Friday, April 30, 2010

Two States, Two Responses to Death Penalty Issues

Two different states, on opposite sides of the country, are dealing with death penalty issues in two very different ways. In California, officials are trying to end a moratorium on the death penalty by amending the execution procedures. In North Carolina, officials are dealing with a new law that is being abused by defendants facing the death penalty.

In California, a federal judge had stopped all executions because of concern about the state's three-drug execution procedure. According to the Los Angeles Times, there has not been an execution in California since January, 2006. There are currently 702 killers on death row, more than any other state in the country.

The state's first effort at reform was found to be illegal by a state court. The judge ruled that the state failed to get public comment before adopting the new procedure. This has delayed executions for another year. In fact, the expected legal challenges to the latest reforms will probably delay executions for another year. There are currently 6 death row inmates who have exhausted all appeals and are ready for execution.

California's new procedure includes a drug cocktail with a paralytic component. The paralytic along with a heart stopping drug have been criticized in California and other states as causing excessive pain. Ohio recently adopted a one drug lethal anesthetic to carry out executions. At least two killers have been executed without incident under Ohio's new execution procedure.

In North Carolina, Demetrious Montgomery's murder trial has been delayed 6 months while he pursues overturning a prosecutor's decision to seek the death penalty. Montgomery is charged with the execution style killing of two police officers. Montgomery's attorneys argued they need time to collect information they believe will show that race is a significant factor in seeking and imposing the death penalty.

According to the Charlotte Observer, North Carolina's Racial Justice Act, signed into law last August, allows murder suspects and death-row inmates to try to prove that racial bias was behind a prosecutor's decisions to seek the death penalty or jurors' decisions to impose it.

North Carolina State Senator Malcolm Graham one of the co-sponsors of the law told, "The goal of the act was to make sure if someone was facing execution then they had the opportunity to see whether or not they were being discriminated against based on stats and figures."

Senator Graham went on to say that with regard to the case of Montgomery, the law is not being applied the right way. "Frankly, I think his attorneys are hiding behind this new legislation." Graham told, "I think it's being misused. Anytime you kill a public officer, a police officer, I think you ought to face the ultimate penalty."

To read more:,0,6207366.story

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ohio's Prison Crisis

A recent article in the Cincinnati Enquirer mapped out in detail the dire straits of Ohio's correction system and the reluctance of Ohio lawmakers to take on the crisis during an election year. Below is a summary of a more in depth article.

In April, Ohio’s statewide inmate population climbed within 128 inmates of the all-time record of 51,273. Ohio’s prison inmate population has grown by more than 500 percent since 1972 (8,846) and is projected to soar to 53,992 by next July absent any changes to Ohio's sentencing scheme or prison treatment regimen.

The cost of corrections in Ohio is averaging $1.6 billion a year. That is an increase from last year's corrections budget as well as being up from $480 million in 1991 and $1.4 billion in 2001. About one of every four state employees works for the Ohio Department of Correction and Rehabilitation Services.

According to John Jay College, at least 26 states have reversed the trend of recent decades and cut funding for corrections. Ohio lags behind half the nation in cutting its prison expenditures.

Legislative leaders are awaiting completion of a CSG Justice Center study, which could take up to three years, before deciding on any drastic action, such as a mass release of inmates. The Justice Reinvestment Initiative study, which could cost up to $1 million, was prompted by a 2008 request from Ohio’s elected state leaders. Most of the cost is paid for by the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The Enquirer suggested that with most Ohio legislators seeking re-election this fall, it’s easier to keep a near-record number of state prisoners locked away than pass legislation that appears soft on crime.

To read more:

Tulsa Cuts Police Force: Sluggish Economy to Blame

The Wall Street Journal took a detailed look at how a sluggish economy is affecting the Tulsa police department. Tulsa is just an example of what many communities across the country. A summary of the the article is below.

Since January, Tulsa has laid off 89 police officers, 11% of its force. According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the lay-offs have pushed the city to the forefront of a national movement, spurred by hard times, to revamp long-held policing strategies.

In the past four decades, the city's population has jumped 17%—and the police department budget has soared to $87 million from about $4 million, according to a city council report. The force expanded from 507 sworn officers in 1969 to a high of 829 two years ago, before falling to 702 today.

With fewer officers the police have curtailed community outreach, investigations, undercover work, surveillance, even traffic enforcement, and poured many remaining resources into bread-and-butter street patrols. The WSJ further reported that Tulsa's domestic-violence unit lost two officers, leaving four to handle about 5,000 cases a year. The undercover units that used to focus on armed gangs in public housing projects have disbanded. Veteran narcotics detectives are back in cruisers, answering 911 calls.

Chief Chuck Jordan is trying to minimize the impact of such cuts by policing more efficiently. He is shuffling shifts according to an analysis of crime patterns. According to the WSJ, by summer, he plans to assign all patrol officers dedicated beats—and build in time for them to get to know local residents—instead of deploying them across a 20-square-mile sector.

The true test in Tulsa will likely come this summer. The city has closed several swimming pools and recreation centers to save money. Strapped nonprofit groups have cut sports and mentoring programs. Some residents fear that will leave restless teens with little to do but make trouble. Councilor Jack Henderson told the WSJ,
"In my mind, that's a recipe for disaster.

To read more:

PA State Senator Proposes Prison Reform Package

Office of Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf

HARRISBURG—Seven prison reform bills introduced by State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R, Montgomery, Bucks) addressing the state’s overcrowded prisons and high rate of recidivism are moving through the State Legislature.

The proposals have been in development since the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Greenleaf chairs, held a public hearing on the issue last November. Greenleaf began introducing legislation in November.

“As Pennsylvania transfers thousands of prisoners out of state, even as we continue to construct new prisons, now is the time to enact serious prison reform measures,” said Greenleaf.

The state’s inmate population has increased by a staggering 618% between 1980 and 2010 (from 8,243 in 1980 to over 51,000 inmates in 2010). If the prison population continues to increase at the current rate, beginning in 2012 Pennsylvania may have to build a new prison every year at a cost of over $200 million to build and $60 million annually to operate. The past five years have seen the sharpest increase in incarceration, exacerbated by a two month moratorium on parole following the shooting of a Philadelphia police officer in 2008. The three new facilities currently under construction are expected to open in 2013 and will be immediately filled to capacity.

Prison population growth in Pennsylvania, as in most states across the country, is mainly due to the mass incarceration of non-violent offenders. Sixty percent of Pennsylvania’s inmates do not have a history of violence or any significant drug dealing activity. Four out of five drug arrests in the state are for possession of illegal substances, while only one out of five drug arrests were for sales.

About 46% of offenders return to prison within months of their release for committing new crimes or for a technical violation of their parole. 3,000 Technical Parole Violators (TPVs) were re-incarcerated in 2008 alone for violations such as breaking curfew or failing to report to their parole officer. TPVs spend an average 14 months in prison [following their recommitment] with no real affect on recidivism over those diverted for shorter periods.

According to Greenleaf, punishment without rehabilitation is a failure. “While we have earnestly sought to incorporate rehabilitation into the punishment process, too few inmates are receiving the needed programming. Programs such the State Intermediate Punishment Program (SIP) are underutilized. As well, many inmates do not receive parole because of a backlog of those waiting to complete programs before the end of their minimum sentence.”

Greenleaf reports that once inmates have been released, they easily lapse into criminal behavior because of their inability to find employment and living with the stigma of incarceration.

In addition, family ties are broken during incarceration, separating inmates from what is often their only means of support. The children of incarcerated parents are seven times more likely to be incarcerated themselves.

“Many of the state’s non-violent offenders would be better served completing treatment or other sanctions in a community based setting rather than in a state prison, said Greenleaf. “This would better enable these individuals to reestablish healthy, crime free lives while they continue to support their families. As well, this would save Pennsylvania’s prison space for dangerous criminals who must be confined.”

Senator Greenleaf’s Prison Package Includes the Follow Bills:

SB 1145: Risk and Needs Assessment

Because current alternative sentencing programs are underutilized, the Pennsylvania Sentencing Commission would develop a worksheet to help judges identify offenders with the lowest probability of being reconvicted of a serious crime. These offenders are then considered for alternative sentencing programs, so that correctional resources are focused on those who pose the greatest threat to public safety. *This bill was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 15, 2009 and referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 1, 2010.

SB 1161: Short Minimum Cases

This legislation would allow inmates with short minimum sentences to be moved to community corrections centers for community-based treatment. The bill overturns a regulation that an inmate may not be transferred to a prerelease center until the inmate has served at least nine months in a state correctional institution. These offenders, with short sentences, are the less serious offenders and there is no reason to hold them in secure prison cells when they are otherwise eligible for prerelease. While confined at a community corrections center, these offenders could participate in job training and take advantage of educational opportunities. *This bill was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 15, 2009 and referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 1, 2010.

