I worked over a decade in and around the criminal legal system (mid-1990s to mid-2000s). I spent roughly half my time doing research and ADVOCACY, and half my time lawyering, especially during my years as Executive Director of the DC Prisoners Legal Services Project (1998-2001). Lawyerly highlights include:
Counsel for the inmate-plaintiffs, Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (CCA), Youngstown, Ohio.
Seven people died in the first year of operation of this for-profit prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America. Twenty people were stabbed and six escaped, including two murderers. We won monetary damages plus strict new rules for operation and monitoring – in a major, early black eye for an industry that claims to be better, faster and cheaper than public prisons (it isn’t).
Prison phone calls: I started the petition of Martha Wright, an early step in the long multi-dimensional campaign to end the abusive, anti-competitive pricing for phone calls between people in prison and their families.
- Calls cost roughly $17 for 15 minutes. Parents had to choose between talking to their children or buying food, clothing and medicine.
- But it changed! October 2015 the FCC changed the rule and capped the rates.
- I was only peripherally involved in the end, through my role as board president of the Prison Policy Initiative.
- Still I feel like a grandparent of the movement. I tell my story here, A Vote for Justice over Money. The photo is me with coalition partners at the FCC the day of the vote.
- Donald Trump tried to kill it during his time as President … but Congress fixed it for real as part of the FY2023 Omnibus Appropriations package. Now I’m happy to say Martha Wright not only helped launch the solution but she has a federal law named after her!
Prisoners of the Census. The problem is that the US census counts people in prison where their bodies are held, not where they come from — with an unfair impact on political apportionment. I talk about this more on my “Research” page because it started as a research matter I uncovered back in 2002. Nowadays the Prison Policy Initiative is the main mover — but was on PPI’s board of directors for ten years, and litigation is part of PPI’s advocacy strategy.
Flushing Toilets in the DC Jail. For awhile in the late 1990s I was counsel on Inmates of D.C. Jail v. Jackson, a longrunning suit about conditions in the jail. One condition was that people locked in cages 24/7 needed access to a functioning toilet. One enforcement provision was that counsel could access any cell at any time to check the toilets. So I got to walk the tiers flushing the toilets (and hanging out with the guys, especially when corrections staff was slow to reopen the door (usually in the most maximum-security cells)).
Defense Counsel. As a CJA lawyer in Washington DC. I represented individuals accused of crimes. This compensated work helped cover costs for uncompensated research and advocacy in my early days. (I have no problem if the evidence is clean and the sentence is reasonable. But to get that, you need a lawyer).
Once upon a time. My legal career started as judicial clerk to Justice David Borden on the Supreme Court of Connecticut.