Here’s How NYC Corrections Could Change After Rikers Island Shuts Down

An independent criminal justice reform commission in New York City has released a report with one simple conclusion: ?We must close the jail complex on Rikers Island. Period.? 

The Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform on Sunday officially released the blueprint for the city?s 10-year plan to shut down Rikers Island, the city?s notorious jail complex that?s considered among the worst in the U.S.

?With the dedicated efforts of this Commission, along with support from Mayor [Bill] de Blasio, today, we can say that the dream of closing Rikers Island will finally become a reality,? New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D) said in a statement Sunday.

Mark-Viverito commissioned a report last year on the possibility of closing Rikers. The 146-page findings were posted Friday ahead of Sunday?s formal announcement. 

The 10,000 inmates at the facility include men, women and juveniles. Many Rikers prisoners are pretrial detainees too poor to afford bail, or nonviolent offenders with sentences too brief to justify a transfer to a new facility. 

Per the report, a crucial step to closing Rikers would be halving its population to less than 5,000 so it could be replaced by a smaller, borough-based jail system. The five facilities of that system would be located near various courthouses. Such a system would cost over $10 billion.

The commission offers a number of proposals to help cut the Rikers population in half, including an overhaul of the bail bonds process; investing in neighborhood crime prevention strategies; alternative sentencing for low-level offenses; job training and employment opportunities for people leaving jail; improved mental health access and treatment; and raising the city?s age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said on Sunday that shrinking the city?s correctional footprint and maintaining public safety are not mutually exclusive goals. 

?We?ve shown in the past several years you can do both: You can have a fair criminal justice system that protects the community ? with one stand of justice for everyone ? but also lower the number of people being incarcerated,? Gonzalez said at a news conference. ?You don?t have to incarcerate your way to public safety.? 

The city has been under increasing pressure to shutter Rikers amid years of exposes, scathing Justice Department reports and a flurry of expensive lawsuits.

A backlogged and sluggish court system means that detainees spend an average of nine months awaiting trial while being housed in a facility notorious for its abuse, violence by inmates and guards and the capricious use of solitary confinement. 

The scrutiny reached new heights in 2015 after Kalief Browder, a Bronx teenager, hanged himself following his time in Rikers. Browder was jailed at 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack. He went on to spend three years at Rikers without a conviction ? including 800 days in solitary confinement. 

In the report released Sunday, commissioners called Rikers Island a ?stain on our great city that leaves its mark on everyone it touches,? including inmates, corrections staff, attorneys and the taxpayers who ?devote billions of dollars each year to keep the whole dysfunctional apparatus running.?

?Put simply,? the report said, ?Rikers Island is a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.? 

Advocates for mass incarceration reform have long called for a closing of Rikers, and have been supported in recent years by local officials like Mark-Viverito and state officials like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) had been more reluctant to move ahead with the Rikers closure until there was a clear idea of what would take its place. His stance has softened on account of the city?s falling crime rate, which he said makes Rikers? closure more attainable on a 10-year timeline. 

?A year ago, we didn?t think it could be done,? de Blasio said last week, according to NPR. ?It would [have] been irresponsible for me to say we had a plan if we didn?t have a real plan. We now have a real plan.?

In announcing news of the plan on Friday, de Blasio called Rikers ?an example and an expression? of the nation?s mass incarceration crisis.

?The mass incarceration crisis did not being in New York City, but it will end here,? de Blasio said. ?We are going to end the era of mass incarceration by making this important change.?

The long-term plan, once Rikers Island is emptied of prisoners, is to redevelop it.

There would be a number of unique challenges and costs associated with redeveloping an isolated island once used as a dumping ground for garbage. Some of the possibilities include using the island as a waste treatment facility, a renewable energy hub or a runway expansion to nearby LaGuardia Airport.

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Community Rallies To Free Elephant Herd Trapped In Muddy Bomb Crater

Eleven elephants have been saved from ghastly deaths in Cambodia thanks to the collaboration of local villagers and wildlife conservation groups.

People living near the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in the province of Mondulkiri saw that the pachyderms were trapped in a large pit that a U.S. B52 bomb had originally created, the Cambodia Daily reported on Monday. In more recent years, the local community has been using the crater to store water.

