Monday, January 31, 2011

New Jersey Joins New Mexico in Reconsidering Death Penalty

Repeal Sponsor Said He Would Support Reinstating Death Penalty

In December 2007, the New Jersey Legislature and former Governor Jon Corzine abolished the death penalty. A state panel concluded that executing prisoners was expensive, served no penological purpose and was out of step with "evolving standards of decency," reported The Record.

Now state Senators Robert Singer and Anthony Bucco, both Republicans, are sponsoring a senate bill which would reinstate executions for those who murder a child, kill a police officer in the line of duty or commit a deadly terrorist attack. "Sometimes it is the only way to achieve justice for the victims and families affected by horrible crimes," Singer told The Record.

New Jersey's last execution was in 1963. In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238(1972). Four years later, after a number of state revamped their death penalty statutes and the Supreme Court attached its imprimatur in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976).

The death penalty was back but not always carried out. Though it was reinstated in New Jersey in 1982, and 60 convicted criminals were sentenced to death, no one ever executed.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat, sponsored the bill that abolished New Jersey’s death penalty in 2007. He has reconsidered his position on the death penalty in light of the recent Arizona shootings and murder of a New Jersey police officer. Gusciora told The Trentonian,“I would vote on a bill today that would impose the death penalty . . .”

He added that there must be “beyond, beyond reasonable doubt (of the killer’s guilt). … And it would be for extreme circumstances where the person showed absolutely no remorse for the victim and did it in a cruel manner.”

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has indicated he would sign legislation reinstating the death penalty.

New Jersey now joins New Mexico as the second state that has recently abolished the death penalty and is now considering legislation to reinstate capital punishment. I recently wrote about New Mexico,

To read more:

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ohio Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, Calls for End of Death Penalty

Justice Paul E. Pfeifer, a Senior Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court wrote the following guest column for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer on January 26, 2011 calling for Governor John Kasich and the Ohio legislature to abolish the death penalty. He has also called on the governor to commute all current death penalties to life in prison without parole.

Are we, the people of Ohio, well served by our continuing use of the death penalty?

Before we try to answer that, let's take a quick look back at capital punishment in Ohio. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Ohio's death penalty statute unconstitutional. In 1974, our state legislature revised Ohio's death penalty law, but the Supreme Court rejected that one as well. Then, in 1981, a new death penalty statute was enacted, and this one passed constitutional review. We didn't resume executions in Ohio until 1999. Since then, 41 condemned murderers have been put to death; there are 157 more awaiting execution on death row.

There are very few people in this state more closely associated with the death penalty than am I. As a state senator in 1981, I helped draft our current law. Now, for the past 18 years, I have served as a justice on the Ohio Supreme Court, where we render the final judgment on death penalty appeals.

I helped craft the law, and I have helped enforce it. From my rather unique perspective, I have come to the conclusion that we are not well served by our ongoing attachment to capital punishment.

Why the change? In short, because the death penalty law is not being applied as we originally intended.

The statute that we wrote in 1981 was designed to pass constitutional review by the U.S. Supreme Court. That meant that it had to provide safeguards and extensive due process for accused murderers. We set out to enact a law that would give prosecutors the capability to seek capital punishment for the absolute worst offenders.

Murder is a vile crime. But not all murders are the same, and we did not mean for all -- or even most -- murderers to be eligible for the death penalty. The law was meant to be employed only when a certain set of aggravating circumstances warranted execution. But over the years, the death penalty has come to be applied more pervasively than we ever intended.

We also wanted a review process implemented in which the Ohio Supreme Court, in addition to considering death penalty appeals, would monitor death sentences across the state to verify that they were being evenly and fairly applied. Simply put, that hasn't happened.

Thirty years ago, the public's support for the death penalty stemmed largely from decades of sentences that seemed too lenient for murderers. The fact that a convicted killer could be eligible for parole after serving only a fraction of his life sentence did not sit well, and rightly so.

But in 2005, the Ohio legislature corrected that by passing a law that allowed prosecutors to seek a penalty of life without the possibility of parole rather than a death sentence. Since that law passed, we have seen the number of death sentences drop precipitously. Prosecutors and jurors have told us -- by their actions -- that life without the possibility of parole is a more desirable outcome to a murder trial than a death sentence.

Part of the reason for that, I believe, is that even supporters of capital punishment feel uneasy about sitting on a jury that votes to take a human life. As George Orwell once said, "Most people approve of capital punishment, but most people wouldn't do the hangman's job."

Make no mistake -- I am not arguing for leniency or sympathy. There are no good citizens on death row. These are people who have committed heinous crimes. When a villain murders, he not only ends one life, he irrevocably damages dozens of others. Murder has a ripple effect that consumes all those who loved the victim.

But life without parole now offers us a viable alternative to the death penalty, and it's an option that can satisfy our desire to punish killers for their crimes. There are, however, dozens of inmates on death row who were convicted before that option was available. How many of them would have been sentenced to death if the life-without-parole option had been available at the time? No one knows. All we know is that there are many people who will be put to death because they were convicted at the wrong time.

So, I ask: Do we want our state government -- and thus, by extension, all of us -- to be in the business of taking lives in what amounts to a death lottery? I can't imagine that's something about which most of us feel comfortable. And, thus, I believe the time has come to abolish the death penalty in Ohio.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

PA Auditor General Calls for Sentencing Reform

Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner issued a special report outlining the 500 percent growth in Pennsylvania's prison population from 8,243 in 1980 to 51,487 in 2010. According to a 2009 Pew Center for the States report,Pennsylvania had the highest number of new inmates -- 2,122 -- of any state in the nation.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported, the cost per inmate nearly tripled from $11,477 in 1980 to $32,059 in 2009. The overall cost to taxpayers increased during the past 10 years from $1.17 billion to $1.6 billion, a 37 percent increase, Wagner said.

As the state faces a $4 billion to $5 billion budget deficit, it's imperative that lawmakers consider reductions in Department of Corrections spending, which historically has been sacrosanct, Wagner said.

Wagner, a Democratic, is endorsing criminal justice reform legislation proposed by Senator Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican. "The bill, Senate Bill 100, goes to the heart of the problem," Wagner told the Tribune-Review. The bill that would make it easier to send non-violent offenders to alternative-sentencing programs.

Last fall, Governor Edward G. Rendell signed into law a prison reform bill. In part, Act 95of 2010, formerly known as Senate Bill 1161, directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to develop a risk assessment instrument for use by judges in sentencing criminal offenders. The law was sponsored by state Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf, and was recently touted by the GOP House Caucus as being able to identify criminals who are "at a lower risk to reoffend and who may be recommended for alternative sentencing programs instead of additional prison time, such as county and state intermediate punishment programs."

Last November, I wrote about the reform package for the Pennsylvania Law Weekly. The column can be found at,

To read more:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Drug Manufacturer Objects to Drug's Use in Executions

Ohio Points Out Manufacturer's Drugs Used in Over 500 Assisted Suicides

Lundbeck, Inc. is objecting to Ohio's plan to use the drug pentobarbital for executions. Lundbeck manufactures the drug in the U.S.

"Lundbeck is dedicated to saving people's lives," a spokesperson told the Columbus Dispatch. "Use of our products to end lives contradicts everything we're in business to do."

A Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson said the state will not heed the company's warning and will use the new drug as planned.

The department pointed out that a federal appeals court affirmed Oklahoma's use of pentobarbital in its execution protocol in combination with two other drugs, last December. Ohio uses a single drug protocol-only a lethal dose of pentobarbital will be used for executions beginning in April.

