Monday, February 27, 2017

Treating violence as a contagious disease

Boston revives a national drive — decades old but recently gaining momentum — to treat violence as a contagious disease, a public health emergency, reported the Boston Globe.
When a young man appears in the emergency room, stabbed or shot, “he already has the disease of violence,” said Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder and executive director of Cure Violence, the Chicago-based nonprofit that famously deploys street workers to defuse neighborhood conflicts.
The victim’s arrival signals that more violence is likely to occur, and opens an opportunity to heal the social and emotional maladies that feed violence.
As many as 45 percent of people who go to the hospital with violent injuries return within five years, shot or stabbed again, sometimes fatally. And retaliation can lead to further shootings.
“It’s essential that there be the right type of professional who can continue to work with that person — to essentially change his thinking and his lifestyle so he doesn’t remain at this very, very high risk,” Slutkin said.
That’s why, said Slutkin, hospital-based programs such as Boston Medical Center’s Violence Intervention Advocacy Program, now in its 11th year, are essential to any antiviolence effort. The program has recently expanded into job placement and housing assistance.
Some 30 such programs operate in hospitals across the country, including at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital
"Traditionally, violence has been seen as a criminal justice issue,” said Dr. Kyle Fischer, policy director for the National Network of Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs . “The evidence really shows that this is something far beyond that.”
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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Trump Administration to crack down on 'legal' marijuana

President Donald Trump’s administration recently said that it will crack down on marijuana sales in states that have approved recreational pot use, reported McClatchy Newspapers. The war on drugs--marijuana--is back.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the Department of Justice will pursue enforcement of federal law against recreational use, but not medical use. The statement marked a major break with the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to the growing marijuana legalization movement.
“I do believe that you’ll see greater enforcement,” Spicer told reporters at his daily briefing. “Because again there’s a big difference between the medical use … that’s very different than the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”
The decision is certain to provoke a fight with the states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Those states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington and the District of Columbia.
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Saturday, February 25, 2017

GateHouse: It is time to rethink parole

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
February 24, 2017
It is time to rethink parole. Prisons are stuffed beyond capacity and efforts at reform have had minimal impact and have failed to provide any meaningful dividends.
The mantra of many parole boards is that parole is a privilege not a right. There are many legitimate reasons to deny that privilege -- ongoing and persistent failure to conform to prison rules, refusal or failure to complete rehabilitation programs or a pattern of past failures on parole.
There is little an inmate can do to immediately correct a majority of the reasons for denying parole. Other than the passage of time along with a persistent effort to complete programming and a genuine commitment to planning a meaningful reintegration into society, inmates cannot easily undo a parole board's decision to deny parole.
Parole is subjective. There are about 1.5 million men in women in America's state and federal prisons. Most of those men and women will be released someday. Would it be beneficial to society, and the inmate, if release came quicker and the inmate was better prepared to succeed?
Although there are criteria and policies to guide parole members on making release decisions, the process is different from any other decision made in the criminal justice system.
Decisions are often made after a brief interview with an inmate -- without the aid of counsel. The deliberation process is brief, or in some instances nonexistent, and in many states there is no opportunity for review. In Pennsylvania, an appellate court has held that, "(p)arole, being a matter of administrative discretion and determination, is nonjudicial and not subject to judicial review."
In Ohio, officials are trying to address the State Parole Board's abysmal parole rate -- 7 percent of inmates interviewed for parole in 2015 were released. One effort by the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections involves workshops to prepare inmates for interviews.
The workshops include sessions on grooming, etiquette, selling oneself, what to say, even advice about combing hair and brushing teeth.
The Ohio parole board touts its comprehensive 17-point release consideration criteria, but the MarshallProject.com points out, "nowhere on that list is 'posture, dress, language and grooming or public opinion,'" which seems to play a significant role with most parole boards.
Ohio's lesson on the board's "public safety" responsibility provides a glimpse into the staggering weight public safety plays in parole decisions. As part of the lesson inmates are told that the decision to release must be considered in the context of public safety, and "public perception," of violent crimes. The Ohio board is concerned with public perception not just reality.
According to Beth Schwartzapfel, inmates view a news report, where a county prosecutor takes the parole board to task after a murder by a parolee, "it's shameful," the prosecutor says. "They should take the responsibility for the decision and their poor judgement." Parole rates are often impacted by cases that go bad. Ohio goes so far as to tell inmates that it's a parole "factor."
The parole process can be streamlined. Parole boards should focus their time and resources on the inmates that really matter.
Parole should be split into three categories. First, those inmates who have complied with all requirements for parole -- programming, good behavior, institutional support and a low risk assessments. These inmates should be automatically paroled, without review by the parole board.
Category II would include those inmates on the bubble, maybe a high risk or past behavior history. Those inmates should be interviewed by the board, with the aid of counsel, and the ability for review of the decision.
Category III would be for those who are unlikely to be paroled -- refusing programming, behavior problems and no institution support. Those inmates are automatically refused without seeing the board. Eliminating those who earned release and those who haven't would leave more time for the board to focus on those inmates that need attention.
Parole interview preparation plays a role in getting inmates out of prison. However, preparation will have little impact without systemic change. Parole those who have earned it, keep those who haven't and closely scrutinize those in the middle.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book "The Executioner's Toll, 2010" was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him atwww.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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Friday, February 24, 2017

