Sunday, November 30, 2014

Demilitarization of police dead in the water

The demilitarization of the police in the wake of Ferguson is going nowhere according to Bloomberg News.
Even by Washington's amnesiac standards, the efforts to reform the 1033 program that makes military gear available to police departments faded absurdly fast.  Politico published a report about how "substantive action on the federal level is an uphill battle," and that lobbyists for the cops were likely to save the military gear program.
So they did. While the National Sheriffs Association declined comment, the Fraternal Order of Police made executive director Jim Pasco available to talk about how the skeptics—like Paul—were defeated.
"Nothing much has happened except that some members of Congress had kneejerk reactions to the optics of Ferguson or the rhetoric of Ferguson," said Pasco. "They thought there was something problematic about the equipment they saw on the streets. In the intervening period, some of them have come to see that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s not what the equipment looks like, it’s what its utility is."
According to Pasco, FOP members reached out to "maybe 80 percent of senators and half the House." Since militarization was at the greatest risk in the Democratic Senate, the disparity made sense. As McMorris-Santoro reported, the departing Senate's blockade on Republican amendments made it impossible for Paul to attach anything to a passable bill. And the clock's basically run out for reform. A new Congress is coming in, but the FOP doesn't see it as particularly likely to dismantle 1033.
"I'm not, for example, optimistic about Rand Paul or whasisname from Georgia—Rep. Hank Johnson, the real scholar," said Pasco. (Johnson, a Democrat from the Atlanta area, infamously asked a witness in the House Armed Services Committee if the island of Guam might one day capsize.) "We wouldn’t be talking about Ferguson if it wasn’t for the fact that a white police officer shot a young black man, but a lot of people didn’t want to jump on that specifically. They jumped on this militarization issue because it made them look like being in the mix on Ferguson without being in the mix on Ferguson. Rather than be proponents of good public policy, they were practicing that tactic of political opportunism."
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Grand Juries rarely indict police officers, not so for everyone else

The failure of a grand jury to bring back an indictment is extremely rare, according to the website FiveThirtyEight.com.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.
Ferguson Police officer Derek Wilson’s case was heard in state court, not federal, so the numbers aren’t directly comparable. Unlike in federal court, most states, including Missouri, allow prosecutors to bring charges via a preliminary hearing in front of a judge instead of through a grand jury indictment. That means many routine cases never go before a grand jury. Still, legal experts agree that, at any level, it is extremely rare for prosecutors to fail to win an indictment.
“If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong,” said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. “It just doesn’t happen.”
Cases involving police shootings, however, appear to be an exception. Reuben Fischer-Baum has written, we don’t have good data on officer-involved killings. But newspaper accounts suggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that “police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings” in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment. Separate research by Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson has found that officers are rarely charged in on-duty killings, although it didn’t look at grand jury indictments specifically.
There are at least three possible explanations as to why grand juries are so much less likely to indict police officers. The first is juror bias: Perhaps jurors tend to trust police officer and believe their decisions to use violence are justified, even when the evidence says otherwise. The second is prosecutorial bias: Perhaps prosecutors, who depend on police as they work on criminal cases, tend to present a less compelling case against officers, whether consciously or unconsciously.
The third possible explanation is more benign. Ordinarily, prosecutors only bring a case if they think they can get an indictment. But in high-profile cases such as police shootings, they may feel public pressure to bring charges even if they think they have a weak case.
To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, November 28, 2014

Philadelphia police shootings down 75%

Deadly police shootings in Philadelphia have fallen by 75 percent over the last year as the Police Department has implemented a number of steps to reduce the use of lethal force, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer. 
So far in 2014, police officers have shot and killed three people. By the same date last year, they had killed 12. And in 2012 by this date, officers had killed 16.
In a wide-ranging interview this week, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said he hoped that the trend reflected the department's shake-up in training and tactics, which range from adopting a "statement on the sanctity of human life" to emphasizing "reality-based" weapons training for officers.
Ramsey met with federal officials to go over a draft of a new Department of Justice report examining the Police Department's use of deadly force. A Police Department spokesman said they reviewed key points of the report and the feasibility of the federal recommendations. In May 2013, the commissioner invited the federal experts to examine the department's practices as part of a "collaborative review." The request followed a Philly.com report that documented a spike in the number of police-involved shootings despite a citywide drop in crime. As the new policies have been phased in, the total number of shootings to date - fatal and nonfatal - has plummeted from 48 in 2012 to 35 in 2013 and to 18 so far this year, according to the department.