The herd had apparently become stuck in the muddy pit, unable to scale the steep sides, when they wandered in to drink and bathe, according to LiveScience. By the time the local farmers spotted them on Sunday, it was clear they had been there for some time.

?They obviously had been in there at least a couple of days ? because the little baby was very exhausted and the mud was so sticky,? Jemma Bullock of Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment told Cambodia Daily. She added that the elephants would likely have soon died from exhaustion had people not intervened.

The people who saw the elephants contacted the provincial environmental department, which brought in representatives from ELIE, the World Wildlife Fund, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Wildlife Alliance Cambodia to help. Staff from those groups teamed up numerous people from the local community to dig into the side of the crater and construct a makeshift ramp for the herd.

Video footage of the rescue (above) shows the elephants making their way up the ramp and walking free. While 10 of them escaped this way, the final elephant ? a young one weakened by the ordeal, had to be lifted out using ropes.

Tan Setha of WCS told LiveScience that the deaths of the entire herd ? which included three adult females and eight juveniles ? would have seriously hindered conservation efforts in the sanctuary.

?These elephants represent an important part of the breeding population in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, and their loss would have been a major blow to conservation,? he said.

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For Hard-Liners, Even The Trump EPA Isn’t Doing Enough To Undermine Climate Science

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt ? the former Oklahoma attorney general who made his name by suing the agency more than a dozen times and says he does not agree that human activity is a primary contributor to global warming ? isn?t even enough of a hard-line climate change denier for some players in President Donald Trump?s administration.

A schism is brewing within the administration over what to do about a somewhat-obscure EPA ruling that, for the last eight years, has been the bedrock of policy to fight global warming: the scientific conclusion that greenhouse gases cause climate change, which is bad for humans and should be regulated.

A 2007 Supreme Court ruling found that the agency is obligated to regulate any type of air pollution that ?may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare? under the 1970 Clean Air Act. The George W. Bush administration?s EPA determined that greenhouse gases were, in fact, a danger, but decided not to do anything about it. The Obama administration?s EPA took the issue up shortly after taking office and, in December 2009, issued its conclusion ? commonly called the endangerment finding ? which compelled the agency to start regulating those emissions.

The endangerment finding is the foundation of all of Obama?s global warming regulations, including the Clean Power Plan, which strictly limits emissions from power plants, the major contributors of U.S. emissions.

With an executive order signed Tuesday, Trump began the process to dismantle the power plant rules, which the Supreme Court had already blocked in response to the state lawsuits Pruitt spearheaded in his previous job.

However, the order Trump signed made no mention of the endangerment finding. It?s unclear if earlier drafts had addressed it, since the Trump campaign had said in written statements that he would overturn the finding, but it was Pruitt who argued against including it, Politico and CNN reported, insisting the language would trigger a difficult, years-long legal battle.

Pruitt?s approach puts him at loggerheads with Myron Ebell, the emphatic climate science denier who led Trump?s EPA transition team. Soon after the inauguration, Ebell, who oversees global warming and environmental policy at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, submitted a petition to the EPA requesting the agency reconsider the endangerment finding. The EPA has yet to respond. On Thursday, Ebell accused the White House of playing hot potato with a process he says is critical to prevent courts or a future administration from policing greenhouse gases, which he does not believe cause global warming.

?There?s a kind of passing of responsibility here,? Ebell told The Huffington Post by phone on Thursday. ?I don?t know what advice [Pruitt] has listened to, but I?ve consulted a lot of lawyers on this, too.?

?If I had it my own way, I would advise the president to reopen the finding,? he added.

Ebell acknowledges that leaving the endangerment finding in place would make undoing the Clean Power Plan a legal nightmare.  

?If you take down the building but leave the foundation, you?re going to get in trouble,? Ebell said. ?We need to excavate the foundation and cart it away. The endangerment finding is the foundation.? (He tempered the comparison moments later, admitting: ?I don?t like analogical thinking. It?s very misleading to think analogically.?)

But overturning the endangerment finding wouldn?t be easy. White House attorneys would need to prove in court that the finding was arbitrary and capricious. Meeting that standard would require them to debunk the overwhelming scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions cause global warming.

