For the past seven years, I have written a year-end “wish list” of criminal justice reforms I’d like to see happen in the common year. Here’s mine for 2021, with ways you can get involved below. What’s on your wish list?

EDITED (11/20/20): A federal judge temporarily delayed the December 8th execution of Lisa Montgomery, so that her lawyers can recover and prepare a clemency petition. Read on, as the fight for her life continues.


Lisa Montgomery is scheduled to die by lethal injection on December 8th. Montgomery would be the first woman executed by the federal government in almost 70 years.

Montgomery also faces the prospect of being executed without the assistance of her lawyers, Kelley Henry and Amy Harwell. Both attorneys contracted COVID-19 after visiting Montgomery to work on her clemency petition.

Lisa Montgomery/Attorneys for Lisa Montgomery

The Trump Administration’s Killing Machine

Before this past summer, the last…

While we wait for final confirmation that Joe Biden won the presidency, one thing is clear: this election was a win for criminal justice reform.

State and Local Criminal Justice Wins

Around the country, drug reform initiatives passed. New Jersey, Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota now count themselves among the 15 states, plus Washington DC, that have legalized marijuana. In Mississippi, voters passed a medical marijuana initiative.

Leaf: Labrador Photo Video/Shutterstock. Neurons: Andrii Vodolazhskyi/Shutterstock

Oregon legalized psilocybin for therapeutic use, while Washington D.C. decriminalized possession. And Oregon decriminalized personal possession of heroin and cocaine, sending the clear message that drug addiction requires treatment, not prison cells.

Reformist prosecutors swept into office in large…

Once an event is mislabeled as a crime, forward momentum takes over — especially when there’s already a suspect

Photo: Choochart Choochaikupt/EyeEm/Getty Images

In 2012, Rodricus Crawford was wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in Louisiana for the murder of his one-year-old son, Roderius. Years later, it was revealed that Roderius had not been killed but rather had died from pneumonia and sepsis in his lungs.

How, then, did Crawford wind up on death row for a murder that never happened?

Crawford was convicted because of a number of interrelated factors. He was Black and poor in a city rife with racial division. Responders arrived with biased expectations about what had likely occurred in Crawford’s home and ignored evidence suggesting that the infant’s…

Julius Jones has spent the last 20 years on Oklahoma’s death row for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit.

It’s stories like his that should make us put an end to the death penalty.

In the fall of 1998, Jones was a freshman engineering student at the University of Oklahoma on a presidential scholarship. By the summer of 1999, Jones was in custody for the murder of 45-year-old Paul Howell, a businessman and father shot dead during a carjacking.

Jones claims that he was home with his family at the time of the shooting, but he was…

Robert Fuller, a twenty-four-year old black man, was found on June 10th, hanging from a tree near City Hall in Palmdale, California. With very little investigation, the local police quickly declared his death to be an apparent suicide, a response that Fuller’s family and friends flatly disputed. There was little evidence to support such a conclusion, they argued, and denied that Fuller was suicidal.

Josie Huang/AP

Just two weeks earlier, on May 31st, some 50 miles east of Palmdale, another black man, Malcolm Harsch, was found hanging from a tree outside the city public library. …

Millions of Americans have now watched the stomach-turning scene over and over: George Floyd handcuffed, lying prostrate on his stomach in the asphalt street, pleading for his life, calling for his mother, gasping “I can’t breathe.” All the while, Derek Chauvin, hands casually resting in his pockets, continues to deeply press his knee into Floyd’s neck. Officers Thomas Lane and K. Alexander Keung, with the help of Officer Tou Thao, hold down an already immobilized Floyd. Floyd dies before our eyes.

From left to right: Tou Thao, Derek Chauvin, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane (credit: Henn. Co. Jail)

The urgent need for police reform has galvanized the nation, with good reason. Far too many black lives have…

Walter “Arkie” Barton is scheduled to be executed by the State of Missouri on Tuesday, May 19th. Missouri may well be executing an innocent man.

Walter “Arkie” Barton

Barton’s Five Trials and the Prosecution Unit that Led the Charge

In 1991, 81-year-old Gladys Kuehler was stabbed to death at her home in a trailer park. Barton, who also lived in the trailer park and knew Kuehler, soon became the prime suspect in the grisly murder.

Barton was tried five times, with one trial ending in a mistrial and another in a hung jury. He was convicted at his third trial, but that conviction was overturned because of serious legal errors.

Which brings us to…

The criminal justice system abounds with inequities. Today’s news headlines are full of stories about our nation’s jail and prisons, where poor people and people of color, who make up a far larger percentage of the incarcerated in this country than they should, face unchecked exposure to the coronavirus. But the disparities for the poor from our criminal justice system extend well-beyond the pandemic.

For those of you who care about criminal justice, Director Erin Lee Carr’s latest Netflix docuseries “How to Fix a Drug Scandal” is a must-see. …

New Jersey just took a major step toward protecting the public from the coronavirus. It ordered the release of nearly 1,000 low-level offenders in county jails — which represents about one-tenth of the jail population.

Photo by Damir Spanic on Unsplash

This makes good sense. Jails and prisons are breeding grounds for viral diseases.

People in prison live on top of each other. They eat communally, have recreation communally, and are packed into cells often originally designed for one person. There is no such thing as social distancing in prison.

Then there is the reality of prison conditions. Prison facilities are notoriously filthy. Sinks may be…

Jessica S. Henry

Criminal Justice Reform/Prof/Fmr public defender. Blog@ au:Smoke but No Fire: Convicting the Innocent of Crimes that Never Happened

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