To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Maryland inmate: 'This is my jail'

A Maryland inmate Tavo White reportedly made $16,000 a month from smuggling drugs and cellphones into prison with help from accomplices, according to Metro.uk.
An FBI wire tap captured White saying, ‘This is my jail. You understand that,’ and claiming to control everything from contraband to mob hits within the prison.
White showered the female guards with gifts including cars and diamond rings. Four of those guards – Jennifer Owens, Katera Stevenson, Chania Brooks and Tiffany Linder – allegedly fell pregnant to White while he was behind bars
Owens had ‘Tavon’ tattooed on her neck and Stevenson had ‘Tavon’ tattooed on her wrist.
The details came to light after authorities busted a major smuggling ring inside the prison – and 13 female prison guards, seven inmates and five co-conspirators face racketeering charges.
Guards allegedly smuggled drugs and mobile phones into prison in their shoes for the ‘Black Guerrilla Family’, a gang which also operates on the streets of Baltimore.
All 12 officers have been suspended without pay, and the department is moving to fire them.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Florida cans corrections secretary

Michael Crews, the embattled secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, announced he will step down, after months of scrutiny involving abusive corrections officers, suspicious inmate deaths and a poor record of inmate healthcare delivered by private contractors, the Miami Herald reports.
Crews’ exit had been rumored for weeks.
It comes amid allegations of widespread agency corruption and the failure of Crews’ top law enforcement officer, Inspector General Jeffery Beasley, to investigate wrongdoing in the prison system. Crews’ deputy, Tim Cannon, will replace him on an interim basis. Crews, the sixth prisons chief in eight years, presided over the state’s largest agency, with 101,000 inmates, 56 prisons and 21,000 employees.
Florida's action comes only weeks after Mississippi's Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps  was indicted for corruption.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, November 24, 2014

Report: Federal BOP overcrowded and disfunctional

Michael Horowitz, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice, issued a report which examines a range of issues in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Justice Department, including civil rights enforcement, cyber security, management and law enforcement oversight, reported the Birmingham News.
Despite the fact that the inmate population dropped for the first time in decades, however, Horowitz noted that current projections indicate that prisons will be 38 percent over capacity by fiscal year 2018 - higher than today.
The $6.9 billion budget for the Bureau of Prisons in fiscal year 2014 was 25 percent of the Justice Department's discretionary spending, up from 18 percent in fiscal year 2010. The prison system has the most employees of any agency within the Justice Department, including the FBI, and is second only to the FBI in spending.
"First and foremost, the BOP must pursue strategies to reduce prison overcrowding," the report states. "It must also provide effective oversight of privately managed contract prison facilities, reduce the incidence of inmate sexual abuse, and prevent the smuggling of weapons and contraband into prison."
Sentencing reform advocates seized on the report as evidence that the federal government must do more to prevent long incarcerations of nonviolent criminals.
"Overcrowded federal prisons stuffed with nonviolent drug offenders are not only a waste of money, but eating away at public safety funding for other divisions within the DOJ," Families Against Mandatory Minimums counsel Molly Gill said in a prepared statement. "Building more prisons is not the answer, and back-end fixes like compassionate release, clemency, and expansion of earned time credits can only do so much. Reforming mandatory minimum sentences is cheaper, safer, and smarter than every other option on the table."
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 22, 2014

New Hampshire has fastest growing incarceration rate in the country

In the past two decades, New Hampshire’s crime rate has remained steady. It has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the U.S., and the state’s population has only grown by about a fifth.
As the number of incarcerated Americans inched up for the first time in four years, the prison population in small, largely rural New Hampshire grew faster than any other state. The 8.2% increase in the Granite State topped second-place Nebraska’s 6.8% rise and far outpaced the 0.3% national increase in the number of inmates, according to figures released this fall by the U.S. Department of Justice.
A bipartisan effort in New Hampshire was meant to cut a prison population that had been growing for decades. According to the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, state prisoners increased from 287 in 1980 to 1,250 by 1990 and 2,847 by 2008. A policy called Truth in Sentencing, which reduced early releases for inmates based on good behavior, contributed to that growth. The Justice Reinvestment Act, as the 2010 law was known, undid many of those guidelines.
 
 
 

To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, November 21, 2014

Utah lawmakers looking to bring back firing squad

Ten years after banning the use of firing squads in state executions, this week Utah lawmakers endorsed a proposal to allow the practice again to avoid problems with lethal-injection drugs, reported NBC News.
The proposal from Republican Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield would call for a firing squad if the state cannot obtain the lethal injection drugs 30 days before the scheduled execution. Utah dropped firing squads out of concern about the media attention, but Ray said it's the most humane way to execute someone because the inmate dies instantly.   
"We have to have an option," Ray told reporters Wednesday. "If we go hanging, if we go to the guillotine, or we go to the firing squad, electric chair, you're still going to have the same circus atmosphere behind it. So is it really going to matter?"        
An interim panel of Utah lawmakers approved the idea on a 9-2 vote. The proposal still needs to go through the full legislative process once lawmakers convene for their annual session in January. Under current law, death by firing squad is only an option for criminals sentenced to death before 2004. It was last used in 2010.
For years, states used a three-drug combination to execute inmates, but European drugmakers have refused to sell them to prisons and corrections departments out of opposition to the death penalty. That move has led states to use different types, combinations and doses of lethal drugs, but those methods have been challenged in court.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Missouri carries out its 9th execution of 2014

