Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sandusky Transfered, Placed in Solitary Confinement

Jerry Sandusky was transferred to the State Correctional Institution at Greene (Waynesburg, PA) his permanent "home" while he serves the remainder of his 30 to 60 year sentence, reported the ABC News affiliate in Harrisburg, PA.  Greene is about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh.

Sandusky will serve his sentence in administrative custody, a form of solitary confinement. He will be housed in a single cell and only leave to exercise and receive medical attention.

Sandusky's visits will be non-contact and he will also be under additional supervision and escorted whenever he leaves his cell. He will be offered one hour of individual exercise per day, five days a week and showers three times a week.

To read more:

Ohio legislature addresses juveniles' right to counsel

Earlier this month the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Ohio laws do not entitle juveniles to the right to an attorney before charges are filed. Ohio legislators are now taking action to ensure that courts offer juveniles the same legal rights as adults, reported the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Ross McGregor of Springfield, would require that any children under 18, unless emancipated, be told their rights before interrogation: their right to speak to an attorney, their right to remain silent and their right to speak to a parent or guardian before answering any questions.

It would also ensure that confessions made by children without the presence of a parent, guardian, custodian or attorney could not be admitted into evidence and that no parent may waive any right on behalf of the minor.

According to the Plain-Dealer, the Supreme Court decision was the result of the arrest of a juvenile offender stopped by a Cleveland police officer. He was driving without a valid license, but wrongly assumed he was being stopped for a crime he had committed the previous day. Due to the confusion, the minor confessed to the officer that he had served as a lookout during a robbery. He was arrested, advised of his constitutional rights, signed a waiver of those rights and signed a confession of his role in the robbery without an attorney or guardian present.

After he was found guilty, the minor appealed on grounds that the trial court should not have admitted his written statement into evidence because authorities had failed to provide him with an attorney. Ohio law states that juvenile offenders have a right to representation by legal counsel "at all stages of proceedings."

The Ohio Supreme Court's majority opinion written by Justice Terrence O'Donnell concluded that "proceedings" only refer to actions and events after charges have been filed or after the juvenile appears in court. Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger's concurring opinion gave a nod to the General Assembly, saying the issue was a matter of public policy that the legislature could address.

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor's dissenting opinion said the ruling "defies law, logic and common sense" and "offends fundamental notions of due process and fairness."

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said the legislation would prevent courts from looking at cases on an individual basis. He said despite the ruling's language, minors are currently advised that they have a right to a lawyer, and when they waive that right courts look at surrounding circumstances specific to the child when deciding whether or not to admit resulting information into evidence.

"That blanket view ignores the circumstances of each case that the courts have used for over 25 years -- a 17-year, 11-month-old person of high intelligence who has had prior contact with law enforcement, is street smart and understands the rights involved and concludes it is in their best interest to talk with and cooperate in the police investigation should be able to waive such rights without a lawyer or parent being present," O'Brien told the Plain-Dealer. "The proposed law would prevent that in a one-rule-fits-all statute."

To read more:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Release of Seriously Ill Inmates Stalls

According to a report released in January by Human Rights Watch — "Old Behind Bars: The Aging Prison Population in the United States" — the number of older inmates in prison in the United States is at an all-time high

The Pennsylvania Law Weekly
October 30,2012

According to a report released in January by Human Rights Watch — "Old Behind Bars: The Aging Prison Population in the United States" — the number of older inmates in prison in the United States is at an all-time high.

The report found that the number of state and federal prisoners age 55 or older nearly quadrupled, increasing by 282 percent between 1995 and 2010. The number of prisoners age 65 and over increased by 63 percent between 2007 and 2010, while the overall prison population grew by only 0.7 percent.

"Prisons were never designed to be geriatric facilities," Jamie Fellner, a senior adviser at Human Rights Watch and the report's author, told The Philadelphia Tribune, "yet U.S. corrections officials now operate old-age homes behind bars."

Pennsylvania is second only to Oregon in terms of caring for geriatric inmates. In 1980, there were just 370 elderly inmates in the state prison system, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. By 2010, that number had swelled to 8,462, representing more than 16 percent of all inmates.

The cost of caring for geriatric inmates is enormous. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that the U.S. Constitution guarantees prison inmates access to health care. In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled in Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976), "deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury" is cruel and unusual punishment.

State prison inmates can have surgery, chemotherapy and organ transplants. Inmates also get dental and vision care. According to The Lancaster New Era, earlier this year, SCI Laurel Highlands had 74 inmates with hypertension or diabetes severe enough to require dialysis.

In 2003, Pennsylvania's Joint State Government Commission appointed an advisory committee on geriatric and seriously ill inmates. The committee issued its report in 2005.

The committee noted that some of the state's correctional facilities, notably Laurel Highlands, provided care for geriatric and seriously ill inmates. SCI Laurel Highlands, located in Somerset County, was formerly the Somerset State Mental Hospital. It was renovated and reopened in 1996 and houses long-term care, wheelchair and geriatric inmates, as well as other inmates.

The facility provides for specialized programs that meet the needs of geriatric and seriously ill inmates, including medical care for long-term illness, life skills programs, recreational activities that are individualized to meet the needs of older or physically challenged inmates and substance-abuse and mental health programs.

The advisory committee report found that the DOC had not previously tracked the costs of long-term care. However, the DOC did track those costs for 2004 so that a meaningful cost comparison could be obtained for the report. The DOC found that the annual cost per inmate receiving long-term care at SCI Laurel Highlands was $63,500, while the average cost per other inmate was approximately $30,000 (currently the cost per day is $35,243). The average cost per patient in a county nursing home was $62,000.

The committee recommended that although the DOC had the ability to care for geriatric and seriously ill inmates, releasing such inmates to private facilities or to the care of their families through a court-mandated medical release procedure or parole "would reflect both humanitarian and economic concerns."

At the time of the report, Pennsylvania had a cumbersome law on medical release, dating back to 1919. The Compassionate Release Act, 61 P.S. §81, was not very compassionate.

The Superior Court reviewed the legislative history of the act in Commonwealth v. Reefer, 816 A.2d 1136 (2003), and found that the intent of the language "modify its sentence," particularly when read together with the requirement to "recommit" the inmate upon his or her recovery, was to give the trial court the power to modify the place of sentence, not the length of sentence.

In order for an inmate to have met his or her burden under the Compassionate Release Act, he or she had to "allege that his facility lacks the resources to treat him or that its collective health is endangered by his illness" and "must go beyond quality or neglect in treatment and address the inability of the prison facility to provide adequate care."

Susan McNaughton, spokesperson for the DOC, told The Crime Report that statistics concerning compassionate release were scant, but in the past, "on average about six inmates are released from Pennsylvania state prisons annually this way."

The act was subsequently revised with the intent that old, dying prisoners would be released into the custody of family or friends — provided the DOC did not find the inmate to be a security risk.

On September 25, 2008, Governor Ed Rendell signed Act 84, replacing the nearly century-old Compassionate Release Act. Act 84 of 2008 allows judges to place primarily terminally ill state prisoners in hospitals, long-term nursing care facilities and hospice care locations.

Under the new law, a petitioner, which could include the DOC, can seek to "temporarily defer service of the sentence of confinement" and to "temporarily remove" the prisoner from DOC custody for placement in a "hospital, long-term nursing care facility, or hospice care location." Supervision with electronic monitoring may be required of some of those released.

Other jurisdictions have taken action to deal with medical release.

In 2008, the federal government launched the Elderly Offender Home Detention Pilot program, under which prisoners age 65 and over could be released into supervised house arrest. According to The Crime Report, eligibility guidelines were strict: offenders must have served at least 10 years and 75 percent of their sentence, with no eligibility for lifers or perpetrators of "crimes of violence." The impact was negligible, the total number expected to participate was 80 to 100 nationwide, out of 200,000 federal prison inmates.

Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm used clemency to address medical release. She commuted sentences for 180 prisoners during her eight years in office, mostly for medical reasons and the financial burden on state taxpayers. When prisoners were released, they could apply for Medicaid, resulting in the federal government paying the medical bills.

In Texas, during 2011, 349 inmates formally sought medical release, and only 100 inmates were granted early release. There are about 155,000 inmates in Texas prisons.

The effort to deal with seriously ill inmates has had little impact. It affected 80 to 100 federal inmates, 100 inmates in Texas, 180 commutations in Michigan, and in Pennsylvania the news is even bleaker. According to the New Era, in 2011, three Laurel Highlands inmates had applied for medical release. One was denied, and the others died before a decision could be made.

