Friday, December 31, 2010

Inmates Released in Mississipi to Save Money

Mississippi is giving America a glimpse into the future of incarceration. As state and local budgets continue to contract, look for policymakers to condition punishment on the health of the offender. How much will it cost taxpayers to punish an unhealthy offender?

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has ordered the release of the Gladys and Jamie Scott, imprisoned for their involvement in a 1993 robbery. The governor cited the $190,000 cost of Jamie’s dialysis treatment, reports the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. The release is also conditioned on Gladys donating Jamie a kidney.

The sisters were not eligible for parole until 2014. Barbour said he has asked the state prison director to look at all inmates receiving dialysis to determine whether they are fit for release. There are 16 inmates receiving dialysis. “The ones who are not threats to society, I don’t think the Mississippi taxpayers ought to bear that cost,” Barbour told the Clarion-Ledger.

The sisters were convicted of luring two acquaintances to a secluded area where three teens beat and robbed them.

Many states will be facing similar issues as corrections budgets shrink across the country. Health care costs make-up a significant portion of correction budgets and corrections is often the largest single budget expenditure in many states. Don't be surprised, what is happening in Mississippi is already happening in other states with much less fanfare.

To read more:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Murder Down In Largest Cities

The USA Today recently wrote about the dramatic decline in murder in America's three largest cities. The numbers are incredible when it comes to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Homicides in New York have dropped 79% during the past two decades — from 2,245 in 1990 to 471 in 2009, the last full year measured. Chicago is down 46% during that period, from 850 to 458. Los Angeles is down 68%, from 983 to 312.

In 2009, New York had its fewest killings since it began using its current tracking system in 1963. Yet city crime reports through November indicate that homicides have jumped 14.4% and rape is up 15.6% this year, compared with the same period last year. The numbers don't approach those recorded during the 1990s, but are notable in a city that has been a model for reducing crime.

In Los Angeles, authorities have tamped down persistent gang violence. Violent crime was down 11% through November compared with the same period in 2009. But police officials acknowledge that the successes are fragile in a never-ending effort to maintain local public safety even as gang membership has risen slightly, from 43,000 in 2008 to 45,000 this year.

In Chicago, Police Superintendent Jody Weis says the city has struggled to break an unusual cycle of slayings involving child victims. Although the number of homicides has been cut nearly in half since 1990, Weis says the nature of the killings has undermined a public perception of safety citywide.

The USA Today demonstrates that the past is nothing short of spectacular; but, what will the future hold. There is no question that a sagging economy has not pushed economically disenfranchised people to turn to crime as some commentators suggested it would. However, tightening local and state government budgets will reduce police forces, open prison gates and eliminate rehabilitative programming-and will inevitably usher in a new era of rising violence. New York's shrinking police force and it increasing homicide rate may be a harbinger of things to come.

To read more:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gramlich: Death Penalty Summary for 2010

As the end of the year approaches the use of the death penalty for 2010 comes into better focus. With Mississippi failing to carry-out and execution tentatively scheduled for December 29, 2010 and presumably no death penalty trials facing verdict during the holiday week, the numbers are final. John Gramlich a staff writer at provided an accurate picture of capital punishment for 2010 in an article last week.

Excerpts of the article are below:

Officially, 35 states retain the death penalty, but far fewer use it with any regularity, as a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-capital punishment research and advocacy group, makes clear.

In 2010, only seven states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia — executed more than one prisoner, the report finds. Of those seven states, Texas was far and away the most active, executing 17 inmates in 2010, compared with eight for Ohio, the second-busiest state. Alabama was third with five executions.

Nationally, 46 prisoners were executed this year, a 12-percent drop from the 52 who were executed last year. Ten years ago, 85 executions took place nationally. Death sentences, too, have seen a sharp decline over the last decade, with 114 people sentenced to die this year, compared with more than twice as many — 234 — in 2000.

The reasons behind the decline in death sentences and executions are a point of debate. According to the Death Penalty Information Center's new report, capital punishment "continued to be mired in conflict in 2010, as states grappled with an ongoing controversy over lethal injections, the high cost of capital punishment, and increasing public sentiment in favor of alternative sentences."

But the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a victims' rights group in Sacramento, California, notes that the number of executions this year — 46 — is the exact average of executions nationally over the last four years, not the sharp decline that the Death Penalty Information Center portrays. The group also says the declining number of death sentences is a reflection not of juries' uneasiness with the death penalty, but simply a decline in murders.

To read more:

Mississippi Won't Carry-Out Year-End Execution

The Mississippi Supreme Court has yet to rule on Attorney General Jim Hood’s motion to set an execution date of December 29, 2010 for Frederick Bell. Hood’s motion came after the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 29 declined to hear an appeal from Bell.

It appears unlikely that the execution will occur this year. The leaves 46 executions carried out nationwide for 2010. That is 6 fewer executions than were carried out in 2009.

In 2010, only seven states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia — executed more than one prisoner, the report finds. Of those seven states, Texas was far and away the most active, executing 17 inmates in 2010, compared with eight for Ohio, the second-busiest state. Alabama was third with five executions, according to

Bell and Anthony Joe Doss were convicted of killing Bert Bell, no relation, on May 6, 1991, during an armed robbery of Sparks Stop-N-Shop in Grenada County. Doss also was sentenced to death, according to the Associated Press.

Three Mississippi death row inmates were executed in 2010. Department of Correction records show the last time the state executed more than two inmates in one year was 1961, when five men were put to death. Paul Everette Woodward and Gerald James Holland were executed in May. Joseph Daniel Burns was executed in June.

To read more:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

L.A. Murder Rate Drops to 40 Year Low

Los Angeles is on track to end the year with fewer than 300 killings, that has not happened since 1967. As of the day after Christmas, the Los Angeles Police Department had tallied 291 homicides, reported the Los Angeles Times. The last time the city had under 300 murders it had 30 percent fewer people.

According to the Times, longer-term declines are even more notable. The city's homicide rate this year marks a 75% drop from 1992, when 1,092 people were killed during a crack cocaine epidemic and gang wars. Homicides investigated by the Sheriff's Department have dropped by more than half since the mid-1990s.

The change, according to the Times, is not easily explained and is probably the result of several factors working together, including effective crime-fighting strategies, strict sentencing laws that have greatly increased the number of people in prison, demographic shifts and sociological influences.

A significant factor, said Columbia University Law School Professor Jeffrey Fagan, is the absence of a drug epidemic in recent years. The three distinct periods in U.S. history when homicides have spiked, he told the Times, coincide with the emergence of heroin, powder cocaine and crack cocaine, each of which gave rise to "a chaotic, violent street drug culture."

The city's total number of murders translates into roughly 7.5 killings per 100,000 people and puts it in league with New York City and Phoenix as having among the lowest homicide rates among major U.S. cities, according to the Times.

To read more:,0,1871598.story

Monday, December 27, 2010

Father and Son Sentenced to Death in Oregon

Last week, a jury in Salem, Oregon sentenced a father and son to death for planting a bomb that exploded inside a bank in 2008, killing two police officers.

According to the Associated Press, prosecutors portrayed Bruce Turnidge and his son Joshua as bigoted men who hated authorities, were desperate for money and feared that President Obama would take away their guns. Father and son turned on each other during trial, each pointing the finger at the other for building and planting the bomb.

The Turnidges will be sent to the maximum-security Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, where most inmates sentenced to death are housed.

The Oregon Supreme Court will hear the Turnidges direct appeal as part of an automatic review process in capital cases. The appeals processes on death penalty cases can take years. Some inmates on Oregon's death row have been there more than 15years, according to the Department of Corrections. Inmates on death row spend less time out of their prison cells and have fewer privileges, more restricted visiting and higher levels of security than inmates in general population.

Executions in Oregon are conducted by lethal injection. According to the Statesman Journal, the last execution was of Harry Charles Moore,in 1997. Under Oregon law, only a conviction of aggravated murder can result in a death sentence. There are 391 inmates in Oregon who have been convicted of aggravated murder, but only 36 inmates face execution, according to the Department of Corrections.

To read more:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Fed's Pursue First Execution Under President Obama

The Justice Department is preparing to carry out the first federal execution under President Barack Obama. The Bureau of Prisons announced its intention to execute Jeffrey Paul. He was sentenced to death for killing an 82-year-old retired National Park employee in Arkansas, according to

In a filing with the federal court, the U.S. Department of Justice has asked the court to schedule an execution date following a 120 day waiting period as required by law. Paul's lawyers said that they were not aware of the government's request to set an execution date.