The 33rd Execution of 2014
Leon Vincent Taylor was executed on November 19, 2014 in Missouri.  He killed a suburban Kansas City gas station attendant in front of the worker's young stepdaughter in 1994. His execution was the ninth execution in Missouri this year, reported the Kansas City Star.
Taylor, 56, was pronounced dead at 12:22 a.m. at the state prison in Bonne Terre, minutes after receiving a lethal injection. With Taylor's death, 2014 ties 1999 for having the most executions in a year in Missouri.
Taylor shot worker Robert Newton to death in front of Newton's 8-year-old stepdaughter during a gas station robbery in Independence, Missouri. Taylor tried to kill the girl, too, but the gun jammed.
Taylor's fate was sealed Tuesday when Gov. Jay Nixon declined to grant clemency and the U.S. Supreme Court turned down his appeal.
His body covered by a white sheet, Taylor could be seen in the execution chamber talking to family members through the glass in an adjacent room. Once the state started injecting 5 grams of pentobarbital, Taylor's chest heaved for several seconds then stopped. His jaw went slack and he displayed no other movement for the rest of the process.

To read more CLICK HERE

Florida executes man for murder of woman and daughter

The 32nd Execution of 2014
Chadwick Banks was executed in Florida on November 13, 2014. He fatally shot his sleeping wife and then raped and killed his 10-year-old stepdaughter 22 years ago, reported The Associated Press.
The forty-three-year-old Banks was pronounced dead at 7:27 AM after a lethal injection at a Florida State Prison, the office of Gov. Rick Scott said.
Banks was condemned for the September 1992 killing of 10-year-old Melody Cooper. Banks also received a life sentence for the murder of his wife, Cassandra Banks, in a community outside the state capital of Tallahassee.
Authorities said Banks was drinking and playing pool at a bar before going home about 3 a.m. the night of the slayings. Banks shot his wife point-blank in the head and then raped and shot his stepdaughter, according to authorities.
To read more CLICK HERE

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Prison population expected to rise through 2018

The population of inmates in state prisons is on the rise, according to projections from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project, reported The Crime Report.
Researchers for the project collected projections from 34 states and found the country’s overall state prison population is expected to rise 3 percent by 2018. However, researchers note that "when measured against projected growth in the U.S. population, however, the overall state imprisonment rate could remain steady or even decline by 2018.”
Among those in Pew’s study, 28 states expect increases in their inmate populations; Iowa projected the largest increase (16 percent).
Pennsylvania expects the greatest decline in inmate population (6 percent); six states total project declines.
“This snapshot suggests that, without policy reforms, the recent uptick in the number of state inmates reported by the Justice Department in 2014—the first increase in four years—could continue over the next four years,” researchers write.
Read the full study HERE.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Holder: America may one day execute an innocent person

U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder reflected on his legacy in an interview with the Marshall Project, the criminal justice-themed journalism venture headed by former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, reported the Wall Street Journal.
Here is what he had to say about the death penalty:
Mr. Holder, who says he is personally opposed to capital punishment, predicted that America will one day execute an innocent death-row inmate, if it hasn’t already.
“Men and women who are dedicated, but dedicated men and women can make mistakes. And I find it hard to believe that in our history that has not happened,” Mr. Holder said. “I think at some point, we will find a person who was put to death and who should not have been, who was not guilty of a crime,” he said, taking issue with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s suggestion in 2006 that the nation’s capital punishment system has never made such an error.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, November 17, 2014

Justice Reinvestment Working for North Carolina

Three and a half years ago North Carolina passed wide-ranging legislation designed to address the state's soaring prison population and budget, high recidivism rates and thin behavioral treatment programs for offenders.
According to a new report from a nonprofit group that helped lawmakers facilitate the law's creation, the "Justice Reinvestment Act" is exceeding expectations laid out in 2011, reported the Associated Press.
The Council of State Governments Justice Center told a General Assembly oversight committee on criminal justice matters that the state prison population has declined by 3,400 offenders within three years to under 38,000 inmates, or hundreds below projected levels expected under the law by mid-2017. Ten prisons also have closed, contrasting with a prison building spree in the early 2000s.
Overall, the state is on track to save or avoid $560 million in spending on prisons and other government services by mid-2017 because of the reforms, the report said.
"The way North Carolina did it is truly unique and something to be proud of," said Marshall Clement, the center's director of state initiatives, told the panel last week to provide a three-year update. "You've beaten those projections."
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Philadelphia secret grand jury protects witnesses

Witness intimidation is common in cases of violent crime, especially in tight-knit Philadelphia neighborhoods where people spend their entire lives surrounded by the same faces, reported the Philadelphia Inquirer.
But to have a cooperating witness killed? That's uncommon, according to prosecutors.
After two witnesses were killed in Philadelphia the district attorney sought help from the state.
In January 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court began allowing criminal cases to be brought before an indicting grand jury instead of taking the standard path of publicly accessible hearings.
Since that alternative was introduced, the D.A.'s office has used it in more than 1,000 cases, according to Deputy District Attorney John Delaney, who supervises the office's trial division, including the homicide unit.
"It's an important tool for us to help reluctant witnesses who have been intimidated, or who live where there has been intimidation pervasive in the community, to take the first step of cooperation," he said.
When a case is brought before a grand jury, the prosecution's witnesses testify without cross-examination from a defense attorney. In fact, the defendant and attorney aren't even present during the testimony.
"Witness intimidation is something that we're incredibly concerned about," Delaney said. "Is it something we have to guard against and be prudent about? Of course."
And now, because of the changes allowed by the high court, he said, "it's an exceedingly rare event for a witness to be harmed for cooperating with police or the prosecution."

