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Policing the Vote: Election Integrity Units in Florida and Ohio

March 1, 2024

In this research, we delve into the structural aspects of U.S. election administration with a specific focus on the relationship between state executive branches, local-level bureaucrats, and the voters they serve, focusing on an analysis of election integrity units in two specific states: Florida and Ohio. We find that election integrity units or "election police" have opaque structures, budgets, and responsibilities—and their creation and existence prompt more questions than answers. Florida's election integrity unit is more developed than the unit in Ohio at this time; however, the impact is nonetheless felt by voters in both states. These units create uncertainty and apprehension around the voting process in the name of "integrity." Uncertainty and apprehension are leading to reduced levels of voter registration efforts, criminalization of honest mistakes by well-intentioned voters, and a dampening of enthusiasm to participate in the democratic process, or, more generally, public service. Studies have found that the creation of these units disproportionately affects Black and Brown voters (Jouvenal, 2023). In addition, the cloudy reporting structure and vague transfer of authority to these units over cases of alleged voter fraud bring to bear questions about the politicization of nonpartisan state operations.  

Alternatives to Policing: How U.S. Cities Are Advancing Community Safety by Taking a Multidisciplinary Approach

March 1, 2024

All across the U.S., and particularly within Black, Latine/x, and Indigenous communities, we have now made the police the first responders to an incredibly broad set of community problems. They have become our first option, and often our only option, when something goes wrong. As a result, from 1980 to 2017, spending on the police in the U.S. increased by 230%, from $56 billion to $185 billion (in 2023 dollars).Nevertheless, there is a fundamental mismatch between the police skill set—which is centered around the use of violence—and what is needed to effectively address the problems they are often tasked to address. Thus, by having the police respond to issues that they are not well-suited to handle, our public safety and crisis responses are frequently ineffective at meeting residents' urgent needs and addressing root causes in order to break cycles of crime and violence. The excessive and misguided reliance on the police is also perhaps best characterized by the consistent, severe, and needless harm it causes, the systemic racism it perpetuates, and the resources it consumes that could have been used to advance more effective community safety strategies.This report, a follow-up to the December 2022 report Criminalization vs. Care: How the 20 Largest U.S. Cities Invest Their Resources, is intended to support efforts to replace our current systems of mass criminalization and incarceration with "systems of community care" that advance authentic forms of safety and healthier, more equitable communities.

Intimidation of State and Local Officeholders: The Threat to Democracy

January 25, 2024

The January 6 insurrection at the Capitol seemed to mark a new peak in extremist intimidation targeting public officials. But it was hardly the only act of political violence to break the period of relative stability that followed the assassinations of the 1960s. There was the 2017 shooting of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise and colleagues by a Trump detractor. There was the hammer attack on U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi's husband by a right-wing conspiracy theorist who sought the then House speaker in her home. Then there were threats by Republican extremists against Republican members of Congress for refusing to support their preferred candidate for speaker. These acts grabbed headlines and spurred increases in security for federal officials.Yet over the same period, with far less attention and often little recourse, officeholders serving in local and state government across the country have faced a barrage of intimidating abuse. Threats and attacks constrain how freely officeholders interact with constituents, narrow the spectrum of policy positions they feel safe to support, and make them less willing to continue in public service. Unaddressed, the problem stands to endanger not just individual politicians but, more broadly, the free and fair functioning of representative democracy — at every level of government."Last fall was the last really serious death threat I got," one state legislator told the Brennan Center. "It was like date, time, location specific. They were going to kill me and then go to the police station and blow themselves up and take as many officers with them as possible."A series of national surveys completed in October 2023 — one of state legislators and four quarterly surveys of local officeholders — and three dozen in-depth interviews reveal how significantly abuse affects the tenure of these officeholders and shapes their decisions. Taken together, the data sets represent more than 1,700 officials from all 50 states and include a range of ages, party affiliations, ideologies, genders, sexual orientations, racial and ethnic identities, and religions.

Hispanic Victims of Lethal Firearms Violence in the United States (2023)

December 6, 2023

In 2001, the United States experienced a historic demographic change. For the first time, Hispanics became the largest minority group in the nation, exceeding the number of Black residents. With a population in 2020 of 62.1 million, Hispanics represent 18.7 percent of the total population of the United States.This study is intended to report on Hispanic homicide victimization and suicide in the United States, the role of firearms in homicide and suicide, and overall gun death figures. Recognizing this demographic landscape, the importance of documenting such victimization is clear. Indeed, studies have found that Hispanic individuals are more likely to die by firearm homicide compared to white, non-Hispanic individuals.