Three federal executions were carried out under President George W. Bush, including that of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001. The last execution was in 2003. Before McVeigh was executed by lethal injection, the federal government went nearly 40 years without carrying out an execution, according to

President Obama supports the death penalty. However, his support is conditioned on capital punishment being restricted to "very narrow circumstances, for the most egregious of crimes." Some commentators are questioning whether Paul's case is of such a narrow or egregious nature that it passes President Obama's test.

Part of the reason for the 120 delay in scheduling an execution date is to provide the president with an opportunity to review the case for purposes of clemency. President Obama may have the opportunity to apply his self imposed criteria to Jeffrey Paul.

To read more:

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI's 2010 Christmas Message

Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; he came to dwell among us. God is not distant: he is “Emmanuel”, God-with-us. He is no stranger: he has a face, the face of Jesus.

This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope.

First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in his presence, observing his works and hearing his words, they recognised in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing him risen, after his crucifixion, they were certain that he was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:14).

“The Word became flesh”. Before this revelation we once more wonder: how can this be? The Word and the flesh are mutually opposed realities; how can the eternal and almighty Word become a frail and mortal man? There is only one answer: Love. Those who love desire to share with the beloved, they want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great love story of God for his people which culminated in Jesus Christ.

God in fact does not change: he is faithful to himself. He who created the world is the same one who called Abraham and revealed his name to Moses: “I am who I am … the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (cf. Ex 3:14-15; 34:6). God does not change; he is Love, ever and always. In himself he is communion, unity in Trinity, and all his words and works are directed to communion. The Incarnation is the culmination of creation. When Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was formed in the womb of Mary by the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit, creation reached its high point. The ordering principle of the universe, the Logos, began to exist in the world, in a certain time and space.

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“The Word became flesh”. The light of this truth is revealed to those who receive it in faith, for it is a mystery of love. Only those who are open to love are enveloped in the light of Christmas. So it was on that night in Bethlehem, and so it is today. The Incarnation of the Son of God is an event which occurred within history, while at the same time transcending history. In the night of the world a new light was kindled, one which lets itself be seen by the simple eyes of faith, by the meek and humble hearts of those who await the Saviour. If the truth were a mere mathematical formula, in some sense it would impose itself by its own power. But if Truth is Love, it calls for faith, for the “yes” of our hearts.

And what do our hearts, in effect, seek, if not a Truth which is also Love? Children seek it with their questions, so disarming and stimulating; young people seek it in their eagerness to discover the deepest meaning of their life; adults seek it in order to guide and sustain their commitments in the family and the workplace; the elderly seek it in order to grant completion to their earthly existence.

“The Word became flesh”. The proclamation of Christmas is also a light for all peoples, for the collective journey of humanity. “Emmanuel”, God-with-us, has come as King of justice and peace. We know that his Kingdom is not of this world, and yet it is more important than all the kingdoms of this world. It is like the leaven of humanity: were it lacking, the energy to work for true development would flag: the impulse to work together for the common good, in the disinterested service of our neighbour, in the peaceful struggle for justice. Belief in the God who desired to share in our history constantly encourages us in our own commitment to that history, for all its contradictions. It is a source of hope for everyone whose dignity is offended and violated, since the one born in Bethlehem came to set every man and woman free from the source of all enslavement.

May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the Land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful coexistence. May the comforting message of the coming of Emmanuel ease the pain and bring consolation amid their trials to the beloved Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East; may it bring them comfort and hope for the future and bring the leaders of nations to show them effective solidarity. May it also be so for those in Haiti who still suffer in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and the recent cholera epidemic. May the same hold true not only for those in Colombia and Venezuela, but also in Guatemala and Costa Rica, who recently suffered natural disasters.

May the birth of the Saviour open horizons of lasting peace and authentic progress for the peoples of Somalia, Darfur and Côte d’Ivoire; may it promote political and social stability in Madagascar; may it bring security and respect for human rights in Afghanistan and in Pakistan; may it encourage dialogue between Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and may it advance reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

May the birth of the Saviour strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope. May the love of “God-with-us” grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all.

Dear brothers and sisters, “the Word became flesh”; he came to dwell among us; he is Emmanuel, the God who became close to us. Together let us contemplate this great mystery of love; let our hearts be filled with the light which shines in the stable of Bethlehem! To everyone, a Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tough on Crime Era Coming to a Close?

The article below was written by William D. Burrell an independent corrections management consultant specializing in community corrections and evidence-based practices. The article was posted on the The Crime Report web site.

The article is worth reading. Burrell suggests that the tough on crime era may be coming to a close. Recent public opinion polls indicate that a majority of citizens are more compassionate than commonly thought and would prefer being smart on crime as opposed to blindly tough on crime.

Elected officials at all levels of government believe that they need to be “tough on crime” to get elected to office and stay there. This belief is based on the perception that the citizens whom the politicians seek to represent uniformly demand a tough and punitive response to crime that usually entails a prison sentence. Acting on this belief, the elected officials have passed laws that have fueled the extraordinary and sustained growth of the prison population in the United States over the past 3 decades. As a result, this country outranks all other counties in both the rate of incarceration and the size of the prison population.

While these beliefs have been pervasive for some time, two recent reports on public opinion and punishment seem to cast significant doubt on the accuracy of this conventional political wisdom. Reports from the Pew Center on the States and the Death Penalty Information Center both paint a picture of an electorate with some surprising views. Both of these reports are based on national polls of citizens in the spring of 2010 and the Pew report also incorporated the results of a series of focus groups.

When taken together, these reports portray a public that is more moderate, nuanced and pragmatic than most politicians suggest that they are. The public is not one dimensional, uniformly punitive towards criminals. As was suggested by one of the pollsters engaged by Pew, the public is humane and can be forgiving. Citizens polled showed an awareness of and sensitivity to issues that are rarely discussed in the public political debates on punishment. For example:

• Citizens are concerned about the overall cost of corrections specifically, and in relation to other areas of government where funding is needed (education, health care, infrastructure).
• They believe that fewer low risk offenders should not be incarcerated, and there was support for reducing the terms of those low risk offenders currently behind bars. These offenders should receive services and treatment to help them make a successful adjustment to society.
• There is strong support for rehabilitation, ranking it second after protecting society as a reason for incarcerating offenders.
Concerning the death penalty, the respondents expressed concern about:
• Unfairness in imposition of the death penalty, especially racial disparities.
• The high cost of capital punishment.
• The impact on the victim’s family of repeated court hearings and the lack of closure.
• The issue of innocence, for example the risk of executing someone who is innocent.
The primary concern of citizens is safety, for themselves and the community. They still support incarceration for violent offenders, but they want their justice systems to be “smart on crime”. Programs and services to prevent crime in the first place should be given at least as much priority as prisons. Citizens emphasize the need for holding offenders accountable for their behavior, for paying restitution and child support, and for working to develop the skills they need to live a law abiding and productive life.

I think it is also fair to say that the citizens want the justice system to be accountable as well, for being “smart on crime” in how the justice agencies use the authority and resources granted to them by their citizens.

While some readers might see the findings of these two surveys surprising, they should not. These results are consistent with more than two decades worth of polling on crime and punishment. Dozens of studies have portrayed the public to be pragmatic, reasonable and balanced in their views of punishment, supporting rehabilitation and treatment for offenders who need it. There is support for incarceration, but for dangerous and violent offenders, not for everyone. One reason that this portrayal of public attitudes is surprising is that most of the studies have been published in academic journals and policy reports that rarely find their way into the hands of elected officials and policy makers, no less the public.

This information comes to light at a critical time. States and counties are suffering the worst fiscal pressures in memory and are struggling with life and death decisions about budgets. In a number of states, courageous politicians are raising concerns (no doubt with concerns about the impact their political future) about the cost of corrections and the return on that investment. The consistent support of the public for a more moderate, less punitive and fundamentally pragmatic sentencing and correctional policy should help to redefine the debate, and provide elected officials with some support as they wrestle with these difficult and costly decisions.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Philadelphia Strangler: Serial Killer on the Loose

There is a serial killer prowling the streets of Philadelphia. Kensington, once a middle-class neighborhood of row homes, a few miles northeast of downtown has evolved into high-crime area cluttered with open-air drugs and prostitution, and apparently the preferred location of a serial killer, according to CBS News.

One man has now been linked to three killing. Emotions are running high in Philadelphia, fueled in part by comments from Mayor Michael Nutter. He asked the public to help get this "psycho" off the streets.

Residents of Kensington, who once severely beat a suspected rapist based on a police sketch, have taken matters into their own hands. According to CBS, they are outraged and have posted hundreds of comments and theories about the ongoing case on a Facebook page titled "Catch the Kensington Strangler, before he catches someone you love."

