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Drug decriminalization: what we can (and can’t) learn from Portugal

Hannah Laqueur, Ph.D. candidate, Berkeley Law | August 3, 2015

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the acquisition, possession and personal use of small quantities of all psychoactive drugs. Drug use is still prohibited and subject to administrative sanction, but the law eliminated incarceration as a potential penalty. Portugal’s decriminalization law has been appropriated in U.S. drug policy discussions, mostly an example of a radical and successful … Continue reading »

Capital punishment’s loyal officer

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | May 12, 2015

It was a zinger worthy of a Presidential debate (and almost certainly just as planned). Justice Samuel Alito, confronted Federal Public Defender Robin Conrad in the midst of her oral argument on April 29 in Glossip v. Gross, a case challenging Oklahoma’s lethal injection execution procedure. Yes. I mean, let’s be honest about what’s going on here. … Continue reading »

Carceral geographies: Mapping the escape routes from mass incarceration

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | September 18, 2014

Today and tomorrow (Sept. 18-19, 2014) at UC Berkeley we will be launching a new undergraduate course thread titled “Carceral Geographies.” Our launch will begin with a keynote address by the great Ruth “Ruthie” Wilson Gimore, scholar/activist extraordinaire who has given us the definitive study of California’s descent into mass incarceration, Golden Gulags: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, … Continue reading »

Life in prison with the remote possibility of death: the death penalty and California’s broken punishment paradigm

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | July 18, 2014

This week’s 39-page opinion by U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney — finding California’s death penalty unconstitutional — is already setting off a wave of debate in the media. We will see yet whether it catches any political fire in this dry, but so-far politically placid, season in California. There is much to recommend in the opinion (read it here courtesy … Continue reading »

Botched execution

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | May 1, 2014

To “botch” something is to carry out a task “badly or carelessly.”  Oklahoma’s botched execution Tuesday, April 29, 2014 demonstrated that word in its absolute in-glory.  (Read the New York Times account here). Badly? Executions always cause at least psychological pain.  Even if everything goes perfectly, the physical pains involved in injecting the drugs may … Continue reading »

Dying inside: Lifers, the dying and California’s correctional paradigm

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | March 21, 2014

Before the hospice program started by prison chaplain Lorie Adolff, dying prisoners in California’s state prison in San Luis Obsipo (California Men’s Colony) just expired alone in their cells, with prison nurses looking in periodically until their vital signs ceased.  Adolff’s project, Supportive Care Services, trains other prisoners, most of them lifers, to sit with … Continue reading »

Abandoning a failed penal experiment: New York’s historic advantage

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | March 4, 2014

The State of New York has made it share of bad penal policy choices. Remember the “Rockefeller Drug Laws” — mandatory life sentences for persons arrested with large quantities of dangerous drugs, which helped set the nation on the path toward indiscriminate use of incarceration? But the Empire State has also had a historic knack … Continue reading »

From humanity to health: Why can’t California get prison healthcare right?

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | February 10, 2014

To considerable embarrassment, no doubt, in the Brown-Beard administration, admissions to California’s newest prison near Stockton California were halted Feb. 5 by the court-appointed healthcare receiver, law professor Clark Kelso. The prison, the first new facility in a decade, is the lynch-pin of the administration’s frequent claim to have gotten on top of California’s decades … Continue reading »

From the War on Crime to ‘World War Z’: What the zombie apocalypse can tell us about the current state of our culture of fear

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | January 10, 2014

Zombies are everywhere.  Ok not (yet) on the streets (so far as I know); but in our cultural imaginary they are everywhere.  You can find them (in small groups and hordes) in high budget nail biting thriller movies like Brad Pitt’s World War Z (2013), on television, and all over print and digital reading material, much of … Continue reading »

‘Justice’ in the murder years: More tales from the Brooklyn crypt

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | December 5, 2013

The New York Times continues its on going series of investigatory features on wrongful convictions or likely wrongful convictions produced by Brooklyn’s law enforcement and court system in the 1980s and early 1990s with a gripping and sad story by Frances Robles on two Brooklyn teenagers (now 30 and 31) convicted of killing a corrections … Continue reading »

Beard must go: California needs a fresh start in corrections, not a cover-up for business as usual

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | August 14, 2013

When Governor Brown appointed Jeffrey Beard to be the new Secretary of Corrections in California last year, it was supposed to signal a new era.  After decades of Correctional leaders who were insiders, brought up in a system that had normalized a state of permanent crisis and systemic inhumanity, Mr. Beard looked to be reason … Continue reading »


Jonathan Simon, professor of law | July 8, 2013

Today, July 8, 2013, prisoners in California’s supermax “SHU” units (for Secured Housing Units), are commencing a hunger strike and work stoppage, their second in two years (read the solidarity statement here). This is tragic. Hunger strikes are an extraordinary act of self deprivation by people who have almost nothing.  They can result in the … Continue reading »

Lessons from the ‘sordid decades’: Miscarriages of justice in NY’s ‘War on Crime’ in the ’80s and ’90s

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | May 14, 2013

Any reader of the paper of record will be impressed with the series of impressive features dealing with various aspects of county level justice in the five boroughs that make up New York City.  While not all of them have cast their gaze backwards (for instance the superb recent series on delay in the Bronx County courts). … Continue reading »

Living it up at the Hotel California: For Jerry Brown and California’s political leadership, it’s always 1977

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | May 6, 2013

Watching California politics these days I can’t help feeling that I’m lost in the late 1970s, when I first moved to the Golden State (in August of ’77 with the Eagle’s hit released that March still riding high on the charts). It’s not just that Jerry Brown is still governor. It’s that when it comes … Continue reading »

‘Mass incarceration now, tomorrow, forever’: Gov. Jerry Brown and the politics of court bashing

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | April 16, 2013

Just about two years ago, in May 2011, the US Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata 131 S.Ct. 1910 (2011) upheld what Justice Scalia called the “most radical court injunction in our nation’s history.”  The injunction imposed by a special 3-Judge federal court in August 2009, required California to reduce its prison population by some 40,000 prisoners, … Continue reading »

Gated nightmares

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | February 21, 2013

It has all the feel of a Twilight Zone episode, only in a setting that is unmistakably contemporary.  The nightmare is framed by this setting, a house in a gated community.  It could be a very posh house, like the one where Oscar Pistorious lived and admits he shot to death his girlfriend, the model … Continue reading »