Corrections personnel also noted that the drug was used in 200 legal, assisted suicides in Oregon from 1999 to 2010. Another drug, secobarbital, was used in the other 321 assisted deaths, according to the Dispatch. This point seems to contradict Lundbeck's assertion that their drug is dedicated to saving lives.

According to the Dispatch, there are two men scheduled for execution, one in February and one in March. There are 13 other capital murder cases across the state in which prisoners have exhausted their legal appeals and county prosecutors have asked the Ohio Supreme Court to set execution dates. Collectively, the 15 men awaiting execution were responsible for 25 murders. Their victims ranged in age from 3 to 80.

To read more:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New Mexico Reconsiders Death Penalty, Abolished in 2009

In 2009, New Mexico repealed the death penalty, but newly elected Republican Governor Susana Martinez said she wants lawmakers to reverse that decision so that juries have the option of choosing capital punishment for the worst criminals.

State Representative Dennis Kintigh, a retired FBI agent, shares Martinez's opinion that the death penalty should be on the books. He has a difference of opinion on how to go about it.

Kintigh, a Republican, introduced a bill Monday that calls on legislators to let the public decide the issue by referendum. His proposal, House Joint Resolution 6, would require a two-thirds vote from the House and the Senate to be placed on the 2012 general election ballot, according to the Farmington Daily News.

Governor Martinez, a career prosecutor before becoming governor, does not favor a referendum. Although, she never sought the death penalty as a prosecutor she wants to bring the death penalty back by statute.

A referendum would be an interesting approach to considering the death penalty. There are public opinion polls that indicate that as much as 64 percent of Americans support the death penalty. Those number come into question when respondents are given an alternative of live in prison without the possibility of parole. A referendum would put those questions to rest. The voters would decide.

To read more:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ohio Switches Execution Drug

Ohio is switching its lethal injection protocol to a single powerful dose of pentobarbital an anesthetic commonly used to put pets to sleep, reported the Associated Press.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction says the state will use pentobarbital as a shortage of sodium thiopental, the drug normally used for executions, has worsened. The only U.S. manufacturer of sodium thiopental announced last week it would no longer produce the drug.

Back in November I predicted that Ohio would be the first state to seek sodium thiopental from an international source or use an alternative drug, I was wrong on both counts-but close. It appears that Ohio will be the second state to use an alternative drug, pentobarbital. However, Ohio will be the first state to use pentobarbital as part of a single drug protocol.

In 2009, Ohio became the first state to use a single drug protocol for purposes of lethal injection. Washington has followed suit. However, the other 33 states with the death penalty still use a three drug protocol. Only Oklahoma has switched to pentobarbital as part of their three drug protocol.

Ohio will use its remaining supply of sodium thiopental for the scheduled execution February 17 of Frank Spisak, who killed three people at Cleveland State University in 1982.

The first use of pentobarbital is planned for March's scheduled execution of Johnnie Baston of Lucas County.

Georgia Executes Man for 1988 Murder

The 4th Execution of 2011

The Associated Press is reporting that a Georgia man, Emmanuel Hammond, convicted of killing an Atlanta preschool teacher more than two decades ago has been executed.

Emmanuel Hammond was put to death by injection Tuesday at the state prison in Jackson after state and federal courts turned down his appeals. The 45-year-old was pronounced dead at 11:39 p.m.

The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily halted the execution and then as a body decided not to hear Hammond's 11th hour appeal.

Hammond was convicted of the 1988 murder of 27-year-old Julie Love, who was abducted in north Atlanta after her car ran out of gas.

Prosecutors say Love was beaten and raped before Hammond took her into the woods, shot her to death and dumped her body into a trash pile.

Investigators didn't find her body until August 1989, when Hammond's girlfriend told police he was responsible for her disappearance, reported the Associated Press.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jordan Brown Before Superior Court Today

Today, a three-judge state Superior Court panel will hear arguments from the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General and Jordan Brown's attorneys, on the question of whether to try Brown, who was charged with murder at age 11, in adult or juvenile court.

Brown is charged with the 2009 shooting death of his father's girlfriend, Kenzie Marie Houk, and the death of her unborn child. It is alleged that Brown placed a shotgun to the back of Houk's head when she was sleeping and shot her as he was preparing to leave for school. He then took his little sister to catch the school bus.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,Prosecutors say the "horrific" nature of the murders dictates trying Brown as an adult.

The defense suggests that Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas Judge Dominick Motto's March 29, 2010 order of court, finding that Brown should be tried as an adult, violated a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution, namely the presumption of innocence.

Brown's case has generated international attention. If Brown where tried as an adult and convicted of first degree murder, he would be the youngest person in U.S. history to be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

To read more:

Monday, January 24, 2011

Camden Loses Nearly Half of its Police Force

Camden, New Jersey is rated one of the most violent cities in America and plagued with staggering poverty, high unemployment, and a dwindling tax base. The city of 78,000 people just had its police force nearly cut in half. This month, the police department lost 168 of its 365 officers, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"For a reasonable-sized city, this is one of the most catastrophic law enforcement stories in the country," Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College told the Inquirer. "Camden isn't an island," he said. "Remember, criminals run and manage their businesses in a borderless fashion. If a police presence is reduced in Camden, it's bad news all around. All the adjacent departments are equally threatened."

And so is the picture across the state of New Jersey as Governor Chris Christie slashes state funding for public safety. Hiring freezes, attrition, and layoffs have caused municipal police departments across New Jersey to shrink about 11 percent between January 1, 2009 and September 10, 2010, according to the Star-Ledger. Those layoffs mean 2,228 fewer officers across the state. I wrote about this growing problem recently,

To read more:

Sunday, January 23, 2011

GOP: Public Safety on the Chopping Block

The Ripple Effect from Federal Budget Cuts Will Impact Law Enforcement on All Levels

According to the Washington Post, reducing the size of the government is the top priority of many GOP lawmakers who were swept into Congress last fall on a tide of public anger about the rising national debt and federal spending on the economy.

Some of those dramatic reductions will come at the expense of public safety. The cuts will not only effect federal law enforcement, but also the money that is filtered down to local law enforcement agencies through U.S. Department of Justice grant programs.

According to Democratic estimates, the cuts if applied across the board would require the Justice Department to fire 4,000 FBI agents and 1,500 agents at the Drug Enforcement Administration. The federal prison system would have to fire 5,700 correctional officers, and the Head Start early-childhood education program would be forced to cut about 389,000 children from its rolls. Many believe that early education programs have a direct impact on crime rates.

The loss of federal law enforcement funding for local municipalities will mean mass lay-offs of local police officers and a reduction in crime fighting and crime prevention programs. With state budget deficits at or near crisis level in many states the public safety picture is bleak.

"I think most freshmen feel like I do, that we've got to do some big, big things," Rep. Joe Walsh (Ill.), told the Post. "If we don't do something like this, the Republican Party is going to be in trouble electorally in the next two years. The voters sent us here to do this."

Congressman Walsh's quote really brings to light what the cuts are really about, not necessarily what is good for the nation, but what is good for the GOP in 2012.

To read more:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ohio Readies for Execution of Nazi Sympathizer, Killer

The Ohio Parole Board has unanimously recommended that Governor John Kasich deny clemency for convicted killer and Nazi sympathizer Frank Spisak, reported Cleveland's Fox-8.

The 9-0 decision makes it much more likely that Spisak will be executed next month for murdering three people in Cleveland back in 1982.