Monday, October 29, 2012

NY: Local jails overcrowded, send inmates to state prison

NY experience may be eye-opener for PA JRI

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is under way in Pennsylvania.  One of the initiative's major components is the diversion of state inmates from state correctional facilities to local county jails.

In New York "under-filled" state prisons are being looked at as a means to relieve costly overcrowding in local jails.  New York state legislators feel the length of time it takes for inmates to be transferred to state prisons is too long, according to CYN Central.

Pennsylvania is counting on using the savings from reducing the state prison population to fund local efforts like incentivizing counties to keep state prisoners in local jails.   According to the sheriffs of three counties, holding state prisoners is costing taxpayers in those county jails more than $2 million per year. It costs up to $100 per day to house an inmate in a local jail, reported CYN.

Following a meeting on local jail crowding State Senator Patty Ritchie said  "The meeting stems from an effort ... to provide additional mandate relief for local taxpayers by addressing the problem of state prisoners being held in local county jails."

Often a parole violator will spend months in a local jail before he or she is transferred to a state prison. Ritchie says many state prisons are under-filled and she's proposed using the existing prisons  as "hubs" to hold state parole violators, reported CYN.

Last year, the State Senate passed a bill that would require the State Corrections to transfer parole violators to state prisons within 10 days, or the state would bear the costs. The bill was referred to the State Assembly but did not come up for a vote.

The overcrowding problem is some counties that legislators are looking into alternatives that will allow accused criminals to remain in the community with GPS tracking devises, according to CYN.

To read more:

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Federal prisons dangerously overcrowded

This year, the Department of Justice will spend $6.6 billion on prisons that are overcrowded, understaffed and barely safe, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GOA).

The GAO report found that the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the agency that runs the federal penitentiary system, operated at 39 percent over recommended capacity nationwide and at 55 percent over capacity at high security facilities. From 2006 to 2011, prison population grew at 9.5 percent, outpacing the 7 percent growth in infrastructure and new beds. Prisons are staffed at 90 percent, the minimum safe standard for BOP, reported the Madison Times.

“According to BOP data, 81 percent of male inmates housed in low security facilities were triple bunked at the end of 2011,” the report stated.

Instead of moving low level inmates to contracted private-run facilities such as halfway houses for budget reasons, the BOP packed 4,500 low level inmates into medium security facilities. The population shift compounded problems in higher level prisoners.

According to the GAO, the Bureau of Prisons reserves beds in Special Housing Units and Special Management Units for the most dangerous prisoners who “threaten the safety, security, or orderly operation of the facility or potentially cause harm to the public.” Because of overcrowding, the worst of the worst often wait more than 100 days for a cell on the Special Management Units, according to the Times.

The rise in the prison population forced BOP officials to convert TV rooms and gyms to makeshift dorms, cut education programs, delay drug treatment programs, and curb much-needed job placements for the inmates.

“According to BOP, the increase in sentence length is the primary reason for the growth in federal inmate population from 42,000 in 1987 to over 218,000 today,” the GAO reported.

In an effort to address the negative impact of overcrowding, some federal prisons have started staggering meals and recreation time for inmates. Prison officials also reward inmates for good behavior with benefits such as greater access to phones, “honor dorms,” and e-mail.

By 2020, the Bureau of Prisons plans to decrease overcrowding in federal prisons from 71 percent to 58 percent at mid-level prisons and 55 percent to 12 percent at high security prisons. The agency said that it can accomplish this goal by increasing capacity by adding private contracted beds, infrastructure and new prisons to keep up with the expected growth in population. But without funds, the path forward is not certain, according to the Times.

The bureau has not included funding for the additional beds in current congressional budget requests.

If the BOP continues to experience budget shortfalls, GAO said that their “plans are subject to change.”

To read more:

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Texas death sentences on the decline

According to the Waco Tribune, the frequency with which prosecutors seek the death penalty has steadily declined in Texas, the state with the busiest execution chamber. In 2005, a new law took effect providing for life without parole in capital murder cases.

Thirty-six new inmates were sent to death row in Texas in 2002. Nine years later, that number was eight.  So far in 2012 there have been six murderers sentenced to death in Texas.

There are 295 inmates on death row in Texas.  Texas has carried out 11 execution this year including the last four out of 5.  Texas is the most prolific state in terms of execution, 487 killers have been executed in Texas about one-third of all executions nationwide.

The concern that the most vicious killers eventually might be released back into society if not sentenced to death has eased. Under the statute, life without parole is automatic for those convicted of capital murder when the death penalty is off the table.

Before 2005, capital killers with life terms could be paroled in 40 years.

In addition to the impact of the life without parole statute, officials note the shocking number of DNA exonerations of prisoners, particularly in Dallas County. That has produced increased skepticism among potential jurors, who also watch TV shows like “CSI” and sometimes expect a mountain of scientific evidence, reported the Tribune.

Other factors contributing to the decline in death penalty cases, experts say, is the rising cost of trying them in sagging economic times in which most counties are struggling to make do without major tax increases.

Also, there is a rising frustration about the amount of time between conviction and execution, some say, which increases the price tag for counties and the state and adds to a feeling of helplessness among victims’ families longing for justice.

To read more:

Texas man admits crime moments before execution

The 33rd Execution of 2012

Convicted killer Bobby Lee Hines was executed in Texas on October 24, 2012 for strangling and repeatedly stabbing a suburban Dallas woman at her apartment 21 years ago, reported The Associated Press.

Hines was 19 and on probation for burglary when he stabbed 26-year-old Michelle Wendy Haupt 18 times and strangled her with a cord. Haupt had moved from the Pittsburgh area to Carrollton to work at a computer company in Dallas, and Hines was staying next door with a maintenance man for her apartment complex.

In the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 20, 1991, a neighbor heard screaming and called police, but officers were unable to find the source. When other residents told the apartment manager later that day about screams and loud noises that sounded like a bowling ball being dropped repeatedly, they persuaded him to open Haupt’s door and found her dead.

Hines was arrested that day. Hines’ older brother, a manager at the complex, told police he suspected his brother was involved, according to court records. And witnesses said Hines had bragged about having a passkey that allowed him to enter anyone’s apartment.

Police interviewed Hines, noticed he had scratches on his face and neck, and got consent from his roommate to search the apartment. Detectives found Haupt’s blood on Hines’ clothing and several things that had belonged to her, including a distinctive gold charm she wore on a necklace.

Hines had declared his innocence for 21 years.  However, when asked if he had a final statement he admitted the crime and asked for forgiveness.  While awaiting the lethal injection he said, “I know that I took somebody special from y’all, I know it wasn't right, it was wrong. I wish I could give it back, but I know I can’t. I wish there was something I could do.” If giving my life in return makes it right, so be it. I ask that ya'll forgive me. I know God forgave me. I know He has forgiven me for what I did. I don't believe that taking my life will solve anything. I believe that if I was locked up for the rest of my life, that would be more of a punishment. To do this is setting me free. God bless ya'll. I wish there was something I could do."
  As the lethal dose of pentobarbital was administered, he said he could feel it and was stopped in midsentence. He snored once, then slipped into unconsciousness. Twelve minutes later, at 6:28 p.m., he was pronounced dead.   To read more:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Corbett signs law providing juvenile sentencing options

Gov. Tom Corbett has signed legislation that gives Pennsylvania judges options other than life in prison when sentencing juveniles in murder cases, reported The Associaated Press.

The law signed Thursday by Corbett means defendants 14 or younger would serve at least 20 years for second-degree convictions and 25 years for first-degree convictions. Offenders who are 15- to 17-years old would face at least 25 or 35 years.

The measure was spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that recently outlawed mandatory life-without-parole terms for minors, deeming it cruel and unusual punishment.

The Pennsylvania legislation creates a new set of sentencing options, with penalties that depend on the age of the defendant and whether they’re convicted of first- or second-degree murder.

To read more:

The Cautionary Instruction: Pennsylvania slow to address collateral sanctions

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
October 26, 2012

In Pennsylvania, collateral sanctions are making it difficult for some formerly incarcerated offenders to find a job.

What are collateral sanctions? Some are government-imposed, others are the product of the stigma attached to being a “convict” -- both are barriers to successful reentry.
Felonies, and even some misdemeanors, eliminate offenders from consideration for various types of employment. In Pennsylvania, there are at least 55 occupations in which some people with criminal records are barred.

Criminal records are easily available to potential employers, landlords and other members of the community. As a result, ex-offenders are frequently denied access to employment, housing and other community resources.