One post falsely identified a suspect, which led to an infuriated crowd outside the man's home. Police arrived at the man's home moments later and stressed that residents should call authorities instead of becoming vigilantes, reported CBS News.

"We will not tolerate anyone taking vigilante action," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey warned. "If you see someone suspicious, call 911. We will get there. We will handle," reported CBS.

To read more:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Death Penalty: Executions and Verdicts Decline in 2010

There was a decline nationwide in the number of executions and the number of death sentences handed down by juries. Forty-six inmates were executed nationwide in 2010, according, down from 52 in 2009, but roughly in the same range as the past five years. Texas executed 29% fewer inmates in 2010 than in 2009. New death sentences nationwide totaled 114 in 2010, about half as many as were meted out 10 years ago. In death penalty states like Virginia, Georgia, Missouri and Indiana, no new death sentences were imposed in 2010.

What does the decline in both categories mean?

"Whether it's concerns about the high costs of the death penalty at a time when budgets are being slashed, the risks of executing the innocent, unfairness, or other reasons, the nation continued to move away from the death penalty in 2010," Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center's, an anti-death penalty organization, told

Kent Scheidegger of the Sacramento, Calif.-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation told, "The decline in death sentences is the result of two factors: decline in the number of murders, and greater selectivity in seeking and imposing the death penalty."

To read more:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Arkansas Turns to Pew for Help with Prison Overcrowding

Over the past two decades, stiffer sentences, particularly for drug-related crimes, and few alternatives have combined to swell Arkansas' inmate population well past capacity at state prison units and strain the state’s ability to pay local governments to temporarily house the overflow of state prisoners in county jails, according to the Arkansas News.

The Pew Center reports Arkansas’ prison population has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and in 2009 alone the number of inmates grew 3.1 percent, the eighth largest percentage increase nationwide in a state with fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s population.

The cost of housing inmates has skyrocketed from about $45 million annually 20 years ago to about $349 million a year.

Arkansas has turned to the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project for help with these issues. Pew has assisted a dozen other states, including Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas, in addressing similar problems.

Jake Horowitz, who is manager of the project for the Pew Center, told the Arkansas News, those states have implemented a variety of the reforms in recent years.

In Arizona and Kansas, he said, the number of new convictions have been reduced, as have the number of probation revocations. Texas also has seen it’s prison population growth stabilized.

In Texas, the state’s prison population growth has been curbed because the Legislature invested more money in alternative sentencing and residential treatment programs, Horowitz told the News.

Some of the reforms implemented include investing more money into alternative sentencing and residential treatment programs, diverting low-level offenders and probation and parole violators from prison, strengthening community supervision and re-entry programs and accelerating the release of low-risk inmates who complete risk reduction programs, Horowitz told the News.

State Senator Jim Luker told the News that the Pew Center’s help has been invaluable. “There are some evidence-based measures that have been utilized in other states that have had positive results and improved public safety by reducing recidivism and reducing the number of incidents being committed and at the same time have saved substantial sums of money in avoiding the necessity of building ever increasing number of prison beds,” Luker said.

To read more:

Monday, December 20, 2010

FBI: Violent Crime Down First Half of 2010

According to the FBI's Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report released today, the nation experienced a 6.2 percent decrease in the number of violent crimes and a 2.8 percent decline in the number of property crimes from January to June 2010, when compared with data from the same time period in the prior year. The report is based on information from more than 12,000 law enforcement agencies that submitted three to six comparable months of data to the FBI during the first six months of both 2009 and 2010.

Violent Crime

■From January to June 2010, all four of the offense types in the violent crime category declined nationwide when compared with data for the same time period in 2009. Robbery fell 10.7 percent, murder was down 7.1 percent, forcible rape declined 6.2 percent, and aggravated assault decreased 3.9 percent.
■Violent crime declined in all city groups, with the largest decrease, 8.3 percent, in cities with populations of 500,000 to 999,999 persons. Violent crime was also down in both nonmetropolitan and metropolitan counties, with declines of 7.6 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively.
■For the six-month comparison period, violent crime fell in all four regions of the nation: 7.8 percent in the South, 7.2 percent in both the Midwest and the West, and 0.2 percent in the Northeast. The Northeast was the only region to experience an increase in murders, 5.7 percent. Murder declined in the other three regions—12.0 percent in the South, 7.1 percent in the West, and 6.3 percent in the Midwest.
Property Crime

■Property crime was down 2.8 percent nationwide for the first six months of 2010 compared with data for the same months of 2009. Motor vehicle theft dropped 9.7 percent, larceny-theft fell 2.3 percent, and burglary decreased 1.4 percent.
■Property crime declined in all four regions, with a 3.6 percent decrease in the South, a 3.1 percent decrease in the West, a 2.5 decrease in the Midwest, and a 0.2 percent decrease in the Northeast.
■Cities with 500,000 to 999,999 inhabitants experienced a 4.8 percent drop in property crime. In nonmetropolitan counties, property crime increased 1.0 percent, but it decreased 2.4 percent in metropolitan counties.

Arson offenses, which are tracked separately from other property crimes, decreased 14.6 percent nationwide. By population group, the largest decline in the number of arson offenses (17.2 percent) was in cities with populations of 50,000 to 99,999 residents. Arson also fell in metropolitan counties by 21.6 percent and in nonmetropolitan counties by 19.4 percent. Law enforcement agencies in all four regions reported fewer arsons, including declines of 17.6 percent in the West, 14.3 percent in the South, 12.6 percent in the Midwest, and 10.2 percent in the Northeast.

Note: Caution against Ranking—When the FBI publishes crime data in its Uniform Crime Reports throughout the year, some entities use the figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, tribal area, or region. Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction. The data user is, therefore, cautioned against comparing statistical data of individual reporting units from cities, metropolitan areas, states, or colleges or universities solely on the basis of their population coverage or student enrollment.

The complete Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, January to June 2010, is available exclusively at

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Judge Dismisses Gun Cases, Points Finger at PA Supreme Court

Among America's largest cities, Philadelphia has the highest rates for gunpoint homicides, robberies, and assaults, FBI figures show. In the last comparative count, 84 percent of Philadelphia homicide victims were killed with firearms; that was the highest use of guns as the weapon of choice for homicide in the nation's top 10 cities, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Since taking charge of Philadelphia Gun Court almost a year ago, prosecutors contend that Common Pleas Court Judge Paula A.Patrick has repeatedly misapplied the law on firearms possession, prompting a record number of appeals of her decisions by the D.A.'s Office.

The 27 cases prosecutors are appealing represent a sharp spike compared with earlier years. They appealed only about five such rulings by the previous two Common Pleas Court judges assigned to annual rotations through Gun Court, according to a Inquirer analysis of court appellate records.

Judge Patrick's "lawyer", not sure why she needed a lawyer, said that she is following the law and if there is a finger to point it should be at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Court has a more defense friendly line of decisions than the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Inquirer goes into detail on the PA Supreme Court decisions. "Historically, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been one of the most liberal courts on search-and-seizure law among the states," Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz, an expert on the state's appellate courts, told the Inquirer.

In one of several key opinions on the matter written by the late Justice Ralph Cappy, the top public defender in the Pittsburgh area before he became a justice, the state Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors cannot use discarded guns or drugs if the original approach of police lacked legal justification.

In contrast, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it was fair game for prosecutors to use tossed-away items as evidence. The high court said suspects fleeing police had never been legally "seized" in the first place and thus had no legal "search-and-seizure" protections regarding anything they dumped.

Pennsylvania's current chief justice, Ronald D. Castille, a former Philadelphia district attorney, wrote a blistering dissent to Cappy's 1996 decision.

"Our citizens have an absolute interest in preserving their right to be free from unwarranted intrusion by police officers," Castille wrote, according to the Inquirer.

"But our citizens also have the competing right to be free from those who roam the streets, destroy the neighborhood, and threaten the fabric of our lives and the public safety with contraband and weapons on public streets and byways."

Last year, Philadelphia prosecutor Hugh J. Burns Jr., chief of the appeals unit for the D.A.'s Office, asked the state Supreme Court to rethink the issue and permit the use of discarded weapons or drugs as evidence, reported the Inquirer.

State precedent, Burns wrote, "rewards flight [by suspects] and puts the public and the police at risk."

To read more:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ohio Considers New Execution Drug Following Oklahoma Execution

Ohio was the First State to Adopt a Single Drug Protocol

Ohio is studying a federal court decision that backed Oklahoma's use of an execution drug commonly used to euthanize animals, reported the Associated Press. This week, Oklahoma became the first state to use pentobarbital when it executed a convicted killer.