Spisak went on a murderous rampage around Cleveland State University. He later claimed gender identity issues, he wanted to be a woman, fueled his rage.

Twice, an appeals court sided with Spisak that he should be resentenced and that his mental health was an issue. Twice, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Both times, the high court left the death sentence in place.

"I'm ashamed of what I did," Spisak said during an interview three years ago with Fox-8. "But I'm also disappointed that so many people turned their backs on me when I was in trouble."

According to Fox-8, Spisak wore a Hitler mustache to his 1983 trial and offered the Nazi salute when he entered the courtroom. In his interview, Spisak said he couldn't help himself because of his mental illness.

"I was nuts - do you understand what I'm saying?", Spisak said in the interview.

His execution is scheduled for February 17th.

To read more:,0,7366904.story

Friday, January 21, 2011

Execution Drug No Longer Available in U.S.

The current shortage of sodium thiopental in the U.S. has delayed or disrupted executions in Arizona, California, Kentucky, Ohio and Oklahoma. The problem may have just become grave.

Hospira Inc. of Lake Forest, Illinois is the sole domestic manufacturer of the drug. The Associated Press is reporting that Hospira has decided to switch manufacturing of sodium thiopental from its North Carolina plant to a more modern Hospira factory in Liscate, Italy. But Italian authorities demanded a guarantee the drug would not be used to put inmates to death — an assurance the company said it was not willing to give.

Hospira has made it know that they were not happy that sodium thiopental was being used for executions. Although, Hospira continues to make two other drugs used in executions — pancuronium bromide, which paralyzes, and potassium chloride, which stop the heart.

"We cannot take the risk that we will be held liable by the Italian authorities if the product is diverted for use in capital punishment," a Hospira spokesman told the Associated Press. "Exposing our employees or facilities to liability is not a risk we are prepared to take."

Last fall, states including Arizona, Arkansas, California and Tennessee turned to sodium thiopental made in Britain. In November, the British government banned the drugs export for use in executions, cutting off the supply to the U.S.

Oklahoma went in a different direction, switching to pentobarbital, an anesthetic commonly used to euthanize animals. The state has conducted two executions using the substitute drug.

In Texas,the Department of Criminal Justice said it is exploring following Oklahoma's procedure and considering substituting pentobarbital. The state has four executions scheduled between now and July but has enough sodium thiopental to carry out the next two executions.

Ohio, along with Washington, uses a single lethal dose of sodium thiopental for executions. Ohio officials are studying the recent Oklahoma executions and are considering pentobarbital as a substitute for sodium theopental.

To read more:

FDA Helps States Secure Execution Drug

The Washington Post is reporting that the Food and Drug Administration has quietly helped Arizona and California obtain a scarce type of sodium thiopental so the states could continue putting inmates to death. The FDA has long maintained that it has nothing to do with, nor any oversight of drugs used in executions.

After Arizona officials explained their need for the drug to carry out a pending execution, an FDA official recommended that a shipment of the drug "be processed expeditiously to us as it was for the purpose of executions and not for use by the general public,” reported the Post.

"The FDA is actively assisting these states, but they're not enforcing the law, and they're not doing anything to determine that the drugs are what they're claimed to be and that they work properly," Natasha Minkser, death penalty policy director for the ACLU's Northern California chapter told the Post.

The FDA is required by law to ensure the safety and effectiveness of drugs imported for medical purpose. Agency officials have maintained that their oversight does not extend to drugs for executions.

To read more:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

50th Anniversary of JFK's Famous Inaugural Address

Today marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's inauguration. His speech on that cold January day in 1961 is considered one of the finest presidential orations in American history. The address was brief approximately 1,382 words. Here is President Kennedy's inaugural address in its entirety:

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, reverend clergy, fellow citizens:

We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom -- symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning -- signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge -- and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do -- for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom -- and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required -- not because the Communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge: to convert our good words into good deeds, in a new alliance for progress, to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support -- to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective, to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak, and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course -- both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.

So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms, and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah -- to "undo the heavy burdens, and [to] let the oppressed go free."¹

And, if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor -- not a new balance of power, but a new world of law -- where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again -- not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need -- not as a call to battle, though embattled we are -- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation,"² a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.


Shortage of Drug Continues to Impact Executions

E-mails obtained by The Associated Press show two companies declined to sell a key lethal injection drug to Kentucky prisons as national supplies of the sedative run short.

The e-mail traffic between Kentucky officials shows KRS Global Biotechnology explained its refusal by saying there was no doctor involved in the purchase of sodium thiopental.

No reason was given in the e-mails for a canceled order from Spectrum Chemical and Laboratory Products. Spectrum says the deal stopped when it sold part of its business last year.

The primary producer of sodium thiopental, Hospira, Inc., has, according to the Associated Press, written to Ohio and Mississippi saying the drug is produced with medical uses, not executions, in mind.

Kentucky in June gave Ohio some of the drug for an execution, but prison officials found no state willing to share with Kentucky.

According to the Associated Press, other state with problems securing sodium thiopental include:

- ALABAMA: Says it has enough unexpired sodium thiopental to carry out Wednesday's execution of Leroy White, sentenced to die for the Oct. 17, 1988, shotgun slaying in Huntsville of his 35-year-old estranged wife, Ruby.

- CALIFORNIA: California tried to recruit private doctors to procure the drug and went from state to state looking for supplies, including Arizona, Indiana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, records show. The state also contacted dozens of hospitals and general surgery centers, VA hospitals and the federal Bureau of Prisons, and even looked into obtaining a supply from Pakistan.

- MISSOURI: Officials told The Associated Press in fall 2010 that its supply would expire this year. Documents released by the ACLU said the state has enough for five executions but it's unclear when that stock expires. Without explanation, Gov. Jay Nixon spared a Missouri inmate scheduled to die Wednesday; the state's next scheduled execution is Feb. 9.

- TENNESSEE: Tennessee in early 2010 gave Georgia and Arkansas some of its sodium thiopental. But by summer, with a fall execution pending, they scrambled to find their own supply. On Sept. 9, the prison where Tennessee executions are held ordered sodium thiopental, apparently from a British company. It was delivered by Oct. 26, just days before a scheduled execution.

- TEXAS: Has enough of the drug to carry out 39 executions, but the supply expires in March, according to records obtained by the AP through a public records request. The state is waiting to see if the drug's sole U.S. manufacturer will have supplies to buy soon, Texas prisons spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said. Death row inmate Cleve Foster received a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday night on an unrelated appeal. He was sentenced to die for the abduction, rape and shooting death of Nyaneur "Mary" Pal on Valentine's Day 2002.

- VIRGINIA: Virginia, which executed a woman in late September, had an expired batch in early August that it tried unsuccessfully to get the FDA to approve, according to e-mails obtained by the ACLU from the California prison system. Virginia executed a woman about six weeks later and said it was in the same position as other states when it came to its supply. Virginia's prison department declined to comment.

- WASHINGTON STATE: Officials checked with the state's hospitals until they found one willing to provide the drug last year, according to an internal California prisons department e-mail released by the ACLU. It's common practice when the prison system is looking for drug supplies to contact local pharmacies, many of which are at community hospitals, said Washington prisons spokeswoman Maria Peterson.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Indiana Looks to Solve Prison Crowding Problem

States are struggling with huge budget deficients. Many policymakers are looking at ever growing prison costs as a means to reduce deficients. Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project, discovered that Indiana’s prison count had grown by 41 percent between 2000 and 2009 — an increase three times that of neighboring states, reported the New York Times. Unless current policies were changed, the study said, the state prison population would rise by another 21 percent by 2017, forcing lawmakers to come up with an estimated $1.2 billion for new prisons.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has a plan to deal with the prison issue. According to the Times, his approach is a set of reforms governing sentencing and parole. Judges would be allowed to fit sentences to crimes and have the flexibility to impose shorter sentences for nonviolent offenses. A poorly structured parole system would be reorganized to focus on offenders who actually present a risk to public safety.