In many instances collateral sanctions are the most significant consequence of a conviction. On average, about 60 percent of those convicted of felonies are not sentenced to prison. In a high percentage of cases, the real hardship is not the fine or incarceration, but the change in legal status brought about by a conviction.

This week, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers launched a website directory of laws in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to collateral sanctions and the potential for relief from those sanctions. Last month, the American Bar Association rolled-out the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, a state-by-state database of collateral sanctions.

In Pennsylvania, there are many obstacles but few opportunities for relief. A criminal conviction can result in losing the right to vote, disqualification from serving on a jury, obtaining a professional license, working with children or in health care or owning a gun.

The right to own a firearm may be restored in some instances by court order, generally 10 years after a sentence has been completed. The right to serve on a jury and hold public office are only restored by executive pardon and those are far and few.  In 2011, Pennsylvania received 526 applications for pardon, Gov. Tom Corbett granted 40.

In some limited situations expungement is available for "summary" offenses after five years, and for those aged 70 or older if the applicant has had no arrests for 10 years. Juvenile expungement may be available upon reaching age 18 after a five-year waiting period.

Some states have enacted more generous legislation to deter collateral sanctions. A new law in Ohio is eliminating employment barriers that commonly get in the way of ex-offenders trying to adjust to life on the street. Overcoming job-related obstacles is a key to successful reentry.

A new law in North Carolina also gives some felons a fresh start. The law signed by Gov. Bev Perdue provides for expungement of nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors after 15 years for those who have had no other convictions.

Pennsylvania legislators are not completely ignoring collateral sanctions. Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out S.B. 1220 that amends the Criminal History Record Information Act to permit the expungement of convictions for certain misdemeanors of the third and second degrees. 

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

OMG: Disgruntled bank robber gets arrested

This story is courtesy of The Legal Blog Watch and stretches the bounds of believeablity. But here it is--according to the Post-Standard, a disgruntled bank robber was quickly captured in Syracuse, New York when he returned to Alliance Bank after discovering the teller had not given him the full $20,000 he had demanded.

Arthur Bundrage, 28, of 306 Kinne St, East Syracuse, was charged with fourth-degree grand larceny. He is being held in the Onondaga County Justice Center pending arraignment in Syracuse City Court.

According to the Post-Standard, here’s what police say happened:

About 9 a.m., Bundrage entered the Alliance Bank at 1001 James St., walked up to a teller and demanded $20,000 in cash.

The teller told him no. When Bundrage demanded again, the teller gave him an undisclosed amount of cash.

Bundrage then left. The bank immediately called 911.

As officers were responding, Bundrage discovered the teller had not given him the full $20,000.

Officers found him standing at the front door attempting to get back in.

He was taken into custody without incident, police said.

To read more:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

PA legislature resolves mandatory life for juveniles

Bill sits on Governor Tom Corbett's Desk

In response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama banning automatic life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, lawmakers in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate have approved a bill with a new set of sentencing options. The bill now sits on Gov. Tom Corbett's desk.

Senate Bill 850 provides that defendants 14 years old and younger would serve at least 20 years for second-degree convictions and at least 25 years for first-degree convictions. Offenders who are 15 to 17 years old would face minimum sentences of 25 and 35 years, respectively, according to The Altoona Mirror. Life without parole is no longer a option for juveniles convicted of second-degree murder.

Judges would also have the option of imposing a life sentence for juveniles who commit murder, but based on the high court's 5-4 ruling in June, that life sentence cannot be automatic.

When the Supreme Court made its 5-to-4 ruling in late June, Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, said the automatic life-without-parole sentence for juveniles takes discretion out of the hands of the judge, depriving the judge of the ability to consider mitigating circumstances that juveniles can't control, such as their home life or their capacity to change, reported the Mirror.

Kagan said a state is not required to guarantee a juvenile's freedom, but "must provide some meaningful opportunity to obtain release, based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation."

Opponents to the proposed legislation have said the bill needs more work and that decade-long sentences for child defendants will still amount to cruel and unusual punishment. Rep. Curtis Thomas, D.-Philadelphia, offered that challenge in the House, but he was unsuccessful, according to the Mirror.

The new legislation does not address the more than 400 offenders already serving life for offenses committed as juveniles. There right to file for review of their sentences is being considered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Douglas Berman thinks prospects for retroactivity are good. “It’s in no one’s interest to litigate this,” said the law professor at Ohio State University and author of the award-winning Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

He explained that retroactivity historically deals with the possibility of overturning convictions. So prosecutors fight hard to protect convictions they have won in the past. But Miller only talks about sentences. All convictions will stand. And judges can still hand out sentences of life without the chance of parole or even decades-long sentences.

Indeed, Berman predicts some judges will do just that. He points out that under an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling granting resentencing to certain juvenile lifers, some Florida judges have laid out sentences of 100 years.

To read more:

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

DA: Concerned with parole violators

An interesting look at Pennsylvania parole violators by Kristen Doerschner of the Beaver County Times.  Doerschner writes, "Of all of the ways Pennsylvania is planning to reduce the state prison population, one of the biggest changes is a reform of the system regarding parole violators."

 Beginning Jan. 1, however, those the state considers “technical parole violators” will be sent to community correction centers instead of prison. The move is expected to open up 1,200 beds in the state prisons within a 12- to 18-month period, as part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative.

Beaver County District Attorney Dave Berosh said he has several concerns with the looming change.

He told the Times, the first is what the state will define as a “technical” parole violator. He said he is concerned the definition of technical will get broader and broader as time goes on.

Berosh also said reasons people may get a technical parole violation -- such as failing a urine test when they are not allowed to take drugs -- is usually part of the underlying problem that landed the person in state prison to begin with.

Berosh said by the time someone ends up in the state prison system they’ve usually gone through the county jails as well as the county’s programs for drug and alcohol treatment, and mental health evaluations and treatment.

“I’m in favor of rehabilitation,” Berosh told the Times. However, he said by the time someone gets into the state system they’ve usually been through various treatment programs and local incarceration.

Berosh said he’s also concerned there will be a loss of a deterrent effect if people know they won’t get sent back to prison for violating the terms of their parole and will instead go to community correction centers.

To read more:

Monday, October 22, 2012

'We need to stop cherry-picking our outrage'

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey enjoyed a 22 percent decrease in the homicide rate during his first two years in Philadelphia, before it spiked from 306 in 2010 to 324 last year. And with 274 homicides already this year, Philadelphia could end up averaging a killing a day, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Why? Ramsey cites a loss of officers - down 200 since 2008, but contends it is more than that--guns are to blame as well.

He points to the glut of illegal guns--and the lack of political will--as the biggest reason. While Ramsey doesn't support a total ban, he's for commonsense guidelines.  He favors a ban on assault rifles to begin with.

Ramsey tells the Inquirer, "We need to stop cherry-picking our outrage. That's what we do; we cherry-pick our outrage."

"The Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons of the world will be in Philadelphia tomorrow if a cop shoots some kid, especially if it's a white cop and black kids," Ramsey fumes, "but where is the outrage when you have black-on-black crime that goes on constantly in these neighborhoods?"

Ramsey has pushed the department forward with rigorous officer training and is weeding out corrupt cops - more than 50 so far, according to the Inquirer.

Ramsey is a big advocate of community policing. Rookie cops are required to be on street patrol for at least six months before he puts them in cruisers. Ramsey told the Inquirer,  "I want them to understand that there are decent, law-abiding citizens living in the worst of neighborhoods. And you ain't never going to know that driving through a neighborhood in a Crown Vic, with the windows up and the radio on."

To read more:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

South Dakota executes man 18 months after conviction

The 32nd Execution of 2012

Eric Robert, convicted of killing a prison guard in 2011, was executed Monday in Sioux Falls, S.D., reported UPI.

Robert, 50, was put to death at 10:24 p.m. moments after saying his final words, "In the name of justice and liberty and mercy, I authorize and forgive Warden Douglas Weber to execute me for the crimes. It is done," KSFY-TV reported.

Robert and accomplice Rodney Berget were convicted of killing Corrections Officer Ronald "RJ" Johnson during an escape attempt at the South Dakota State Penitentiary on April 12, 2011. He had been serving an 80-year sentence for kidnapping at the time.

Robert spent only about 18 months on death row and volunteered to be executed.  He waived all appeal rights and requested to be put to death.

He chose to fast in the 40 hours before his execution, consuming his last meal -- Moose Tracks ice cream -- Saturday, his attorney, Mark Kadi, said.

