy, and supervisors frequently validated individual uses of force with little or no discussion of reasonableness of the force used,” the DOJ attorneys said. “Many [after-action reviews] did not include any witness interviews or officer interviews. Many [reviews] contained similar or identical, i.e., cut-and-paste, language.”

The DOJ’s review also found that commands from top brass often didn’t translate effectively to front-line officers, leading to the agency to conclude that in some cases, those officers’ “movements were chaotic and could have been executed better.”

The review also determined that PPB improperly justified its use of force by claiming all members of a protest were engaged in “active aggression” simply by being part of a crowd where some people were being aggressive. In one example, according to the document, an officer justified firing a “less-lethal impact munition” at an individual because they “engaged in ‘furtive conversation’ and ran away.”

The DOJ did acknowledge, however, that officers in Portland faced “substantial challenges” stemming from the wave of protests, which it said often included a “criminal element,” as well as a rise in violent crime across the city and budget cuts that hindered training.

Portland faced a particularly complex blend of protest activity last year, some of which has continued into 2021.

Many of the demonstrators, particularly in the early months, protested police brutality and systemic racism, and drew from a diverse crowd ranging from BLM activists to suburban moms, veterans, and doctors. But Portland’s Black police chief also called out a small subset of violent protesters, and there is an emerging schism between the city’s progressive groups – with some continuing to engage in vandalism.

Portland has also seen a surge in far-right activity, with Proud Boys and other white supremacist militia groups clashing with protesters, anti-lockdown protesters violently storming the state capitol, and election conspiracy theorists rallying at the capitol in January.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Prisoners in Tennessee were placed in the last group eligible for vaccines after an advisory panel said prioritizing them would be a PR ‘nightmare’

pfizer vaccine
vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be administered to front-line health care workers under an emergency use authorization at a drive up vaccination site from Renown Health in Reno, Nevada on December 17, 2020.

Prisoners in the state of Tennessee were placed last on the list of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine after an advisory council feared a “public relations nightmare” should they be given priority access, the Associated Press reported.

According to the report, published Saturday, the Pandemic Vaccine Planning Stakeholder group, the council tasked with forming recommendations for the state’s vaccine rollout, noted that incarcerated people would “be a vector of general population transmission” if left “untreated.” 

The advisory council first met in September 2020 and consists of 40 public health agencies, healthcare coalitions, public officials, emergency management, and other organizations, according to the Associated Press report.

Some corrections staff have been vaccinated, according to the report, but the exact number in the state of Tennessee is not publicly available. No prisoners have yet been vaccinated, according to the report. 

The Tennessee Department of Health did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment Saturday.

The Tennessee vaccination plan includes incarcerated people in Phase 3 of its vaccination plan, behind healthcare workers, first responders, teachers, people with high-risk conditions, and corrections facility staff. Inmates who currently qualify to receive the vaccine due to their age have not yet been vaccinated, according to the AP report Saturday.

Documents obtained by the Associated Press showed that the advisory council concluded there would be “lots of media inquiries” had it opted to prioritize immunizations for incarcerated people, even though it contended that inmates were “part of the community,” according to the report.

Throughout the pandemic, incarcerated people in the US have been at a heightened risk of contracting the novel coronavirus, while advocates have complained about conditions at jails and prisons that have put inmates at the heightened risk.

In July 2020, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that prisoners were infected by COVID-19 at a rate over five times higher than the general population. In December, a report from The Marshall Project and the AP found that 1 in 5 prisoners in the US had contracted COVID-19, compared to about 1 in 20 people in the general population. More than 1,700 inmates have died of the virus, also as of December. 

In Tennessee, one in three prisoners has tested positive for COVID-19, according to data from the AP and from the Marshall Project. 