To read more CLICK  HERE

Friday, November 14, 2014

Outgoing Arkansas governor to pardon son's drug conviction

Outgoing Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said he plans to pardon his son's felony marijuana conviction, arguing he deserves the same second chance as hundreds of other nonviolent offenders, reported ABC News.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the two-term Democratic governor would pardon Kyle Beebe, 34, who was convicted in 2003 of felony marijuana possession with intent to deliver. DeCample said the governor planned to formally announce his intent to pardon his son in early December.
Beebe is leaving office in January due to term limits, and is being succeeded by Republican Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson. DeCample said Beebe has issued more than 700 pardons since taking office in 2007.
"A significant number of those have been young first time drug offenders because he believes that if you make a mistake especially with nonviolent crime and you straighten your life out, you deserve a second chance," DeCample said. "There's no reason why he wouldn't hold his son to that same standard."
Little Rock television station KATV first reported on Beebe's plans earlier Wednesday. The governor told the station he believed his son had grown since the 2003 conviction. His son applied for a pardon in June.
"I would have done it a long time ago if he'd have asked, but he took his sweet time about asking," Beebe told KATV. "He was embarrassed. He's still embarrassed, and frankly, I was embarrassed and his mother was embarrassed. All of the families that go through that, it's tough on the families, but hopefully the kids learn."
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Martin Horn: Ten Prison Reform Suggestions

Martin F Horn is the former Secretary of Corrections of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction. Below is an excerpt from his “Human Dignity Lecture” delivered at the Center for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

Ten Prison Reform Suggestions
  1. First, increase transparency. In 2008, the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates approved a resolution urging federal, state and local governments to establish independent oversight bodies to regularly monitor and report publicly on conditions in correctional facilities. It’s a good idea and every state should establish such bodies. Transparency recognizes that prisons and jails deprive our neighbors of their liberty in our name. As citizens, all of us must take an interest in the condition of our prisons and jails or nothing will change. We bear responsibility for them and we must remain vigilant daily about their operation. And bearing witness both to the best and the worst that occurs balances the representations in the media with the truth about imprisonment. It is our civic duty. If our prisons and jails are hellish, it is because we allow them to be. Additionally, we can further transparency if, as we close prisons we first close those furthest from the communities most prisoners come from; and if in the future we build we should do so in those communities so all can witness them and where advocates, clergy, attorneys and family members can easily visit the prisoners, and where the symbolic effect of imprisonment can be most effectively observed.
  2. Prisons and jails are the wrong places for our mentally ill. When the great experiment in deinstitutionalization was begun in the 1960’s it was supposed to be accompanied by the creation of a robust community mental health system. That never happened, and where it did it did not reach our neediest neighbors in poor communities of color. We overestimated the utility of psychotropic medications. Many of the men and women we see in prisons and jails are there because they are self-medicating, trying to ease their discomfort with alcohol, cocaine and heroin because they don’t like the adverse side effects of the drugs that have been prescribed for them. They turned to illegal drugs, got caught up in the war on drugs we have been fruitlessly waging these last 50 years and that is part of the reason we see so many mentally ill prisoners. We can change that by investing the resources and energy in finding ways to reach and help these people that does not criminalize their behavior.
  3. If prisons and jails are to be humane they must be safe places. Prisoners whose confinement is an experience in brutality are less likely to succeed when they are released. To do this we must resolve that they be drug free. Recently a close colleague who runs one of the biggest prison systems in the country told me drug testing at several of his prisons found over 20% of the prisoners using drugs. Drug use in prison is what fuels violence and corruption and is the economic engine from which prison gangs derive their power. Everything I know and have learned tells me that when we substantially reduce access to drugs in prisons and jails they become safer for the prisoners and for the staff. Yet, in too many prisons and jails today access to drugs is commonplace and accepted. That must end. There are ways to do it and every jurisdiction should accept that as a goal.
  4. Prisons should be places where prisoners learn that respect for the law and for others is how people in civil society behave. This means that the staff must respect the law and each other as well as their charges. We must build within our prisons a culture of integrity. We won’t teach prisoners to obey the law by breaking it and we don’t teach respect for the rules by violating them. How prison staff relates to each other and to the prisoners is the most powerful way to teach the prisoner how to be part of a civil community. The goal of prisons should be to release better citizens, not better criminals. 
  5. Today, one can’t expect to find work if one can’t read and write. There is no excuse for prisons not educating all prisoners to at least the high school level, and even beyond. We can teach people how to work, even if we can’t teach everyone to be a skilled machinist or computer technician. Work ennobles us, work gives us an identity. Whether one is painting the prison, peeling potatoes or fixing its plumbing one can learn to take pride in one’s work, to be responsible, to work with other and to be supervised. These are skills everyone needs on the outside. Prisons and jails can work on those things. Prisons are better at doing those things than they are at psychology.
  6. Prisons and jails should adopt performance management techniques, similar to the NYPD’s famous COMPSTAT to track progress in promoting the safety of prisoners, staff and the public and to hold managers accountable for results. If you don’t measure it you can’t manage it and the management of safety in prisons must be their highest priority. There are models for doing this and they should be replicated.
  7. End the demonization of prisoners. Embrace the notion that the people in prison are our neighbors, the children of our community and deserving of our concern. They are all returning home to the places they left and it is in our self-interest to see that they return with better prospects and better equipped to succeed than when they left. The National Academies report suggested that in addition to being parsimonious in our use of imprisonment, and limiting punishment to that which is appropriate to the offense, we should ask of our prison system that it recognize and promote the citizenship of prisoners and that it operate in a fashion that is consistent with social justice, and promote “society’s aspirations for a fair distribution of rights, resources, and opportunities. ”Behaving that way should obligate prison officials and our communities to adopt a standard of care that tells us to treat every prisoner as we would want our own son or daughter treated if they were imprisoned. It should cause our communities to accept their responsibility for the reintegration of these formerly incarcerated persons and not expect “the State” to take care of it.
  8. Prisons can’t change outcomes themselves, they need the support and the help of caring communities, faith communities, businesses and leaders willing to lend a hand by helping the man or woman released from prison to find a job, find a place to live. When the prisoner is released we cannot walk away from our responsibility to assist in his or her successful return. The state should invest in helping the released prisoner to find a place to live, to find a job, and to remain sober. If not, the failure is as much ours as the prisoner’s. We have to rethink the way in which prisoners return to their communities. Our present system of sentencing and parole does not support successful reentry to society. We should seriously consider fixed sentences, graduated release to halfway houses and more assistance to the released person rather than surveillance.
  9. Despite huge expenditures we have been miserly with the money needed to provide prison and jail officials the tools they need to do their job the way we wish it to be done. One of the great shames of our society today is the large number of prisoners in segregation, what some call solitary confinement. Unfortunately, in prison as in society at large, there are people who break the rules and a response is required. There are prisoners who are so dangerous that our obligation to the safety of the other prisoners requires them to be separated. But we need not and should not engage in the practice of solitary confinement. Simply put, it is wrong. Extreme social isolation is damaging and inconsistent with our desire to return people to their communities as productive, law abiding citizens. When prisoners must be segregated, the prison must take action to counteract the ill effects of extreme isolation. With sufficient resources, and with fewer mentally ill persons in prison and jail, administrators can find other, better ways to enforce the rules and keep everyone safe.
  10. Finally, we should repair the damage we have done to the communities most prisoners’ return to. We know that the unemployment rate for young black men is nearly 25%, twice that for young white men. That economic disadvantage is perpetuated by policies that deny education, housing and jobs to the formerly incarcerated and policies that count prisoners in the census where they are imprisoned, rather than in the communities they come from. It is made worse by disenfranchising them and allocating legislative seats to districts based on counting prisoners in the prisons rather than counting the prisoners as part of the district where they lived before going to prison. These policies dilute the power of poor communities of color while enhancing the power of prison communities. This is unfair and we should put an end to it.
To read the entire speech CLICK HERE