To read more:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

With increase, violent crime reaching a plateau

Northeastern University Professor James A. Fox, writing in the Boston Globe, admonished readers not to make too much out of the unexpected 18 percent increased in violent crime reported by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Fox wrote, "the critical lesson that seems to be lost time and time again is never to make much of a short term change in crime rate. One-year changes, be they up or down, are terribly ambiguous in meaning. A sudden jump in crime rate, for example, can occur because the latter year was especially bad or because the previous year was especially good.

The long-term context helps us better to understand the current situation. Violent crime dropped precipitously during the 1990s, in large part as a reversal of the surge in street crime and gang conflict that plagued the nation in the late 1980s. To borrow upon Newton’s law, what goes up, generally comes down. Then, during the last decade, the rate of decline slowed, as there was less room for improvement.

It appears that we may now be reaching a plateau where it is unlikely that we will see much more improvement, no matter how hard we try."

To provide some perspective, in 1993 the rate of violent crime per 1,000 people was 79.9.  In 2011, with the 18 percent surge, the rate was 22.5 per 1,000.  No need to panic just yet.

To read more:

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Justice reinvestment savings projections lowered

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
October 19, 2012

Prison reform is a hot-button issue in Pennsylvania. Housing a state prison inmate costs about $32,059 a year, or $87.83 a day. With more than 51,000 inmates in 27 state correctional facilities across the commonwealth the status quo is no longer an option in Pennsylvania

In May, I wrote about Pennsylvania’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative. The Justice Center of The Counsel of State Governments worked with Pennsylvania officials to create a comprehensive public safety plan that would cut prison costs and reinvest the savings into the criminal justice system.

The plan recommended funding for local law enforcement, performance-driven incentives for counties to house state inmates, strengthening local probation and state parole and retooling the state’s community corrections system. The plan was to be funded by an estimated $260 million in savings realized by eliminating inefficiencies in the corrections system and lowering prison population.

Those recommendations were incorporated into Act 122 of 2012, signed by Governor Tom Corbett in July.  However, a separate piece of legislation was needed to allocate the savings and reinvest in policing, supervision, county corrections and community corrections.

This week the state Senate unanimously passed H.B. 135, the second phase of prison reform in Pennsylvania. The bill outlines the formula by which savings will be returned to local governments to carry out the directives of Act 122.

The formula for distribution works like this: 43 percent will be used for local police grants; 26 percent will be allocated for local grants to improve county probation; 21 percent will be used to implement contracts with counties for diversion of low-level offenders; 6 percent will go to the Board of Probation and Parole for costs related to streamlining the parole process; and 4 percent will be used to coordinate and implement improved reentry programs.

However, not all of the $260 million in recommended savings made it into the final version of H.B. 135. The pool of funds for reinvestment was slashed by about 45 percent to $142 million. The revised savings for reinvestment will make already uncertain local officials a little more uneasy.

Beaver County Jail Warden William Schouppe said it is difficult to plan the jail’s budget for next year when there are uncertainties about exactly how the number of inmates might change and what money will be available.

With 402 beds available, the Beaver County jail has been averaging 370 to 380 inmates a month. “My concern is that they may just be taking money from the state and transferring it to the county. If they put more people into the county, it’s more work for the district attorneys, the public defenders, the judges,” Schouppe said. “The tax dollars have to come from somewhere.”

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Murders soar in Camden as police disappear

This week, Camden, New Jersey a city of about 77,000 people registered its 53rd homicide, and the city is on pace to shatter the record of 58 set in 1995, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Camden's murder rate was high before the record year in 1995, and poverty touched every neighborhood in the city then, too. The public-school system, like many other impoverished districts, struggled, and despite a healthy economy and major developments and attractions along the waterfront, there still weren't enough well-paying jobs in Camden to support a strong middle class.

Young men continued to turn to drugs to make a living and shot their competition to protect it. Kids looked up to them and replaced them on their corners when they left in body bags or handcuffs.

City residents, according to news accounts from the time, blamed the police as the murder rate rose. Elected officials, in turn, asked Trenton for help, according to the Inquirer.

"The city does not have the means to fight by itself," former Assemblyman Joe Roberts said in 1995. "There are 100 less officers than there were 20 years ago."

Today, Camden has 273 officers, about 70 fewer than it had in 1995. Chief Scott Thomson said he works with fewer than 200 officers a day when sick time and absenteeism are accounted for. What's left, Thomson told the Inquirer, is a depleted force that spends its time reacting to crime instead of preventing it.

Governor Chris Christie cut funding for local police and Camden is feeling the consequences.  Gov. Christie now proposes dismantling the department he throttled. The Camden police department is being replaced with a 400-member regional police department that will be made up of new hires and re-hired members of Camden's current department.

The controversial plan is projected to save money although union officials said that it's an attempt by Christie to break the union once and for all.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

2011 violent crime rate jumps 17%

Ted Gest of The Crime Report is reporting that violent crime rates increased by 17 percent in 2011, according to Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey .

The nation's estimated rate of both violent and property crime shot up last year after several years of decline. The survey's unexpected 17 percent increase in violent crime was matched by an equally alarming 11 percent rise in property crime rates in 2011 compared with 2010.

The rate of violent crime victimization rate had dropped or remained steady since at least 1993.The surge in violent crime was not across the board, however.

The survey showed that it was entirely due to an increase in assaults, particularly simple assaults in which there was no bodily harm or weapon used. The estimated rates of the bellwether crime of robbery and also sexual assault remained the same from one year to the next.

To read the entire report:

Federal prisons dangerously overcrowded

A recent Government Accountability Office report on the Bureau of Prisons says inmate overcrowding undermines the safety of the agency’s staff, as well as that of the inmates, reported Washington Post columnist Joe Davidson.  

“BOP officials reported increased use of double and triple bunking, waiting lists for education and drug treatment programs, limited meaningful work opportunities, and increased inmate-to-staff ratios,” the September report says. “These factors, taken together, contribute to increased inmate misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security of inmates and staff.”  

The prison facilities are crowded because the inmate population is growing faster than the bureau’s capacity. As the prison population grew 9.5 percent from 2006 through 2011, the agency’s capacity, increasing at 7 percent, didn’t keep up. Even with new facilities, the prison population grew from 136 percent of capacity to 139 percent, according to the GAO. 

“Nearly all BOP facilities had fewer correctional staff on board than needed, with a BOP-wide staffing shortage in excess of 3,200,” the GAO said, citing a 2010 Justice Department study.   While crowding has increased, the inmate-to-staff ratio has gone down.

Fewer officers is not a strategy for success. The consequences can be real and bloody, wrote Davidson.  

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Utah parole board dishes out life sentences

Utah has a unique sentencing structure found nowhere else in the country. Judges and juries determine a defendant’s innocence or guilt and, if convicted, hand down an indeterminate sentence as set by lawmakers, reported The Salt Lake Tribune. An indeterminate sentence usually has a minimum, five years, to a maximum, life.

Once in prison it is the parole board that ultimately decides how much retribution to exact and whether redemption is possible.  In effect the parole board decides whether an offender will spend his or her life in prison.

The inmates receiving natural life sentences from the board — a small fraction of the prison population — tend to be murderers, rapists, pedophiles and repeat offenders.

It currently costs the state approximately $3.2 million a year just to house the 108 inmates who now have board-determined natural life sentences, an expense that will grow by at least $30,000 a year, the average annual cost for incarceration, for each additional inmate handed such a term — and possibly more, as these inmates face age-related illnesses before dying in prison, reported The Tribune.

The average age of inmates at the Utah State Prison with natural life sentences is 56. There are 62 inmates age 55 — the age at which an inmate is considered elderly — or older, with the oldest an 82-year-old sex offender. At least five inmates were in their 20s when the board revoked any chance of parole.

Anyone guilty of a first-degree felony — murder, rape, child kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, arson and possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute near a school — could later be handed a natural life term by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole under Utah’s sentencing scheme.

According to The Tribune, the board has ordered natural life sentences for 25 of the 74 inmates currently imprisoned for aggravated murder; the rest will serve between 25 and 30 years before getting either an original or review hearing or being eligible for parole.

The board has ordered 23 of the 257 inmates convicted of murder to spend the rest of their lives in prison; most — 150 inmates — will serve nearly 21 years before they get an original hearing before the board, when it will determine how much longer they’ll serve for their crimes.

The board declined to set parole dates for another 41 people, who will serve an average of 25 years before getting a rehearing; 43 have parole or termination dates that will require them to serve close to 22 years before they are eligible for release.