The Associated Press report Saturday emphasizes the longstanding debate about the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in the US, and in particular the rollout of vaccines in incarcerated populations. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued general guidance, states ultimately control vaccine eligibility. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

In a rare show of solidarity, Republicans and Democrats are working together to pass sweeping criminal justice reform in Michigan as the state’s jail population grows

Michigan's Electors Meet
Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist opens a session at the state Capitol

  • Michigan lawmakers will have advanced more than two dozen criminal justice reform bills when they close the current session this week.
  • Governor Whitmer created a bipartisan commission in 2019 to look at jails across the state to better understand the problem. Much of the reform effort is modeled on its recommendations.
  • The overhaul aim to reduce the state’s jail population, which has tripled over the past 3 decades even as crime rates have fallen to a 50-year low. 
  • Supporters spanned grassroots racial justice organizations to Amway co-chairman Doug DeVos, the brother-in-law of education secretary Betsy DeVos and a major conservative force in Michigan.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For years, Michigan courts have been taking away peoples’ drivers licenses for reasons that have nothing to do with their behavior behind the wheel.

Instead, suspending the right to drive has been used as a cudgel to get people to pay traffic tickets, court fines, or child support. But because people need to work in order to afford to pay these fees, thousands thousands of them have been driving on suspended licenses in order to get to work. And if they got caught, they wind up in jail. 

Today, driving on a suspended license is one of the leading reasons Michiganders wind up in jail, and the system often appears more designed to squeeze money out of the state’s poorest citizens rather than as a tool to ensure public safety. It’s part of the reason the state’s jail population has tripled over the past 30 years even as crime rates have fallen to a 50-year low.

No one knew how seriously out of whack the jail system had become until earlier this year, when a first-of-its-kind commission took a look at who was going to jail and why. And now, when Michigan has become emblematic of just how broken our political system has become – with right-wing terrorists plotting to kidnap the state’s Democratic governor and some Republicans working to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state – lawmakers who are often at each others’ throats are determined to make big change before they adjourn for the year. By the time the state legislature wraps up this week, it will have advanced more than two dozen criminal justice reform bills.

“Right now, America is kind of at a reckoning,” said Pastor Kevin Harris, who served 14 years in prison for drug-related offenses and is now a community organizer who chairs the board of the group Michigan Liberation. “Even the most corrupt system has to recognize that we went overboard.” 

Detroit BLM
Detroit Activists March, Nov. 7th, 2020.

This session, Michigan lawmakers have already enacted legislation that automatically wipes people’s criminal records clean of most misdemeanors – and some felonies – after several years. It is the most progressive law of its kind in the US. They’ve also passed legislation that makes it easier for those with a criminal record to get an occupational license to work as a barber, roofer, or cosmetologist. 

This week, lawmakers are scrambling to pass a package of 20 more reform bills before their session ends, including one that will stop courts from suspending people’s licenses for reasons unrelated to their driving records. That alone could lift the risk of arrest from over the heads of hundreds of thousands – more than 350,000 people had their licenses suspended because they failed to appear in court for other reasons or because they had unpaid fees or fines in 2018 alone, according to a recent audit. That’s equal to around 1 in 20 drivers in the state.

House Judiciary Chair Graham Filler, a Republican from just north of Lansing whose website describes him as “pro-law enforcement” and “not politically correct,” coordinated the effort in the House. 

Even if lawmakers “start at different places, [we] end at the same place,” Filler told Insider. “Can we have a justice system that is proportional and fair and at the same time does not impact public safety?”

NOT A “PARTISAN ISSUE”

In a month where some Republican politicians attempted to overturn Biden’s election victory in the state, criminal justice is one of the only issues where both parties have been able to work together. The coalition that has advanced criminal justice reform in Michigan spanned the progressive ACLU to the right-wing, Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. A similar alliance of strange bedfellows was also instrumental in passing national legislation signed by President Donald Trump in 2018, which overhauled mandatory minimum sentencing laws and made other changes to the federal prison system.

“We need to reject the idea that this is a partisan issue,” Democratic Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, who co-chaired a bipartisan commission on criminal justice reform, said in an interview. 

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist with Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, right, April 17, 2019.

In Michigan, supporters of this legislation spanned grassroots racial justice organizations to Amway co-chairman Doug DeVos, the brother-in-law of education secretary Betsy DeVos and a major conservative force in Michigan. The politics are good for both the right and left: Progressive ss can tout the reforms package as a win for racial justice, while conservatives can say they managed to shrink the reach of government and bring savings for tax-payers. The state jails cost Michigan’s counties around half a billion dollars each year, eating up around one-quarter of their public safety budgets.