Defending crime: Veterans suffer from combat-related mental health disorders

Minnesota Attorney Brock Hunter has developed a specialty in representing veterans charged with crimes outside the military justice system, reported the ABA Journal. He and his colleagues in this area offer a version of the brain defense, an approach that considers the possible influence of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and traumatic brain injury caused by their military experience on their clients’ criminal behavior. They seek understanding and treatment instead of prison and, in some cases, mercy instead of execution.
Hunter is a veteran himself, having served four years in the Army, mostly as a sniper scout in the tension-filled demilitarized zone of Korea during the late 1980s.
In 2007, Hunter helped draft a Minnesota law that permits judges to consider the option of sending veterans to treatment programs if they suffer from combat-related mental health disorders. The law requires courts to ask whether a criminal defendant is a veteran and allows their lawyers to order psychological evaluations. If a defendant is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, the court can work with the Department of Veterans Affairs on a treatment plan as part of the sentencing.
Hunter started getting national press attention for his work; the New York Times quoted him in a series about veterans charged with murder. Demand for his services grew. In hometowns across the country, veterans were getting arrested for domestic violence, drunk driving, fights and other crimes.
High-profile cases drew even more attention. In Fort Carson, Colorado, returning soldiers were arrested for fighting, beatings, rapes, DUIs, drug deals, domestic violence, shootings, stabbings, kidnapping and murder. The violence prompted the Army to commission a study called the epidemiologic consultation to examine why veteran violence was increasing. It found that the murder rate at the base had doubled, and the number of rape arrests tripled. From 2005 to 2008, 13 soldiers at Fort Carson were charged with homicide.
Soldiers from one particular unit, known as the Lethal Warriors, were charged with most of the murders. Members of that unit, which by reputation had served in the most violent battlefields in Iraq, also had a rate of PTSD three times that of other units.
The report found “a possible association between increasing levels of combat exposure and risk for negative behavioral outcomes.” However, it also cited other risk factors, such as criminal histories and experiences of drug and alcohol abuse. The report was careful to note that “overall, most soldiers are doing well.” Many, it pointed out, had seen heavy combat and had risk factors for violence yet committed no crimes.
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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Violent crime had stunning decline over last quarter century

Violent crime in the U.S. has fallen sharply over the past quarter century, according to research complied by the Pew Research Center. There are two commonly cited measures of the nation’s crime rate. One is an annual report by the FBI of serious crimes reported to police in approximately 18,000 jurisdictions around the country. The other is an annual survey of more than 90,000 households conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which asks Americans ages 12 and older whether they were the victims of crime in the past six months (regardless of whether they reported those crimes to the police or not). Both the FBI and BJS data show a substantial decline in the violent crime rate since its peak in the early 1990s.
Using the FBI numbers, the rate fell 50 percent between 1993 and 2015, the most recent full year available. Using the BJS data, the rate fell by 77 percent during that span. It’s important to note, however, that the FBI reported a 3 percent increase in the violent crime rate between 2014 and 2015, including a 10 percent increase in the murder rate. (The BJS figures show a stable violent crime rate between 2014 and 2015, but they do not count murders.) Some experts have projected that the 2016 FBI data will show another increase in the violent crime rate – including another rise in the murder rate – when they are released later this year.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The science of risk assessment under scrutiny