SB 1193: HOPE Program

Hawaii’s HOPE (Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement) is gaining national attention after reducing drug use by 90 percent among probationers. Focusing on offenders who have committed drug-related crimes, HOPE lays out clear expectations for drug-free behavior, then backs it up with swift, certain, but brief punishment. The legislation would authorize county courts of common pleas to establish similar programs for their counties. *This legislation was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 26, 2010 and referred to the Appropriations Committee on March 9, 2010.

SB1198: The Safe Community Reentry Program

This program would link the education, vocational training, and treatment offenders receive in prison with what they will need for a successful reentry into the community. There is a need to ensure that the training inmates receive in prison will correspond with job opportunities once they are released. The legislation directs the Department of Corrections to contract with private vendors, including non-profit and faith-based organizations, to transition inmates from prison to the community by helping them secure housing and employment, providing medical and mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment and education. They may also work with offenders to re-establish family relationships and create mentoring programs to help develop accountability and personal responsibility. *This legislation was reported from the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 16, 2010, referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 13, 2010.

SB1275: This legislation establishes a graduated sanctioning process for state parole violators. The system is designed to hold the parolee accountable for a technical parole violation while avoiding the cost of recommitting the parolee to prison. A violation sanctioning grid will be developed that divides violations into high, medium and low range violations. An example of a high range violation is assaultive behavior; a medium range violation is the possession of unauthorized contraband; and a low range violation is the failure to pay supervision fees. The grid will include high, medium and low sanction ranges. An example of a high sanction is shock incarceration; a medium sanction is electronic monitoring; and a low sanction is increased reporting requirements. *On April 13, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported Senate Bill 1275 from committee. On April 20, 2010, the Senate re-referred Senate Bill 1275 to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB1298: This legislation will invest an additional $50 million into criminal justice agencies and programs that will help reduce our state and county prison populations and, in the long run, improve public safety and save money for the Commonwealth and counties. *This legislation was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on March 30, 2010.

SB1299: This legislation makes more nonviolent offenders eligible for Pennsylvania’s alternative sentencing programs. These programs include county intermediate punishment (CIP), state intermediate punishment (SIP), state motivational boot camp, and the recidivism risk reduction incentive (RRRI).

SIP is an intensive drug treatment program involving incarceration in state prison initially followed by community-based treatment. Currently the district attorney must request that a defendant be referred to the Department of Corrections for an assessment that will determine whether SIP is appropriate. The defendant must agree to be referred. Once the assessment takes place, the district attorney and the defendant must agree to the commitment. The legislation removes these requirements so that the judge may refer the defendant for assessment and the judge may commit an eligible offender to SIP. *On April 13, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported Senate Bill 1299 from committee. On April 20, 2010, the Senate re-referred Senate Bill 1299 to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ohio Supreme Court Removes Judge from Alleged Serial Killer's Trial

The Ohio Supreme Court has removed Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold from presiding over the case of Cleveland serial killer suspect Anthony Sowell. Attorneys for Sowell accused Judge Saffold of bias as a result of postings about Sowell and one of the defense lawyers on the Cleveland Plain Dealer website.

On April 13th I wrote on this site:

As difficult as it is to believe "commentgate" is becoming more sensational than the actual trial of a serial killer. Anthony Sowell a 50-year-old Clevelander, is accused of killing 11 women whose bodies were found at his home last fall.
The Plain Dealer reported in March that more than 80 comments had been made on -- an online affiliate of the newspaper -- by someone using an account set up with an e-mail address used by Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold.

According to CNN, a petition to the Ohio Supreme Court filed by Sowell's attorneys alleged that Saffold had "improper," ex parte conversations with the former judge on the case, Timothy McGinty, and a newspaper reporter from The Cleveland Plain Dealer. They also said that e-mails from the judge's personal and office accounts allegedly were sources of information for a March 26 Plain Dealer article and that the judge has a financial interest in the case because she and her daughter have sued the newspaper over the apparent use of her e-mails as sourcing for that article.

Safford responded by insisting she harbors no bias in the case and denying she had any improper conversations about it with others. She also said her civil suit against the newspaper has nothing to do with the case against the defendant.

Acting Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul E. Pfeifer disqualified Saffold within days of the petition. Justice Pfeiffer found, "When the case becomes about the judge rather than the facts of the case and the law, it is time for the judge to step aside." Judge Saffold had refused two prior requests to recuse herself.

CNN reported that, "Although Judge Saffold denied that she was the source of these online comments, she has admitted that the comments originated from the online account shared by her and members of her family and that the comments were posted by her daughter," Pfeifer said in his ruling.

He said the "unfortunate postings" impede Saffold's ability to resolve legal issues in the case that would appear to be objective and fair. Pfeifer wrote further, "disqualification is appropriate where the public's confidence in the integrity of the judicial system is at stake."

Sowell's case has been reassigned to Judge Dick Ambrose a former linebacker for the Cleveland Browns.

To read more:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Iowa Breaks Ground on New Prison

Iowa Governor Chet Culver broke ground on a new $131 million maximum-security prison that will replace an Iowa State Penitentiary that has been a landmark since it was established as a territorial prison in 1839.

"This is a great day for the city of Fort Madison," said Mayor Steve Ireland. Governor Culver agreed, "This is another sign of progress in this state."

According to the Des Moines Register, support for the prison runs deep in Fort Madison a southeast Iowa community about 11,000 people. The penitentiary is a major employer, providing jobs for 464 people. The penitentiary's employment is expected to total about 525 people after the new facility opens in July 2013, which is what employment had been prior to the state's current budget troubles.

My Take

It appears that this project is as much about economic development as it is about building a better prison. In these difficult economic times building a prison to employ workers in a dusty little town seems short-sighted and politically expedient.

While the trend in some states is to close prisons, especially prisons built prior to the civil war, Iowa is replacing a prison. This is in spite of a budget shortfall that has the existing prison operating with fewer staff.

According to the Register, some lawmakers also sight the increased costs that could be associated with a new Fort Madison prison. Fort Madison is almost 90 miles from University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City, and it's costly to transport prisoners back and forth.

Colorado's Unforgiving Prosecution of Juveniles in Adult Court

Below is an interesting article about prosecuting juveniles as adults by Joel Warner from Westword, a Denver Weekly. In the mid 1990's, Colorado prosecutors were given discretion to "direct file" adult criminal charges against juveniles. This is somewhat similar to the 1995 change in Pennsylvania law.

The big difference between Pennyslvania and Colorado is that Colorado does not provide the opportunity for a juvenile charged as an adult to be decertified back to juvenile court. Apparently, the die is cast in Colorado once the DA makes his decision.

Here is the Westword article:

Alan Sudduth was sixteen years old when prosecutors charged him as an adult.
​Our cover story this week recounts the tale of Alan Sudduth, a juvenile who was sentenced to seventy years in prison in 1996 for the murder of a cab driver -- even though a recent hearing showed that the prosecution's case was full of holes, earning Sudduth a new trial.

Sudduth was caught up in a movement that grew out of the so-called Summer of Violence in 1993, which gave prosecutors more leeway to "direct file" charges against kids as adults, without having to hold a hearing to determine whether the defenders should be taken out of juvenile court. Colorado's direct-file system has been criticized by criminal defenders and youth advocates ever since -- and Sudduth's case may be a glaring example of the system's drawbacks.

The state's current direct-file system was a response to growing concerns about crime in the 1990s, says Kim Dvorchak, chair of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Division. "What had been happening before was that when a child committed a serious crime, the DA would have to petition the juvenile court judge to waive jurisdiction and send the case to adult district court," she says. "In the 1990s, crime went up and the judicial transfer process was perceived as cumbersome. You had to have a hearing. There were defense lawyers involved and they might get evaluations and evidence. It was like a mini-trial."

So to get tough on crime, the Colorado Legislature passed a series of laws that allowed prosecutors to bypass judicial hearings and direct file kids fourteen and older for class 1 or class 2 felonies and other crimes. That gave DA;s offices widespread new authority, says Dvorchak. "The direct-file statute relieves a prosecutor of having to prove the child is no longer amenable to treatment in the juvenile system," she explains. "Even when prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, they have to give notice. It's a separate sentencing hearing, and a jury decides whether or not to impose the death penalty. Even that level of due process is absent from the direct-file statute."

Colorado isn't unique in having direct-file laws. Fourteen states allow district attorneys to direct file kids as adults, something often referred to as judicial waiver. Some states have even passed mandatory waiver laws, meaning that kids over a certain age accused of first-degree murder have to be charged in adult court, no matter what defense attorneys or prosecutors might say.