Addicts would be given drug treatment to try to make them less likely to be rearrested. And there would be incentives for towns to handle low-level offenders instead of sending them into more costly state prisons, reported the Times.

How will Governor Daniels deal with the "tough on crime" rhetoric which is responsible for the ever growing crimes code, longer prison stays and overcrowded prisons. If Indiana tries to solve its problems on the back-end (treatment and parole) without making meaningful changes to the front-end (sentencing)the prison problem will not go away. On the other hand if prison doors are arbitrarily opened to reduce costs public safety will suffer.

To read more:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Death Penalty at a Crossroads

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is considering legislation to ban capital punishment. Some commentators suggest that if Illinois abolishes the death penalty other states will follow.

In a little more than six years three states have outlawed the death penalty. The other states that have walked away from the death penalty are—New Mexico in 2009, New Jersey in 2007 and New York in 2004. None of those states were actively executing inmates beforehand. Illinois executed 12 people since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. Pennsylvania still actively sends offenders to death row, but has executed only three men since 1976 and all three waived appeal rights and asked to be executed.

There are 35 states, including Illinois, that still have the death penalty on the books. There are more than 3,200 people on death rows, and states like Texas, Mississippi and Ohio, a state that trailed only Texas in executions during 2010, ignore pressure to end capital punishment.

Kansas and South Dakota rejected efforts to abolish the death penalty last year. Executions are not occurring at a fast and furious pace across the country. There were 46 executions last year, down form 52 in 2009. In fact, of the 35 states with the death penalty, 14 have carried out 5 or fewer executions. New Hampshire and Kansas have not executed a single inmate since reinstating the death penalty. Another 5 states have executed only one offender.

According to, other factors are at work in Illinois as well. Best selling author Scott Turow, a death penalty critic, said “With the state $15 billion in debt, we simply can’t afford a remedy with no proven benefit that can double or triple the cost of prosecution.” The higher litigation costs caused by lengthy death penalty appeals have enabled legislators in other states to frame it as a practical, economic issue and to avoid the moral dimensions.

My blog posting yesterday is a column I wrote for this week's Pennsylvania Law Weekly. It looks back at the death penalty for 2010 and suggests, as does Scott Turow, that cost will be the next big issue facing the death penalty,

To read more:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pulling the Plug on Capital Punishment

In 2011 and beyond, death penalty's cost will be a topic of consideration for legislators

Pennsylvania Law Weekly
January 17, 2011

The death penalty has been around in its modern form for about 35 years.

The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the death penalty in the 1972 case Furman v. Georgia , ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional, violating the Eighth Amendment ban against cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote, "These death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual."

The decision forced state legislatures to review the death penalty and eliminate the arbitrary, capricious and racially discriminatory aspects of capital punishment. The court suggested that states establish criteria to direct and limit death sentences and provide the sentencing authority with information about the accused's character and record.

In 1976, the court found in Gregg v. Georgia that three of five states that amended their death penalty statutes — Georgia, Florida and Texas — conformed to the directives of Furman .

The death penalty was back.

The first man executed after Gregg , was Gary Gilmore of Utah. Gilmore wanted to be executed and the state granted his wish. He was executed by firing squad on January 17, 1977.

Since Gilmore, 1,233 men and women have been executed nationwide. Texas is responsible for 464 of those executions and three took place in Pennsylvania.

Keith Zettlemoyer, Leon Moser and Gary M. Heidnik were the only men executed in Pennsylvania since 1976. The last execution in Pennsylvania was carried out on July 6, 1999.

What was the state of the death penalty as 2010 came to a close?

In Pennsylvania, although the death penalty exists and men and woman continue to be sentenced to death, the likelihood of being executed is nil.

The three men executed in Pennsylvania all waived their appeal rights and asked to be executed.

Nationwide the death penalty has slowed in its application, method and consummation. There were 46 executions last year compared with 52 executions in 2009. There were 114 death sentences imposed by juries in 2010. In 2009, there were 112 death sentences.

Those numbers are dwarfed by the numbers from the most prolific years of the death penalty. In 1999, for instance, 98 men and women were executed and 315 men and women were sentenced to death in 1996.

A closer look at the death penalty in 2010 provides some perspective for the future of capital punishment in America.

Some 12 states carried out executions last year. Texas led the way with 17 executions. Ohio was second with 8 — the state's most since reinstating the death penalty in 1999. Alabama carried out 5 executions, the third most nationwide.

In 2010, the average age of the condemned, at the time of execution, was 43.93 years of age. The youngest person executed was 28-year-old Michael James Perry who killed three people in 2001. The oldest was 72-year-old Gerald Holland who raped and killed a 15-year-old girl in 1986.

The average age at the time of the offense was 27.45 years of age. The youngest was Peter Catu who was 18 years and 1 month when he and fellow gang members raped and murdered two young girls near Houston in 1993. The oldest was Holland, who was 49 when he raped and murdered his victim.

The average time spent on death row for those executed in 2010 was 16.7 years. The longest time spent on death row was 32 years by David Lee Powell, who murdered a police officer with an AK-47 during a traffic stop. He was one of the longest imprisoned death row inmates in the country. In 2008, a prisoner in Georgia was executed after spending more than 33 years on death row.

The shortest time on death row was served by Gerald Bordelon. He sexually assaulted and murdered his girlfriend's 12-year-old daughter. He spent only seven years and three months on death row, because he waived his appeal rights and wanted to be executed.

The racial make-up of offenders included 27 white men and one white woman, 13 black men and five Hispanic men.

Although there were 46 killers, there were 63 victims as a result of multiple killings by some offenders. A racial breakdown for victims looks like this — 39 white victims, 15 black victims, 8 Hispanic victims and one Asian victim.

Of the 46 offenders executed, 45 were men. However, 29 out of 63 victims were women. More than half of the killers, 27, did not know their victim.

The method of execution has had the most significant impact on the declining number of executions across the country.

In 2008, legal challenges to lethal injection limited the number of executions to 37. A challenge to lethal injection in the state of Kentucky made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2008, the court ruled in Baze v. Rees that lethal injection did not violate the Eighth Amendment.

Last year, a nationwide shortage of one of the drugs used in all 35 death penalty states, sodium thiopental, required executions to be postponed or cancelled in Arkansas, California, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Arizona was able to carry out an execution by importing sodium thiopental from the United Kingdom. The British government has since intervened and now restricts further export of the drug for purposes of executions.

California built a state-of-the-art execution chamber, but the state Supreme Court recently ruled that more time is needed to review a new execution protocol established by the Department of Corrections.

Oklahoma received federal court approval to use pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals, to replace sodium thiopental. On Dec. 16, they became the first in the country to use pentobarbital when it executed John David Duty. Nearly ten years ago, Duty was convicted of strangling to death his cellmate in an Oklahoma prison.

Ohio and some other states are reviewing the Oklahoma execution to determine if pentobarbital is a feasible alternative to sodium thiopental.

Ohio and Washington have both moved away from the three-drug protocol utilized by all the other drug penalty states. They now use a single-drug protocol. Both states have successfully carried out executions with the new protocol.