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Noble-Prize winners: End war on drugs

Five Nobel-Prize winning economists have signed onto an academic report titled "Ending the Drug wars," reported Business Insider.
The report points to a failure to stem the flow of drugs around the world in addition to other negative effects, including violence in Afghanistan and Latin America, the explosion of drug-related incarceration in the United States, and an HIV epidemic in Russia, Al Jazeera reports.
Far from winning the fight, the report says the United Nations' "one-size-fits-all approach" has instead created a $300 billion black market.
"It is time to end the 'war on drugs' and massively redirect resources towards effective evidence-based policies underpinned by rigorous economic analysis," the authors write in the forward of the report. "The pursuit of a militarized and enforcement-led global 'war on drugs' strategy has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage."
Signatories include Nobel Prize winners Kenneth Arrow (1972), Christopher Pissarides (2010), Thomas Schelling (2005) Vernon Smith (2002) and Oliver Williamson (2009), as well as George Shultz, former Secretary of State under President Reagan, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg,
and former NATO and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

To read more CLICK HERE 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

FBI: Violent crime dropped 4.4% last year

Violent crimes reported to the police dropped 4.4 percent last year according to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report, reported The Crime Report.
The FBI compilation continued a 5-year trend of violent crime reductions. The FBI defines violent crime as including murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The national murder total last year was 14,196, compared with 14,827 in 2012.
The Justice Department's annual victimization survey, released in September, found that the rate of violent crime declined slightly last year from 26.1 victimizations per 1,000 persons in 2012 to 23.2 per 1,000 in 2013.  That report, which is based on a survey of Americans, found no statistically significant change in the rate of serious violent crime (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault).
The FBI reported a national arrest total was 11,302,102, including 1,501,043 for drug offenses, the highest sub-category. Both numbers were down from 2012, when there were 12,196,951 arrests, including 1,552,432 drug arrests.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, November 10, 2014