But Colorado is unique in one regard, says Dvorchak: "We have no ability to return kids to juvenile court. The majority of other states that have direct-file or mandatory waiver laws give the child an opportunity to challenge adult-court jurisdiction either at pretrial or at sentencing. As Colorado's direct-file statute currently stands, there is no provision that allows defense attorneys to challenge the prosecutors' decision that a child should be subject to adult laws instead of juvenile laws."

And that's a problem, says Dvorchak, because once such a decision is made, it can have drastic consequences on the kids involved. For one thing, as part of a direct file, the prosecutors can decide the youth should stay in adult jail pending the conclusion of the trial. Since these jails don't have separate facilities for juveniles and the kids can't be mixed in with the older inmates, that often means the youths are subjected to 23- or 24-hour cell lockdown. There are often few of the recreation and education opportunities available at juvenile facilities, and the young inmates aren't allowed contact visits with their families. "The conditions are almost like death row," says Dvorchak. "They have worse conditions than the adults."

Over the past couple of years, there have been two prominent examples of teenagers committing suicide while incarcerated in local adult jails, one in Pueblo and one in Denver.

Dvorchak says there are also major problems with sending kids through court proceedings designed for adults. "Reports have found that prosecuting children in adult court increases recidivism," she says. "Children's experiences going through the adult court proceedings are so negative. In juvenile court, it's a much friendlier atmosphere. Most people in the juvenile court system are interested in rehabilitating these kids, getting them on the right track. That's not what happens in adult criminal court. It's a much more sterile environment."

Alan Sudduth's case seems to demonstrate these difficulties. In January, an Arapahoe County District judge vacated his seventy-year sentence and granted him a new trial because he found that Sudduth's original defense team hadn't properly looked into the facts of his case before counseling him to plead guilty and take the prison sentence. If the court had been required to hold a judicial transfer hearing in 1995 before prosecutors charged Sudduth as an adult, Dvorchak suggests, some of the issues that Sudduth's lawyers had failed to take into account might have come out. That included questionable crime-scene evidence; the fact that Nicholas Reed, another boy involved, had repeatedly confessed to the murder; and how Sudduth's family connections to the Rollin' 30 Crips had made him afraid to snitch on Reed or anyone else.

Instead, the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office immediately charged Sudduth, Reed and another girl involved as adults and slapped them all with first-degree murder charges. Then prosecutors gave each of them different plea deals, depending on which of the three was willing to point the finger at the others. It's a common strategy used in direct-file cases, says Dvorchak: "It creates incredible pressure in adult court to have kids testify against each other or enter into a plea bargain. There is a lot of pressure for kids to plead guilty or testify against others because they are facing life without parole at the time. That's an insane concept to a sixteen-year-old client."

Sixteen-year-old Sudduth apparently had trouble understanding that concept. After he was imprisoned, he petitioned the court for years, arguing that his defense attorneys had misadvised him about his plea deal, saying he'd only serve ten years of his seventy-year sentence.

It's possible that Sudduth misunderstood his lawyers when they explained the plea deal in 1995. But even if that were the case, Dvorchak thinks it's another argument against direct-filing cases like this. "Studies show that children who are fourteen, fifteen and sixteen really don't know what is happening in adult court," she says. "They simply can't appreciate what is coming down the pipe. It's hard as counsel to be put in the role of explaining these things to a child."

And in Sudduth's case, his lawyers were the only ones who could have explained it. His dad had been long out of the picture, and his mom wasn't much better. She only visited him one time when he was in jail, and then stayed just for a half hour. In the meantime, no one assigned Sudduth a guardian ad litem to help him understand the process.

That left Sudduth with no support at all, facing a life sentence that he could likely hardly comprehend and no direction whatsoever except the gang rules drilled into him. So he took the plea deal for seventy years -- a deal that, fifteen years later, looks like no deal at all.

Maybe Nicholas Reed, the kid who's repeatedly confessed to the murder but got a lighter plea deal of 48 years, put it best. In 2008, an investigator working on Sudduth's case sat down with him in Sterling Prison, where he's serving out his sentence. He told her he now regrets blaming Sudduth for the crime and not coming clean. But he says at that stage of his life, he didn't know any better.

"You're given a time and you have no perception of what that actually is... when you've only lived fourteen to sixteen years of your life," he said. "I wish -- I just wish we would've had the representation back then. I wish somebody would have just whispered in my ear."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Seattle Brings in Expert to Address Police Hiring

The city of Seattle has done something interesting in its search for a new police chief. They have consulted a crime prevention expert. Hiring an expert "consultant" is not that unusual when trying to fill a high profile position. But, bringing that expert to town and sharing the information with the public is certainly not the norm.

According to the Seattle Times, Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor of public policy and author of When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment, visited Seattle at the invitation of the Seattle City Council. Kleiman participated in a panel discussion at Seattle's Town Hall and he also spent time with community leaders, including the interim police chief, city attorney and the two co-chairs of the police-chief search committee.

The Kleiman's book deals with offenders who commit everyday crimes such a burglary, assaults and drug offenses — not the most violent and dangerous criminals sent away for long terms. He has a special interest in upgrading the probation and parole system.

Kleiman, according to the Times, suggested a number of ways to approach crime:

*Kleiman cited an innovative program launched in 2004 by a judge in Hawaii. The judge decided that clear rules and consequences were needed for probationers. He developed a program called HOPE. The program proposed that violators receive shorter and swifter jail sentences instead of long prison terms. The violation rate dropped dramatically, easing the burden on the entire criminal justice system as the probationers reacted to the real possibility of punishment.

*Kleiman supports lowering sentences to induce defendants to plead guilty so they serve their terms closer to the time they actually committed the crime.

*The police, instead of dispersing their resources, should carry out focused activities, including crackdowns on public drug markets and targeting offenders who commit a disproportionate amount of the crimes.

*When all offenders know there is a viable threat with real consequences, crime and its costs will drop in the long run.

*Kleiman does not support building more prisons.

*Long prison terms eat up cell space and have lost their stigma as they have become commonplace, lessening their deterrent value.

*He recommends shifting budgets toward meaningful community-corrections supervision for those on probation or released from prison.

*He favors pushing back the start and end of the school day for middle- and high-school students to prevent after-school crime and to accommodate the biological clocks of teens.

My Take

Seattle should be commended for looking at alternative crime prevention measures. However, now more than any time in recent history the focus should be how to maintain declining crime rates in difficult economic times.

Most people would agree with Kleiman that building more prisons is not prudent. Does he have an idea for policymakers that don't want be perceived as "soft" on crime, but realize the real consequences of spending public funds that just do not exist.

There are a lot of progressive, innovative ideas being proposed by criminal justice practitioners that relate to prison crowding, more effective policing and supervision of offenders. The question is how do you get lawmakers to propose legislation that is good for society by not good for their personal ambition.

Gov. Sanford: You Can Squeeze Blood from Turnip

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford understands that he does not have unlimited access to taxpayer dollars. He just doesn't know the best way to convey the situation to the citizens of South Carolina. Remincent of the famous baseball linguist Yogi Berra, Sanford recently told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, "You can only squeeze so much blood from a turnip." Those turnips must be something in South Carolina.

In spite of Governor Sanford's yogism he has taken a positive step by coming out in support of a sentencing reform bill. The bill has the potential to reduce the number of non-violent offenders in prison and save the state millions of dollars.

According to the Herald-Journal, the bill is expected to reduce the state's projected prison population enough to negate the need for a new prison -- saving more than $400million over five years.

The bill provides:

* A tiered approach to assault and battery crimes. The bill would provide more options than existing law which provides only a 90-day maximum sentences and 10-year minimum sentences.

* A sentence of up to $10,000 and up to 20 years in prison for habitual offenders convicted of driving under suspension resulting in death or a fine of up to $5,000 and 10 years in prison in such cases where great bodily injury results.

* It's designed to increase training for nonviolent offenders to re-enter society without becoming repeat offenders.

* Focus resources on keeping the most violent offenders in prison for longer period of times.

* Taking non-violent offenders out of the Department of Corrections by using alternative sentencing like GPS monitoring and enhanced communtiy supervision.

The South Carolina senate has passed its version of the bill and it now heads to the state house. Sanford has pledged to shuttle the bill through the house.

My Take

With the yogism aside, Sanford is doing the right thing. In many jurisdictions around the country lawmakers are trying to reduce prison costs on the back of parole and policing. Meaningful reform must include a look at sentencing schemes.

It is irresponsible to take on the enormous costs of prison crowding without looking at the mechinism that put offenders in prison--sentencing. Sanford is in a unique position to push for reform. He is a lame "wounded" duck. He has little prospect for a political future. This positions him to advance causes that other policians would be afraid to touch.

Sanford can move forward on sentencing reform without being concerned about being labeled soft on crime. Sentencing reform could be Sanford's legacy and would have a significant impact on South Carolina. Corrections Director Jon Ozmint told the Herald-Journal, South Carolina currently doesn't have a criminal justice system; rather, it has a patchwork of laws that have been cobbled together over the years.