In a letter to The Tribune, Shayne Todd, a natural life wrote, “The undisputed facts are the Utah Board of Pardons has been unlawfully acting as a sentencing board, rather than a board of pardons, particularly where it no longer accepts an inmate’s good or bad prison behavior in determining his [or] her release date eligibility.”

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Pennsylvania: Prison reform and justice reinvestment

Prison reform is coming to Pennsylvania in the form of Senate Bill 100, now Act 122 of 2012.  The new law aims to reduce both crime and imprisonment rates in Pennsylvania, while providing upwards of $300 million in savings over the next five years.

Pending in the General Assembly is House Bill 135—currently stuck in the Senate—which would reinvest a portion of the savings in programs that create a more cost effective and smarter correctional system.

"This has been a long process, but we have achieved great support for these reforms from both the public and state leaders," said Senator Stewart Greenleaf. "The passage of SB 100 marks one of the most important successes thus far in Pennsylvania's prison reform movement. Today, I think we all realize that punishment without rehabilitation is a failed policy, and we are making the final steps to slow recidivism and give former offenders a chance for a crime-free life."

According to the Commonwealth Foundation the changes look like this:


•Risk Assessments Guidelines. Establishes up-front risk assessments in state sentencing.

     ◦This will identify high-risk cases that require state prison and lower-risk cases that may be better   managed in less expensive alternative programs before judges and district attorneys determine an individual's sentence.

•Keep Low-Risk Cases Out of Prison. Prevents low-level misdemeanors from being sentenced to state prison.

     ◦Research demonstrates that imprisonment in state prisons does not make offenders less likely to commit crimes after release, and may make them more likely to do so.

     ◦Those who commit low-level misdemeanors will remain in local jails, keeping their support systems such as families, close by.

•Alternative Program Eligibility. As an alternative to traditional prison, offenders may be sentenced to one of the state's alternative sentencing programs, designed for nonviolent criminals, often dealing with substance abuse. SB 100 makes the following changes:

     ◦Eligible offenders could be sentenced to a state-level alternative program even if certain mandatory minimum sentences apply. Currently, minimum sentences disqualify many otherwise eligible offenders.

     ◦The maximum age for an inmate sentenced to Quehanna Motivational Boot Camp would be raised from 35 to 40.

     ◦Makes additional offenders ineligible for alternative sentencing programs. Those that would no longer be eligible include offenders registered under Megan's Law.

•County "HOPE" Courts. Allows counties to establish an innovative probation program that provides swift, predictable sanctions on probation violators.

      ◦Modeled after Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program, this program incentivizes probationers to stay drug and alcohol free.

      ◦Thanks to HOPE, positive drug tests in Hawaii have dropped more than 70 percent and new arrests cut in half, saving an estimated $4,000 to $8,000 per offender.

•Deportation of nonviolent immigrants in state prisons. Allows nonviolent illegal immigrants be deported before serving their minimum sentence.

Parole Changes

•Redirecting Technical Parole Violators. Sends technical parole violators to community corrections center, a transition between prison and returning to the community, instead of expensive prisons.

     ◦Technical violations include failing a drug test or missing an appointment with a parole officer, not violent acts or new crimes.

     ◦Parole violators would remain nearer to their families, work and community, making for easier transition into life outside the corrections system.

•Parole Time Credits. Allows the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole to grant convicted parole violators a credit for previous time spent on parole before reinstitution.

•Improve Parole Hearings. Utilizes more efficient communication technology to increase parole hearing capacity.

     ◦System inefficiencies and lack of capacity for parole hearings have resulted in 1,900 inmates locked up in prison when they would otherwise qualify for parole.

Programmatic changes

•Eliminate Pre-Release. Repeals the pre-release program in its entirety. Currently, the prerelease program allows eligible low-risk offenders to transition from prison to the community corrections system before they serve their minimum sentence.

•Safe Community Reentry Program. Creates the Safe Community Reentry Program to bolster the corrections systems through partnerships with non-profit or for-profit entities that can aid an offender's successful reentry back into communities.

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Criminal justice agencies report 43% drop in federal funding

A new report from the National Criminal Justice Association and the Vera Institute of Justice, based on a national survey of government and private organizations, found that U.S. Department of Justice funding to criminal justice agencies and nonprofit service providers has dropped by 43 per cent in the last two years under the impact of the recession, reported Ted Gest on The Crime Report.

The survey's sponsors don't contend that the survey is scientifically representative, there were 714 responses, but it illustrates funding issues being experienced on a state and local level.

About 14 per cent of the respondents said the amounts of their grants had been cut by more than half.

The report was issued in advance of a debate expected in Washington after the November elections over a process known as "sequestration," which will occur under a 2011 federal law unless Congress can agree on a comprehensive deficit reduction plan.

If sequestration goes into effect next year, which is considered likely, all domestic federal discretionary spending--including for criminal justice purposes--will be cut by 8.2 percent at first. Further reductions are required through fiscal year 2021.

A Pennsylvania agency responding to the survey said that government budget cuts for various services push them "by default onto local police, further stressing police resources." Funding for a drug task force was reduced, shutting down investigations for two months. "This permitted open drug sales to increase, increased retail thefts, burglary and other thefts, all impacting police operations," the agency says.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

The state of the death penalty 2012

Executions are down 16 percent this year compared to the same time last year. As of October 13, 2012 there have been 31 executions nationwide. At this time last year there were 37 executions, according to The Death Penalty Information Center.

In 2011 there were a total of 43 executions. There are 12 executions scheduled before the end of the 2012—that would equal the total number of executions for 2011. The likelihood that all 12 pending executions would be carried out is miniscule. For instances, one pending execution is in Pennsylvania which hasn’t carried out an involuntary execution in 50 years.

The 31 executions so far in 2012 have been carried out in eight states—Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Delaware and Idaho. Fourteen different states carried out executions in 2011.

The average amount of time spent on death row prior to execution this year in 13.4 years. The average age at the time of execution among those executed in 2012 is 47.

The oldest person executed was 65-year-old Robert Waterhouse of Florida. The youngest was 28-year-old Shannon Johnson of Delaware. Johnson also spent the shortest time on death row six years. Michael Selsor of Oklahoma spent the longest, 36 years.

The next execution is scheduled for Anthony Haynes on October 18 in Texas.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Texas executes killer of 12-year-old girl

The 31st Execution of 2012

Jonathan Green was convicted of raping and murdering a 12-year-old girl in Texas more than a decade ago.  He was executed on October 10 after the U.S. Supreme Court refused his last-minute appeal, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Green was originally scheduled for execution on June 30, 2010, but his attorneys successfully appealed for a stay then and again on Monday, arguing that Green was schizophrenic and did not receive due process in his appeal.

That court overturned the stay late Tuesday, noting that evidence showed Green understood why he was being put to death. The Supreme Court has held that mental illness doesn't automatically disqualify someone from execution, as long as the person understands the punishment and why it's being meted out, reported the Times.

Green was convicted in 2002 of the abduction, rape and strangling of neighbor Christina Neal, snatched as she walked home on June 21, 2000, according to the Texas attorney general's summary of the case. Investigators became suspicious of Green after they learned he had been burning trash soon after the girl's disappearance. They got a warrant to search his property, discovering a shallow grave and inside the house, tucked behind a chair, Christina's body stuffed inside a bag.

Green's last statement reported by the Times was: "I'm an innocent man. I did not kill anyone. Y’all are killing an innocent man. My left arm is killing me, it hurts bad."

To read more:,0,2073908.story

The Cautionary Instruction: Good policing impacts homicide rates

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
October 12, 2012

What has the greatest influence on homicides? Is it policing, education, gun control, employment, the drug trade or gang activity? If you look at trends this year in four cities--policing gets the nod.

Four major U.S. cities—Detroit, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles--have contrasting approaches to violent crime and very different results.

In Detroit, homicides are up 10 percent this year, with 298 killings in little more than nine months. The city has also endured a string of high-profile, brazen crimes that made international headlines, including a pair of high profile carjackings.

Police union members, upset over a 10 percent pay cut in a city the FBI designated the second-most violent in the nation, handed out fliers last Sunday to baseball fans near Comerica Park. They warned: "Enter Detroit at your own risk."

To make things even worse, this week the police chief resigned amid a sex scandal.

In Chicago, the Cook County Board President is considering a violence tax on guns and ammunition sold in the city and suburbs to generate revenue for a city in the red.

Murders in Chicago are up 25 percent this year, according to recent police statistics, and the county jail is filling up -- with more than 9,000 inmates, in facilities that hold about 10,000.