Late last year, Ohio became the first state to adopt a single drug protocol for executions. Ohio uses a strong dose of sodium thiopental to put inmates to death. Ohio's Kenneth Biros was the first person in the U.S. executed using a single drug injection in place of the three-drug protocol used in every other state at the time. Washington state has since also adopted the single drug protocol.

There has been a shortage of sodium thiopental a drug used for executions in all of the 35 states that currently carry out executions. Sodium thiopental's sole U.S. manufacturer, Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Ill., has blamed the shortage on unspecified problems with its raw-material suppliers and said new batches will not be available until January at the earliest. The company produces the drug as an anesthetic and has deplored its use in executions.

Earlier this year, prison officials said they would consider asking the governor to issue execution delays for condemned inmates if the shortage affects the state's supply. However, there has been no delay in Ohio. The state has carried out eight executions in 2010, the most since reinstating the death penalty in 1999.

Ohio prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith told the Associated Press, the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction was examining the decision by a federal appeals court that backed Oklahoma's move. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it agreed with an expert's testimony that "pentobarbital is highly likely to cause death in five minutes or within a short time thereafter."

Oklahoma prisons spokesman Jerry Massie told the Associated Press, after the execution, that there did not appear to be any problems with the new drug.

To read more:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Oklahoma Uses Substitute Drug for Execution

The 46th Execution of 2010

Oklahoma officials executed convicted murderer John David Duty using a drug combination that included a sedative, pentobarbital, commonly used to euthanize animals. A nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental forced the state to look for alternative drugs to carry out Duty's executin.

Duty was pronounced dead at 6:18 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in Mcalister. The Associated Press reported that Duty is believed to be the first person in the United States whose execution included the use of pentobarbital.

Duty pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the 2001 slaying of 22-year-old Curtis Wise. At the time, Duty was serving three life sentences for rape, robbery and shooting with intent to kill.

According to court records reviewed by the Associated Press, Duty convinced Wise he could get some cigarettes if Wise pretended to be his hostage so that Duty could be transferred into administrative segregation. Wise agreed to let Duty bind his hands behind his back. Duty then strangled him with a sheet, court records state.

Investigators said Duty penned a letter to Wise's mother immediately after the killing, saying, "Well by the time you get this letter you will already know that your son is dead. I know now because I just killed him an hour ago. Gee you'd think I'd be feeling some remorse but I'm not."

In spite of his incredibly heartless letter, Duty chose to ask for forgiveness from the very people he taunted-apparently he was able to feel the remorse that had elluded him immediately after the murder. According to the Associated Press, Duty apologized to his victim's family while strapped to a gurney awaiting the lethal injection. "I hope one day you'll be able to forgive me, not for my sake, but for your own," Duty said. "Thank you, Lord Jesus. I'm ready to go home."

The lethal drugs began to flow at 6:12 p.m., and Duty's breathing became labored one minute later. At 6:15 p.m., he appeared to stop breathing and the color began to drain from his face.

To read more:

Texas: Death Sentences Down for Nation’s Leader in Executions

Texas — the nation's most-active death penalty state — sentenced only eight killers to death this year, the lowest number since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated in the United States. Seventeen killers were put to death in 2010, six fewer than last year for the lowest total since 2001, reported the Houston Chronicle.

Death penalty supporters, however, countered that fewer death sentences may reflect fewer killers and fewer killers who are eligible for execution. The Supreme Court shrank the pool of death-eligible killers by prohibiting the execution of mentally retarded offenders and those who were younger than 18 when they committed their crimes.

"Texas murder rates have dropped about 67 percent, murders about 50 percent in Texas between 1991 and 2009," Dudley Sharp, death penalty advocate, told the Chronicle. "Nationally, I think that part of the reduction is due to state prosecutors knowing that judges in their state will not allow an execution to take place."

Prosecutors also cite long-term incarceration of violent criminals and programs to lower recidivism among released prisoners. Just as important, they claim, is a high degree of frustration over death sentences that never are carried out.

"Twenty-five years later, mothers and sons and daughters of victims are still waiting," Scott Burns, executive director of the National Association of District Attorneys, told the Chronicle. "It's the old cliche about justice delayed is denied. ... For a number of states, the death penalty means we'll talk to you in 25 years and see where we are."

Nationally during the last 20 years, death sentences have ranged from a high of 328 in 1994, to a low last year of little more than 100. Texas recorded an all-time high — 48 — in 1999 to eight this year, according to the Chronicle.

Since Texas' resumption of executions in 1982, 464 killers — 115 of them from Harris County (Houston) — have been put to death. According to the Chronicle, there are 105 Harris County killers await execution. Three of 17 killers executed this year were from Harris County. There are no executions scheduled in Texas before the end of the year.

To read more:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Arizona Prison Turns Away Prisoners

A Prison Term Doesn't Mean Prison Time in Some Arizona Counties

If crime is your bag and prison isn’t—Maricopa County, Arizona is the place for you. So far this year, nearly 16,000 offenders have successfully surrendered to serve jail time in Maricopa County.

But not everyone makes the cut. There were 1,453 instances of rejection in that same period, a majority for medical reasons. Rejection means, although an offender has been sentenced to prison the prison staff will not let the offender enter the prison. That’s right, the judge says go to jail, the warden says not my prison and the offender walks.

The issue causes headaches for city courts, which must come up with ways for offenders to carry out their sentences.

Lt. Brian Lee, spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, told the Arizona Republic that incomplete paperwork is a tough issue to resolve during weekends and late nights, when the courts are closed. "Our intake staff can't guess what the (court) order might mean," he said.

When it comes to medical conditions, Lee said, the Sheriff's Office has the ability to "make reasonable accommodations."

Those turned away after medical evaluations are "rare instances where people had skyrocketing blood pressure or someone detoxing off of alcohol or drugs," Lee told the Republic.

County medical staff determines "whether a person is not physically worthy of jail, because once in, they become our liability," Lee said. The County doesn’t flip the bill, but taxpayers pay one way or the other. They may save on the medical costs, but 1,453 offenders are walking the streets of Maricopa County who would have otherwise been in prison.

To read more:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ohio Prisons Priority One for New Governor

Ohio prisons house 50,976 offenders (33 percent over capacity); have a staff of more than 13,300 employees and a two-year, $3.54 billion budget, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

That makes prisons one of the largest single categories in the state budget, accounting for roughly 7 percent of general fund spending, and a top target for cutbacks as state officials struggle to deal with an impending $8 billion shortfall.

Governor-Elect John Kasich, who beat incumbent Democrat Gov. Ted Strickland last month, said locking up offenders who have committed "relatively minor crimes" in costly state prisons "doesn't make sense to me.”

One of the complaints Kasich has voiced frequently since the November 2nd election is that Ohio locks up "check-kiters and people who don't pay child support" when they could be punished at lower cost outside prison, reported the Dispatch.

According to the Dispatch, the state prison census shows there were 51 offenders behind bars for writing bad checks and 372 for failure to pay child support. Those categories, combined, account for less than1 percent of the total prison population.

State lawmakers vigorously resisted a sentencing-reform proposal that had bipartisan support from the Strickland administration and state Senator Bill Seitz, a Republican.

Included in Strickland's proposed two-year budget in 2009 - but stripped out by fellow Democrats - was a proposal to reduce the prison population by more than 6,400 inmates, saving $29.1 million annually. According to the Dispatch, the reforms would have resulted in "earned credit" to release 2,644 prisoners, diverted 2,644 nonviolent offenders to community programs, sentenced 527 child-support violators to community sanctions and reduced re-sentences for parole violations by 591.

Seitz introduced a version of the proposal, but it also died under withering criticism from prosecutors and conservative Republican legislators.

To read more:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oklahoma Execution May be Last One in 2010

On Thursday, Oklahoma death row inmate John David Duty is scheduled to be executed. Duty's execution will be the 46th execution nationwide this year. It appears that Duty's execution will also be the last execution of 2010.

Duty's scheduled execution has generated international attention. A drug used to euthanize animals has been approved for use in executions in Oklahoma, a decision that could affect other states scrambling to address a nationwide shortage of a key anesthetic used in executions, reported the Wall Street Journal.

The shortage of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic used for lethal injection by all 35 states with the death penalty, had prompted Oklahoma to seek court clearance to use pentobarbital as a substitute. A federal judge recently approved the use of the drug.

Duty was sentenced to death for the December 19, 2001 murder of Curtis Wise.

Wise was a cell mate of Duty. At the time of the murder, Duty was serving three life sentences for his 1978 convictions of rape, robbery and shooting with intent to kill out of Tillman and Jackson counties.

The execution will take place at the state penitentiary in McAlester.