Ozmint sees this bill being ruled by statistics rather than emotions. Evidence-based practices in place of knee-jerk reaction is a step forward for any state.

Nobel Winner Advocates for Legalization of Drugs


"The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and comcribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent."

That is how Billy Sunday, the noted evangelist and leading crusader against Demon Rum, greeted the onset of Prohibition in early 1920. We know now how tragically his hopes were doomed. New prisons and jails had to be built to house the criminals spawned by converting the drinking of spirits into a crime against the state. Prohibition undermined respect for the law, corrupted the minions of the law, created a decadent moral climate-but did not stop the consumption of alcohol.

Despite this tragic object lesson, we seem bent on repeating precisely the same mistake in the handling of drugs.


On ethical grounds, do we have the right to use the machinery of government to prevent an individual from becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict? For children, almost everyone would answer at least a qualified yes. But for responsible adults, I, for one, Would answer no. Reason with the potential addict, yes. Tell him the consequences, yes. Pray for and with him, yes. But I believe that we have no right to use force, directly or indirectly, to prevent a fellow man from committing suicide, let alone from drinking alcohol or taking drugs.

I readily grant that the ethical issue is difficult and that men of goodwill may well disagree. Fortunately, we need not resolve the ethical issue to agree on policy. Prohibition is an attempted cure that makes matters worse-for both the addict and the rest of us. Hence, even if you regard present policy toward drugs as ethically justified, considerations of expediency make that policy most unwise.

Consider first the addict. Legalizing drugs might increase the number of addicts, but it is not clear that it would. Forbidden fruit is attractive, particularly to the young. More important, many drug addicts are deliberately made by pushers, who give likely prospects their first few doses free. It pays the pusher to do so because, once hooked, the addict is a captive customer. If drugs were legaily available, any possible profit from such inhumane activity would disappear, since the addict could buy from the cheapest source.

Whatever happens to the number of addicts, the individual addict would clearly be far better off if drugs were legal. Today, drugs are box incredibly expensive and highly uncertain in quality. Addicts are driven to associate with criminals to get the drugs, become criminals themselves to finance the habit, and risk constant danger of death and disease.

Consider next the test of us. Here the situation is crystal clear. The harm to us from the addiction of others arises almost wholly from the fact that drugs are illegal. A recent cominittee of the American Bar Association estimated that addicts commit one-third to one-half of all street crime in the U.S. Legalize drugs, and street crime would drop dramatically. Moreover, addicts and pushers are not the only ones corrupted. Immense sums are at stake. It is inevitable that some relatively low-paid police and other government officials-and some high-paid ones as well-will succumb to the temptation to pick up easy money.


Legalizing drugs would simultaneously reduce the amount of crime and raise the quality of law enforcement. Can you conceive of any other measure that would accomplish so much to promote law and order?

But, you may say, must we accept defeat? Why not simply end the drug traffic? That is where experience under Prohibition is most relevant. We cannot end the drug traffic. We may be able to cut off opium from Turkey but there are innumerable other places where the opium poppy grows. With French cooperation, we may be able to make Marseilles an unhealthy place to manufacture heroin but there are innumerable other places where the simple manufacturing operations involved can be carried out. So long as large sums of money are involved-and they are bound to be if drugs are illegal-it is literally hopeless to expect to end the traffic or even to reduce seriously its scope. In drugs, as in other areas, persuasion and example are likely to be far more effective than the use of force to shape others in our image.

Milton Freidman, a Nobel Prize winning economist, wrote this essay for Newsweek on May 1, 1972.

Arizona Bucks Trend, Will Build More Prisons

Ten-percent of Arizona's entire state budget in spent on locking up criminals. As most of the state budget faces unprecedented constriction, Arizona plans to expand its prison budget.

Arizona plans to add 15,000 prison beds over the next 10-years. According to the Arizona Republic, the projected rate of prison growth is 114 inmates per month over 10-years. Over the last decade, Arizona experienced a 30-percent increase in state residents and a 50-percent increase in prison population.

Arizona's extraordinary prison growth comes into focus when you compare their prison growth with another "law and order" state. In the last decade, Texas grew by 20-percent and it's prison's grew by only 4-percent. In fact, in 2009, prison population fell nationwide. Arizona was one of only 22 states to show prison growth in 2009.

Arizona has approximately 40,000 prisoners. The state pays 40-percent more per day to house prisoners than Texas. According to the Republic, Texas is spending less and incarcerating fewer inmates based on a three prong approach to punishment:

1. Enhanced treatment for addicted inmates;
2. Deferring technical parole violators to community detention;
3. Providing transitional services for inmates leaving prison.

My Take

Arizona's plan to build more prisons appears to be out of step with most other jurisdictions. Arizona joins Pennsylvania as the only other state considering dramatic prison expansion during these difficult economic times. What price are Arizonians willing to pay to lock up more of the their own? The state already spends 1 out of every 10 dollars on prisoners.

Arizona has a truth in sentencing statute that requires every offender to serve at least 85-percent of their maximum sentence. Although, Arizona would do well to study some of the successes of other states in reversing prison trends, real reform would have to include a review of the states sentencing structure.

It is misguided to think that a state can control prison population by tinkering only with treatment and parole. Policymakers can tweak parole and treatment options without a lot of fanfare. Overhauling sentencing schemes is a little more risky. A legislator could easily be perceived as "soft on crime" if she proposed a modification to truth in sentencing.

Unfortunately, what is best for the state seems to run a distant second to getting re-elected. In Arizona, being "soft on crime" is tantamount to political suicide.

To read more:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Former Death Row Inmate Arrested

A former death row inmate has been charged with drug possession — six months after being set free. His release last year prompted death penalty foes to use his case as an example of an innocent man wrongfully convicted. Prosecutors say they still suspect the man of murder but the evidence is not there to prove murder beyond a reasonable doubt.

Paris Lapriest Powell was arrested April 6 when undercover Oklahoma City police officers caught him with marijuana and cocaine, as reported in the Daily Oklahoman. He was charged in Oklahoma County District Court with two felony drug possession counts. He was released after posting bail.

Powell was on Oklahoma’s death row for the first-degree murder of a 14-year-old girl in 1993 in Oklahoma City. In January of 2008, a federal appeals court granted Powell’s writ of habeas corpus and ordered a new trial. The opinion faulted how a former prosecutor handled the case.

Powell was prosecuted by Bob Macy, Oklahoma County's chief prosecutor for more than 20 years. Macy is now retired. He oversaw an office that sent to death row 34 of the 86 inmates who have been put to death in Oklahoma since executions resumed in 1990.
"I have always believed the death penalty is a deterrent, and it's one reason I sought the death penalty as often as I did," he said. "We tried at least 60 capital murder cases, and I think we got the death penalty in 54 of them," he said.

Powell is not the first person to be released from prison and then commit another crime. His exoneration was not based on actual innocence. Powell was granted a new trial and was not retried. He again faces the criminal justice system just six-months after his release from death row.

To read more:

U.S. Supreme Court Will Not Hear Sex Scandal Death Sentence

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of a Texas man sentenced to death. The request to the high court was made on behalf of Charles Dean Hood. He was sentenced to death following a trial that involved a romantic relationship between the presiding judge and county prosecutor.

Hood has been on Texas' death row since 1990. Hood, a former bouncer at a topless club, was convicted of killing a stripper and her boyfriend that he was living with.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Hood has received several stays of execution as his lawyers sought to raise objections about a romantic sexual relationship between Judge Verla Sue Holland, who presided over the trial, and Tom O'Connell, the county district attorney. Holland and O'Connell eventually acknowledged a sexual relationship that they suggest took place before the trial.

Despite the sexual relationship, Hood was not granted a new trial in state court. Now his request for federal review has also been foreclosed. However, his case is not hopeless. According to the Morning News, he has been granted a new sentencing hearing by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The court ruled in February that the jury that sentenced Hood to death was provide with inadequate jury instructions regarding whether to consider Hood’s background when determining his punishment.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Don't Discount Impact of Economy on Crime

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced that crime in Florida reached a 39-year low in 2009, declining by 6.4 percent compared with the year before. In spite of a sputtering economy and an unemployment rate that closed at 10 percent nationwide, 11.7 percent in Florida — crime fell.

Although some experts have predicted that the sour economy would increase crime rates, the result is a mixed bag. In some places like New York and Los Angeles, homicide, the truest indicator of crime rates, is on the rise. In other cities like Tampa, Florida crime rates fell in 2009. Tampa, with an unemployment rate of 12.4, realized a 15.8 drop in crime, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

There is one thing analysts seem to agree upon: Unemployment has an effect on crime—it's positive.