With challenges to lethal injection having stalled and the drug shortage having been addressed, the next issue to take the forefront with regard to the death penalty will be cost.

In these difficult economic times, with state budgets incredibly tight, look for death penalty opponents to pound legislators with data on the cost of legal review, death row housing and ultimately carrying out executions.

County governments feel the pinch, as well. Legal defense costs, including lawyers and experts, can quickly deplete county court budgets. Abolishing the death penalty as a cost cutting measure will never be more tempting.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rendell: Fix Death Penalty Process

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell signed a total of six execution warrants Friday. He will leave office this week after two terms as governor. The same day he signed the death warrants he held a press conference to say the state's death penalty procedures need to be reviewed by the state Legislature and fixed.

According to the York Dispatch, Rendell said he's signed 119 death warrants in his eight years as governor, but the state hasn't executed anyone since 1999. In fact, Pennsylvania has executed only three men since 1976. All three men waived their appeal rights and agreed to be executed.

"(A) 15-, 20- or 25-year lapse between imposition of the death sentence and the actual execution is no deterrent," he wrote in a letter to the state's General Assembly. "To criminals on the street, our death penalty is simply not a reality."

To read more:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

1.7 Million Children Have a Parent in Prison

This week, Justice Strategies, a nonprofit research group, released a report on the nation’s swelling number of minor children with an incarcerated parent.

The analysis found there are now more than 1.7 million children with one or more parents incarcerated. These minors face emotional trauma that can diminish their future prospects.

As the United States’ prison population has surged, so too have the number of incarcerated mothers and fathers. “In particular, the number of incarcerated women, who are most likely to have been the primary caretakers of children prior to their incarceration, has skyrocketed by more than 400 percent since 1986,” the report states.

The report details information from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). BJS has estimated that by 2007 more than half (53 percent) of the 1.5 million people in U.S. prisons were parents of one or more minor children – which is the basis for the 1.7 million number. This represents an increase of 80 percent since 1991. Nearly one quarter of these children are age four or younger, and more than a third will become
adults while their parent remains behind bars.

Moreover, data compiled at BJS shows that the acute problem of racial disparity behind bars is reflected among the children of incarcerated parents. Black children are seven and a half times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison. The rate
for Latino children is two and a half times the rate for whites. The estimated risk of parental imprisonment by age 14 for white children born in 1990 is one in 25; for black children born in the same year, it is one in four.

Overall, the nation’s prison population has increased by 700% since 1970. Nearly one in 100 adults were incarcerated by 2008, and a staggering one in 31 adults were under some form of correctional control,when counting prison, jail, probation and parole, by 2009.

To read full report:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Alabama Executes Man Who Murdered Wife

The 3rd Execution of 2011

Alabama executed Leroy White by lethal injection yesterday at the Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. He was pronounced dead at 9:10 p.m.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas briefly raised the hopes of White when he granted a temporary stay of execution shortly before White was due to die. Reuters is reported that the full Court would not hear White's appeal.

White's attorneys said their client had deserved more time for appeal because his previous lawyers did not notify him that a U.S. district court had turned down an appeal, which caused him to miss a crucial filing deadline.

According to Reuters, White murdered his estranged wife Ruby White in 1988 in a domestic dispute. He shot her once and when she did not die immediately, he reloaded, picked up the couple's 17-month-old daughter, and fired again. He also shot his sister-in-law four times.

No members of the victim's family witnessed the execution, although two friends of White attended. White's last meal was a cheeseburger from the vending machine plus a V8juice, pork skins and a Yahoo drink, reported Reuters.

"This is a case where the trial prosecutors did not believe the death penalty was appropriate, the jury did not believe the death penalty was appropriate, and the victim's family does not believe the death penalty is appropriate," his Attorney Bryan Stephenson told Reuters.

Court documents showed the trial jury recommended life without parole. Stephenson said Lanier had also pleaded with Alabama governor Bob Riley for clemency.

To read more:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to Handle Children Accused of Murder?

Below is an excellant article comparing Ohio and Pennsylvania cases dealing with alleged killers under the age of 12. The article contrasts life with out parole and juvenile prosecutions. The article written by Megan J. Miller of the Beaver County Times is worth reading.

On the night of Jan. 2, 46-year-old Deborah McVay was found dead, lying face down on the living room floor in her home in Big Prairie, Ohio, according to police.

Her 10-year-old son, Joseph McVay, is accused of killing her with a single .22-caliber rifle shot to the head.

Deborah McVay’s brother, Tony Miller, told The Associated Press that his nephew argued with his mother just before she died because he didn’t want to carry in firewood.

Just 100 miles east and less than two years earlier, 26-year-old Kenzie Houk of New Beaver died of a shotgun blast to the head while lying in bed in her Lawrence County home on the morning of Feb. 20, 2009, according to police. Houk was 8 months’ pregnant, and her unborn son died with her.

Her fiance’s 11-year-old son, Jordan Brown, is charged with pulling the trigger.

Age 11 to life

Though the two boys are accused of similar crimes, the possible outcomes they face are vastly different.

That’s because of the juvenile crime laws of the states where they live.

Brown, now 13, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Houk and her baby. Pennsylvania law dictates that he be tried as an adult, despite his age, because of the nature of the charge.

If convicted as an adult, he faces life in prison.

Under Ohio law, children younger than 14 cannot be tried as adults. That means McVay, if found guilty, would be punished as a juvenile, and that punishment probably would end at age 21.

Too little or too late

In Ohio, Holmes County Prosecutor Steven Knowling said he fears the juvenile system can release an offender too soon in a case such as McVay’s.

The state relinquishes all hold on a juvenile offender once he turns 21 unless he is specially designated as a “serious youthful offender.”

Knowling said he plans to pursue that designation for McVay.

“When he hits his 21st birthday, unless he’s designated a serious youthful offender, he’s on the streets, unsupervised,” Knowling said. “This would allow the juvenile court to maintain jurisdiction over him past the age of 21.”

It would also create a way for McVay, if convicted, to be charged as an adult for any subsequent crimes, Knowling said.

In Pennsylvania, Brown waits in the Edmund L. Thomas Adolescent Center in Erie County, where he marked his 12th and 13th birthdays, while attorneys argue over whether it is fitting to treat him as an adult.

“He’s an average 12-year-old,” Jordan’s father, Chris Brown, told ABC’s Nightline in 2010. “To try to explain to a 12-year-old what the rest of your life means. It’s incomprehensible for him. He doesn’t appreciate the magnitude of what he’s facing.”

The only way Brown can be tried as a juvenile is for a court to determine that his case should be handled that way. But in March, Lawrence County Judge Domenick Motto ruled that Brown should be tried as an adult.

“This Pennsylvania law is something that definitely needs to be revised,” said David Acker, a defense attorney for Brown.

Acker and attorney Dennis Elisco appealed Motto’s ruling to the state Superior Court, which is set to hear the appeal in late January.

Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek of the attorney general’s Pittsburgh office is prosecuting the Brown case.

Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, refused to comment except to say he believes Motto made the right decision.

“Our position has been that the judge has acted within the law, his ruling is appropriate, and we’ll move forward from there,” Frederiksen said.

If Brown is convicted as an adult, he won’t have the option to serve his sentence in a juvenile facility, Acker said. Instead, he will be sent to a regular prison facility with adult inmates.

“I’ve known (Brown) for almost two years now, and the good thing is, I’ve seen remarkable growth in him as a person, because he’s been in a juvenile facility,” Acker said. “I can’t imagine that anyone could grow up in a jail-type facility.”