"A Solution to A Problem That Doesn't Exist"

Why prosecutors oppose 'castle doctrine' legislation

The Pennsylvania Law Weekly
December 14, 2010

The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed House Bill 1926, which included a 'castle doctrine' provision. Support for the bill was overwhelming. It passed the state Senate, 45-4, in October and the state House of Representatives, 161-35, in early November.

Pennsylvania legislators were certainly not the only lawmakers to move in the direction of providing greater rights to defend a home, car or person. Pennsylvania's bill was similar in many respects to the 31 states with some form of a castle doctrine, "stand your ground," or "make my day" law.

The bill started out with an obligatory preamble found in similar legislation in other states:

• It is proper for law-abiding people to protect themselves, without fear of prosecution or civil liability.

• The measure is a common law doctrine of ancient origins that declares a home is a person's castle.

• The state Constitution provides the "right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state shall not be questioned."

The measure established that a person shall not be required to retreat in the face of intrusion or attack outside the person's home or vehicle. It further established that a person is presumed to have a reasonable belief that deadly force is immediately necessary to protect himself, or other innocent persons, from the threat of death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or rape.

The state Senate did something a bit unusual when it passed its version of the Castle Doctrine, however.

Originally known as HB 40, the Senate turned the castle doctrine into an amendment to another piece of legislation, HB 1926. The Senate combined the castle doctrine with legislation intended to close a loophole in Megan's Law. Sex offenders with lifetime registration responsibility for crimes in other states are required to notify authorities in Pennsylvania when they move into the state. However, there is no penalty if the sex offender does not register.

Why did the Senate combine the two pieces of legislation?

Some might suggest that the castle doctrine may have been a little more palatable with the sex offenders legislation attached. More simply, some thought Gov. Edward G. Rendell may have been less likely to veto a bill that included legislation he supported, closing the Megan's Law loophole.

Nonetheless, Rendell vetoed the castle doctrine and the Megan's Law amendment went down with it. And the governor did not mince words when he explained his rationale.

"The bill as passed encourages the use of deadly force, even when safe retreat is available, and advances a 'shoot first, ask questions later' mentality," Rendell said in his veto statement. "I do not believe that in a civilized society we should encourage violent and deadly confrontation when the victim can safely protect themselves."

In spite of the legislature's overwhelming support for the bill, it wasn't without opponents.

The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, the Pennsylvania State Police and a number of mayors and police chiefs opposed the bill.

"Pennsylvania already has a strong castle doctrine," Dauphin County District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr., president of the District Attorneys Association, told The Philadelphia Inquirer . "Citizens already possess the right to defend themselves in their homes."

In fact, Rendell, a Democrat, said in his veto statement that he sought the input of Marsico, a Republican.

Rendell said Marsico "told me that 'this bill is proposing a solution to a problem that doesn't exist' and that, if approved, it would create 'great opportunities for defense lawyers of violent criminals.' I agree."

So, why were Rendell, a former prosecutor, the state's district attorneys association, and prosecutors around the country opposed to the castle doctrine or similar self-defense legislation?

Prosecutors were concerned that the law would be used by criminals to attempt to justify violent criminal conduct. And, in some states, the concerns of prosecutors have been realized.

In Ohio, where prosecutors opposed the castle doctrine, Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk recently told The Columbus Dispatch newspaper, "It was not made to protect drug dealers from drug dealers, but that's how it's being used."

In Pike County, a man who was robbed by a drug dealer was later shot and killed after he broke a window in an attempt to enter the car of the thief. Defense attorneys contended that the man acted lawfully. A jury convicted the thief-turned-killer of reckless homicide rather than murder.

In Franklin County, Ohio, a man fatally stabbed an acquaintance that pushed his way into the defendant's home during an argument. His attorneys said the law granted him an absolute right to defend himself with deadly force. According to the Dispatch , the prosecution countered that the law "is not a license to commit murder."

In Texas, a jury acquitted Jose Gonzalez of murder. According to the Associated Press, Gonzalez had endured several break-ins at his trailer when four boys, ranging in age from 11—15, broke into the mobile home. Gonzalez went into the trailer and confronted the boys with a 16-gauge shotgun.

Both sides agreed about what happened next. Gonzalez forced the boys, who were unarmed, to their knees. They were begging for forgiveness when Gonzalez hit them with the barrel of the shotgun and kicked them repeatedly. Then one boy was shot in the back at close range. Two mashed Twinkies and some cookies were stuffed in the pockets of his shorts.

In Houston, this past summer, Joe Horn was cleared by a grand jury for killing two men he suspected of burglarizing his neighbor's home. According to the Associated Press, Horn called 911 and told the dispatcher he had a shotgun and was going to kill them. The dispatcher pleaded with him not to go outside, but Horn confronted the men with a 12-gauge shotgun and shot both in the back.

In Montana, prosecutors decided not to file charges in a case where two men got into an argument over an extended break while working at Wal-Mart. According to The Billings Gazette newspaper, Craig Schmidt was punched and shoved by Danny Lira. Schmidt apparently feared another blow could cause serious injury or kill him. He pulled out a pistol and shot Lira.

A bullet struck Lira in the forehead, but did not penetrate his skull.

"At the point he decided to draw his gun, Mr. Schmidt could retreat no further," District Attorney Dennis Paxinos told the Gazette . "He was almost on his back with his feet off the ground, and he believed he would be severely beaten."

Last month, a Cascade County, Montana, man was free after a jury could not decide on a verdict. Clay Dunbar allegedly shot through his front door and killed a former Montana state champion wrestler.

Dunbar claimed he had the right to protect himself pursuant to Montana's castle doctrine.

According to the Missoulian newspaper, after six days of testimony and almost two days of deliberations, the jury was split 7-5. The judge asked the jury if more time would bring about any consensus, but jury insisted they had reached an impasse.

Rendell's veto does not end the issue in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, said there are already plans to re-introduce a castle doctrine measure during the next legislative session.

"Almost immediately it will be re-introduced," he told The York Dispatch newspaper. "We did a lot of work on it to get it to what we thought was perfect. We don't see any reason to change it at this time."

Michigan Closes Prisons and Reduces Crime

Michigan has released more inmates and reduced crime. Sounds like an ideal situation in these difficult economic times. The Washington Monthly recently wrote a piece detailing the how Governor Jennifer Granholm pulled off this rather enviable feat. Below are some excerpts from the full Washington Monthly article.

According to the Washington Monthly, when parolees are less likely to reoffend, more prisoners can be let go without jeopardizing public safety. Going hand in hand with Michigan’s improved recidivism rates, therefore, has been a correspondent increase in parole approvals. Over 3,000 more prisoners were paroled in 2009 than were paroled in 2006; approvals for violent offenders have gone up by more than half (from 35 to 55 percent), while approvals for sex offenders have more than quadrupled (from 10 to 50 percent).

As a result, during the past three years, the number of state inmates in Michigan has shrunk by 12 percent, reversing a sixteen-year trend of steady prison population growth. The turnaround enabled Governor Granholm to shut down ten prisons last year, and an additional eight are slated to be closed by the end of 2010, reported the Washington Monthly.

Between 1970 and 2005 the number of incarcerated Americans grew by 700 percent, accounting for one-fourth of the world’s prisoners. A 2008 study by the Pew Center on the States found that more than 1 in 100 adults were behind bars. This isn’t just grim in humanitarian terms; it’s also extremely expensive, costing over $60 billion a year. If states are to cut back on the vast sums spent on prisons, they will need to focus on keeping parolees from reoffending. No state has taken the lead on this more than Michigan, reports the Washington Monthly.

In 1973, Michigan had a prison population of 7,874 inmates, and $38 million, less than 2 percent of the state’s general fund, went to corrections, according to the Washington Monthly. Crime was rising, however, and prison capacity was insufficient. Like many other state legislatures across the country, Michigan lawmakers attributed their worsening crime rates to what they viewed as overly lenient sentencing guidelines, so they enacted tougher policies and built more prisons. By the end of 1984, Michigan’s inmate population had nearly doubled, reaching 14,658. Five years later, it had more than doubled again, to 31,834.

By 2003, when Granholm became governor, Michigan’s prison population had increased to 50,591, and corrections expenditures had reached $1.6 billion, almost a fifth of the state’s general fund. It was becoming unsustainable. “If something wasn’t done, we’d be building more prisons, and that simply was not in the cards,” Beth Arnovits, executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency told the Washington Monthly.

