Crime and Justice News: April 5, 2012

April 5, 2012

Today’s Stories

– Connecticut to Become 17th State To End Death Penalty

– Judge OK’s Ohio Executions; One Per Month Scheduled Until 2014

– National Panel to Study Causes and Consequences of U.S. Incarceration Rate

– Gun-Rights Bills Advance in States, Congress Despite Martin Case

– Crime, Public Housing Voucher Relocations Linked in Chicago

– Stiff Sentences for Ex-New Orleans Cops in Post-Katrina Bridge Shootings

– Heroin Deaths In Oregon Up Again, Way Short of 1990 Peak

– George Will Weighs the Merits Of Legalizing Drugs

– FBI’s Arena to Retire, Run New Detroit Crime Commission

– GA Law Will Cut Some Penalties, Promote Problem-Solving Courts

– Gardening Work Said To Reduce Inmate Recidivism

– Philadelphia Detective Gets Clearance To Resume Popular Twitter Account

 

On every business day, Criminal Justice Journalists (CJJ) provides a summary of the nation’s top crime and justice news stories with Internet links, if any. Crime & Justice News is being provided by CJJ with the support of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, its Center on Media, Crime and Justice, the Ford Foundation, and the National Criminal Justice Association. The news digest is edited by Ted Gest and David Krajicek.

You may go to TheCrimeReport.org to search all archived CJN stories. To sign up for the daily digest, visit http://crimjj.wordpress.com Please e-mail Ted Gest at CJJ with concerns about the editorial content of our news items, to suggest news stories, or with general comments.

 

Connecticut to Become 17th State To End Death Penalty

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Connecticut is poised to become the 17th state to abolish the death penalty after the Senate passed a bill early today repealing capital punishment, the Hartford Courant reports. The 20-16 vote came at 2:05 a.m., after more than 10 hours of debate. The measure moves to the House of Representatives, where it has broad support. Gov. Dannel Malloy has pledged to sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

The fate of the repeal drive was sealed this week, when several one-time supporters of capital punishment indicated they were switching their stance. Several of them spoke, often in bluntly personal terms, in the floor of the chamber. “It’s no secret I have agonized over this issue,” said Sen. Edith Prague. A one-time supporter of the death penalty, the Democrat has changed her position twice since 2009. Today, Prague said, “I cannot stand the thought of being responsible for someone being falsely accused and facing the death penalty.” The bill would replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of release.

Hartford Courant

 

Judge OK’s Ohio Executions; One Per Month Scheduled Until 2014

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Can Ohio be trusted to conduct executions? The Columbus Dispatch reports that U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Frost said “yes” yesterday with some trepidation, clearing the way for the resumption of lethal injections after a four-month hiatus because of legal entanglements. Frost denied a request by Mark Wiles to halt his April 18 execution for killing a boy, 15, in 1985.

The state has about one inmate a month scheduled for execution until early 2014. Unless there is further judicial intervention, Ohio presumably is back in the capital-punishment business. Frost had blocked other executions in recent months because of a litany of legal complaints that Ohio prison officials had not followed their lethal-injection protocol. Frost decreed that Ohio must “avoid the embarrassments” of the past in the Wiles case, and move forward. “This court is therefore willing to trust Ohio, just enough to permit the scheduled execution,” he wrote.

Columbus Dispatch

 

National Panel to Study Causes and Consequences of U.S. Incarceration Rate

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Eighteen leading scholars and experts on corrections and related fields have launched a major project to study the “causes and consequences of high rates of incarceration” in the United States, says The Crime Report. The panel, chaired by Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, will examine the reasons for the dramatic increases in U.S. incarceration rates since the 1970s, which have produced one of the world’s highest incarceration levels-with more than 2.3 million people behind bars in U.S. prisons and jails at any time.

The topic has been widely discussed and analyzed for years by advocacy groups on the left and right, as well as by individual scholars. But the two-year, $1.5 million project, convened by the National Research Council (part of the National Academy of Sciences) represents the first time in recent memory that these issues have been subject to wide-ranging, cross-disciplinary research. It now is time to review the state of knowledge-to look at the causes of the high rate of incarceration and the consequences for society,” said Travis, author of But They All Came Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry (2005). Project funding is split between the National Institute of Justice-the Department of Justice research arm that Travis formerly headed-and the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation,

The Crime Report

 

Gun-Rights Bills Advance in States, Congress Despite Martin Case

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Despite the scrutiny of state gun laws after the February shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, state legislators across the U.S. continue to work on scaling back gun restrictions this session, says Stateline.org. The Kansas House passed a bill last month to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry their weapons into any public building that doesn’t have “adequate security,” like metal detectors or security guards. Oregon pro-gun legislators narrowly defeated a bill that would have banned guns on schools grounds, which included K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities.