Rare acts of violence

FBI statistics show that violent crime by children younger than 12 is extremely rare.

From 2000 to 2008, there were 52 cases of murder by children under age 12 in the United States, according to data from the agency’s supplementary homicide reporting program.

In 25 of those cases, the victims were family members.

The uniqueness of these cases makes them difficult to handle, especially in a place like Big Prairie, Ohio, where violent crime of any sort is unusual, Knowling said.

“We can count on one hand the number of homicides we’ve had in decades,” he said.

Acker said it’s the first case of its kind he has seen in more than 30 years, and it has put him in a no-win situation.

“I can’t ask an 11-year-old to make adult decisions about their case, because they’re not even capable,” he said. “And you can’t ask the father to make those decisions, because the father’s not ... the one who’s going to suffer the consequences.”

Knowling said he is glad the Ohio Legislature effectively took the decision of how to charge McVay out of his hands.

“Here we’ve got a 10-year-old who, because of his age, has never been involved in anything before,” he said. “That would be a tough philosophical decision that I’m glad I don’t have to make.”

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Illinois Governor: Reflecting on Death Penalty Ban

'I'll Follow My Conscience'

The Illinois Senate voted to outlaw the death penalty this week. The House approved the ban last week. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said the opinion of the members of the legislature is important, but he would take his time before making a decision, according to Reuters.

Illinois has not executed anyone for more than a decade after former Republican Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in January 2000. This followed a series of revelations that resulted in a series of inmates had been removed from death row. Reasons for release included prosecutorial errors, lying by witnesses and confessions by others.

Ryan took 167 prisoners off the state's Death Row in 2003, and pardoned another 4. Ryan was in the midst of a federal investigation that resulted in his arrest, conviction and incarceration.

Quinn, a Democrat, has said in the past that he approved of the death penalty for the most heinous crimes, but wanted to continue the moratorium. According to Reuters, opponents of lifting the ban include the Illinois State's Attorneys Association, which has said the death penalty is needed for law enforcement and to achieve justice.

If Quinn signs the bill, Illinois would be the 16th state, plus the District of Columbia, to have no death penalty, according to Reuters. New Mexico in 2009 was the last state to abolish the death penalty. There have been no executions in Illinois since 1999. Other states where legislation has been introduced to ban the death penalty include Colorado and Kansas.

To read more:

Oklahoma Responsible for this Years First Two Executions

The 2nd Execution in 2011
According to UPI, an Oklahoma man thanked his "buddies" on death row as he was put to death for killing his great-uncle during a 1994 robbery.

Jeffrey David Matthews, 38, was the second man executed in Oklahoma in two weeks. He received three stays of execution last year.

The 77-year-old victim, Otis Earl Short,was attacked in his home. Prosecutors said Matthews shot Short in the head, and an accomplice cut the throat of Minnie Short, although she survived. The two men spent two hours ransacking the house before leaving with $500 and a gun.

Banging from death row was audible in the execution chamber, The Oklahoman reported.

"I just want to thank everyone for their support," Matthews said. "I also want to thank all my buddies on death row. I hear you banging."

He also asked a witness to give his mother his love.

State Attorney General Scott Pruitt witnessed the execution. "My prayers are with the Short family and I am hopeful that justice being carried out on behalf of the victims today will help bring closure and healing," Pruitt told UPI.

Last week, Oklahoma executed Billy Don Alverson of Tulsa, one of four men convicted of killing convenience store clerk Richard Yost in 1995.

Read more:

Will Federal Government Seek Death Penalty for Arizona Shooter?

Death Penalty Used Sparingly on the Federal Level

The Justice Department has not said whether it will seek the death penalty against Jared Loughner, the suspect in the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the deaths of a federal judge, a congressional aide and four other people. The federal government has filed one count of attempted assassination of a member of congress, two counts of killing a federal employee and two count of attempt killing of a federal employee. State charges are pending in Arizona.

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Juan Garza and Louis Jones have been the only people executed 0n a federal level since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988. Since 1927 the federal government has executed 37 offenders. Sixty federal offenders currently sit on death row in federal prisons.

A Gallup Poll conducted in November of last year found support for the death penalty at 64 percent. High profile cases that are particularly heinous often increase those numbers. People who otherwise are opposed to the death penalty change their mind when they know about a case. It doesn’t matter if that knowledge comes from the national media or a neighborhood coffee shop.

According to a Gallup Poll in 2001, 81 percent of Americans believed Timothy McVeigh should be executed, while 16 percent thought he should not. For people who said they generally oppose the death penalty, 58 percent, believed McVeigh should be executed, while 42 percent did not. At the time, Gallup figures showed that 67 percent of Americans favored the death penalty.

To read more:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Burrell: Crime and Politics, are Times Changing?

Below is a blog recently posted on The Crime Report. William D. Burrell is an independent corrections management consultant specializing in community corrections and evidence-based practices. I have had the pleasure of working with Bill on a project here in Pennsylvania. His blog entry provides a interesting perspective on the dynamics between politics and law and order.

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.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Illinois Lawmakers Consider Outlawing the Death Penalty

Illinois lawmakers could consider abolishing the death penalty this week. The term of the General Assembly ends next week, and lawmakers have a host of controversial legislation on the table in the session's final days.

Critics of the push to abolish the death penalty argue the effort is being rushed.

However, Senator Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, said death penalty opponents have to act when they have the support. He told the Daily Herald, “I think when you have momentum, you need to seize that momentum,” Raoul said.

Raoul added that many murder victims’ families support ending the death penalty in an effort to eliminate mistakes.

No one has been executed in Illinois since 2002 when former Gov. George Ryan cleared death row at least in part because of a wrongful prosecutions. However, Ryan was embroiled in a corruption scandal that resulted his conviction and prison term.

To read more:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sheriff: Political 'Vitriol' Behind Assassination Attempt

Pima County, Arizona, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested "all this vitriol" in recent political discourse might be connected to Saturday's shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. "This may be free speech," he told reporters, "but it's not without consequences."

"The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," said the Sheriff Dupnik. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

The assassination attempt and shooting rampage resulted in six deaths and an additional 12 people wounded including Congresswoman Giffords.

I had the chance to talk with Congresswoman Giffords on a couple of occasions when she was an Arizona State Senator and we were both members of the Democratic Leadership Council.

According to the Associated Press, Giffords was among lawmakers who reported 42 threats or acts or vandalism in the first three months of 2010, a big increase over the previous year, law enforcement officers said. Nearly all the threats dealt with the massive health care bill that Giffords and other Democrats enacted over fierce Republican opposition.

In March, someone kicked in or shot out a glass door and side window at Giffords' office in Tucson, a few hours after the House passed the health care measure with her help.

Giffords also was among about 20 Democrats opposed in last fall's elections by Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee. Palin's Facebook page in March posted a U.S. map with the cross-hairs of a gun scope imposed over each of the 20 Democrats' districts. Gun imagery appeared in various ways in the campaign, often not connected at all with gun rights, according to the Associated Press.

"We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list," Giffords said at the time. "The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there are consequences to that action."

To read more:;_ylt=AoJCM4xQAls5uHUJ0XyTJChH2ocA;_ylu=X3oDMTNhZTNldjVvBGFzc2V0Ay9zL2FwL3VzX3BvbGl0aWNzX3RocmVhdHNfYW5hbHlzaXMEY2NvZGUDbXBfZWNfOF8xMARjcG9zAzQEcG9zAzQEc2VjA3luX3RvcF9zdG9yaWVzBHNsawN0dWNzb25yYW1wYWc-

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Oklahoma Carries Out First Execution of 2011

The 1st Execution of 2011

Billy Don Alverson an Oklahoma death row inmate convicted in the 1995 killing of a convenience store worker was the first man executed in the U.S. this year.