According to the Times, "Crime depends on opportunity: houses left unattended, cars parked with valuables inside, helpless pedestrians wandering around alone in the middle of the night, and so on," said Christopher Bruce, president of the International Association of Crime Analysis. "Recessions inherently reduce opportunity. Fewer people are shopping and dining and thus leaving their cars in parking lots. Fewer people are out at nightclubs and bars, making things more difficult for burglars."

However, not all the news was good in Florida. The economy has had an indirect impact on resources available to combat domestic violence. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement Report, reflected a stunning 15.6 percent increase in domestic violence-related murders and a 71.4 percent increase in domestic violence manslaughters. The domestic violence-related murders account for one out of every five murders in the state.

The Florida Times Union reported that domestic violence centers are facing a $3.8 million cut in funding. Last year, Florida’s 42 certified domestic violence centers were forced to turn away more than 7,100 victims in need of emergency shelter due to a lack of beds.

“Florida’s domestic violence centers will be forced to shut down shelters, decrease services, and reduce bed space if the Florida Legislature doesn’t provide the means to address this deficit,” said Tiffany Carr, President of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

My Take

A poor economy has an impact on crime in many different ways. The loss of tax revenue affects police manpower, investigative resources, prison security, parole supervision, victim services and court scheduling. The longer the economy stagnates the more likely the collective lack of resources will begin to effect the long term safety and security of our neighborhoods and communities.

To read more:

Friday, April 16, 2010

LA Police Ordered to Stay Home to Save Money

The homicide rate in Los Angeles is on the rise. According to the Los Angeles Times the homicide rate as of April 6, 2010 was up 5-percent from the same time last year. More than a third of all homicides occurred within the last 4 weeks.

Homicide can ebb and flow over the course of a year. However, there appears to be a potentially more ominous reason for the increase. Just as New York City is experiencing an up-tick in murder, both cities are also dealing with declining resources.

The Times reported, there is little money available to pay officers overtime. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has instituted a policy requiring police officers to take time off as compensation instead of overtime. The result has been a significant decrease in the number of officers available for duty.

The Times reported, in lieu of overtime, the police department implemented a strict policy of forcing police detectives to take time off when they accrue large amounts of overtime hours. Because of demanding work schedules that routinely require them to investigate a case into the night or through the weekend, homicide detectives have been among the first officers to be sent home in significant numbers.

The drain on homicide squads has hampered investigations. Detectives told the Times their investigations are frequently put on hold while they take days off, delaying witness interviews and other potentially important leads.

Last year, officers decided to take about 17,000 hours off each month in compensation for overtime, according to the Times. This past March, that number soared to nearly 60,000 hours. The increase in lost work hours was the equivalent to removing about 290 officers from the department roster.

The LA overtime formula appears to be a recipe for disaster. With the state reeling from a budget crisis and facing a Court Order to release more state inmates, LA, and all of California, are facing the real prospect of increasing crime and the related costs of victimization.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Post Conviction DNA Testing Emptying Prisons? Hardly

William Blackstone once said, "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." There has been increasing awareness that, at times, people are convicted of crimes they did not commit. DNA technology has provided another layer of review to insure that justice extends to those who are falsely convicted.

Freddie Peacock is the 250th person to be exonerated by DNA since 1989. According to the New York Times, he was arrested in July 1976 when a woman accused him of rape outside her Rochester apartment building. After initially denying involvement, Peacock confessed during a police interrogation. Apparently, Peacock was unable to provide any details of the crime, including where, when or how it had occurred, and later recanted his confession. At the time, Peacock was suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

He was convicted of rape and sentenced to prison. He was released in 1982. Ever since, Peacock fought to clear his name. He was successful earlier this year after having sought to have evidence analyzed for DNA.

My Take

Serving five years in prison after being wrongly convicted is a horrible fate. However, how pervasive is the problem of wrongful convictions? A closer look at the numbers is revealing. Using the first DNA exoneration in 1989 as a starting point, there have been approximately 400,000 murders and 2.8 million rapes in this country. There have been 250 DNA exonerations.

Those numbers may be a bit skewed. For instance, Peacock's exoneration came from a conviction in 1976. There were literally millions of rapes and murders in this country between 1976 and 1989.

Why look only at the DNA exonerations? Sure there have been other people convicted of crime who have been released. Men have been released from death row. However, those are not proven cases of actual innocence. Many have been released from prison after the court overturned their convictions or they were awarded new trials and acquitted or were not re-tried due to unavailable witnesses or passage of time.

The DNA exonerations are the actual innocents--and there are only 250. That is not to diminish the pain and suffering they have endured, but it represents .00008 of all persons convicted of murder and rape in the United States since 1989.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Mothers Bring Babies to Prison

The Illinois Department of Corrections has an interesting program for incarcerated new mothers. The new mothers are permitted to have their child live with them behind the prison walls. The newborns are not living in a cell wearing little orange jumpers.

According to the Bloomington Pantagraph, the infants live with their mothers on a unit on which each mother has her own room, with access to large day rooms decorated with colorful murals and outdoor patios. Michael Randle, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, commended the Moms and Babies Program, noting it is important that infants bond with their mothers during the first 18 months of their lives. Randle noted that the living unit resembled a day care center one might find outside prison.

Randle told the Pantagraph, "Of the 25 offenders that have gone through this program, none, zero, have returned to this prison." Twenty-five is certainly a small sample, but the recidivism rate for parolees is about 66-percent.

Susan Creek, the coordinator of Moms and Babies, said the large periods of time the women spend with their children are beneficial to both. Creek said it is especially important the mothers are bonding with their babies in a nurturing environment, away from the negative influences they might have on the outside.

Creek told the Pantagraph, "This program is about the well-being of the child first." She added that the children are innocent. "Let's not punish the child because the mother made a mistake."

To read more:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Questioning Protection

U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take another look at prosecutorial immunity

Pennsylvania Law Weekly
April 13, 2010

John Thompson spent 18 years in prison for a robbery and murder he did not commit.

In fact, he was only months away from execution while on Louisiana's death row. Thompson's fight for freedom was a long and tortured story of misdeeds, wrongful convictions and delay.

Thompson's case included after-discovered evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, a death-bed confession, a last-minute stay of execution, exoneration and a multi-million dollar verdict. It had all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. In fact, The Nine Lives of John Thompson, starring Matt Damon, is already in production.

The full story of John Thompson and the legacy of his prosecution, conviction and exoneration, is unfinished, however.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office appeal to John Thompson's $14 million verdict in Connick v. Thompson. The suit alleged that Thompson's civil rights were violated when the district attorney's office failed to train prosecutors regarding their responsibilities under Brady v. Maryland.

In Brady, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the failure to disclose evidence favorable to the accused violated due process where the evidence was material to either guilt or punishment. In the 1972 case Giglio v. United States, the high court expanded on Brady, holding that a prosecutor's failure to disclose a promise of leniency made to a material witness that could be used for purposes of impeachment violated due process.

In this case, the Brady question is raised in the context of absolute immunity for prosecutors. Absolute immunity has long protected prosecutors from litigation attacking the exercise of their core public functions. Without absolute immunity, a prosecutor may be subject to an unnecessary depletion of resources and the unavoidable distractions that come with defending countless challenges to the decision-making process.

Last term, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Van de Kamp v. Goldstein. The court unanimously extended absolute immunity to claims that supervising prosecutors failed to train subordinate prosecutors on their obligation to disclose impeachment evidence as required by Giglio. The high court held individual prosecutors are immune from suits alleging failure to "adequately train and supervise deputy district attorneys" on disclosure obligations, and "failure to create any system" for managing impeachment evidence.

The Supreme Court is now being asked to decide whether a single-incident failure-to-train claim that is covered by absolute immunity for an individual prosecutor pursuant to Van de Kamp can stand against a district attorney's office pursuant to a 42 U.S.C. 1983 civil rights action.

The facts of Thompson are compelling.

Thompson and an accomplice were arrested for the 1984 robbery and murder of a man outside his New Orleans home. As a result, Thompson's photograph was in the newspaper.

The victim of a separate robbery identified Thompson, through the newspaper, as her assailant. Thompson was arrested for the second robbery. The robbery investigation revealed blood on the clothing of one of the victims. The blood was earmarked for testing.

The same two assistant district attorneys were assigned to Thompson's pending murder and robbery trials. They made a tactical decision to try the robbery before the murder. The rationale was that a robbery conviction against Thompson would keep him from testifying at his murder trial. A robbery conviction could also be useful in obtaining a death sentence at the murder trial.

The blood from the robbery was tested on the eve of trial and found not to be that of Thompson. The blood test was not provided to the defense as required by Brady. Instead, the test was buried and a third prosecutor actually removed the blood stained clothing from the evidence room.

