Yet again, 2020 throws us into a fresh loop of uncertainty — this year is nothing if not consistent. Our new normal means every day surprises and little time for contemplation and reflection, but I hope you'll spend a few minutes today diving into the issues below, including the unsustainability of prescription drug prices, what science says about body-worn cameras, data on police misconduct, and ways to improve our democracy, to name a few.
Pharma's Bad Behavior, Exposed
By Rhiannon Meyers Collette, Communications Manager
Six top pharmaceutical executives testified before Congress this week on the unsustainability of prescription drug prices. The two-day hearings centered on six drugs with exorbitant price points — one as high as $123,000 per year — and members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform wasted no time digging through internal company documents and turning pharma’s own words against them.
Memorable moments: Aside from Rep. Katie Porter’s notorious white board — which apparently has its own Twitter account — the testimony and records obtained by the committee were enlightening. The pharmaceutical industry has long pinned the blame for high drug prices on investment in research and development, the need to be innovative, and rebates they must pay middlemen. But a veritable treasure trove of internal memos shows that, privately, drug company executives plot to hike prices in order to generate higher revenues and bigger executive bonuses and to block generics for decades. Said one Teva executive about the high price of its multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone: It “might be good for … some of your bonuses :)”
Why it matters: High prices affect everyone, from patients like Ramae Hamrin of Minnesota, who worries her cancer drug Revlimid will force her to “deplete her life savings, cash out her 401k and sell her house,” to taxpayers writ large, who cover the cost of what Medicare spends on drugs. There’s bipartisan support for reforms that would effectively lower the price of drugs — all Congress needs to do is take action.
Day 1: Pharma’s Bad Behaviors Exposed in Congressional TestimonyRead the story >
Day 2: Pharma Execs Struggle to Answer Tough Questions on Unsustainable Drug Prices Read the story >
Related: All of Trump’s executive orders on drug pricing, explained.
What the Science Says
About Body-Worn Cameras
By Evan Mintz, Communications Manager
Body-worn cameras have become a go-to solution for activists and politicians seeking easy reforms to policing — my own state representative has been touting her reform bona fides by supporting police body-cams in her Internet ads. But what do these cameras actually accomplish? An unprecedented review of body-worn camera research by the Campbell Collaboration set out to answer that question. It involved 30 studies and covered 12 different types of outcome measures for officer or citizen behavior.
The result: Body-worn cameras weren’t found to significantly affect officer arrests, use of force, tickets issued, stop-and-frisks, or other measured behaviors. Nor did the review find consistent impact on citizen behavior during police interactions, such as the frequency of citizens resisting arrest or assaulting an officer. The only significant outcome was a reduction in the number of civilian complaints against officers — and even then, the reasoning isn’t clear.
What’s next: First, politicians and activists need to realize the limits on what cameras can do and stop overpromising results that aren’t based on data and research. Meanwhile, there’s still a need for stronger research into body-worn cameras and how different designs and implementation decisions can impact their effectiveness. We delve into the report with two of its authors, Howard White, CEO of The Campbell Collaboration, and Cynthia Lum, a professor of criminology and Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University.
An evidence-backed Nevada reemployment program is helping millions find jobs faster AND saving the state money. This is especially good news as thousands are unemployed and state budgets are shrinking by the minute.
What it is: Through a new approach by the Nevada Reemployment and Eligibility Assessment Program, clients are offered both eligibility reviews and job coaching assistance at the same time. What once felt like an interrogation for many has ended up being the job assistance they needed to get better, higher-paying jobs.
The results: Workers are getting off unemployment sooner and seeing better earnings three years after they completed the program. “Eye-popping effects like this are rare...but when you can find exceptional programs, you should pay attention and try to scale them up,” says David Anderson, Director of Evidence-Based Policy at Arnold Ventures. So why isn’t every state following suit?
For decades, information about New York Police Department misconduct records have been hidden from public scrutiny. In the wake of George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, New York state finally changed the law and opened law enforcement to public accountability. This week, the NYU Public Safety Lab released a first-of-its-kind analysis of this information — studying 323,911 misconduct complaints filed against NYPD officers with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. The findings pointed to a racial pattern: Precincts with a higher percentage of Black residents had a higher-than-expected number of misconduct complaints.