Víctimas hispanas de violencia letal por armas de fuego en Estados Unidos (2023)

December 6, 2023

En 2001 los Estados Unidos experimentaron un cambio demográfico de carácter histórico. Por primera vez los hispanos se convirtieron en el grupo minoritario más grande del país, al sobrepasar en número a los residentes de raza negra. Con una población de 62.1 millones en 2020, los hispanos constituyen 18.7 por ciento del total de la población de los Estados Unidos.Este estudio busca informar sobre la victimización por homicidios y suicidios de la población hispana en los Estados Unidos, así como el papel que juegan las armas de fuego en homicidios y suicidios, y también las cifras totales de muertes por armas de fuego. La importancia de documentar dicha victimización queda clara al percatarnos del respectivo panorama demográfico en que ocurre. En efecto, hay estudios que han encontrado que una persona hispana tiene más probabilidades de morir por homicidio con arma de fuego que una persona blanca no-hispana.

Prison Plastic Surgery: The Biopolitics of Appearance and Crime in New York’s Civil Rights Era

December 4, 2023

From 1920 to 1990, around 500,000 US incarcerees received free plastic surgery during their incarceration. The majority of the surgeries — which included facelifts, rhinoplasty, chin implants, blepharoplasties, breast implants, etc. — were performed for purely cosmetic reasons, under the broad banner of prisoner rehabilitation. The underlying notion was to assist marginalized individuals in assimilating into society by capitalizing on prevailing beauty biases. New York was an early prison plastic surgery pioneer, alongside other rehabilitative offerings, but these programs were not without controversy. Concerned, in 1968, Governor Nelson Rockefeller charged the Department of Crime Control Planning to investigate the long-term outcomes of various recidivism programs, a project that spanned five years and covered 231 methodologies. This research report outlines the early emphasis on prisoner beautification, and the broader shift in carceral policies from rehabilitative to punitive, based on a review of records in the Rockefeller Archive Center pertaining to correctional reform, access to healthcare, and civil rights issues. This report summarizes my preliminary findings from the archives, and adds additional context to my book, Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery In Prisons, (Prometheus Books, 2021), which explored the history of criminal reform through the lens of beauty and bias.  Using records, the majority unearthed from the Joint Commission on Correctional Manpower and Training in the Nelson A. Rockefeller Gubernatorial Records, along with records from the Bureau of Social Hygiene, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund archives, I discuss rehabilitative ideals and lookism, intermingled with political wrangling and efficacy in twentieth-century New York. My work deals with correctional healthcare and surgery, but more broadly, it is about the shift from a rehabilitative to a punitive approach to crime. As contemporary discourse returns to the importance of rehabilitation, the insights presented in this research will foster current conversations and enable us to learn from the past. 

Reimagining Public Safety: Community Listening Sessions with Black Communities and Public Defenders

December 4, 2023

This is the final report of a one-year project funded by the Joyce Foundation entitled "Reimagining Public Safety: Community Listening Sessions with Black Communities and Black Defenders." The National Black Public Defender Association (BPDA) partnered with the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender, the community-based organization Blackroots Alliance (BA), and a consultant team of researchers from Northwestern University to undertake a public safety assessment in Chicago. The project asked Black Chicagoans: "What does safety mean to you?"The project has engaged impacted individuals around the issue of public safety and invited community members to redefine the term "safety" holistically, beyond the narrow focus on the absence of harm. The project aimed to both answer the critical question of what impacted Black communities need to feel safe and thrive and to build relationships between community residents, advocates, organizers, and Black public defenders.We are at a critical juncture in America in attempting to address racism and inequities in policing and legal processing, and we must use this moment to do things radically differently. We risk repeating the failures of the past by allowing "experts" to define what the future of public safety should look like in the Black community without the voices of Black community members. The findings from this project can help policymakers, funders, activists, and community groups build sustainable public safety reforms built on principles of justice and responsiveness to Black community needs.