The trials proceeded as planned by the district's office. Thompson was convicted of robbery, he did not testify during his murder trial and the robbery victims testified during the penalty phase following his murder conviction. Thompson was sentenced to death.

A Buried Blood Test
Fast forward 14 years and Thompson was on death row. He was scheduled for execution when a defense investigator found the buried blood test. A subsequent test of Thompson's blood eliminated him as the offender in the robbery. It was then revealed that the assistant district attorney who removed the blood evidence was stricken with terminal cancer and made a death bed confession regarding the disposal of the evidence.

Thompson's murder conviction was overturned by the Louisiana Court of Appeals due to the fact that his robbery conviction — now overturned — deprived him of his right to testify in his own defense during his murder trial. Thompson was awarded a new trial and subsequently found not guilty.

He sued the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office. The jury found that the district attorney's office showed "deliberate indifference" to establishing policies and procedures to avoid unconstitutional Brady violations. The jury awarded Thompson $14 million and an additional $1 million in legal fees. A divided en banc panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the verdict.

The issue before the Supreme Court is whether a single-instance of failure-to-train gives rise to municipal liability, in this instance a district attorney's office, and whether such a claim is compatible with the court's previous decision affirming absolute immunity for failure-to-train as it applied to the occupants of that municipal body.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized municipal liability for failure-to-train under Monell v. Department of Social Services, City of Canton v. Harris and Board of the County Commissioners of Bryan County v. Brown.

Beyond the issue of municipal liability, the U.S. Supreme Court has shown a recent interest in prosecutorial immunity.

Last term, it was Van de Kamp and another major prosecutorial immunity case, Pottawattamie County v. McGhee, was argued earlier this term before the parties reached a settlement.

The limits of prosecutorial immunity have garnered the attention of prosecutors across the country. The National District Attorneys Association filed a brief expressing concern that liability based on a single-incident of failure-to-train created an "alarming prospect" that the strong tradition of prosecutorial immunity may begin to erode.

Why are prosecutors concerned?

Holding an office liable for the conduct of its occupants, when those occupants individually have absolute immunity seems to abrogate the very holding of Imbler v. Pachtman and Van de Kamp. If a district attorney's office were subject to the same litigation that is barred against its employees, how are those individual prosecutors protected from the "judgment-distorting burdens of litigation" protected through Imbler and Van de Kamp?

In Thompson, the very prosecutors who committed the egregious acts of withholding and destroying exculpatory evidence would be protected by absolute immunity. Their office, on the other hand, would not be protected by immunity on the premise that the office failed to train when, in fact, there is scant evidence that training would have had any impact on preventing the intentional misdeeds by the prosecutors involved in this glaring injustice.

Elected district attorneys need to take heed of the growing volume of civil rights suits alleging, among other things, "deliberate indifference" to training and establishing office policies regarding the intricacies of Brady and Giglio, and the constitutional implications of failing to meet those standards, and the liability issues that could follow.

Judge's Comments Land Her in Hot Water

Those "anonymous" comments made on newspaper websites may not be as anonymous as once thought. The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently disclosed the identity of a judge who's e-mail account was used to post comments on the newspapers website. Apparently, some of the comments referred to a high profile case the judge was hearing as well as reference to one of the attorneys handling the high profile case.

As difficult as it is to believe "commentgate" is becoming more sensational than the actual trial of a serial killer. Anthony Sowell a 50-year-old Clevelander, is accused of killing 11 women whose bodies were found at his home last fall.

The Plain Dealer reported in March that more than 80 comments had been made on -- an online affiliate of the newspaper -- by someone using an account set up with an e-mail address used by Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold.

Some of the online comments related to the high-profile Sowell case the judge was handling, and one comment was critical of Rufus Sims, one of Sowell's attorneys.

Sims has asked the judge to recuse herself from Sowell's case. Prosecutors have asked Sims to remove himself from Sowell's defense. Judge Saffold has sued the Plain Dealer. The defense has subpoenaed the editors of the Plain Dealer to testify against Saffold.

Does anyone in Cleveland remember the 11 dead women and the man accused of taking their lives? A hearing has be scheduled for next week, not to deal with pre-trial motions in the murder trial, but to hear the request for Judge Saffold to remove herself from the case.

To read more:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Residency Restrictions Make Neighborhoods More Dangerous

The Chicago Tribune reported that draconian residency restriction for sex offenders are actually making Illinois a more dangerous place. A series of laws that were championed by lawmakers as improvements in public safety have had the opposite effect.

According to the Tribune, thousands of sex offenders have remained in prison to serve their maximum sentence and then returned to the streets without oversight or treatment. The reason the offenders are not be released is two-fold. First, residency restrictions have dramatically reduced the areas where sex offenders can live. Secondly, the Department of Corrections has taken the position that an offender can not be paroled unless he or she has a specific place to live.

Sex offenders who are released after completing their full sentence, without parole, are less likely to register their addresses than those serving tightly monitored paroles in the community. They also are more likely to re-offend, sometimes repeating the same sex crimes, the review found.

Of the 1,292 sex offenders discharged in fiscal 2008 after serving their maximum sentence, 28 percent were listed as missing, not having registered their address or not being up-to-date with their registrations, compared with 23 percent of the 1,868 sex offenders paroled into the community, according to the Tribune.

The Tribune further reported that another 21 percent of the discharged offenders returned to prison, a slightly higher rate than those who were paroled. But in most cases, offenders monitored in the community were sent back to prison for technical parole violations, in many cases housing-related problems, while the discharged offenders were convicted of new crimes.

My Take

Residency restrictions do more harm than good. Rigorous restrictions often force convicted sex offenders underground. Residency restrictions are counter-intuitive to Megan's Law, which requires sex offenders to register their address so the public has access to information about offenders.

Dr. Jill S. Levenson of Lynn University in Florida, wrote in 2005, "Despite overwhelming public and political support there is little evidence that proximity to schools increases recidivism, or, conversely that housing restrictions reduce re-offending or increase community safety."

The reason residency restrictions have flourished in the face of increasing criticism and research suggesting ineffectiveness--politics. As Kaethe Morris Hoffer of the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation told the Tribune, "There's a growing awareness that these housing restrictions make politicians feel good, but don't protect victims or prevent crime."

There will be little meaningful reform in the area of sex offender legislation as long as politicians can continue to win on the "lock 'em up" platform. Sex offenders have no constituency. No one is fighting for the rights of sex offenders, nor do I advocate that anyone should be fighting for the rights of sex offenders. Yet every parent should be out there fighting for laws that afford the most effective protection to children, not laws that just make for a good sound bite.

To read more:

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Baltimore Puts Comstat on Hold

Will Baltimore pull the plug on Comstat?

The term Comstat is a derivation of Compstat which is short for computer statistics. Compstat was introduced in New York City by by Jack Maple of the Transit Authority Police. At the time it was called Charts of the Future. Maple methodically plotted and tracked crime with pins stuck in wall maps. Charts of the Future was credited with cutting rampant subway crime. Chief of the New York City Transit Police William J. Bratton was later appointed Police Commissioner by Rudolph Giuliani, and brought Maple's Charts of the Future to NYPD.

Compstat became a more sophisticated version of Charts of the Future. Compstat is the use of technology and communication to reduce crime, and expend personnel and resources. Compstat utilizes Geographic Information Systems to map crime and identify problems. In weekly meetings, police executives meet with local precinct commanders to discuss issues in there neighborhoods. The sessions are intended to devise strategies and tactics to reduce crime, and improve quality of life throughout the community. Besides New York and Baltimore, Compstat is used in Austin, TX, Los Angeles, Newark Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Vancouver to name a few.

Baltimore began using some Compstat principles in the late 1990s. Governor Martin O'Malley, then mayor of Baltimore, brought in New York consultants shortly after he became mayor to implement a more sophisticated review of data. According to the Baltimore Sun, O'Malley vowed to get tough on crime, he instilled the New York philosophies into the Police Department's operations and expanded it across agencies. The broader program, known as CitiStat, won a Harvard innovation award in 2004.

Comstat was first implemented by Former Baltimore police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, who led Compstat sessions in New York and later Baltimore, and said the weekly meetings were necessary and revealing.

Norris told the Sun,"It allows the strongest commander to shine, and it exposes the fakers very quickly." Norris, went on to say, "I don't care what company it is. If you are a good employee, do you want to be buried or get a chance each week to stand in front of the CEO and show him how smart you are?"

So why walk away from Comstat?

Anthony Guglielmi, Baltimore police spokesman, told the Sun that Comstat meetings has been suspended for the 30 days as the Police Commissioner looks for "creative ideas to revamp Comstat," which Guglielmi called "laborious" and "stale."

According to the Sun, the meetings have been criticized by some officers who say they often devolve into browbeatings. Commanders often take a day or more to compile thick binders of information and are holed up for hours memorizing facts so as not to be caught off-guard. Confrontations are frequent.