Chicago police have been asked to cut their $1.3 billion budget by a hefty $190 million.
In contrast, New York City has seen a 17 percent decrease in homicides from last year, putting the city on pace to record fewer than 400 homicides this year -- which would be the fewest since reliable record keeping began.

To put this in perspective, in 1990 NYC recorded 2,245 murders.

New York's aggressive police tactics, while successful, have some detractors. Last month, the NAACP held a silent street protest to draw attention to its demand that the controversial "stop and frisk" policy be ended.

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment permits a “stop and frisk” based upon a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity to protect the officer's safety during an investigation.
In Los Angeles there were 612 homicides in 2011. As of September 30 there were 417. L.A. is on track to have 9 percent fewer homicides in 2012.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, in conjunction with former police Chief William Bratton and various community organizations, created the Gang Reduction and Youth Development Office (GRYD).

The idea behind the gang reduction plan was to target resources to communities most in need of reducing gang-related violence. The approach consisted of 17 strategies including crisis response, employment and engaging families multi-generationally to reduce gang activity.

According to the mayor’s office gang-related crime in GRYD zones has fallen nearly 30 percent.
Cuts and controversy have had a negative impact on homicide rates, while aggressive policing and community collaboration have had the opposite. What will the future bring for cash-strapped communities across the country?

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Illinois' plan to close seven prisons stopped

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close seven state corrections and juvenile justice facilities, including Tamms super max prison, is in serious jeopardy after Circuit Court Judge Charles Cavaness sided with AFSCME issued an injunction to stop the shut downs, according to Progress Illinois.

AFSCME sued, claiming that the governor broke the union’s contract by not negotiating over the closings' potential impact. The union also said that the shut downs would pose a danger to their employees, arguing that the closures would exacerbate an already significant prison overcrowding problem.

But Quinn’s plan could still go forward. A higher court might overrule Cavaness or a labor arbitrator may side with the governor in their dispute with the AFSCME Council 31 public employees union, which represents corrections and juvenile justice employees.

For now, the state will indefinitely continue to pay what Quinn’s office estimates to be $7 million a month to keep the facilities open.

One consequence of the ruling is that the governor’s desire to shift $57 million that would have been saved from the closings to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) during the Illinois General Assembly’s November fall veto session probably won’t happen.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

California voters to tackle criminal justice issues

Only four times in the past century have California's voters supported ballot measures designed to ease the state's tough-on-crime laws. This year voters have the rare option of changing that pattern. For the first time in state history, two major crime-related initiatives that would soften the toughest laws on the books will appear on the same ballot, reported the Contra Costa Times.

Proposition 34 would repeal the death penalty. Proposition 34 gives voters the first opportunity in more than three decades to consider whether to scrap the death penalty and clear the largest death row in the nation's history. It would replace execution with life in prison without the possibility of parole and create a $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.

It is opposed by law enforcement, victims' rights groups and former Republican Govs. Wilson and George Deukmejian, who argue that the death penalty should be preserved for the state's most heinous killers and that the system should be fixed and sped up, not scrapped.

With 726 inmates now on death row, California has executed just 13 murderers since 1978. No one has been executed since February 2006 because of legal challenges to the state's lethal injection procedures. Death row inmates' appeals now take decades to resolve.

The cost of carrying out the death penalty has grown so large that it has become the cornerstone of the Proposition 34 campaign. Rather than raising traditional arguments against the death penalty -- that it is unfair or risks executing the innocent -- the Yes on 34 campaign is urging voters to scrap the punishment because of the higher cost of everything from death penalty trials to housing death row inmates, reported the Times.

Californians continue to support the death penalty, although the margin has declined in polls since more than 70 percent of voters put the law back on the books in 1978. Two recent statewide polls, while showing a close call on Proposition 34, nevertheless showed majority support for capital punishment. And a recent Los Angeles Times/USC Dornsife poll showed that Republicans and independent voters are unswayed by the fiscal argument.

Proposition 36 asks voters to change the Three Strikes Law by reserving life sentences for the baddest of the bad -- while leaving many of its central features intact for violent, repeat criminals. But with crime rates relatively low statewide, proponents say there has never been a better time to test whether voters in this blue state are in the mood to be less red on public safety, reported the Times.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Penn State sex scandal far from over

According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News the Penn State sex abuse scandal is far from over with the sentencing of Jerry Sandusky to 30-60 years in state prison.   Still to come:   •In January, Athletic Director-on-leave Tim Curley and retired Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Gary Schultz are scheduled to stand trial in Dauphin County court on charges that they lied to the statewide grand jury investigating Sandusky. 

•Mike McQueary, the former assistant football coach who has testified that he saw Sandusky in a shower sexually assaulting a boy in 2001, is suing Penn State for $4 million, saying he was essentially fired for truthfully testifying about how he told his superiors about the incident. He claims that instead of protecting him as a whistleblower, the university used him as a scapegoat. 

•Victim 1, who was a Clinton County high school student when Sandusky abused him, also has sued Penn State. He has a book scheduled for release this month. Other victims are expected to sue the university. Penn State has said it wants to settle with the victims. 

•State House Democrats are trying to force a vote on a resolution to urge the U.S. attorney general’s office to investigate the handling of the Sandusky investigation. 

•If elected, Democratic state attorney general candidate Kathleen Kane is promising a review of the Sandusky investigation to determine whether politics played a role in why it went on for three years before charges were filed in 2011. Some have questioned whether Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, managed the investigation while serving as attorney general in such a way as to not interfere with his gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

The fallout from the Penn State sex abuse scandal will take years to sort out.

According to the Patriot-News, Curley and Schultz are scheduled to stand trial on single counts of perjury and failure to report child abuse.

If convicted, they could face prison sentences. Attorneys for Curley and Schultz declined comment for this story, but other sources familiar with some aspects of that case said they were not aware of any serious plea negotiations to date.

Meanwhile, state and federal investigators are continuing to explore other aspects of the Sandusky scandal, including whether other top university leaders might have lied during the state investigation or been involved in attempts to conceal evidence.

Asked about that a spokesperson for Attorney General Linda Kelly’s office, said only that “we have an ongoing investigation which we’re not going to discuss.”

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Report: 2.5% to 4% error rate in capital cases

Samuel Gross, an author of a report by the recently created National Registry of Exonerations at the University of Michigan, calculated that based on the proven rate of exonerations among death-row prisoners in the past two decades, U.S. courts appear to have an error rate in capital cases of between 2.5 percent and 4 percent, reported the Washington Post.

In June, researchers examining biological evidence from hundreds of Virginia rape convictions between 1973 and 1987 determined that new DNA testing appeared to exonerate convicted defendants in 8 percent to 15 percent of cases.

Applied against the approximately 140,000 prisoners on death row or serving life sentences in the United States, the findings suggest that a number of innocent individuals could be in prison for crimes they did not commit.

But the odds that many of those convicts will ever be able to prove their innocence through the existing systems of appeals are remote, given the lack of DNA evidence in the majority of cases.

Damon Thibodeaux, a deckhand on a Mississippi River workboat, cracked at the end of a nine-hour interrogation and confessed to the brutal rape and murder of his 14-year-old step-cousin, Crystal Champagne, reported the Post.

“I didn’t know that I had done it,” Thibodeaux said at one point, according to a police transcript. “But I done it.”

Before that day was over, Thibodeaux had recanted his confession, telling his court-appointed lawyer that he told police what they wanted to hear in response to threats of death by lethal injection and his grief over the death of his cousin. Nonetheless, Thibodeaux was later convicted of both crimes and sentenced to die.

Recently, after more than 15 years spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement on death row at Louisiana’s Angola prison farm, Thibodeaux was released from prison.

Judge Patrick McCabe — who presided over the original trial in 1997 — issued a sealed order on vacating the conviction. With Thibodeaux’s release, he became the 300th wrongly convicted person and 18th death-row inmate exonerated in the United States substantially on the basis of DNA evidence, according to the Post.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Adam Walsh Act Costly

Last week, I wrote about Pennsylvania becoming the 16th state to comply with the Adam Walsh Act. The act was supposed to create a uniform system for registering and tracking sex offenders that would link all 50 states, plus U.S. territories and tribal lands. 

All states were to comply by  July 27, 2011 in order to prevent the federal government form instituting a annual 10 percent penalty on their Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Byrne (JAG) award.

Today we learn why complying with the Adam Walsh Act may be more costly than not complying.  California is sticking with its own first-in-the-nation sex offender registry instead of complying with a 2006 federal law that sought to create a seamless 50-state tracking program. California stands to lose nearly $800,000 in grant money this year.