Virginia repealed its statute that blocked residents from buying more than one gun a month unless they got dispensation from the police, and Oklahoma legislators are likely to allow gun owners to visibly carry their now concealed weapons. Legislation loosening gun restrictions is still gaining momentum in Congress. The national “right-to-carry” reciprocity act was just introduced in the U.S. Senate. It would allow any person with a valid concealed-carry permit to carry their handgun in any other state that issues permits. The National Rifle Association is heavily supporting the bill, which passed the House last year, 272-154.

Stateline.org

 

Crime, Public Housing Voucher Relocations Linked in Chicago

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Crime was worse in neighborhoods where former Chicago Housing Authority residents used vouchers to move into private apartments, says a new study reported by the Chicago Sun-Times. From 2000 to 2008, violent crime was 21 percent higher in neighborhoods with high concentrations of voucher-holding former CHA residents – when compared to similar neighborhoods without them, the Washington-based Urban Institute found. Property crime also would have been lower without relocated residents in those neighborhoods, the study said.

Violent crime dropped about 26 percent across the city over the same time period, according to the Chicago Police Department. The Urban Institute attributed about 1 percent of the decrease to the 1999 plan to knock down Cabrini-Green and other notorious housing complexes. “We are estimating crime went down less in neighborhoods where the ‘relocatees’ moved,” said Susan Popkin, an author of the study. In the past, the housing authority said there was no evidence of a link between crime and the relocation of public housing residents.

Chicago Sun-Times

 

Stiff Sentences for Ex-New Orleans Cops in Post-Katrina Bridge Shootings

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After hearing powerful testimony from victims of New Orleans’ post-Hurricane Katrina Danziger Bridge shootings and friends and relatives of the former police officers who fired at them, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt imposed stiff sentences yesterday on the five former cops who were convicted last summer, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The four defendants convicted of participating in the shootings themselves — which claimed the lives of two civilians, and badly injured four others — all face prison terms of 38 years or more, while the lead investigator was sentenced to six years. Robert Faulcon Jr., 48, got the stiffest sentence: 65 years in prison. Faulcon is the only officer tied to the second of the two fatal shootings on the bridge — that of Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally challenged man. Madison was felled by a shotgun blast to the back fired by Faulcon.

New Orleans Times-Picayune

 

Heroin Deaths In Oregon Up Again, Way Short of 1990 Peak

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Starting early last year, Oregon police reported seeing a big increase in the amount of heroin entering the state, The Oregonian reports. As the year wore on, the bodies kept piling up. By the end of 2011, 143 people, mostly young men, had died of heroin overdoses in Oregon. That’s 53 more than died the year before, and the most since the 131 who died in 2000.

“The numbers are driven by the availability of heroin and how cheap it is,” said state medical examiner Karen Gunson. “More than ever it’s just a flood–especially of heroin. It’s like a tidal wave.” Gunson said heroin deaths peaked in the state in 1990, with about 250 tied to the drug’s use. That number kept dropping until about 2005 when it gradually started going up again. She said the other factor driving the increase other than its availability is the fact that most heroin in Oregon is black tar heroin, which is not easy to cut with fillers that might decrease its potency. “When you use it, you have no idea what you’ve got,” Gunson said. “It could be 20 percent, or 60 percent pure.”

The Oregonian

 

George Will Weighs the Merits Of Legalizing Drugs

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Conservative columnist George Will, noting the campaign for decriminalization or legalization of drugs, says the U.S. should learn from the drug used by a majority of American adults – alcohol.” Twenty percent of U.S. prisoners – 500,000 people – are incarcerated for dealing illegal drugs, but alcohol causes as much as half of U.S. criminal violence and vehicular fatalities.

Will gives the case for legalized marijuana, saying it could be produced for much less than a tenth of its current price as an illegal commodity. Legalized cocaine and heroin would sell for a tiny percentage of their current prices. Legalization, Will says, would mean drugs of reliable quality conveniently available from clean stores for customers not risking the stigma of breaking the law in furtive transactions with unsavory people. There is no reason to think today’s addiction levels are anywhere near those that would be reached under legalization, Will says, promising to elaborate in a future column.