The system “is not actually promoting public safety,” Gilchrist said. “It’s just disrupting people’s lives in dangerous ways.”

Donald Talley knows this cycle first hand. Talley, a 65-year-old who lives west of Detroit in the city of Inkster, first lost his license in 1985 because he had unpaid traffic tickets and child support. He was homeless at the time, earning some money here and there as a mechanic, so he had little choice but to keep driving. 

He was arrested repeatedly over the next 20 years as his fees continued to mount. The arrests became so predictable he even figured out how to use them to his advantage: getting put away in the winter meant he could have a warm place to sleep. Then, through a chance encounter at a soup kitchen, Talley connected with pro bono attorneys who helped him get his fees set aside. By that time, Talley said, he owed well over $180,000 in child support, traffic tickets, and other fees and fines.

Getting out from under the threat of arrest turned his life around, Talley said, and he hoped this legislation would do the same for thousands of others.

“Once you get a smell of victory, you can see the light as far as your life getting better,” Talley said. 

Whitmer jail task force
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, announces the creation of the bipartisan task force, April 17, 2019.

No one had really conducted a comprehensive study of who was in jail and why until February 2019, when Governor Whitmer created a bipartisan commission to look at jails across the state co-chaired by Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist and Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack. This week, lawmakers are working on a package of 20 bills modeled on the report recommendations, including the one that reins in drivers license suspensions. If passed, Chief Justice McCormack told Insider, “it would really make Michigan a national leader.”

The commission took aim at the state’s jails. On average, Michigan’s jails hold more than 16,000 people, usually for stays of less than one week. Jails are often described as the “front door” of the criminal justice system, since people go there to await trial or to serve short sentences. But far more people spend time in jails than go to prison – nationwide, seventeen times more people cycle through jails than prison.  Even a short stay in jail can mean lost jobs, lost custody of children, and fees that can prove hard to escape.

The commission’s work was supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which provided a team of technical advisors who have staffed lawmakers as they turned the panel’s recommendations into legislation.

“There are not [other] states, as far as we know, that have tried to understand statewide what’s driving jail populations and what’s contributing to jail growth. This is new and pretty exciting,” said Pew’s Terry Schuster. “With increasing partisanship, criminal justice issues remain one of the few areas where we see continued bipartisan consensus.”

A “KUMBAYA MOMENT”

It took a lot of work to get to this point, especially on the right, said Joe Haveman, a Republican from the Western Michigan city of Holland who tried to advance criminal justice reforms while serving as a state representative between 2009 and 2014. Haveman said his efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system ran into “brick walls” from “old-school Republicans” during the administration of the Republican Governor Rick Snyder. 

But Michigan has strict term limits, sweeping in a younger crop of lawmakers who look at criminal justice reform through a more libertarian lens. And the opioid epidemic, which hit rural and white communities hard, have also changed attitudes about the role of law enforcement in Republican areas. 

“When I was growing up, I wouldn’t have known anybody who had a problem with the law – I think that was true for a lot of Americans,” Haveman said. “When the opioid epidemic exploded it became somebody we knew… It’s not just a ‘bad person’ – that stereotype that I may see on TV, somebody from a big city.”

Several lawmakers also credited the evangelical community for building support for criminal justice reform among Republicans. Judiciary Committee Chairman Filler said this was an issue of special importance to Speaker Lee Chatfield, son of an evangelical minister who was involved in a prison ministry. (Chatfield declined to be interviewed for this story.)

Lawmakers don’t plan to stop working on criminal justice reform after this session ends. The commission co-chaired by Gilchrist and McCormack made recommendations that the legislature did not act on this year, including provisions to divert people with mental illness away from jail. Lawmakers from rural areas also want to make it easier to wipe arrests for driving under the influence, a common offense outside major cities, from criminal records.

“You’ve had this left-and-right Kumbaya moment on criminal justice reform for the past couple years,” said David Guenthner with the conservative think tank the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “The objective should be to use prison for those we are scared of, not those we are mad at. And when someone’s coming out of prison, they should have sufficient training and opportunity to earn a living and be a success.”

Read the original article on Business Insider