Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner overwhelmingly defeated a primary challenge this week from former prosecutor Carlos Vega in a race that was largely seen as a litmus test for progressive criminal justice policies nationwide. “We in this movement for criminal justice reform just won a big one,” Krasner said in his victory speech. “Four years ago, we promised reform, and a focus on serious crime. People believed what were, at that point, ideas. Promises. And they voted us into office with a mandate. We kept those promises.” Krasner reduced the use of cash bail, stopped prosecuting low-level crimes, set limits on probation and parole sentences, decreased the city’s incarceration rate, committed to data transparency, and took on police accountability. He came into office as part of a wave of progressive prosecutors elected across the country, and many thought this race would go the other way, portending a backlash against reformers and a return to more tough-on-crime policies. Why? Krasner’s opponent blamed him for the city’s spike in violent crime. But that trend is consistent across U.S. cities, regardless of whether the prosecutor in town is progressive. According to research from criminologists Thomas Abt and Richard Rosenfeld, “the overlapping crises” of the pandemic and social unrest around police violence have contributed to the rise in homicides we are seeing today. They urge policymakers to respond boldly, with more support for underserved populations, proactive violence reduction efforts coordinated between law enforcement and community groups, and policing reforms that will renew trust in the justice system. This same debate is playing out in the New York City mayoral race, with some candidates embracing aggressive policing tactics to address the rise in crime. This won’t work, says AV’s Jeremy Travis: “If you go back to the old playbook, it won’t produce a return to the days of low crime. The key here is to make the right diagnosis as to what’s causing the increase, and then act after understanding how deep the pandemic’s disruption goes, and with it the lack of opportunity young people experience in these neighborhoods.” If the Krasner race was any indication, reformers should feel confident that there is momentum in the movement and that people want to see more fairness and justice in the way the system operates. “The starting point has dramatically shifted over the last few years,” Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, tells The Intercept. “And I think it’s by virtue of the fact that communities want something different. They’re no longer embracing the failed tough-on-crime paradigms of the past.”
By Ashley Winstead, Director of Strategic Communications
Research long ago proved that solitary confinement — where an incarcerated person is locked up alone, typically in a cell the size of a parking space, for at least 22 hours a day — is not an effective form of punishment. Instead of deterring bad behavior, solitary tends to exacerbate it. Instead of rehabilitating a person, it can wreak extensive damage. No one knows that better than the directly impacted people and families we spoke to for this story.
What’s Happening: More states are taking notice of research and survivor testimonials and are working to curb long-term solitary confinement, with 75 pieces of legislation introduced in 32 states this year alone. The hope, advocates say, is that more people will come to see the reality of solitary and open the doors to changing or ending the practice.
Why It Matters: While states like New York have made the news recently for taking important steps to curb solitary confinement, advocates worry the pandemic will actually backtrack progress. Solitary confinement has become many prison systems’ de facto public health response to COVID-19. As reported by the Unlock the Box campaign, there has been a 500 percent increase in the use of solitary since the advent of the pandemic. “I’m not so sure that we’re not going to find ourselves in a kind of rolling back of some of our hard-fought gains in the past 10 years with this pervasive use of solitary,” says Jessica Sandoval of Unlock the Box. “I just feel even more urgent that this cannot be an option anymore. We have to take this off the table.”
An additional $3 billion from the latest COVID-19 relief package adds to the funds already in the pipeline to fight opioids, increasing federal spending for opioid treatment by about 25 percent. But with those funds come a sense of urgency to spend for maximum impact.
Why It Matters: More than 87,000 people died from drug overdoses in the year leading up to September 2020, a 12-month record. About 70 percent involved misuse of opioids. For people like Sarah Sartori, who had access to proven treatments after becoming addicted to oxycodone prescribed after a severe car accident, how these new dollars are spent could mean the difference between life and death.
How To Get It Right: A report from Legal Action Center, based on work led by Dr. Richard Frank, gives states and local governments a detailed guide to evidence-based treatments for opioid use disorder, no matter the region or the budget. Meanwhile, Bloomberg Philanthropies has embedded experts to help states use the funding, and a new set of principles calls for using “evidence to guide spending” in order to effectively use funds to save lives.
By Rhiannon Meyers Collette, Communications Manager
Nearly half of Americans — about 150 million people nationwide — are covered by employer-sponsored insurance, but this type of health care coverage is becoming increasingly expensive for employees and their employers. How expensive? The average family with job-based coverage now pays more than $20,000 annually in premiums — or the cost of a new sedan every year. Costs are rising because of the increasingly high prices providers are charging for care. Health care markets have become more consolidated, giving large systems the power to dictate what they charge and resulting in irrational and often excessive prices.