Report: Solitary confinement is torture

The UNC School of Law's Immigration/Human Rights Clinic recently released a study that equates solitary confinement with torture, according to The Fayetteville Observer.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina is among the organizations that supported the university's 217-page study, which provides a blunt assessment:
"Our conclusion is straightforward and simple: solitary confinement is ineffective at decreasing violence within prisons; it is ineffective at preserving public safety; it is ineffective at managing scarce monetary resources; and it violates the boundaries of human dignity and justice. Prison officials and the courts must find a way to end the practice without delay."
The study, titled "Solitary Confinement as Torture," says the state places an "inordinately high proportion" of prisoners in solitary confinement - nearly 10 percent of the state's 37,628 prisoners were in control units. The report says the percentage does not appear to include disciplinary and administrative segregation, "which could push the number of prisoners in solitary conditions much, much higher."
The report says prisoners are "confined for 22-24 hours a day to small concrete boxes. The air is recirculated, reeking of the putrid environment in which it is trapped. Human interaction is limited to the give-and-take with corrections officers, who often suffer institutional dehumanization that leaves them indifferent to the suffering of their wards."
One of the study's authors, UNC Professor Deborah M. Weissman, said the N.C. Department of Correction's recommended improvements "do not address the fact that it is too easy to place prisoners in solitary and too difficult to get out. As a form of punishment, it is meted out without adequate due process protections and crosses the threshold of acceptable punishment. We suggest it is a form of torture."
Weissman said studies clearly show that extreme isolation causes severe psychological problems for prisoners who previously did not have mental problems and exacerbates such conditions for those who do.
"Based on the criminological and mental health research, we urge the end of the practice of solitary confinement for everyone - prisoners with mental health illness and those without," Weissman said. "Solitary confinement is not about physical protection of prisoners from each other or correctional officers. Rather, it is a means of punishment that fails to achieve any goals."
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Op-Ed John Wetzel: Fixing America's Broken Corrections System Needs to Start on the Inside

An interesting Op-Ed by Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel-published on-line by Vice.com.
"How did we get here?"
I hear this question every time the topic of conversation turns to America's so-called mass incarceration, which is not an uncommon topic of conversation when you're running one of the largest prison systems in the country.
The answer to the question is actually simple: We chose to. We chose to respond to behavioral health issues with a punitive approach. We chose to extend sentences for violent crimes. We chose to fight the war on drugs on one front (enforcement), and ignore the other front (treatment), when clearly the response to the drug crisis requires a balanced attack.
And so instead of asking how we got here, we should be asking this: Do we collectively have the courage to change things?
If policymakers continue passing bills that increase both the number of people sent to prison and the length of time they spend there, the numbers of inmates and all the taxpayer costs associated with that growth will only escalate. Instead, we can reduce the numbers through investment in evidence-based policies, addiction treatment, and community re-entry programs.
A true justice system is one in which the response to a crime is equal to the crime. That response must also be the one most likely to yield the result we seek: That after contact with our system, the individual is less likely to commit another crime.
Which is why it's time my fellow correctional professionals and I stop calling ourselves "correctional" until we are all committed to creating an environment that is actually conducive to corrections, and where people can get well. "Care, Custody, and Control," three tenets in the corrections field, should be achieved as a logical result of professionals doing their jobs — they should not be the ultimate goal. Similarly, "Safe, Secure, and Humane Facilities" need to be the very least that we offer, not what we strive for.
Compare the medical field and the corrections field. There's an ample body of research in both. In the medical field, when supporting research indicates a practice is bad, the practice is changed. However, in corrections, when research indicates something is not a good practice, we say, "Well, we've always done it that way."
For example, Hawaii has had tremendous success reducing the drug use of parolees through an approach called HOPE (Hawaii's Opportunity Probation with Enforcement). The HOPE model delivers swift and certain punishment for specifically identified inappropriate behavior among parolees, resulting in immediate but brief terms of incarceration — the length of stay is not the key factor. While some systems, including Washington state's, are beginning to replicate the HOPE model, most are reticent to embrace it despite its clear success.
For their part, policymakers must stop using the fa├žade of public safety to pass bad public policy. We need to replace anecdote-driven measures — such as reacting to a single specific crime with a new law that widens the net well beyond the intended target — with research-based policies that identify a goal and have built-in mechanisms to collect data on the way to achieving that goal.
If our approach to crime is really about justice, initial sentences should include a finite path to automatic expungement of the person's record, putting an end to the burdens a criminal record places on people. At sentencing, when all the interested parties have the opportunity to be present and heard, a judge could sentence the accused to both a period of sanction and a timeframe after which, assuming the individual remains crime-free, his or her record will be presumptively expunged.
The cost of our flawed approach to crime is costing a lot more than tax dollars — it's costing lives. Not just the lives of those incarcerated, but also of their families and especially their children. I think of the trauma of the 81,000 kids in Pennsylvania who have a parent in a state prison. Many of these parents are incarcerated for non-violent offenses or technical parole violations, and they aren't watching their kids' football games, helping them with homework, or simply sharing a meal with them at the end of the day. What kind of future will their children have?
We must stop accepting and believing in the "tough on crime" knee-jerk laws that have cost Americans dearly for decades and will continue to do so for decades to come. And we cannot continue to condone corrections systems that deliver undesirable outcomes — or the collective lack of willpower to change them.
John Wetzel is Pennsylvania's secretary of corrections. Follow him on Twitter: @johnewetzel
Click Here