"It's a beat-down session," said Robert F. Cherry, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union told the Sun. "It's become a forum for finger-pointing and just running through a lot of numbers without giving some concrete strategies for fighting crime."

My Take

The idea of accountability can be threatening to some executive officers. The weekly scrutiny of your work in an open forum can be embarrassing especially for under performing executives. However, will a more kind and gentle approach yield the same kind of results experienced in New York City.

William J. Bratton took over as police commissioner in 1994 and introduced Compstat to the city. Only four years earlier, there were 2,245 homicides in New York City. In 2009, there were 412.

By all accounts, the Compstat meetings were rough in New York City. Precinct commanders who could not perform were replaced. However, no one can argue with the results. The unprecedented reductions in crime have saved literally thousands of lives and billions of dollars.

To read more:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Georgia: Lock 'em Up at All Costs

The state of Georgia needs to cut spending to balance a budget that is woefully underfunded. This story is being told and retold in state after state as America struggles to pull out of the the worst economic downturn since the great depression.

Georgia lawmakers are considering significant reductions in education, health care and court spending. One thing that is conspicuously not on the chopping block--a soaring prison population and associated costs.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia operates the fifth-largest prison system in the nation, at a cost of $1 billion a year. The job of overseeing 60,000 inmates and 150,000 felons on probation consumes 1 of every 17 state dollars.

Some Georgia legislators are looking for alternatives to the states "lock 'em up" mentality. State Representative Chuck Martin told the Journal-Constitution, that sentencing some low-risk offenders to house arrest at night, while requiring them to work during the day, could be more effective than placing them behind bars for a year with hardened criminals. Such an approach could conserve resources to keep dangerous offenders locked up, he said, while also steering low-level offenders into more productive lives.

Georgia has capacity for 57,000 prisoners. There are over 60,000 inmates in the system. The state currently houses 2,000 state prisoners in local county jails. The Journal-Constitution reported that it costs Georgia taxpayers $4.43 a day to supervise an offender in the community. It cost $46 a day to house an offender in a state prison.

My Take

Apparently, Georgia lawmakers are willing to sacrifice the education of their children, the health of their citizens and the integrity of their court system in order to keep their "tough on crime" persona.

Even Newt Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman and speaker of the house, recently wrote, "Georgia simply can't afford for the corrections system to maintain the status quo."

To read more:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nevada: America's Most Dangerous State

The latest crime rankings by state have been released by CQ Press. New Hampshire is the safest state while Nevada is the most dangerous. New Hampshire has a population of approximately 1.3 million people. In 2009, there were a total of 13 murders. The murder rate is therefore about 1 murder for every 100,000 people.

At the other extreme is Nevada. The murder rate is over 6 murders per 100,000 people. In addition, Nevada has the highest robbery rate of 249 cases per 100,000. The national rate is 145 per 100,000 people. New Hampshire's robbery rate is one-eighth of Nevada's at about 32 robberies per 100,000 people.

Pennsylvania was ranked 25th for a second consecutive year. Ohio got a little less safe dropping from 28 to 30 in the rankings.

The ten most dangerous states are:

1. Nevada
2. New Mexico
3. Louisiana
4. South Carolina
5. Tennessee
6. Florida
7. Delaware
8. Maryland
9. Arizona
10. Arkansas

The most dangerous for specific crimes:

Murder: Louisiana
Rape: Alaska
Robbery: Nevada
Assault: South Carolina

The CQ Press compiled the Crime State Ranking 2010. The rankings compare the fifty states in more than 500 crime-related categories. The FBI, police and many criminologists suggest that crime rankings are too simplistic and caution against and efforts to rank states or cities based on crime rates.

For all rankings:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Kansas Dismantles Model Re-Entry Programs

The Kansas method of preparing inmates for re-entering society was considered the crown jewel of correctional systems worldwide. According to the Kansas City Star, the Congress in 2008 established “Second Chance” grants to help other states create the kind of programs launched in Kansas — for drug rehabilitation, education, family reintegration and transitional housing.

The Star reported recidivism rates — the percent of ex-convicts committing new crimes — had, in 2007, plunged statewide to 2.2 percent, less than half the recidivism of the early part of the decade.

The number of parolees re-convicted for felonies fell 36 percent. The total prison population and new admissions also were on the decline, enabling the Department of Corrections to project no prison expansion for at least 10 years.

Two years ago, Kansas spent $12.6 million on its model re-entry programs. For the fiscal year beginning July, the corrections department will get about $5.3 million to fund those same programs. The huge cuts in funding will essentially gut the state's re-entry programs.

My Take

The governor and legislature are willing to dismantle model programs for the short term benefit of a balanced budget. The short-sighted decision to pull the plug on proven evidence-based practices will not save money. In fact, in the long run, Kansas' decision will cost taxpayers money.

Tax dollars are not the only thing on the line. Kansas' plan will produce more victims, make neighborhoods less safe, and prisons more crowded. More and more states are again following Kansas' lead, unfortunately its not new ideas and innovation, its slash and dismantle.

To read more:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Texting ban is just a trend

Youngstown Vindicator
Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Ohio Senate will soon be considering a bill to ban texting while driving. The Ohio House of Representatives recently passed its version of a texting ban by a vote of 86-12. Some cities in Ohio, including Cleveland and Toledo, have already enacted anti-texting laws.

Ohio is not alone in its zeal to outlaw texting. There are 21 states that have enacted a ban prohibiting drivers from texting while behind the wheel. There are many more states in various stages of considering anti-texting legislation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created model legislation which has been used in a number of states. Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Transportation banned texting and the use of hand-held cell phones by commercial truck and bus drivers.

Is the rush by legislators nationwide to pass some sort of ban on texting or cell phone use while driving going to make a significant impact on highway fatalities? A look at the numbers indicates that texting and cell phone use are only a small subsection of a bigger problem — distracted driving.

In 2008, 37,261 people died on America’s highways. A closer look at the numbers suggests that 5,870 of those fatalities were attributed to distracted driving, that is about 16-percent of all fatalities. Cell phone use, which includes texting, represents only a small portion of distracted driving fatalities.

In Pennsylvania in 2008, there were 1,468 traffic fatalities. According to the 2008 Pennsylvania Crash Facts & Statistics compiled by the Department of Transportation, 53 deaths were attributed to distracted driving and only a portion of those relate to cell phone use.

There are many other causes of distracted driving besides texting. The U.S. Department of Transportation has a web site The site lists causes of distracted driving, in addition to cell phone use and texting. Included on the list are eating and drinking, putting on makeup, talking to passengers, reading, using navigation systems, changing the radio stations, CD’s, mp3’s and i-pods. Where is the call for a Big Mac ban or a Maybelline ban?

Trendy cause

Texting is only the most recent and trendy cause of distracted driving. This is not to suggest that texting is not a serious problem. A University of Utah study found that cell phone use slows reaction time to about the same as someone driving with a .08 blood-alcohol limit or legally drunk.

Do we know the reaction time of driving with a hamburger in one hand, while reaching for coca-cola with the other hand? How about the reaction time while putting on eye-liner looking in the rearview mirror?

The point is, texting is dangerous but is only one of a number of problematic activities that go on inside a vehicle as it travels down the road. There are countless news stories like the 21-year-old Westport, Massachusetts man who was killed while texting and driving only minutes from his home; or the Florida cyclist who was killed by a driver who was texting while driving.

When the police find a cell phone at an accident scene they examine the phone, as they should, and it is fairly easy to determine if a call or text message was in progress at the time of the accident. However, if there was a Big Mac splattered on the windshield or mascara lying on the floor does that information make it into the police report? Does it make its way into the newspaper?

Is the frenzy to ban texting sending the wrong message? Should the effort be to raise awareness about distracted driving generally, and not focusing on only one aspect of this serious problem? Ohio already has a law which prohibits, “operation (of a vehicle) in willful or wanton disregard of the safety of persons or property.” Would Ohioans be better served if the police enforced the existing law against those who text, eat, groom and talk their way into being a threat on Ohio’s highways?

Matthew T. Mangino is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and a featured columnist for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly. Visit his blog at

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Roethlisberger Update: GBI Says Media Will 'Eat Crow'

It appears the police investigating the sexual assault allegation against Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback Ben Roethisberger are getting a little testy. The ongoing media scrutiny of the investigative practices of the Milledgeville Police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) have apparently ruffled some feathers.

A spokesman for the GBI recently made some strange comments to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The GBI had taken the position that they would not comment on the investigation. When asked whether the authorities still wanted Roethlisberger's blood for DNA testing, GBI spokesman John Bankhead provided this terse response: "That came from Garland (Roethlisberger's attorney). We haven't said one way or the other."