However, the California Sex Offender Management Board, which advises the governor and Legislature, estimated in 2008 that it would cost the state at least $32 million to comply with the federal law, not including the cost of incarcerating offenders who failed to comply with the new federal registration regulations.

Pennsylvania stands to lose substantially more than it receives in Byrne grant money.  I wrote in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly last fall that states like Ohio had incurred enormous costs in defending law suites as a result of the new law.

The bulk of the cost in California, about $25 million, would have been for local law enforcement agencies to assess and more frequently re-assess offenders' risk of committing new crimes to meet the federal requirements, the board projected.

"California should absorb the comparatively small loss of federal funds that would result from not accepting the very costly and ill-advised changes to state law and policy required by the (federal) Act," the board said in its 2008 report.

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Nebraska and Texas will instead forfeit 10 percent of the law-enforcement funding made available through the Justice Department.

In Texas, a Senate committee conducted two years of hearings and recommended that the state disregard the law, citing concerns about juvenile offenders and other new mandates. The committee's report acknowledged the loss of an estimated $1.4 million. But that figure paled when compared with the cost to implement the changes, which could have exceeded $38 million.

The Arizona Legislature drew a similar conclusion, rejecting the law in 2009 after a committee determined it would cost about $2 million to fulfill all requirements -- far more than the estimated $146,700 in grants that would be withdrawn.

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

The high cost of jailing

The Youngstown Vindicator
October 7, 2012

For the first time in nearly 40 years, the number of state prisoners in the United States has declined, according to the U.S Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. While local jails have also experienced a modest decrease, those numbers may change with the diversion of state prisoners from state correctional facilities to local jails.

Why the diversion? State budget woes. However, local governments have not fared better. State aid and property taxes, which together account for more than half of local revenues, are dropping simultaneously for the first time since 1980, according to the Pew Center on the States.

A significant amount of local revenue goes toward corrections — the local county jail — and half of those costs can be attributed to inmates in pretrial detention. Those are individuals who have been arrested, accused of a crime — not convicted — who remain in jail awaiting trial.

Pretrial detention increased at the same time “get tough” policies drove prison populations through the roof. In the 10 years between 1996 and 2006, the number of people held in pretrial detention in local jails increased by more than 20 percent. According to a study by Northwestern University, fewer people were released pretrial without bail and fewer were granted bond.

In Pennsylvania, everyone charged with a crime other than first degree murder is entitled to bond. The criteria considered by the court includes the nature of the offense and the likelihood of conviction; employment status; family ties; length of residence in the community; prior bail history; criminal record and among other criteria, the defendant’s risk of flight.


In Ohio, bail considerations include “the seriousness of the offense charged, the previous criminal record of the defendant, and the probability of the defendant appearing at the trial of the case.”

The primary purpose of bail is to insure that the defendant appears for all future court proceedings. Bail is not punitive, its purpose is administrative.

Failure to grant pretrial release may come in the form of setting a bond that is beyond the defendant’s ability to post. Bond need not be a million dollars to be excessive. For some defendants a $2,500 bond, that may require a $250 payment to a surety company, is beyond reach.

What does that mean for taxpayers? If a defendant with a $2,500 bond can pay $250 he is out and on the street. If not, taxpayers are on the hook.

An informal survey of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio and Lawrence and Mercer counties in Pennsylvania found it costs between $65 and $80 a day to house an inmate.

If that inmate who couldn’t pay $250 sits in jail for six months awaiting trial, the cost to taxpayers is about $12,000. As of Oct. 2, Lawrence County had 239 inmates; Trumbull County had 292 and Mahoning County had 520. All three institutions say that more than half of those inmates are in pretrial detention.

That is not just a local trend. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, at midyear 2011 about 61 percent of inmates in local jails were not convicted, they were awaiting court action on a pending charge — a rate that hasn’t changed since 2005.

Flight risk

Some defendants being held pretrial belong in jail. Some are not eligible for bail, some are a legitimate flight risk and others a danger to society. However, some just can’t afford a monetary bond. Timothy Murray, executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute, says as many as 65 percent of those detained pretrial are there because they cannot afford the bond.

The first step toward easing the cost of pretrial detention is the ability to determine who needs to be detained and who doesn’t. Last year, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Laurie O. Robinson said, “focus on individualized assessments of risk, as opposed to making categorical assumptions based solely on charging and other factors that really don’t tell us what we need to know.”

Ohio H.B. 86 passed last year provides for adoption of a single validated risk assessment tool for adult offenders. Once we know who needs to be detained we can explore detention diversions for those who don’t need to be detained. House arrest, electronic monitoring and day reporting are all much more cost effective than sitting in jail waiting for trial.

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Federal drug prosecutions on the decline

The number of federal drug prosecutions is on track to drop by more than 14 percent this year, reported The National Law Journal.

According to the Syracuse University research center, during the first 10 months of fiscal year 2012, new prosecutions referred by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency totaled 11,782. At that pace, year-end totals would be 14.4 percent lower than during fiscal year 2011, according to a report issued on October 1 by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. The 2012 fiscal year ran from October 1, 2011, through September 30, 2012.

The 2012 estimate represents a decline of 16.3 percent compared with five years ago and 14.8 percent compared with 10 years ago.

The reason for the decline is unclear. The DEA's budget for 2012 is slightly higher at $2.04 billion, compared with $2.01 billion in 2011, and the number of positions and agents has remained basically unchanged.

New Mexico saw the highest rate of prosecutions per capita through July 2012, with 217 per 1 million people, totaling 364 prosecutions. The state also ranked first a year ago and five years ago. The other top five jurisdictions during 2012 were the Western District of Texas, the Eastern District of Arkansas, North Dakota and Kansas, The National Law Journal.

The federal jurisdiction recording the biggest projected drop in the rate of prosecutions was the Southern District of Texas, at 25.3 percent.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Tax, fee or surcharge -- public safety costs something

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
October 5, 2012

This week, during an address at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy, Gov. Tom Corbett applauded a new law that forces municipalities, with 3,000 or more residents, patrolled by the state police to give up their share of the traffic-fine revenue so that the money can be diverted to training of new troopers.

The new law took effect last month and ends the practice of giving the municipality where a traffic stop occurred half of the fine revenue.“It will provide millions of dollars annually for your training and it does so without a tax increase and in a way that directs services to the citizens of our state,” Corbett said.

Is this really not a tax increase? If a municipality like Unity Township in Westmoreland County receives $25,000 in traffic-fine revenue in 2012 and then receives $0 in 2013, whatever it’s called -- tax, fee or surcharge -- it hurts.

There is no question that the state police are understaffed. The total number of troopers is 471 below the number authorized. Even without a full complement the state’s 4,206 troopers provide full-time coverage for 1,295 of the state’s 2,562 municipalities and part-time coverage for another 425.

“That’s a pretty significant number,” said state police spokeswoman Maria Finn. She added that 650 troopers could retire by the end of 2013.

Why can’t the state pay for a new class of cadets? Budget woes. However, local governments are not faring much better. State monetary aid represents nearly a third of local government budgets on average. Nationwide, state aid fell 2.6 percent, in fiscal year 2010.

Not everyone thinks the loss of traffic-fine revenue is a good idea. “We have money and they (state lawmakers) want it. It’s that simple,” Thomas Kumor, chairman of the North Union Township supervisors said. “It’s not about police protection. It’s about money and their lack of it.”

Last year, North Union, located in Fayette County, received $15,000 in revenue from state police citations. “It won’t hurt the budget this year, but $100,000 over seven years buys a piece of equipment,” Kumor said, adding “It puts more pressure on us. We’re already stretched thin.”

The alternative may not be very palatable for local governments. Municipalities paying for their own police, or having to pay a special tax to the state, was bandied about during the administrations of Gov. Tom Ridge and Gov. Ed Rendell.

State Rep. Michael Sturla, D-Lancaster, introduced legislation to impose a $156 per person fee on some municipalities that are covered by state police full-time. He said residents who live in municipalities covered by state police should be paying more for that protection, as a matter of fairness.

Sturla’s bill would cost North Union Township about $2.2 million a year.

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Social media seeps into jury deliberations

A Franklin County, Ohio jury was deliberating a murder case last month when a juror announced that she had looked up the definition of a legal term on her tablet computer. Before she could read it aloud, other jurors told her she had violated the judge’s order not to do outside research. Less than two hours later, the judge removed the woman from the jury, reported the Columbus Dispatch.