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Texas carries out state's 10th execution of 2014

The 31st Execution of 2014
Miguel Paredes, was executed on October 28, 2014 in Texas, reported The Associated Press. He was convicted along with two other men in the September 2000 slayings of three people with ties to the Mexican Mafia. The victims' bodies were rolled up in a carpet, driven about 50 miles southwest, dumped and set on fire. A farmer investigating a grass fire found the remains.
Paredes was pronounced dead at 6:54 p.m. CDT, 22 minutes after being injected with a lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital. The execution was delayed slightly to ensure the IV lines were functioning properly, said Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark. The procedure calls for two working lines.
Normally needles are placed in the crease of an inmate's arms near the elbows, but in Paredes' case, prison officials inserted IV lines into his hands.
As witnesses entered the death chamber in Huntsville, Paredes smiled and mouthed several kisses to four friends watching through a window and repeatedly told them he loved them. He told everyone gathered that he hoped his victims' family members would "let go of all of the hate because of all my actions."
"I came in as a lion and I come as peaceful as a lamb," Paredes said. "I'm at peace. I hope society sees who else they are hurting with this."
As the drugs began taking effect, he took several deep breaths while praying. He started to snore and eventually stopped.
The execution was carried out after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a last-day appeal from attorneys who contended Paredes was mentally impaired and his previous lawyers were deficient for not investigating his mental history.
His was the 10th lethal injection this year in Texas, the nation's most active death-penalty state. One other Texas inmate is set to die in December and at least nine are scheduled for execution in early 2015, including four in January.
To read more CLICK HERE

Friday, November 7, 2014

Mississippi corrections commissioner who presided over executions indicted

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps was recently arraigned in federal court on a 49-count federal indictment
Epps has abruptly resigned amid a federal investigation and the U.S. Attorney's Office has moved to seize his $359,000 Flowood home, his beachfront condo in Pass Christian and two Mercedes Benz sedans.
Epps resigned his $132,700-a-year government job on November 4, with a brief letter to Gov. Phil Bryant.
Rankin County School Board President Cecil McCrory also abruptly resigned his school board post on Wednesday. McCrory is listed as an owner of companies that have done business with the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Epps submitted a short resignation letter to Gov. Phil Bryant, saying, "I am retiring effective immediately today, Nov. 5, 2014," and thanking Bryant for "the opportunity to serve under your leadership."
For years Epps played a prominent role at each Mississippi execution. He would often give somewhat unusual, even bizarre, concluding remarks at every execution.  Typically it would go like this:
“The State of Mississippi – Department of Corrections has carried out the mandated execution of death row inmate....". “Through the course of years, the death row inmate was afforded his day in court and in the finality, his conviction was upheld all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“I ask that you join me in prayer for the families of the victims. The entire MDOC family hopes you may now embark on the process of healing. Our prayers and thoughts are with you as you continue life’s journey." 

Epps would often concluded his comments by commending the Deputy Commissioner of Institutions,  the Mississippi State Penitentiary Superintendent, Mississippi State Penitentiary security staff and the entire staff of the Mississippi Department of Corrections for their professionalism during the execution.
To read more CLICK HERE

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Surveillance reform takes a post-election hit

The Republican wave that swept Democrats out of the majority in the Senate has taken away at least some of the muscle behind congressional efforts to bring sweeping surveillance reform, reported The National Law Journal.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., one of the toughest critics of the National Security Agency, lost his reelection bid to Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. And Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., author of the Senate's USA Freedom Act, a leading proposal to rein in government surveillance, will lose his post as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in January when the chamber comes under Republican control.
Edward Black, a lawyer who serves as president and chief executive officer of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said he's bracing for an uphill battle for significant surveillance reform in the next Congress. His association, which represents Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and other technology companies, is among the tech and civil liberties groups pushing the Senate to pass Leahy's USA Freedom Act, which is pending in committee.

To read more CLICK HERE


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

California voters approve seismic shift in criminal justice system

California approved a major shift against mass incarceration on election day in a vote that could lead to the release of thousands of state prisoners, reported the Huffington Post.

Nonviolent felonies like shoplifting and drug possession will be downgraded to misdemeanors under the ballot measure, Proposition 47. As many as 10,000 people could be eligible for early release from state prisons, and it's expected that courts will annually dispense around 40,000 fewer felony convictions.

The state Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that the new measure will save hundreds of millions of dollars on prisons. That money is to be redirected to education, mental health and addiction services -- a novel approach that reformers hope will serve as a model in the larger push against mass incarceration.

The approval of the ballot measure could also help California grapple with massive overcrowding in its state prisons, which are still struggling to release enough inmates to comply with a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court order.

Although California once led the nation in tough-on-crime policies, like the state's infamous three-strikes felony law, Proposition 47 has led in every poll conducted since it was certified in June. The measure's supporters have been an eclectic bunch, from conservatives like Newt Gingrich and business tycoon B. Wayne Hughes Jr. to liberal performers like John Legend and Jay-Z.