In 2014, Eric Holder, then the U.S. attorney general, articulated the uncertainty swirling around risk assessment tools in a speech given to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers’ 57th Annual Meeting, reported the ABA Journal. 
“Although these [risk assessment] measures were crafted with the best of intentions, I am concerned that they may inadvertently undermine our efforts to ensure individualized and equal justice,” he said. “They may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society.”
Angel Ilarraza, director of consulting and business development at Northpointe Inc., the Michigan-based company that created Compas, thinks that this concern is ill-founded. “There’s no secret sauce to what we do; it’s just not clearly understood,” Ilarraza says.
Compas uses an algorithm, a term Ilarraza does not like because he thinks it is confusing, that assesses 137 questions answered by the charged person and supplemented by his or her criminal records. These inputs are plugged in to the algorithm, which is a set order of operations like a math equation. Based on this process, the person’s likelihood of committing a future crime (the output) is pegged on a scale of 1 (low risk) to 10 (high risk). Beyond Wisconsin, Compas also is used in California, Michigan and New York, among other jurisdictions.
The questionnaire covers the gamut of a person’s criminal history and personal background as a way to decipher risk. Questions include whether an alleged offender experienced his or her parent’s divorce or has a telephone at home, and whether the screener thinks the defendant is a suspected or admitted gang member.
Ilarraza, supporting the Wisconsin Supreme Court view, is quick to point out that the tool is meant to inform decision-making. “It facilitates the implementation of evidence-based practices,” he says.
Christine Remington, the Wisconsin assistant attorney general who argued Loomis for the state in the supreme court, agrees. “I don’t think there’s any question that [Compas] is a good thing,” she says. It allows the corrections department to “tailor limited resources in the best way possible.”
Compas recently came under scrutiny by ProPublica, an investigative journalism organization. Assessing the tool’s outputs in Broward County, Florida, ProPublica found that it was 61 percent predictive of rearrest, “somewhat more accurate than a coin flip.” The algorithm was likely to indicate black defendants as “future criminals” at almost twice the rate as white defendants.
Northpointe disputes ProPublica’s findings. The back-and-forth can be read in full on ProPublica’s website.
This clash illustrates a new found popular interest in these tools. But using math to guide decision-making in the criminal justice system is not new. According to Richard Berk, a professor of criminology and statistics at the University of Pennsylvania, an Illinois parole board started to use algorithms in the 1920s.
“In the ‘20s, parole boards were worried about what parole boards are worried about today: If I release somebody, are they going to commit a horrible act?” Berk explains. Back then, the tools were simple mathematical tabulations that assessed risk by comparing people up for parole to those previously released.
Since then, the math behind these tools has improved accuracy, and technological advancement allows for statisticians to wrestle with bigger data sets through computers. However, the point remains: U.S. criminal justice systems have used math to guide decision-making for about a century.
Even with this history, how these tools affect equal protection and due process of defendants remains unresolved.
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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Idaho private prison's cost cutting made facility dangerous

A former regional manager for private prison company Corrections Corporation of America says top employees at a private prison in Idaho were given yearly bonuses if they cut costs on salary, wages and other operational expenses, reported The Associated Press.
CCA, which has since changed its name to CoreCivic, operated the Idaho Correctional Center under a $29 million annual contract with the state of Idaho until chronic understaffing, violence and other problems prompted Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to order the state to take over the facility in 2013.
Kevin Myers, CCA's former managing director who oversaw the Idaho facility and several others, testified in Boise's U.S. District Court recently as a witness in a lawsuit against the company.
A group of inmates at the Idaho prison sued in 2012, contending that CCA understaffed the prison to boost profits in a so-called "ghost worker scheme." The inmates contend the understaffing made the facility more dangerous and led to an attack where they were jumped, beaten and stabbed by members of a prison gang.
CCA has vigorously denied those claims.
Myers said his supervisor, CCA Vice President Steven Conry, sometimes directed him to reduce prison budgets. Conry told him that salary, wages and overtime were "the primary levers we can manipulate to impact our budgets," Myers said.
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