Like thirty-three other states, Michigan uses a form of indeterminate sentencing in which each inmate gets a minimum (determined by a judge) and a maximum (established by the legislature). Often, the gap between the two can be vast—a sentence of three to twenty years, for instance. After serving his minimum, the inmate becomes eligible for parole; if he is never granted parole he eventually “maxes out” and goes free. Pennsylvania uses indeterminate sentencing. Pennsylvania current prison population is greater than 50,000 for the first time in history.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Camden to Layoff 180 Police Officers

Camden, New Jersey is about to layoff 180 members of the city’s 373-member police department, mostly patrol officers, may lose their jobs. Dozens of ranking officers already have been demoted, and a handful, according to sources, have submitted resignations, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

In Newark, lawmakers furloughed 167 police officers last week,
The layoffs will lead to lower response times citywide and are "definitely going to help criminals," according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Rutgers University students who attend school nearby said that they generally feel safe on the small campus because of the university law enforcement presence.

Union officials said that they will meet with city administrators tomorrow to discuss the city's concession requests, which include a 20 percent wage reduction. With additional concessions, however, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1 President John Williamson believes that the wage reduction approaches 30 to 35 percent.
"We cannot responsibly and in good conscience thrust our membership into foreclosure," he told the Daily News. "We have no problem discussing or possibly agreeing to some concessions, if all the jobs are going to be saved."

A source familiar with the department told the Daily News, approximately 58 jobs could be saved if the union accepts all the concessions. The concessions also call for the elimination of shift differential, overtime, and longevity pay for experienced officers and uniform allowances. The city also wants to increase insurance contributions and increase co-pays.

New Jersey State Police would not discuss the current level of staffing in the city, and Gov. Chris Christie said that he would not send more aid or additional troopers to patrol the city, which had been done in the past during periods of high crime, according to the Daily News.

Thomson said that the State Police have a "significant amount of resources" in Camden and that his dialogue with the agency increased as talk of layoffs grew.
According to the Daily News, Camden County Prosecutor Warren Faulk said that Camden could probably use 400 officers, and he's worried that reduced manpower could delay critical investigations.

To read more:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cost: Is it a Legitimate Death Penalty Issue

A story posted on the ABC News web site questions whether the cost of the death penalty justifies it imposition. The death penalty is used sparingly in this country. Forty-five men and woman have been executed this year in the U.S. There is only one other execution scheduled before the end of the year. Therefore, there will be fewer execution this year than last.

According to ABC, California has a $25 billion deficit and almost 700 inmates on death row. According to a 2008 report issued by the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, maintaining the criminal justice system costs $137 million per year, but the cost would drop to $11.5 million if it weren't for the death penalty. A 2010 study from the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union found that California would be forced to spend $1 billion on the death penalty in the next five years if the state does not replace capital punishment with permanent imprisonment. How much will life without parole cost? California is not going to release the 700 killers on death row.

California is not the only state where cost has become an argument for abolishing the death penalty. New Hampshire refused to expand the death penalty and Illinois is one vote from abolishing the death penalty. New Mexico abolished the death penalty a year ago, though they have an execution scheduled for January. New Jersey and New York have also recently abolished the death penalty.

Maryland's governor wanted to abolish the death penalty. In 2008, an Urban Institute study of Maryland found that a death penalty trial costs $1.9 million more than a nondeath penalty trial. The study also estimated that the state's taxpayers had paid at least $37.2 million for each of the five executions the state had carried out since 1978, reported ABC.

Each state with the death penalty must acknowledge that if the the death penalty would disappear there are still costs involved in incarcerating killers. The cost of life in prison without the possibility of parole is expensive and don't be fooled, lifers will file appeals for the full 50, 60 or 70 years they spend in prison.

According to ABC, a Georgia study conducted by the National Institute of Corrections in 2004 found that the state's aging inmate population cost three times that of a younger inmate population in health care costs.

"Life in prison is more expensive than the death penalty when you're paying for health care for aging life-with-parolers," Diane Clemence, spokeswoman for Texas pro-death penalty group Justice for All, told ABC. Clemence said death row inmates wouldn't cost states as much, since they shouldn't be staying in the prisons into old age.

An enormous cost associated with the death penalty is the delay between conviction and execution. That delay can be attributed in large part to the persistent legal actions filed to review issues that have been decided. At times these actions are merely frivolous requests intended for delay.

There is no question that capital punishment is a moral issue. Some people believe that the state should not be involved in taking the life of a human being, even if that person is a killer. That is a legitimate position, and aa issue that should be part of the public debate.

However, should citizens be flipping the bill to decide if sodium thiopental, one of the execution drugs, obtained from the U.K. is any less appropriate for executions than sodium thiopental manufactured in the U.S. That is a what drives up the cost of executions and plays no legitimate role in the process.

To read more:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Minnesota Courts Feel Budget Crunch

On this blog we have explored how budget shortfalls have caused reductions in police officers, the early release of prisoners and the availability of treatment and re-entry services. Now, yet another segment of the criminal justice system is feeling the crunch. According to the St. Cloud Times, budget cuts and staff reductions have redefined “typical” and “usual” in Minnesota state courts. They have forced courts to turn to trim staff and implement new technology, and it’s likely technology will play an even bigger role with another state budget shortfall looming.

For a branch of government traditionally considered slow to adapt to change, the judiciary has made significant strides in using technology to increase efficiencies.

The annual budget supplied by the state for the Stearns and Benton county courts has dropped to $3.22 million for 2011 from $3.25 million in 2008. At the same time, the money supplied by the state for the 7th Judicial District, which includes those and eight other counties, has decreased from $14.63 million in 2009 to $13.89 million in 2011. At the same time, health insurance contributions have increased, reported the Times.

The 7th District is down 17.5 staff positions since April 2009, when it had about 182full-time equivalents. According to the Times, Stearns County in the same period is down 11 positions, from about 59 FTEs. That includes court administration, court reporters and law clerks. A self-imposed hiring freeze, retirements, transfers and employees leaving has reduced the work force.

The new technology consists of a ticket scanner. Tickets are sent to a data entry center where someone keys in the data and makes sure it’s accurate. Previously, an officer would handwrite the ticket, information about fines and fees was added at the police station before the ticket went to court administration, where the information would be entered in the computer system, reported the Times.

The scanner reduces the chance of errors and frees court staff for other tasks.
Two other innovations automate fine payment and debt collection, the latter happening at a call center where 60 people do what 125 used to do in counties statewide.

According to the Times, counties are saving an estimated $2.7 million per year by taking that work out of each of the 87 counties and centralizing it in a state unit. Other savings have come from combining judicial districts and counties under one administrator.

To read more:

Friday, December 10, 2010

California Imports Execution Drug from the U.K.

California corrections officials recently disclosed that they have imported a large quantity of sodium thiopental the key drug used in lethal-injection executions and are awaiting approval of the British-made product by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation paid a British distributor $36,415 for 521 grams of sodium thiopental made by Archimedes Pharma, said department spokeswoman Terry Thornton.

Each execution requires 3 grams of sodium thiopental plus an equivalent amount as emergency backup. The imported supplies would be sufficient to put to death about 9condemned prisoners by the state regulations, reported the Times.

A nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental has delayed executions in several states. Sodium thiopental is a powerful barbiturate used to anesthetize condemned prisoners in lethal injection executions. According to the Times, California's last few grams of the drug expired in September, complicating state efforts to resume executions after a five-year hiatus.

The sodium thiopental made by Archimedes Pharma was shipped ahead of Britain's decision late last month to bar exports of the drug, which is also used in surgery and to euthanize animals. I recently wrote about the U.K. ban, All European nations have renounced capital punishment, and Britain came under fire for making the drug available to U.S. states for executions.

To read more:,0,5298103.story?track=rss

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Review: The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt

A new compilation of Tony Judt’s recent essays was released by Penguin press this fall. Tony Judt died on August 6, 2010. He succumbed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Judt was a writer and a teacher. In his final days, although not in a classroom or even able to sit in front of a keyboard, he continued to do both through his mastery of thoughts and words.

I first became acquainted with Judt’s writing in the New York Review of Books (NYRB). He wrote extensively for many publications besides the NYRB, including the New York Times and the New Republic. He also wrote 14 books.

After his death, a book of 25 essays was released under the title The Memory Chalet. At least 15 of the essays were originally published in the NYRB. Each essay is a trip back in Judt’s life that is both revealing and enchanting. Judt is funny, candid, probing and contemplative.

In an essay entitled “Night” Judt concisely explains what ALS has done to his body. The first several paragraphs are jaw dropping as he lays out in detail how his very active mind is trapped in a very dormant body.

I have read the essay several times. The first reading came through the NYRB and later in The Memory Chalet and several times in between. With each reading, stillness came over me as my palm moistened; my heart raced; my mouth dried. Every word written by Judt jumped off the page as he expanded on the tragedy of an enslaving affliction. Judt wrote, “In effect, ALS constitutes progressive imprisonment without parole. First you lose the use of a digit or two; then a limb; then and almost inevitably, all four. The muscles of the torso decline into near torpor, a practical problem from the digestive point of view but also life-threatening, in that breathing becomes at first difficult and eventually impossible without external assistance in the form of a tube-pump-apparatus.”