The most vocal opponents of Proposition 47 were law enforcement officials who warned that the measure could make it harder to prosecute felony gun theft or possession of date-rape drugs.
To read more CLICK HERE

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Challenges mount to the effectiveness of sex offender restrictions

Few groups are as widely despised as sex offenders, reported Al Jazeera America. Activities prosecuted as sex offenses vary by state, but can include public urination, consensual sex between teenagers, streaking, prostitution, downloading child pornography and rape. In some states, law-enforcement officials distribute flyers to notify neighbors of registrants’ convictions. Some registrants are prohibited from using the Internet. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that indefinite detention at psychiatric hospitals — or “civil commitment” — of sex offenders is constitutional.
The first law requiring sex offenders to register publicly and for life was passed in California in 1947 and targeted gay men, according to Andrew Extein, executive director of the Center for Sexual Justice. But many of today’s laws have their origins in the late 1970s, when feminists and social conservatives worked together to publicize high-profile “stranger danger” attacks on children, says Roger Lancaster, anthropology professor at George Mason University and author of “Sex Panic and the Punitive State.”
Beginning in the mid-1990s, several laws went into effect that changed how sex-offense cases were prosecuted. In 1994, states were required to create databases of sex offenders. Two years later, Megan’s Law, named for a 7-year-old in New Jersey who was brutally raped and murdered by a neighbor with two previous sex convictions, allowed states to make those registries public. States passed their own versions of the law; in some cases, they required that neighbors be notified of paroled offenders’ previous convictions. Later laws moved those sex-offender databases online, created a national registry, required lifetime registration of people 14 years old and up and imposed harsh mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving children.
But almost 20 years after the passage of Megan’s Law, criminologists and judges, along with a burgeoning movement of sex-offender registrants and their families, are challenging not only the constitutionality of the laws but their effectiveness in reducing sexual assault. In January, a California court ruled in favor of a paroled sex offender who had argued that city and county “child-safety zone” ordinances prohibiting people in the registry from using parks, beaches and similar recreation areas were an unconstitutional form of banishment. In April, the state Supreme Court upheld the ruling by declining to review it.
Thirty-three states have opted out of at least some aspects of the law that brings registries online. Many, like New York, take issue with the 2006 federal law that requires states to list every person convicted of a sex offense on a public registry. Some, like Maryland, are considering removing the names of people who committed less serious offenses.
To read more CLICK HERE

Monday, November 3, 2014

Prison spending outpacing education spending nationwide

A report released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the growth of state spending on prisons in recent years has far outpaced the growth of spending on education, reported the Huffington Post.
Adjusting for inflation, state general fund spending on prison-related expenses increased over 140 percent between 1986 and 2013. During the same period, state spending on K-12 education increased only 69 percent, while higher education saw an increase of less than six percent.
State spending on corrections has exploded in recent years, as incarceration rates have more than tripled in a majority of states in the past few decades. The report says that the likelihood that an offender will be incarcerated has gone up across the board for all major crimes. At the same time, increases in education spending have not kept pace. In fact, since 2008, spending on education has actually declined in a majority of states in the wake of the Great Recession.
According to the report, rates of violent crime and property crime have actually fallen over the years, even while incarceration rates have risen. Therefore, it appears that states' more aggressive incarceration policies are behind the higher prison rates.
To read more CLICK HERE

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Virginia: Police can require cellphone fingerprint, not pass code

A Virginia Circuit Court judge has ruled that a criminal defendant can be compelled to give up his fingerprint, but not his pass code, to allow police to open and search his cellphone, reported the Virginian-Pilot.
The question of whether a phone's pass code is constitutionally protected surfaced in the case of David Baust, an Emergency Medical Services captain charged in February with trying to strangle his girlfriend.
Prosecutors had said video equipment in Baust's bedroom may have recorded the couple's fight and, if so, the video could be on his cellphone. They wanted a judge to force Baust to unlock his phone, but Baust's attorney, James Broccoletti, argued pass codes are protected by the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits forced self-incrimination.
Judge Steven C. Frucci ruled this week that giving police a fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key, which the law permits. A pass code, though, requires the defendant to divulge knowledge, which the law protects against, according to Frucci's written opinion.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the police need to obtain a search warrant to search a cellphone.
To read more CLICK HERE

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Public-Private collaboration needed to combat cyberthreats

There is a growing need for effective public-private cyber-security collaborations, according to a new paper released by the New York University Center on Law and Security, reported The Crime Report.
The paper outlines challenges and potential opportunities for partnerships between private companies and public agencies working to fend off hackers and data thieves.
There are barriers to effective cooperation, according to the paper. They include a reticence among many companies to work with government agencies, unless they’re in crisis mode.
According to the report, major categories of obstacles include, issues surrounding trust and control of incident response; questions about obligations regarding disclosure and expo-sure; the evolving liability and regulatory landscape; challenges faced in the cross-border investigation of cybercrime; and cross-border data transfer restrictions that impede the ability of companies to respond nimbly to cyberthreats and incidents.
Visit The Crime Report HERE