New York Post

 

FBI’s Arena to Retire, Run New Detroit Crime Commission

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Andrew Arena, 49, will retire next month as the top FBI official in Detroit to run the Detroit Crime Commission, a new nonprofit that says it is dedicated to dismantling criminal enterprises in metro Detroit, reports the Detroit Free Press. During his five years heading the FBI Detroit office, FBI investigations resulted in more than a dozen convictions of people involved in pay-to-play scandals. Former City Councilwoman Monica Conyers, who admitted she took bribes, is in prison. Former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is to go on trial in September.

Arena also oversaw the investigation of the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who pleaded guilty last year to trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Dec. 25, 2009. He had some setbacks, too, including the acquittal last month of seven members of the Hutaree militia, who were accused of plotting a violent revolt against the U.S. government using weapons of mass destruction. Three members have pleaded guilty to weapons charges. Arena spoke passionately about fighting public corruption and said he plans to continue to do so at the Detroit Crime Commission. Since joining the FBI in 1988 in Albany, N.Y., Arena has fought organized crime in New York, Youngstown, Ohio, and Detroit.

Detroit Free Press

 

GA Law Will Cut Some Penalties, Promote Problem-Solving Courts

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The Georgia legislature last week approved a criminal justice reform bill that would reduce sentences for non-violent crimes such as theft and financial fraud, as well as expands the number of accountability or problem-solving courts in the state for drug, mental health, and veteran offenders in an effort to bypass prison sentences, reports the Times-Georgian in Carrollton, Ga.

Gov. Nathan Deal said the legislation addressed a key issue because of high expenses associated with overcrowding in Georgia prisons and the high rates of recidivism, or repeat offenses, in the state. The bill is the result of recommendations by the Criminal Justice Reform Council, created by the legislature last year to study the criminal justice system and offer suggestions for improvements. Superior Court Judge John Simpson said that Carroll County has used its drug and child support court in lieu of jail time for several years successfully, and that success can be modeled in other areas as well. Carrollton Police Chief Joel Richards agreed that there is potential for problem-solving courts to reduce the number of repeat offenses.

Times-Georgian (Carrollton, GA)

 

Gardening Work Said To Reduce Inmate Recidivism

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Youth Today, now under new management, writes about The Garden Project and other similar programs for inmates to work on gardening. Correctional facilities that have offered such activities for awhile have significantly reduced recidivism rates, studies show. The WorldWatch Institute says the Sandusky County Jail in Ohio finds a recidivism rate of only 18 percent from those inmates who participate in its garden program, as opposed to 40 percent for those who don’t.

Graduates of the Greenhouse Program at the Rikers Island jail in New York City experience a 5-10 percent recidivism rate, as opposed to 65 percent in the general inmate population. Participants in The Garden Project at the San Francisco County Jail have a 24 percent recidivism rate, rather than 55 percent otherwise. Gardening programs that involve people at even younger ages show promising positive effects in not only reducing recidivism but also helping youth avoid first-time offenses. Sidney Morgan, the Community Works Leader for the Department of Community Justice in Multnomah County, Or., sees big changes in youth when they work in a garden.

Youth Today

 

Philadelphia Detective Gets Clearance To Resume Popular Twitter Account

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“The Fuzz” is back on the beat in Philadelphia, blasting out tweets to his devoted fans with an official seal of approval from the Philadelphia Police Department, says the Philadelphia Daily News. Detective Joseph Murray had more than 600 followers on his @TheFuzz9143 Twitter handle, but had been silent for nearly three months while police administration configured its social-media policy.

Yesterday, Murray was back on Twitter with a new, official handle, @ppdjoemurray, and his followers rejoiced. “I try to talk to people like normal, not cop talk,” Murray said. “I don’t take myself too seriously. I don’t use the word perpetrator.” Murray said police administration encouraged him to be himself, and he’s even going to be instrumental in training 10 to 15 other officers on Twitter over the next month. “They like what I do and they want to see more of it,” he said.

Philadelphia Inquirer

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Crime and Justice News: April 2, 2012

April 2, 2012

Today’s Stories

– Nearly Half in U.S. Say There Are Too Many Inmates, 1/5 Could be Freed

– Martin Killing Tops U.S. News Coverage; Accounts Sharply Differ

– 12 FL “Stand Your Ground” Cases Protected People Who Pursued Others

– U.S. Justifiable Homicides Nearly Double Over a Decade

– ACLU Finds Local Police Tracking Cellphones Without Warrants

– Millions in Forfeited Bail Uncollected in Texas’ Tarrant County

– As Prisoner Numbers Decline, 1/3 of Texas Jail Cells Are Empty

– CA Prison Gang Changes Could Cut Numbers in Solitary

– Prescription Drug Deaths Down in OH–Start of Turnaround?