Why It Matters: More money spent on health care coverage means less money to spend elsewhere. “Workers often end up paying more for less generous coverage while at the same time their wages are stagnating,” my colleagues Erica Socker and Mark Miller write in a new piece in Health Affairs. “Even for people with job-based coverage, many struggle to afford care. Four in 10 adults enrolled in coverage through their employer reported difficulty affording health care or health insurance costs. Half reported someone in their family delayed needed care or prescription drugs because of the cost.”
What's Next: As policymakers seek to tackle health reform, they must address the unaffordability of employer-sponsored insurance, Socker and Miller write. To do that, they must consider limiting prices resulting from the most egregious market failures. “Reducing prices in the employer market would make families better off, lower the health care costs employers face and allow them to pass along some of the savings to workers in the form of higher wages, and reduce the federal deficit, largely by increasing tax revenues.”
A letter to the editor from AV’s Walter Katz to the Washington Post calling on states and the federal government to regulate police like doctors and lawyers. “Law enforcement officers face different levels of accountability and oversight depending on whether they’re in a major city or a small town. This discrepancy undermines the ability of the public to hold officers responsible when they fail to protect and serve.”
This nuanced take from the Los Angeles Times on the tenure of District Attorney George Gascón, who was elected on a promise to “rebalance the scales of justice” and is now facing the challenge of redefining for a skeptical legal system and public what it means to be a crime victim.
A New York Times Q&A withEric Cumberbatch, deputy director in the NYC Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, who is on a mission to curb violence through community outreach.
How two bills in the Texas Legislature meant to address unconstitutional bail systems fall short of real reform, writes former Harris County Judge Mike Fields in the Houston Chronicle.
An overview of the central role the government has played in the COVID-19 vaccine’s success, via Health Affairs. “The government cushioned the pharmaceutical industry from much of the risks associated with vaccine development” by putting federal dollars behind research, clinical trials, manufacturing, and procurement.
News that Community Health Systems Inc., a nationwide hospital system, continued to sue more than 19,000 patients during the pandemic, despite having one of its most profitable years in 2020, receiving more than $700 million in federal aid, and giving top executives millions in bonuses, via CNN.
Rep. Katie Porter's whiteboard returns, this time as she grills drugmaker AbbVie’s CEO on allegations that the company has inflated drug prices, The Hill reports.
How some billionaires are falling short in their pledge to give away their wealth and still getting tax breaks, via Business Insider. One of the ways this happens is through the use of donor-advised funds, or DAFs. The Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving aims to close the loophole created by DAFs by requiring account holders to give away all their money in the funds within 15 years, or forgo the upfront tax break.
What We're Watching
The Healthcare Divide, an investigation from FRONTLINE and NPR on the profit-driven market forces and uneven government support that have created a two-tiered system of health care in America: the haves and have-nots. COVID-19 only helped to expose these inequities. While safety-net hospitals have struggled to make ends meet, other hospital systems have posted healthy profits, even during the pandemic. Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Erlanger is a test case. In an effort to attract more “profitable” patients, the hospital spent considerable financial resources to expand services and launch an advertising blitz (complete with a Super Bowl presence and JLo spot). But it didn’t work, and quality and care suffered. The piece looks at the structural racism in how we pay for health care, the “black box” of supplemental Medicare payments — meant to help hospitals like Erlanger keep finances afloat and maintain quality of care —and what happens when private equity steps in to take over a community’s hospital.
Also: West Health breaks down how health care consolidation leads not to lower patient costs, but to higher out-of-pocket costs, higher premiums, and lower take-home pay.
What We're Listening To
This Reveal podcast on why police reform fails, in partnership with The Missouri Independent. They talk to St. Louis, Missouri, activist Kayla Reed, part of a new generation of leaders dedicated to fighting for reform. “I was just a person who lived in St. Louis, who understood that Mike Brown shouldn’t have died that day.” They also delve into the power of police unions and talk with James Buchanan, a founder of the Ethical Society of Police, a union founded by Black officers to fight for racial equity in the department and community.
Some Final Inspiration
You may have seen the young band The Linda Lindas in Amy Poehler’s film “Moxie.” Please enjoy this legendary performance of their song “Racist Sexist Boy” at #RockAgainstHate earlier this month.
Here are the women who will appear on the quarter for the first time in 2022 — and you can help choose who will be minted next, the 19th* reports.
Our Complex Care team isfunding research into how to improve the systems that deliver care to a population of more than 12 million people who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. Learn more here.
(And Happy "Sweet Sixteen" Anniversary today to my incredible husband, David!)
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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