According to the Associated Press, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections reported that the 39-year-old man was pronounced dead at 6:10 p.m., Thursday, January 6, 2011 at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.

The execution is being closely watch by other states because it is the second execution in Oklahoma and nationwide to use the drug pentobarbital. The drug is being used in place of sodium thiopental which is in sort supply.

Alverson was among four men convicted in the February 1995 killing of 30-year-old Richard Yost, who was the night manager of a convenience store in Tulsa. His body was found bound and beaten on the blood-soaked floor of the store's cooler.

According to Nathan Koppel's Wall Street Journal Law Blog, his last meal was a large pepperoni and sausage pizza, accompanied by a large Dr. Pepper.

In his last statement, Alverson apologized to Yost's family and asked for forgiveness, then told his own family "I'm alright," reported the Associated Press.

To read more:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Illinois' Graying Prison Population Costs Millions

The Illinois Department of Corrections spends roughly $428 million a year—about a third of its annual budget—keeping elderly inmates behind bars.

The number of older prisoners has expanded sixfold over the past 20 years, to 5,868 today. That segment of the prison population is growing faster than others, too. Inmates over 50 used to represent 5 percent of the state's prison population. In a decade that's grown to nearly 13 percent. If the trend continues, the number of prisoners over 50 will double by 2020, according to the Chicago Reader.

This situation is not unique to Illinois, national numbers mirror the Illinois trend.

The graying prison population has placed new demands on an already burdened prison health system, forcing medical workers to provide care that sometimes doesn't meet IDOC's own standards. Health care costs are rising, largely because of the complexity of treating older prisoners with a constellation of diseases. The Chicago Reader laments that taxpayers are footing the bill for unionized corrections officers to guard inmates who would have trouble making it beyond the infirmary doors without a wheelchair or stretcher.

Adding to the financial drain is the cost of treating seriously ill inmates in a setting that's designed for security rather than medical care. "I don't think they get the best care in our system," Dr. Louis Shicker told the Chicago Reader. "We do the best we can with what we have, but some things are just meant for a nursing-home setting." Providing nursing-home care to the state's sickest prisoners would cost about $57,000 a year, according to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics. That's an annual savings of $16,000 per inmate.

For inmates who don't need nursing-home care, the savings would be even greater, prison reformer Bill Ryan told the Chicago Reader. "If you released just ten reformed, elderly people from the system, we'd save the state $700,000. How many teachers can you hire for $700,000, or a million dollars, even? . . . I think we've got an overall sense of values that are upside down."

To read more:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Indianapolis Maintains 16 Year Low Homicide Rate

The Indianapolis Police Department preliminarily recorded 100 criminal homicides in 2010, one more than in 2009, when the city recorded a 16-year low. The modest increase is a good sign for a city that has and continues to run above the average number of homicides for comparable sized cities.

Homicides here were committed at a rate of 12.3 per 100,000 residents in each of the past two years, compared with the 11.4 average rate for midsized cities in 2009, according to the FBI, reported the Indianapolis Star.

City leaders credit sophisticated crime analysis, targeted policing, dogged legwork and community cooperation with keeping homicides in Indianapolis at their lowest levels in recent history. A declining tax base may limit some of the good police work being down in Indianapolis and other cities across the country,

Experts cite an aging population, aggressive gang suppression, demise of crack cocaine and higher incarceration rates. One expert makes it clear, celebration may be a bit premature. "A major reason that homicides have fallen is because they were so high in many cities that they had to come down,"James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston told the Star. "For that same reason, I think there is a good potential for another cyclical increase."

To read more:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Detroit Homicides Drop In Spite of Designation as Most Dangerous City

The number of homicides in Detroit fell by 15.4 percent in 2010, according to the Detroit News. The city reported 308 murders in 2010, down from the 364 reported in 2009. Nonfatal shootings dropped by 10.5 percent, to 1,170 last year from 1,307 in 2009.

Other large cities also reported a decline in homicides in 2010. Chicago recorded 435 last year, down from 460 in 2009. Cleveland reported 77 homicides in 2010, down from 122 in 2009.

Some cities, though, saw marked increases. In Boston, the number of killings rose to 72 in 2010, up 47 percent from 49 in 2009, while Milwaukee reported 94 slayings in 2010, up 31 percent from 72 in 2009.

Although comprehensive figures aren't available for all of 2010, during the year's first six months, New Orleans led the nation with 31.2 homicides per 100,000 residents, followed by St. Louis (17.5); Baton Rouge (16.6), La.; and Detroit (16.1), reported the Detroit News.

This comes on the heels of Detroit being listed as one of the top ten most dangerous cities in the world. CNN reported finding in April based on various crime reports and listed Detroit along with Baghdad, Iraq, Caracas, Venezuela, Juarez, Mexico and Beirut, Lebanon and one other U.S. city, New Orleans.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Immigration Reform on PA Legislative Agenda

According to the New York Times, at least five states plan to begin an unusual coordinated effort to cancel automatic United States citizenship for children born in this country to illegal immigrant parents.

Among the states expected to introduce bills similar to Arizona’s are Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

A leader of the effort is Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican state representative from Pennsylvania. At a recent news conference, Mr. Metcalfe said his goal was to eliminate “an anchor baby status, in which an illegal alien invader comes into our country and has a child on our soil that is granted citizenship automatically," reported the Times.

Many who support immigration reform cite the impact of illegal immigration on crime rates particularly along the southwest border with Mexico. If crime rates are any indication, legal and illegal immigration have had a positive impact on America’s border cities.

Last year, there were three murders in El Paso, Texas a city of about 600,000 residents. Just across the Rio Grande in Juarez, Mexico there were 3,000 murders. Baltimore a city comparable in size to El Paso had 210 murders. In Phoenix, the capital of Arizona, a hotbed of immigration reform, the city was on pace to finish the year with fewer than 100 murders, down about 25 percent from 2009.

Why exactly is Pennsylvania or any other state for that matter considering Arizona like immigration reform?

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Murder: A Tale of Three Cities

The Crime Report posted the following news blurbs on the same day. A cautionary tale of three cities and homicide rates going in opposite directions:

Chicago recorded 435 homicides in 2010, marking the city’s lowest murder total in 45 years, reports the Chicago Tribune. The number was down from 460 in 2009 and 513 in 2008, and is the lowest since 1965, when the city had 395 killings. “That is an astonishing and big drop,” Franklin Zimring of the University of California at Berkeley told the Tribune. The decline is part of a decade long trend in violent crime in Chicago and across the nation.

In New York City, there were 526 homicides, a 13.4 percent increase from last year’s record low of 471, according to the Wall Street Journal. The eighth year in a row that there were under 600 murders. Reported rapes are up 15 percent this year and robberies have risen by 5.1 percent. Felony assaults are up 0.7 percent; shooting incidents climbed 3.6 percent.

Houston’s police homicide division reported 267 people were murdered in Houston’s city limits in 2010 — a nearly 7 percent decline from the year before, when 287 were murdered. In the unincorporated areas of Harris County, preliminary statistics show 74 people were murdered in 2010, a 20 percent decline from the 93 people killed in 2009.