?I don?t see on the horizon anything that would permit them to overturn this and have it legally upheld,? said Lisa Heinzerling, a law professor at Georgetown University who is credited with crafting the strategy of states and environmental groups in Massachusetts v. EPA, a 2007 ruling that said the EPA should regulate greenhouse gases. ?That?s because of the strength of the scientific evidence and because of the law.?

The legal odds are overwhelmingly in environmentalists? favor. In 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a challenge to the endangerment finding from Pruitt himself. The court?s reading of the Clean Air Act found that the law requires a precautionary approach to scientific uncertainty. As a result, the roughly 3 percent of actively publishing climate scientists who don?t believe that greenhouse gases cause global warming represent too small a fraction to tilt the scales in favor of doubt, Heinzerling said. Plus, the Clean Air Act gives exclusive jurisdiction to the D.C. Circuit, meaning the Trump administration would need to sway the same court that unanimously upheld the endangerment finding five years ago.

?Bottom line is the enviros would welcome that fight,? said David Bookbinder, who in 2007 served as counsel to The Sierra Club in the Supreme Court case that laid the groundwork for the endangerment finding. He?s now chief counsel at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank.

?The president can?t just stand up and say, ?no endangerment finding,?? he added. ?The court would say, ?Everything you told us you now think is wrong is based on what? Some crank scientists representing 1 percent of the world?s science and their nutcase views?? It?s not going to fly. They have to have a rational basis for doing this.?

But Ebell?s not the only Trump associate who wants him to try to throw the endangerment finding out.

Breitbart News, the far-right news site run until recently by chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, accused Pruitt of ?failing to drain the swamp at the EPA? in a blaring headline Monday. Citing unnamed sources, James Delingpole, a London-based columnist and hard-line skeptic of climate science, accused Pruitt of putting his political ambitions ahead of his promise to ?take on the Green Blob.?

?True, his credentials as a climate sceptic are not much in doubt. Yes, he might even agree with President Trump that there?s a swamp out there that sorely needs draining,? Delingpole wrote a day before the executive order came out. ?The problem is, insiders explain, is that the future of the EPA is of far less interest to Pruitt than his prospects of becoming either one of Oklahoma?s next senators or its next governor.?

Come next election, we?ll punish him at the ballot box.
H. Sterling Burnett, Heartland Institute research fellow, on Donald Trump

Absent White House support, zealous critics of climate action say they plan to lobby members of Congress to pass a bill to strip the EPA of its regulatory powers by amending the Clean Air Act. Possible allies include Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the antagonistic chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; and Sens. John Barrasso (R-Pa.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who once infamously displayed a snowball on the Senate floor as proof that global warming doesn?t exist.

A spokeswoman for the House Science Committee said there is no current legislation being considered. Mike Danylak, a spokesman for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which Barrasso chairs, said, ?Congress has never explicitly given the EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and the Senate EPW committee has no plans to do so.? But he said Barrasso is not exploring legislation to target the endangerment finding. Inhofe?s spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

?If Congress passed that law, Trump would sign it,? said H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow on energy and the environment at the Illinois-based Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank. ?That would put the kibosh on it right there.?

The White House referred HuffPost to the EPA, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Burnett said he?s holding out hope that Trump will fulfill his campaign promise to overturn the endangerment finding and, ultimately, withdraw from the 195-country Paris Agreement, the historic first global deal to reduce carbon emissions that includes the U.S. and China. But he sees battle lines being drawn in the White House. He views Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ? who has said the U.S. should maintain its seat at the negotiating table by remaining in the agreement ? and the president?s eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who serves as a top adviser to the president, as getting in the way of that.

?To the extent that he has people pushing back on this within his own administration, it?s a matter of the public?s responsibility to hold his feet to the fire,? Burnett said of Trump. ?He didn?t say ?I?ll renegotiate the Paris Agreement.? He said he?d withdraw. It?s public. It?s out there. It?s in print.?

He warned that failure to do so could turn voters against Trump if he runs for reelection in 2020.