Judt wrote about the mental exercises that brought about relief from the otherwise desolate period between bedtime and morning. “My solution has been to scroll through my life, my thoughts, my fantasies, my memories, mis-memories, and the like, until I have chanced upon events, people, or narratives that I can employ to divert my mind from the body in which it is encased.”

In Judt’s essay “Words” he lamented, “a world of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter (not to mention texting), pithy allusion substitutes for exposition.” He wrote of the past when, “Poor expression belied poor thought. Confused words suggested confused ideas at best, dissimulation at worst.”

He then sets forth, unforgivingly, his thoughts about today’s problem with words, “Shoddy prose today bespeaks intellectual insecurity: We speak and write badly because we don’t feel confident in what we think and are reluctant to assert it unambiguously (“it’s only my opinion…”).”

Judt then defined why he is so acutely aware of the misuse of language, “I am more conscious of these considerations now than at any time in the past. In the grip of a neurological disorder, I am fast losing control of words even as my relationship with the world has been reduced to them.”

Judt’s most poignant essay is “Captive Minds.” I read it for the first time in The Memory Chalet. The essay defines what I believe is a gigantic problem in America today—the avoidance of thinking—how falling-in-step rather than challenging is the easy way out and essentially leads to loss of liberty.

He made his point by citing the work of Czech writer Czelaw Milosz. Milosz wrote about people who could live with the contradiction of saying one thing and believing another. These people known collectively as “Ketman” could follow the directives of their rulers while believing that within themselves they have preserved “the autonomy of a free thinker.”

“Recall the Ketman-like trance of those intellectuals swept up in George W. Bush’s hysterical drive to war just a few years ago,” wrote Judt. Today we see it in many more subtle ways. A state lawmaker tells us we need to enhance the length of sentence for a certain class of offenders, knowing full well that prisons are at capacity and the budget provides little leeway to build more facilities. We accept that conduct as leadership without critical analysis.

Judt writes that the market, “has its true believers—mediocre thinkers by contrast with the founding fathers…(believers) who may privately doubt the claims of the dogma but see no alternative to preaching it.” He concludes the essay with, “Milosz’s indictment of the servile intellectual rings truer than ever: ‘his chief characteristic is his fear of thinking for himself.’”

Judt’s insight will be missed, not to mention his smooth prose. The Memory Chalet gives us a glimpse into the man and more importantly how his experiences shaped his erudite analysis of people, places and events.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Texas Death Penalty Hearing on Hold

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals halted an unprecedented death penalty hearing after an emergency appeal was filed by the Harris County District Attorney's Office, reports the Houston Chronicle.

The appeal suggests that Judge Kevin Fine's court will hear testimony to determine if two Texas men, Cameron Todd Willingham and Claude Jones, both convicted of capital murder and executed. Defense attorneys will try to prove that both men were actually innocent.

The district attorney's office said in its brief that Fine was exceeding his authority by allowing evidence regarding flaws in past death penalty cases to decide issues in Green's case.

According to the Chronicle, Judge Fine acknowledged that the appellate court may have been considering whether to order him to halt the proceedings in a preliminary hearing in the death penalty trial of John Edward Green.

Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor, testified Tuesday that the rate of exonerations across the country is now averaging more than one a month, reported the Chronicle.

Seven of the 261 national exonerations came from Harris County, Garrett told the Chronicle.

Lawyers for Green believe the evidence against Green may include an eyewitness, a partial palm print and snitches. Green could face the death penalty. He is alleged to be the gunman in a 2008 robbery and slaying in southwest Houston, reported the Chronicle.

To read more:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oklahoma Looks to Cut Prison Costs

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has sought emergency funds from the state legislature to continue operations 12 out of the last 13 years. Since 1995, the prison population has grown from 17,983 inmates to 26,720 and state appropriations have increased from $188 million to more than $461 million, despite the department having trimmed $76 million from its budget in the past two years, according to the Daily Oklahoman.

The department estimates it now needs more than $592 million to operate.

With the legislature's bill-filing deadline for 2011 less than a week away, newly elected Speaker of the House Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, is pushing for a series of short-term steps to reduce the budget strain, including:

1. Enhancing community sentencing programs and mandatory supervision.
2. Limiting the governor's role in the parole process for nonviolent crimes.
3. Defining qualifications for parole board members.
4. Reviewing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes.
5. Effectively utilizing the re-entry program, which involves GPS monitoring.

“I think public safety is a top priority in our state and as a result, historically, Oklahoma's answer to that has been incarceration,” Steele told the Oklahoman. “It's been kind of a one-size-fits-all approach. Lawmakers have been reluctant to dig in ... nobody wants to be perceived to be soft on crime.”

According to the Oklahoman, some reform minded lawmakers have made Oklahoma a state of incarceration—it leads the nation in locking up women on a per-capita basis and is consistently in the top five for incarcerating men. Some lawmakers contend it has helped reduce Oklahoma's crime rate and improved public safety.

“I can tell you from a fiscal standpoint ... (and) from a human resource standpoint we are going to have to do something different,” Steele told the Oklahoman.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Fewer Executions Nationwide In 2010

It appears that the U.S. will execute fewer people this year than last year. In 2009, 52 inmates were executed: 24 in Texas; 6 in Alabama; 5 in Ohio; 3 each in Georgia, Oklahoma, and Virginia; 2 each in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee; and 1 each in Indiana and Missouri, according to the Department of Justice. Fifty-one executions were by lethal injection and 1 by electrocution.

So far in 2010, there have been 45 executions in 12 states. Forty-three were by lethal injection, 1 by electrocution and 1 by firing squad. There is only one execution scheduled before the end of the year and the world will be watching.

Oklahoma is considering the use of pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals, in the upcoming execution of John David Duty, a convicted murderer scheduled to be executed on December 12th. Oklahoma's decision is the result of a national shortage of sodium thiopental a drug used for lethal injection in 35 states.

Illinois Legislature Considers Bill to Abolish the Death Penalty

Illinois Senate Bill 3539 is intended to abolish the death penalty. The bill passed out of the House Judiciary-Criminal Law committee on a 4-3 partisan vote. However, the bill has not come up for a vote by the full House.

Jeremy Schroeder, executive director of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told the Springfield State Journal-Register the group will push for a vote in January when the legislature tries to cram a multitude of votes into the final days before a new General Assembly is sworn in January 12th.

A vote in January is not guaranteed. A group of state’s attorneys raised an issue that’s been adopted by several lawmakers since -- that abolishing the death penalty demands much more study and debate. They said abolishing the death penalty is too important an issue to rush through the General Assembly during the closing hours of the session.

A succession of state's attorneys -- including Kevin Lyons of Peoria County and Joe Bruscato of Winnebago County -- argued that the death penalty is appropriate for heinous crimes.

"With the amount of crime in Winnebago County, the citizens cry out for justice. The victims cry out for justice," Bruscato told the State Journal-Register. "I believe (the death penalty) provides justice for the victims."

"Why are we here now?" asked Lyons. He told the State Journal Register, "We can only assume it's because you do not want to hear from persons opposed to this bill. That's why it comes up in the veto session, and that is offensive to victims. Prosecutors are accused all of the time of rushing to judgment. That's what's happening here."

The state has not executed anyone in a decade since ex-Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium. The disgraced governor imposed the moratorium after commuting the sentence of everyone on death row. At the time, Ryan was the target of a criminal investigation that resulted in his conviction and incarceration.

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More Than 185,000 Killings Unsolved in U.S. Since 1980

Despite dramatic improvements in DNA analysis and forensic science, police fail to make an arrest in more than one-third of all homicides even as the homicide rate has fallen to levels last seen in the 1960s.

National clearance rates for murder and manslaughter have fallen from about 90 percent in the 1960s to below 65 percent in recent years. Nearly 185,000 killings went unsolved from 1980 to 2008, according to Scripps Howard News Service.

The percentage of homicides that go unsolved in the United States has been on the rise. The majority of those unsolved homicides occur in American big-cities as gleaned from police department records, according to the Scripps Howardstudy of crime records provided by the FBI.

"This is very frightening," said Bill Hagmaier, executive director of the International Homicide Investigators Association and retired chief of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. "We'd expect that -- with more police officers, more scientific tools likes DNA analysis and more computerized records -- we'd be clearing more homicides now."

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fiscal and civic responsibility must be balanced

Youngstown Vindicator
Sunday, December 5, 2010

How do state and local governments get a handle on spending without sacrificing public safety? As the economy continues to sputter, there are ominous signs that the era of declining crime rates is about to come to an end.