The number of murders declined in Houston for the fifth consecutive year in 2010, and the number of homicides dropped in Harris County’s unincorporated areas, even as the population increased in both places, reported the Houston Chronicle. Harris County, which typically leads the nation in death sentences, condemned only two people to death in 2010.

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Don't be reckless

Youngstown VindicatorSunday, January 2, 2011

Ohio is facing an $8 billion budget shortfall in the next biennial budget to commence July 1, 2011. Gov.-elect John Kasich must present his budget for FY2012-2013 to the Ohio General Assembly by March 15.

Earlier this month Kasich said everything is on the table when it comes to closing the budget gap, everything but raising taxes. Kasich told The Columbus Dispatch, “Corrections reform is critical. It’s one of the big cost sinks that we have.”

Ohio prisons are housing approximately 51,000 inmates in facilities that were built for 38,389 inmates. The Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections employs more than 13,000 men and women. The prison system accounts for one of the largest single state expenditures, representing roughly 7 percent of the state’s $54 billion budget.

Kasich has said that Ohio has too many people in prison. “We have a system in Ohio where I think [a little] less than half of the people in our prisons are in there for less than a year. We have people who are check kiters and don’t pay child support and we are locking them up in the state pen,” Kasich said at a press conference in early December.

Cost reduction

He said prison costs could be drastically reduced by rethinking whether non-violent offenders, including those who commit drug-related offenses, should be sent for short stays in state prison. According to the Toledo Blade, Kasich said people who commit such crimes are not a public threat and shouldn’t be imprisoned at high cost to taxpayers alongside murderers. “Why do I want to put somebody that doesn’t pay child support in a state prison ... instead of putting them somewhere and forcing them on a work detail or home confinement or county jail, in a place where the public is safe and yet we can get our costs?” he said. “To me, that’s low-hanging fruit.”

Kasich was right about the large number of offenders serving less than a year prison. The reference to check kiters and deadbeat dads was more political rhetoric than substance. The Dispatch reported that the state prison census showed there were 51 offenders behind bars for writing bad checks and 372 for failure to pay child support, less than 1 percent of the prison population.

How does Kasich get to the low-hanging fruit? It won’t be easy. The state Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections said that even if funding were maintained at 100 percent of current levels, it would have to cut 339 corrections positions and close prisons. According to The Dispatch, a 10 percent budget cut would mean the layoff of more than 2,500 employees and prison closings. It could mean eliminating funding for 972 halfway-house beds, 1,547 community-diversion offenders and 2,200 offenders in city and county jail programs funded by the state. Cuts like that would impact public safety.

How have other states dealt with the issue of growing prisons and shrinking budgets?

California’s example

According to Governing Magazine, California has reduced the number of parole violations for low-risk parolees. Troubled parolees are diverted to community sanctions instead of prison. California has reduced its prison population by several thousand inmates. Texas took money earmarked for new prisons and invested in treatment programs and diversionary sentences that kept low-risk offenders out of prison.

Nearly two decades ago, Virginia began using risk assessments at the time of sentencing to divert low-level, non-violent offenders to community programs as opposed to state prison. The result has been closed prisons and reduced violent crime rates. Michigan reduced its state inmate population by more than 10 percent through the reduction of prison stays for good inmates, reducing parole violations and comprehensive re-entry services.

None of these promising prison reduction programs came as the result of arbitrarily slashing correction budgets. Corrections reform is critical, but the reform must be well thought out and supported by evidence-based practices

Homicide is Contagious

Homicide is contagious was the conclusion of a study focusing on Flint, Michigan's 2010 homicide rate. In 2010, Flint had 65 homicides surpassing the previous record of 61 homicides set in 1986, according to the Flint Journal.

The study was conducted by the Minneapolis, MN-based Center for Homicide Research. A team of researches at the center studied Flint’s homicides in December to learn why Homicides had increased in Flint.

“It’s spread person to person,” Dallas Drake told the Journal. Drake is the principal researcher for the volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization that aims to publicize homicide issues and to reduce incidences of homicide. “Sometimes it’s spread through revenge. Sometimes it’s someone who is at a murder scene and becomes incensed and decides to become violent.”

The high frequency of homicides in a short period led researchers to speculate some cases might be related, Drake told the Journal.

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling told the Journal he agreed with much of the report.“The report is accurate in identifying that these violent crimes are part of a cycle, and we had an acceleration of that cycle,” Walling said. “One violent crime often leads to another, when the drugs are combined with a breakdown in family structure and lack of economic opportunity.”

The study suggests new technology could help stem the violence. Shot-spotter technology, which can detect the occurrence of gunfire, more street cameras and plate reader technology that can document license plates could prove useful, the study suggested.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

‘The El Paso Miracle’

Below is an excerpt from an article, "Murder in America," written by David J. Krajicek posted on The Crime Report. The excerpt examines the "miracle" number of murders in El Paso, Texas:

Perhaps the most captivating homicide story in the U.S. this year is what some call “the El Paso Miracle.”

The southwest Texas city of 600,000 had recorded just three homicides through mid-December, down from an annual average of about 15 over the past decade. Meanwhile, Ciudad Juarez, its twin city across the Rio Grande, had more than 3,000 murders for the year, an average of about 10 per day.

Seattle, with the same population as El Paso, will finish the year with about 20 murders. Baltimore, only slightly larger, recorded 210 murders through Dec. 15.

“What’s intriguing is how the enormous numbers of homicides in Juarez attributed to the drug cartels have failed to traverse across the border,” said Blumstein. “It’s an impressive indication that El Paso—the police and the border patrol and so forth—has done a good job of guarding the border to keep the cartels out of this country.”

Rosenfeld said El Paso, with a vast number of Mexican immigrants among a population that is more than half Latino, disproves the conventional wisdom that equates immigration and crime.

“It’s hard to escape the conclusion that El Paso puts the lie to the idea that immigration produces high levels of violent crime,” he said. “If anything, immigration has the opposite effect. Generally speaking, we don’t find comparatively high homicides for cities with large numbers of immigrants.”

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New Jersey Experiences Police Force Reductions Statewide

Police Cuts Not Just a Problem in Newark and Camden

New Jersey's slash and burn budget reductions are affecting public safety in more than just Camden, and Newark,

Hiring freezes, attrition, and layoffs have caused municipal police departments across the state to shrink about 11 percent between January 1, 2009 and September 10, 2010, according to the Star-Ledger. Those layoffs mean 2,228 fewer officers across the state.

South Amboy in Middlesex County has lost one-quarter of its police force; Fanwood in Union County is down 20 percent. In Edison, which has lost more than 20 officers this year, the municipality eliminated the community police unit, the DARE program, as well as the Junior Police and Civilian Police academies.

Roxbury had 48 officers in 2009, 44 in 2010 and seven more are scheduled to retire in 2011. The Police Chief said he’s working with the township council to ensure staffing levels don’t fall below 40. To help cover the staff reductions, he’s asked for an increase in overtime expense.

Hillside, in Union County, now has 69 officers, down from 77 in July, 2009. According to the Star-Ledger, that’s the fewest officers on staff since the 1970s.

In Mount Olive, six detectives have become four, said Officer Eric Anthony. The township’s department has 49 officers, down from 55 one year ago.

While a reduction in police officers may not itself mean a surge in crime, a look at the big picture puts public safety in the cross-hairs of reckless budget cuts. The budget slashing in New Jersey has not been limited to police departments. With reductions in treatment and corrections spending expect fewer prison inmates and less opportunity for re-entry services, as wellas alcohol, drug and mental health treatment.

Those factors working in unison will inevitably have an impact on community safety.

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