Why it matters: People have a right to expect policing that is responsive and fair. We now have data that shows race is a key determinant in whether people feel their local police officers are treating them properly and with respect. The data also found that a small number of officers were responsible for a high number of complaints. At a time when activists and protesters across the country are calling for a reimagining — or even defunding — of police departments, this study shows — with hard data — that race-based policing is a serious problem police departments must confront.
What’s next: Leadership in NYPD and New York’s City Hall need to rethink their training methods and rely on data to focus on the officers who have the largest numbers of misconduct complaints. Across the country, this research should be a lesson for leaders in law enforcement about how misconduct complaints can be reduced.
Related: How many George Floyds & Breonna Taylors are there? We don’t know, because much about our criminal justice system is shrouded in secrecy, writes our VP of Research Stuart Buck in the Houston Chronicle. “If lawmakers are going to get serious about reforming police departments, we need to begin a transparent process of collecting and publishing data on policing.”
What We're Reading
A major win for criminal justice reform in California with the enactment of AB 1950, probation reform that will help reduce incarceration and reintegrate people into their communities, via The Source.
How the opioid epidemic has taken a sharp turn for the worse, with more than 40 states reporting increases in opioid-related deaths since the pandemic began, according to the American Medical Association. This heartbreaking story from The New York Times looks at the human toll behind those statistics.
Two more endorsements for a “yes” vote on California’s Prop. 25 to replace the cash bail system with risk evaluations, from the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune. “Bottom line is that it’s fairer to determine a person’s release on their level of risk than the level of their bank account.”
A first-person perspective on the outrageous cost of phone calls in prison and its impact on families and children. “Every day I watch tears well up in his little girls' eyes because they miss their father. I cradle them in my arms as they cry. Hearing his voice is like an antibiotic for depression, but it’s one we have to ration.”
Arthur Rizer of R Street Institute and Vincent Schiraldi of Columbia Justice Lab writing in the Morning Consult about why a new normal for community supervision after COVID-19 should include shorter but more effective terms, after a new report from the Columbia Justice Lab shows “reducing the number of people under community supervision can correspond to lower crime rates."
A Washington Post op-ed on why Virginians should fight gerrymandering with a “yes” vote on Amendment 1, which would “form a thoroughly bipartisan commission that would forge voting districts — not in hidden backrooms, as has been the practice for decades, but in public, for all to see.”
A call for increased transparency from the FDA to fight the pandemic and maintain the public's trust in this open letter and this STAT op-ed.
What We're Watching
“Whose Vote Counts, Explained,” a three-part series from Vox on the ways our democracy is in trouble — and how we can fix it. Part one deals with our nation’s long history of voter disenfranchisement and the passing and subsequent gutting of the Voting Rights Act. Talking heads include Democrats and Republicans, but especially gripping is the story of Desmond Meade, who led a bipartisan, grass-roots campaign in Florida to restore voting rights to those with past felony convictions. (I heard him speak powerfully on the issue at a conference last year. His strategy for success? “Love.” Unfortunately, Florida lawmakers later derailed the effort.) Part two covers the money poured into U.S. elections, and part three explores our system of representation and why a lot of the policy issues that U.S. voters want to see movement on — affordable health care, gun violence, student debt, criminal justice reform — get nowhere. While there’s no silver bullet, there are ways to improve our democracy, such as abandoning gerrymandering and embracing ranked-choice voting.
The presidential debate: I recently read to my kids “The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners,” and in that story, Mama Bear devises a plan to punish bad behaviors — like interrupting — with chores such as beating two rugs or cleaning the cellar. My daughter declared after this week’s presidential debate that interrupting offenders should have to beat two 30-foot-long White House rugs. Like the rest of you, I wanted to beat my head against a wall after watching (and attempting to live tweet) the most ridiculous and frustrating — and downright disturbing and dangerous — debate of my life. While all debates have their share of hyperbole and the need for fact-checking, this one officially abandoned any pretense that policy and evidence matter — not to mention decorum. Let's hope future debates bring the issues Americans care about back to the forefront.
What We're Listening To
More Vox: The Weeds podcast “By the People: How to make sure your vote is counted,” with voting rights lawyer Sophia Lin Lakin and vote-by-mail advocate Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, for a conversation on voting rights and how to ensure your vote counts in the time of COVID-19. The conversation left host Ian Millhiser feeling more optimistic — something we could all use right now.
Related: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is restricting every county in the state to just one absentee ballot drop-off location, Texas Tribune reports. (Harris County, the state’s most populous, had designated 12 locations over its roughly 1,700 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.) A lawsuit is already underway.
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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