The new year will bring with it new leadership in 26 states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania. With much of the new leadership there is a pledge to balance the budget without raising taxes — a laudable goal — but one that brings with it many implications.

There are concerns about education, infrastructure, entitlements and public safety. Without addressing the impact that educational failure and the loss of basic subsistence have on crime rates, the bigger concern is that staples of public safety like the police, the courts and prisons may be at risk.

Right now, in nearly every state, inmates who years ago received long sentences, often the result of draconian mandatory drug laws, are being released. Enormous state correction budgets are being slashed. Policymakers in many states are looking at early release programs. Lawmakers are experimenting with diversion programs to put less people in prison. What does it all mean? Offenders who were or would have been in prison, even as recently as 24 months ago, are walking the street.

Police officers

Local governments cannot afford to maintain their current compliment of police officers. There are layoffs as state and federal funding dry-up. For instance, Newark, N.J., has a violent crime rate eight times the rest of the state, yet Newark is in the process of reducing its police force by 13 percent.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been touted by some incoming state leaders as a shining example that budgets can be balanced without raising taxes. Newark is the collateral damage that comes with a daring new political philosophy. Can Youngstown be far behind? Mahoning County Sheriff Randall Wellington may lay-off as many as 14 more deputies after Christmas. In spite of major concessions, 80 deputies have already been laid-off and substantial portions of the county jail have been moth-balled.

Prosecutors and public defenders have been laid-off around the country. In Lawrence County, the commissioners closed the court house last year to save money. Local service agencies that provide mental health and drug and alcohol treatment will also feel the pinch. Services for offenders struggling to transition back into the community will no doubt begin to disappear.

The recipe for community tumult is plain to see. Fewer offenders in prison, less opportunity for treatment and smaller police forces inevitably means higher violent crime rates. State taxes may not increase, but what will be the cost to cities and towns across the country.

Soaring violent crime in places like New York City, Orlando and Austin, Texas may be a harbinger of things to come.

According to the Wall Street Journal, New York City recently reported an overall drop in crime. The drop was attributed to the city’s re-classification of theft. Hidden in the “drop” was the fact that all four violent crime categories are projected to increase by the end of the year, including 15 percent increases in both murder and rape.


The number of homicides in Orlando this year has already surpassed the total number for 2009, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The first week of November marked the 45th killing of the year, compared with 33 last year. University of Central Florida sociology professor Jay Corzine told the Sentinel, “The poor economic conditions are affecting families.”

As of the end of November, there were already 35 homicides in Austin so far this year — a 13-year high. According to the Austin American-Statesman, there were only 75 homicides committed in Austin between 2007 and 2009.

No one wants to pay more taxes. Then again no one wants to be mugged, robbed, raped or murdered. There has to be a balance between fiscal responsibility and civic responsibility — let’s hope that policymakers around the country can strike that balance in 2011.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

New Hampshire Panel Votes to Keep Death Penalty

A New Hampshire commission tasked with studying the death penalty voted to continue capital punishment in the granite state.

The commission's was comprised of 22 members. Twelve voted to retain the death penalty and 10 to abolish it, according to the Concord Monitor. Reports from the majority and minority which outline their respective arguments and findings were also made public.

The commission, which was created by the Legislature last year, included legislators, lawyers, police officers and family members of victims, appointed by different organizations and branches of government.

A number of commission members discussed the reasoning behind their vote with the Monitor. The article is actually filled with a lot of anecdotal information-like a story from a states attorney who once represented a guy who told him he didn't a kill a police officer because he was afraid of the death penalty. Not exactly evidence-based practices.

The reports are available online. You can read the full article at

Friday, December 3, 2010

Police Solving Fewer and Fewer Murders

When a homicide is solved by a law enforcement agency the case is considered cleared. Clearance rates are important to police departments. A high clearance rate is indicative of competence and efficiency. Clearance rates are important to a city’s reputation. A city with a low clearance rate, theoretically, has a bunch of murderers walking the street.

National studies have shown steady declines in clearance rates from 90 percent in the 1960s to 65 percent in recent years, according to the Kansas City Star. This decline in clearing homicide cases is in spite of an overall decrease in the number of homicides and improvements in DNA and other technologies.

National experts blame the drop in part on the changing nature of homicides, with more killers having little or no traceable connection to victims. Killings involving drugs, gangs and botched robberies can be among the toughest to solve, especially compared to those involving domestic disputes, bar fights and child abuse, reported the Star.

In Kansas City, police have solved fewer homicides this year than any year in recent memory. By mid-November, the clearance rate stood at 39 percent (36 of 93), down from 50 percent at the same time last year. According to the Star, detectives solved 70 to 80 percent of homicides as recently as twenty years ago.

The clearance rate of some other major cities as reported by the Star, St. Louis—47 percent (54 of 116); Baltimore—37 percent (73 of 200); Austin, Texas—88 percent (29 of 33) and New York City—59 percent. According to Scripps Howard News Service, in 2008, police solved 35 percent of the homicides in Chicago, 22 percent in New Orleans and 21 percent in Detroit.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Huckabee: Death Penalty for Wikileaks

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has called for the execution of the person responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables to the whistle blower website WikiLeaks, according to the Florida Independent.

“Whoever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason, and I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty,” he said during an interview promoting his new book.

“They’ve put American lives at risk,” he continued, "They’ve put relationships that will take decades to rebuild at risk, and they knew full well that they were handling sensitive documents, they were entrusted and anyone who had access to that level of information was not only a person who understood what their rules were, but they also signed under oath a commitment that they would not violate it. They did. And I believe they have committed treason against this country, and any lives they endanger, they’re personally responsible for and the blood is on their hands."

Huckabee is largely considered a GOP candidate for president in 2012.

U.K. Bans Export of Execution Drug

The U.K. has inserted itself into the death penalty debate in the U.S. Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the 35 states that have the death penalty. In each of those states, whether using a three drug method or a one drug method, sodium thiopental is a primary execution drug.

The problem for some states is there is a shortage of sodium thiopental. The only American manufacturer of the drug, Hospira, Inc., won't have any until 2011. As a result some states have looked overseas for the drug.

Tennessee carried out an execution using sodium thiopental obtained from a British company. The U.K. has banned the death penalty. The last execution in England was carried out in 1973. The U.K. cannot reinstated the death penalty as a result of joining the European Council of Human Rights.

The British government took action to prevent further export of sodium thiopental for purposes of execution. "This move underlines this government's and my own personal moral opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances without impacting legitimate trade," Secretary of State for Business Vince Cable said this week after issuing the order that thiopental must be licensed for export, meaning companies shipping the drug overseas will be required to prove it is intended for medical use, not execution, reported the Wall Street Journal.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pennsylvania Fights to Execute Mass Murderer

The Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice reported that an attorney for 68-year-old mass murderer George Banks told the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that his client is completely psychotic.

State prosecutors argued this week that Banks has moments of clarity and the capability to understand he is facing the death penalty. Pennsylvania which has executed only three men in more than 30 years wants to execute Banks. The three men executed all waived their appeal rights and agreed to be executed.

Banks has been on death row since being convicted of a 1982 shooting rampage in Wilkes-Barre and Jenkins Township that resulted in the death of 13 people.

A Luzerne County judge ruled in May that Banks is incompetent to help his attorneys and unfit for execution. Prosecutors want the Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

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Tennessee Halts Four Executions: Cites Lethal Injection Concern

The Tennessee Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for Stephen Michael West to allow a trial court to test the constitutionality of the state's lethal injection procedure. West's execution was to be carried out yesterday. The executions of three other death row inmates were also stayed pending the outcome of West's proceeding.

According to United Press International, West filed a motion on November 24th requesting postponement after a County Court ruled the state's lethal injection procedure was unconstitutional.

The trial court ruled the state's current procedure did not offer a safeguard to ensure a prisoner was unconscious before the final two drugs are administered, reported UPI.

The state responded by saying it had changed its execution procedure to include a test to confirm that the inmate is unconscious before the final two drugs were injected. In fact, last week the court approved checking for consciousness by having a warden shake the inmate and brush a hand across the inmate's eyelashes.

The Supreme Court directed the trial court to allow the parties to submit argument or evidence on the revised protocol, and said the trial court must render its final judgment within 90 days, according to UPI.

The last-minute decision surprised even West’s attorney, Stephen Ferrell. “Reconsideration is something that traditionally doesn’t happen all that often,” Ferrell told the Tennessean. “But I’m glad to see they saw the lack of our opportunity to have any input. I’m pleased they were able to admit they may have made the first decision too hastily.”

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