?Come next election, we?ll punish him at the ballot box,? Burnett said. ?If he doesn?t reverse the endangerment finding ? which he?s said is a terrible thing, it?s job killing ? if he doesn?t do that, we?re going to hold him accountable.?

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Alec Baldwin: ‘Just To Clean Up The Mess’ After Trump Will Be ‘Almost Impossible’

Alec Baldwin?s Twitter presence is infamous enough to both warrant a ?South Park? parody and a loving moniker from his longtime friend Tina Fey. In an interview Fey did with David Letterman for The Hollywood Reporter after the election, she talked about Donald Trump?s mistake in feuding with Baldwin on the social media platform.

?You think you?re good at being a jerk on Twitter? You will now face the grandmaster of being a jerk on Twitter,? joked Fey.

The Huffington Post?s Bill Bradley caught up with Baldwin before the ACLU?s March 31 ?Stand For Rights? benefit to ask what how the actor would approach Twitter if he somehow became president.

?I don?t think I would do Twitter if I was the president of the United States,? Baldwin first said, before explaining that he sees value in having a social media team post speeches and other formal messages.

Baldwin, who?s keeping busy impersonating the 45th president on ?Saturday Night Live,? then launched into a Trump impression, saying he wouldn?t send tweets like, ?The failing New York Times is terrible.?

?I think that?s crazy,? he said.

Baldwin went on to further express concern over the current administration:

But I think that the president, especially now, there?s so many problems we?re going to have to undo. I mean, when Trump is gone, to undo [this] will be like one of these flood zones. It will be like when a tsunami hits a town. Just to clean up the mess these people have made is going to be almost impossible.

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This Awesome Family Jumped Around In The Mud For A Maternity Photo Shoot

A fun-loving Texas family turned an ordinary maternity photo shoot into muddy adventure.

While expecting their third child, Jon and Brittany Barton of Waxahachie hired photographer Elaine Baca of Lane B Photography to take family maternity pictures with their other two children, 4-year-old Declan and 2-year-old Noah. Due to some weather issues, the shoot got a little … messy.

?Lately in Texas when it rains it pours,? Baca told The Huffington Post. ?In the weeks leading up to the maternity session, the rain was relentless. We had rescheduled the session a couple of times already, and Brittany was quickly approaching the end of her pregnancy ? so we knew he might come any day.?

Baca knew Brittany and Jon were outdoorsy and wanted to keep the shoot outside, so the photographer suggested something a bit unconventional. 

?They have a huge backyard which backs up to a field and I knew it had lots of muddy puddles, so I asked her what she thought about playing in the rain and ending with a mud fight,? Baca explained. Brittany didn?t even hesitate to give the go-ahead. 

On the day of the shoot, the Bartons posed for a few conventional photos before letting loose in the mud. Brittany, Jon, Declan and Noah all got their hands dirty, though Baca said the parents had the most fun.

?They weren?t just casually throwing mud, they were chunking it at each other!? she recalled. ?Declan was worried about getting his white shirt muddy so it took some convincing before he started having fun. The boys still talk about how much fun they had.?

Brittany was 38 weeks along in her pregnancy during the photo shoot, and she gave birth to a baby boy just nine days later. The couple named their son Matthew. 

The joy-filled photos from the maternity session epitomize how much the Bartons love spending time together, Baca told HuffPost. 

?For me, photo sessions are all about preserving memories and making new ones. With small children it?s about remembering their ever-changing personalities and quirks that make them unique,? she explained, adding that she hopes families who see her photos will opt for candid, documentary-style sessions in the future.

?With this genre of photography, parents don?t have to stress about getting their little ones to sit still and look at the camera and kids get to be kids while doing something everyone enjoys.?

Keep scrolling for more awesome photos from the Bartons? muddy maternity shoot.

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Democracy Can Still Deliver

A voter waits to cast his ballot in Bekkersdal, near Johannesburg, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

Democracy is going through a rough patch. Freedom House reports that the number of democracies around the world has retreated….http://feeds.cfr.org/~r/icoleman/~3/raTnxErUWTU/
div>A voter waits to cast his ballot in Bekkersdal, near Johannesburg, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

Democracy is going through a rough patch. Freedom House reports that the number of democracies around the world has retreated…