Recently, a more talkative Bankhead told the Post-Gazette, "People who say this case is dragging along don't understand our procedures." Bankhead went on to say, "... there are all kinds of things we have to take into account, such as the availability of witnesses."

Asked whether investigators have encountered any difficulties in their probe, Bankhead responded by lashing out against the media, "No, other than with the media."

Bankhead appeared to crossed-the-line with the following diatribe, "There are a lot of people out there reporting things and repeating things that just are not true. They'll be eating crow later. It may taste delicious like Thanksgiving turkey now, but later on, when the facts come out, it'll taste like eating crow."

When Milledgeville police Chief Woodrow W. Blue Jr. was asked about Bankhead's comments, he didn't back away. According to the Post-Gazette he agreed with Bankhead's assessment and said the investigation ". . . will be over when it's over."

To read more:

Friday, April 2, 2010

America's Historically Low Crime Rates at Risk

Why has prison population decreased for the first time in 38 years?

Rehabilitation outside prison can be cheaper and more effective than similar treatment in prison. The math on these initiatives is simple: A day in prison costs $79 on average; a day on probation costs $3.42. Adam Gelb, a public-safety specialist at the Pew Center on the States told the Wall Street Journal. "States can substantially beef up supervision in the community and do it at a fraction of the cost of a prison cell."

Some policymakers complain that early release of prisoners will increase crime rates. The tide may already have turned. New York City is in the midst of a substantial increase in homicides this year. The most recent annual homicide rates had been the lowest ever recorded in the city.

On the other hand, some experts say concerns about ex-cons returning to crime are overblown. James Austin, president of the JFA Institute, a nonprofit that advises states on prison policy told the Wall Street Journal, "The premise that the numbers of people released from prison affects the crime rate is wrong.” Recidivism rates for California prisoners released in 2006, he says, suggest that shortening terms by four months for all eligible prisoners would boost the number of arrests by less than 1% during the year of their release.

My Take

America’s enormous gains in safety and security may be at risk. Crime rates are at their lowest point in decades. However, America must not rest on its laurels. The sputtering economy and its impact on government revenue have the ability to make those gains disappear.

Law makers need to be cautious in their efforts to balance the budget on the backs of law enforcement and corrections. The unprecedented drop in crime rates came at a cost. More police on the street and more criminals in prison had an impact on crime. Society cannot expect to continue the same trend with exactly the opposite input.

It would be full hearty to ignore some of the evidence-based programs that have impacted recidivism. However, it would be just as naive to believe that crime rates will continue to fall without ongoing support for policing and the incapacitating effect of incarceration.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chelsea's Law: Horrific Crime, Reactionary Law

Chelsea King, was a 17-year-old California High School student who went out for a run and never returned. He body was found days later in a shallow grave. A registered sex offender, John Albert Gardner III, has been charged with raping and killing her.

The Associated Press reported that Brent and Kelly King, Chelsea's parents,support plans by California Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher to introduce the so-called Chelsea's Law. Fletcher says he's still working on the law but preliminary discussions will focus on a "one-strike" provision, parole reform and better GPS tracking of registered sex offenders.

California is in the midst of a catastrophic financial crisis, with the corrections system under intense pressure to cut spending while it imprisons approximately 171,000 inmates, more by far than any other state. At the same time, the federal courts have ordered the governor to reduce prison population by as much a 40,000 inmates.

If that were not enough to cause lawmakers to pause before implementing another set of knee jerk crime fighting measures in the wake a horrific crime maybe its time to look back on the history of sex offender legislation named for crime victims.

The first in the long line of victim labelled legislation is the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Act. The law was named for 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling who was abducted at gun point in Minnesota and never seen again. In 1994, the Jacob Wetterling Act established the first sex offender registry.

In 1996, Megan's Law was enacted. The law was named for 7-year-old Megan Kanka who was raped and murdered in New Jersey by a neighbor who was a convicted sex offender. Megan's law expanded the Wetterling Act by requiring community notification in addition to a sex offender registry. All 50 states have enacted some form of Megan's Law.

Does Megan's Law work?

The research is not encouraging. According to the Newark Star-Ledger, Megan's Law, has failed to deter sex crimes or reduce the number of victims since its passage 15 years ago. The federally funded study conducted by the New Jersey Department of Corrections and Rutgers University, suggested the growing cost of carrying out the law -- estimated at $5.1 million statewide in 2007 -- "may not be justifiable."

"Despite wide community support for these laws, there is little evidence to date, including this study, to support a claim that Megan's Law is effective in reducing either new first-time sex offenses or sexual re-offenses," the study concluded in a 44-page report.

The Star-Ledger reported, that the study examined the cases of 550 sex offenders who were broken into two groups --those released from prison before the passage of Megan's Law and those released afterward. The researchers found no statistically significant difference between the groups in whether the offenders committed new sex crimes.

Among those released before the passage of Megan's Law, 10 percent were re-arrested on sex-crime charges. Among the other group, 7.6 percent were re-arrested for such crimes.

Similarly, the researchers found no significant difference in the number of victims of the two groups. Together, the offenders had 796 victims, ages 1 to 87. Most of the offenders had prior relationships with their new victims, and nearly half were family members. In just 16 percent of the cases, the offender was a stranger.

Next is Jessica's Law. Nine-year-old Jessica Lundsford was raped and murder in Florida by a convicted sex offender. In the wake of her death, Florida and a number of other states enhanced penalties for sex offenders and imposed residency restriction on offenders along with GPS monitoring. Federal legislation that included GPS tracking of offenders failed to pass.

Does Jessica's Law Work?

According to the Los Angeles Times, a recent report by the California Sexual Offender Management Board portrayed the effect of Jessica's Law as difficult to determine at best, and wrong-headed at worst.

The requirement that offenders live away from children has required many to stay away from their own relatives or to become homeless -- both instances of instability that put them "at increased risk of re-offense," the report said.

The report also challenged the premise of the law's residency restrictions.

"The hypothesis that sex offenders who live in close proximity to schools, parks and other places children congregate have an increased likelihood of sexually re-offending remains unsupported by research," the report said. "On the contrary . . . there is almost no correlation between sex offenders living near restricted areas and where they commit their offenses."

The Times reported, California spends an estimated $80 million annually on ankle-bracelet monitoring of high-risk offenders, but the report suggested that there is no indication that the public is safer from felons monitored by global positioning systems than from those unmonitored.

"The law was passed with little information about how it would be implemented or evidence of whether GPS technology would protect Californians from sex offenders," the report said.

Franklin Zimring, a UC Berkeley law professor who has studied the measures, told the Los Angeles Times they have largely become "symbolic politics." Few have bothered to question whether the measures actually promote public safety, he said, because of the stigma of defending sex offenders.

Then there are Amber Alerts. The alerts were named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl abducted and murdered in 1996 near her grandparents' house in Arlington, Texas. The "Amber" in Amber Alert is an acronym - it stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. Amber Alerts send out a message regarding child abductions on the Emergency Alert System, used in the past exclusively for weather advisories.

Do Amber Alerts Work?

According to the Boston Globe, the first independent study of whether Amber Alerts work was led by University of Nevada criminologist Timothy Griffin. He looked at hundreds of abduction cases between 2003 and 2006 and found that Amber Alerts - for all their urgency and drama - actually accomplish little.

In most cases where they were issued, Griffin found, Amber Alerts played no role in the eventual return of abducted children. Their successes were generally in child custody fights that didn't pose a risk to the child. And in those rare instances where kidnappers did intend to rape or kill the child, Amber Alerts usually failed to save lives.

The Globe further reported, that some critics suggest that Amber Alerts create a climate of fear around a tragic but extremely rare event, pumping up public anxiety. Griffin calls it "crime control theater."

Finally, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act. Although not enacted until 2006, it was named for Adam Walsh who was abducted in 1981 from a Hollywood, Florida Sears department store and murdered. The act set up a system of categorizing sex offenders for purposes of registration and community notification.

Does the Walsh Act Work?

A study entitled, The Adam Walsh Act: A False Sense of Security or an Effective Public Policy Initiative? found the reclassification scheme advocated by the Walsh Act was of little significance.

The study utilized a sample of sex offenders in New York State, the study examined the effectiveness of the Adam Walsh tier system to classify offenders by likelihood of recidivism. Results indicated no support for the Adam Walsh risk classification scheme, as sex offenders in Tier 1 (lowest risk) were re-arrested for both non-sexual and sexual offenses more than sex offenders in Tier 2(moderate risk) or Tier 3(highest risk).

The proposed Chelsea's Law renews the debate among criminologists about crime-fighting measures passed in the wake of horrific, highly publicized crimes that originates from strong emotions rather than evidence-base research into what actually works.

The checkered history of much of the high-profile sex offender legislation gives rise to real questions about their effectiveness in protecting the public and the long term implications for actually creating a more dangerous sexual predator underground.