Assessing the Effect of Political Violence on American Democracy: A Report on the Violence and Democracy Impact Tracker

November 6, 2023

There is no place for political violence in a healthy democracy. Yet the United States has seen a rise in a wide range of political violence, including threats to lawmakers and intimidation of election workers. While data on the amount of political violence in the United States has become more readily available, policymakers, advocates, philanthropists, and journalists have not had consistent data on the impact that political violence is having on the health of our democracy's core components. It is thus difficult to prioritize a response — to know which parts of our democracy are most affected, and which remain largely resilient.This report introduces the Violence and Democracy Impact Tracker (VDIT), which evaluates the apparent impact that political violence is having on eight distinct pillars of democratic practice in the United States. The Tracker surveys experts on political violence quarterly, assessing their evaluations of the current impact of political violence on freedoms of expression and association, access to the vote, election administration, equality before the law, individual liberties, and the independence of the judiciary and legislature. Experts also offer qualitative insights into the most concerning emerging trends. VDIT offers a summary snapshot of expert opinions (somewhat similar to the Bright Line Watch project), providing a helpful point of entry or comparison for those looking to gain a foothold on understanding the problem.

VPC Backgrounder on Ruger, the Manufacturer of the Assault Rifle Used in the Lewiston, Maine Mass Shooting

October 31, 2023

On Wednesday, October 25, 2023, Army reservist Robert Card entered a local bar and a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine. Equipped with a Ruger SFAR assault rifle, he killed 18 victims and wounded 13 others before taking his own life. Days after the attack he was found dead, the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.This backgrounder offers information on the Ruger SFAR assault rifle and other assault weapons manufactured by the company, additional mass shootings that have been committed with Ruger firearms (including foreign civilian mass shootings), firearm production data, voluntary "safety alerts" warning of defects in specific Ruger firearms, the company's financial support of the National Rifle Association, and links to its social media outlets.

Self-Care, Criminalized: The Criminalization of Self-Managed Abortion from 2000 to 2020

October 30, 2023

Self-Care, Criminalized: The Criminalization of Self-Managed Abortion from 2000 to 2020 aims to reduce the criminalization of self-managed abortion in the absence of Roe by examining and identifying trends in the criminalization that occurred in the presence of its protections.This report details the criminalization of 61 cases of people criminally investigated or arrested for allegedly ending their own pregnancy or helping someone else do so. The report explores cases between 2000 and 2020 that occurred across 26 states with the greatest concentration in Texas, followed by Ohio, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Virginia.A follow-up to Self-Care, Criminalized: Preliminary Findings, released in 2022, this full report builds on the initial findings to show how people can interrupt and stop abortion criminalization. We share even more quantitative data about case progression as well as a thorough mixed methods analysis, including de-identified case narratives, related to how cases came to the attention of law enforcement, how law has been misapplied to prosecute people, use of technology in the cases, scrutiny of a pregnant person including their abortion and pregnancy loss history, and the lasting harm and negative consequences from this criminalization.From this research, we know more about who has been criminalized for self-managing an abortion, how these cases made their way into and through the criminal system, the laws and practices that enable criminalization, and what is at stake for the accused.

Community Violence Intervention in Chicago: Fall 2023 Report

October 26, 2023

Starting in 2016, with initial funding from the philanthropic sector, a handful of community violence intervention (CVI) organizations began serving individuals at high risk of shooting or being shot with a menu of services that include outreach, life coaching, trauma treatment, education and job training. Today, as public funding at the city, county and state level has increased, Chicago's CVI network has grown to more than two dozen organizations that are currently active in nearly half of Chicago's 77 communities, including all of those with the highest levels of gun violence. Collectively, they serve more than 3000 individuals, representing about 15-20 percent of the highest risk population.Comparing 2023 year-to-date to the same period of time in the peak year of 2021, shootings in most CVI communities are down. Many exceed the citywide decline.

SEED: A diversion program for young adults - An Alternative to Incarceration

October 12, 2023

Diversion programs have emerged as an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system, particularly for non-violent offenses. The Supporting Education and Employment Development (SEED) program is a 13-month pre-plea deferred-prosecution program, which aims to serve emerging adults, aged 18-26, charged with Delivery or Intent to Deliver in Cook County, Illinois. Heartland Alliance's Social IMPACT Research Center worked with the SEED team to evaluate the implementation of the SEED program between May 2021 and June 2023. Overall, results of this evaluation show that despite some operational challenges, SEED was implemented smoothly. However, interviewees did indicate there were opportunities for program refinement and additional evaluation. Longer term evaluation of SEED and its effects on both participants and the criminal justice system will take time and requires tracking participants beyond the immediate end of the program.