“We’re all very concerned. These are just the times it gets reported. What about the ones who are doing it and not telling anyone?” Charles Schneider, the administrative judge for Franklin County Common Pleas Court told the Dispatch.

Judges in federal, state and municipal courts always have warned jurors not to investigate a case on their own. But the instant access that cellphones and personal computers provide to the Internet makes it easier than ever for jurors to violate those instructions and imperil a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.

In a national survey last year, 6 percent of federal district judges said one or more jurors in their cases had used social media to communicate during a trial or deliberations.

To combat that, nearly 30 percent of judges confiscated phones and other electronic devices during jury deliberations, and 22 percent did so at the start of each day of trial, the survey found. The majority only warned jurors verbally not to use social media, reported the Dispatch.

In some states, such as California, jurors can be jailed on contempt charges if they post information about a trial on social media.

But a study in the March edition of the University of Illinois Law Review found that it is “uncommon for jurors to face any consequences beyond dismissal” for Internet misconduct. It advocated penalizing violators.

To read more:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

California addresses juvenile lifers

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a bill into law that could bring about the release of some criminals who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison, reported The Associated Press.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles as unconstitutional "cruel and unusual" punishment. But the ruling didn't affect California's law because it already gives judges the discretion to impose a sentence of 25 years to life.

There are 309 inmates serving life-without-parole sentences in California for murders committed when they were younger than 18, second to only Pennsylvania.

California's SB9 would let the inmates ask judges to reconsider their sentences after they serve at least 15 years in prison, according to AP.

Judges could then reduce the no-parole sentence to 25 years to life if the inmate shows remorse and is taking steps toward rehabilitation.

California is one of 39 states that allow judges to sentence minors to die in prison. More than 2,570 people convicted as juveniles are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole in the U.S., according to the Youth Justice Coalition, a California-based group concerned with the treatment of juvenile offenders.

To read more:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Reducing Prison Population Through Sentence Advocacy

More can be done to manage the size of Pennsylvania's prisons, including the zealous pursuit of sentencing alternatives

The Pennsylvania Law Weekly
October 1, 2012

More can be done to manage the size of Pennsylvania's prisons, including the zealous pursuit of sentencing alternatives. As of August 31, the Department of Corrections was housing 51,508 inmates in 27 state institutions — 105.5 percent of capacity.

Building prisons will not solve the problem, although construction is under way in Pennsylvania. Construction is near completion at Benner Township near SCI Rockview and is under way at SCI Phoenix, two new facilities on the grounds of SCI Graterford.

This summer, lawmakers made yet another attempt to deal with ever-expanding prison growth. In July, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law SB100. The new law includes some modest steps toward prison reform. It expands eligibility for intermediate punishment programs, creates a sanctioning scheme that minimizes the number of technical parole violators returned to prison and diverts low-level misdemeanors from state prison, reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Pennsylvania's Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) proposed reinvesting any savings from reducing the prison population to create a risk-assessment tool for judges when sentencing defendants; to fund local law enforcement; and to give judicial districts an incentive to divert defendants to county jails, reported The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel said it was important that JRI funds be used to develop a risk-assessment tool to provide judges with solid information on whether a defendant might commit a crime in the future.

"The better and more information judges have, the better placement they can make," Wetzel told the Post-Gazette.

When Wetzel refers to "placement," one must assume he is talking about more than just being locked away in a cell at some state correctional facility.

For years, alternatives to incarceration have been based primarily on the recommendation of a prosecutor or the county adult probation office. The typical presentence report emphasizes the details of the crime, the defendant's prior criminal record and a brief outline of the offender's background. The report seldom lists mitigating issues nor expands on risk and needs of an offender.

There is a way to have an impact on incarceration rates, address the offender's needs and reduce recidivism. At the sentencing hearing, defense counsel would be wise to utilize the assistance of a sentencing consultant. Such a consultant has been referred to as a sentence advocate, sentencing specialist, post-conviction mitigation consultant or client-specific planner.

Whatever the name, planning and assistance at sentencing, including a formal report and testimony, are powerful and important tools available to criminal defense practitioners.

The term "client-specific planning" (CSP) was coined by Dr. Jerome Miller and elaborated on for the Canadian Solicitor General. CSP enhances the ability of defense counsel to provide an alternative to the prosecutor's recommendation. CSP is not necessarily at odds with the criminal justice agencies, but provides a meaningful alternative to the state's narrative.

CSP is more widely used in federal court in light of the landmark decision in U.S. v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005). The U.S. Supreme Court made the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines advisory. However, the opinion implored that sentencing judges "maintain a strong connection between the sentence imposed and the offender's real conduct — a connection important to the increased uniformity of sentencing that Congress intended its guidelines system to achieve."

That does not mean there is no place for CSP in state courts. The Pennsylvania Sentencing Guidelines permit a judge to impose a sentence outside the guidelines accompanied by a written explanation for the deviation.

In Commonwealth v. Holiday, 954 A.2d 6 (2008), the Superior Court found that the sentencing guidelines have no binding effect and create no presumption in sentencing. They are advisory guideposts that must be respected and considered.

The work begins once a sentence advocate is engaged. Retaining a sentence advocate should occur as a plea is being negotiated or the case is being prepared for trial. Making plans early in the process to retain a sentence advocate will ensure there is enough time to prepare a strong report. Sentence advocates come from a host of backgrounds, including criminology, parole supervision, treatment providers, law enforcement and former prosecutors, to name a few.

At the outset, CSP for advocacy at sentencing requires some context. The client's counsel must provide information regarding the posture of the case. Is the client considering a plea or preparing for trial?

Initially, access to police reports, criminal history, court transcripts and the court file are crucial. Pertinent information from bail hearings, the preliminary hearing and other pretrial proceedings should not be overlooked.

An interview with the defendant must include a detailed history, including social contacts, criminal justice contacts — juvenile and adult — mental health history, drug and alcohol history, medical issues, employment and education history.

A sentence advocate can order psychological testing, risk and treatment assessments. Testing can provide the court with a snapshot of the client's current treatment needs. For instance, the Texas Christian University drug screen is a widely accepted assessment that provides a simple numerical score on a scale of 0 to 9. The TCU screen can be used to support a recommendation for community treatment.

The Level of Service Inventory-Revised (LSI-R) is a treatment and supervision assessment that can also be used in assessing risk. Using a risk instrument can provide some comfort for a prosecutor or judge who is hesitant to consider sentencing alternatives.

A client should voluntarily submit to independent urinalysis testing while on pretrial supervision. A sentence advocate should document any pretrial treatment, in-patient or out-patient, attendance at group therapy, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, verify any counseling or mental health treatment, and note volunteer work completed in the community.

Once a clear picture of the client has emerged, the expert needs to identify the community resources, or, as Wetzel called them, "placements."

Based on the client's profile and needs, a persuasive argument must be formulated using evidence-based practices to support an alternative sentence that might include one or more of the following forms of punishment: county intermediate punishment 42 Pa.C.S.A. §2154.1, state intermediate punishment 42 Pa.C.S.A. §2154.2, work-release, county or state probation supervision, electronic monitoring, community halfway house, house-arrest, drug and alcohol treatment, in-patient mental health treatment or participation in a therapeutic drug, gun, veteran or re-entry court.

There are clear departures between a presentence report and a CSP. For instance, sentencing options are identified and documented in a CSP. The client should be pre-interviewed by the service provider and accepted for placement. A CSP must provide documentation that the client has been accepted in a residential treatment program or community residential confinement. Proof of employment is extremely important and a valuable component of any successful alternative sentencing plan.

Can a sentence advocate qualify as an expert? In Miller v. Brass Rail Tavern, 664 A.2d 525 (1995), the state Supreme Court held that qualifying as an expert witness requires a reasonable pretension of specialized knowledge on the subject under investigation. If, pursuant to Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923), the scientific evidence has "general acceptance" in the relevant scientific community.

However, even where a sentence advocate's expert status is uncertain or denied, the witness may be allowed to testify and even offer hearsay evidence at a sentencing hearing. See Green v. Georgia, 442 U.S. 95 (1979).

The written CSP and testimony at a sentencing hearing should include a clear analysis of any patterns that are extrapolated from the instant offense and criminal history that identifies mitigating factors suggesting the client can be managed safely in the community.

Finally, the CSP should include a section on evidence-based predictions of success in the community; research addressing recidivism, risk and substance-abuse relapse; and research that supports the sentence advocate's opinion imploring an alternative to traditional incarceration.