– High Court, 5-4, Allows Strip Searching Minor Offenders in Jail

– McCarthy Shuffles Chicago Command Staff As Murders Spike

– Judge Overturns Fine For Virginia Tech Over Warning on Shooting

 

On every business day, Criminal Justice Journalists (CJJ) provides a summary of the nation’s top crime and justice news stories with Internet links, if any. Crime & Justice News is being provided by CJJ with the support of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, its Center on Media, Crime and Justice, the Ford Foundation, and the National Criminal Justice Association. The news digest is edited by Ted Gest and David Krajicek.

You may go to TheCrimeReport.org to search all archived CJN stories. To sign up for the daily digest, visit http://crimjj.wordpress.com Please e-mail Ted Gest at CJJ with concerns about the editorial content of our news items, to suggest news stories, or with general comments.

 

Nearly Half in U.S. Say There Are Too Many Inmates, 1/5 Could be Freed

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Nearly half of Americans told a new survey they believe there are too many prisoners in the U.S., says the Pew Center on the States. The survey of 1,200 likely voters found that 45 percent said there were too many prisoners, 28 percent called the number about right, 13 percent said there are too few, and 14 percent didn’t know. On average, voters believed that one-fifth of prisoners could be released without threatening public safety. The survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and the Mellman Group.

In other findings, 48 percent said it would be acceptable to reduce funding for state prisons. Eighty-four percent favored keeping violent criminals in prison for their full sentences. Large majorities favored reducing prison time for low-risk, non-violent offenders. Some 87 percent said they would allow such inmates to be released up to a year early if they have behaved well and are considered a low risk for recidivism. When given a choice between violent offenders serving five years in prison or four years of a five-year term, followed by supervision for a year, respondents favored the shorter-sentence-plus-supervision option, 67 percent to 26 percent.

Pew Center on the States

 

Martin Killing Tops U.S. News Coverage; Accounts Sharply Differ

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The case of slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin and shooter George Zimmerman has become the most covered story in the U.S. eclipsing the presidential election, says the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. The Los Angeles Times says the center found that about one-fifth of total news space recently was devoted to the shooting.

News consumers are getting radically different accounts of what happened. On Twitter and the liberal cable outlet MSNBC, Martin has appeared as an innocent victim of racially charged violence by an overzealous would-be cop. Conservative websites like Breitbart.com said the racial angle had been concocted or overblown, and the conservative DailyCaller.com implied that Martin might have been the sort of streetwise young man who would provoke a confrontation. The avalanche of coverage has not resolved the most critical unknowns: Who instigated the final confrontation? Did Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, have good reason to feel he was in danger? Did local police handle the case evenhandedly?

Los Angeles Times

 

12 FL “Stand Your Ground” Cases Protected People Who Pursued Others

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Since its passage in 2005, Florida’s “stand your ground” law has protected people in circumstances similar to the possible sequence of events in the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case, reports the Tampa Bay Times. The newspaper cites cases in which people pursued others, initiated a confrontation, and then used deadly force to defend themselves.

Citing the law, judges have granted immunity to killers who put themselves in danger, so long as their pursuit was not criminal, so long as the person using force had a right to be there, and so long as he could convince the judge he was in fear of great danger or death. The Times identified 140 cases in which “stand your ground” has been invoked, and many involve defendants whose lives were clearly in jeopardy. At least a dozen share similarities with what is known about the Trayvon Martin case, and they show the law has not always worked as its sponsors say they intended.

Tampa Bay Times

 

U.S. Justifiable Homicides Nearly Double Over a Decade

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As the U.S. homicide rate declines, more people are killing each other and claiming self-defense-a trend most pronounced in states with “stand your ground” laws, reports the Wall Street Journal. These laws, which grant people more leeway to attack kill someone who is threatening them, are attracting scrutiny after the controversial killing of Trayvon Martin, 17, by a Florida neighborhood watchman. Florida has one of the broadest self-defense laws of the 25 states with some version of a “stand your ground” principle. So-called justifiable homicides nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, when 326 were reported. Over that same period, total killings averaged 16,000 a year.

The data don’t capture why a killer felt threatened, or whether the victim was armed. In about 60 percent of justifiable-homicides in which the relationship between victim and killer was known, the pair were strangers. Among all homicides, when races differed, the victim was more often white. In justifiable-homicide cases, the opposite was true: The victim was more often black. Criminologist James Alan Fox of Northeastern University said that difference “is certainly, on the face of it, something that needs to be explored. Could it be an element of racism? You can’t necessarily assume that.” The full article is available only to paid subscribers.

Wall Street Journal

 

ACLU Finds Local Police Tracking Cellphones Without Warrants

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Law enforcement tracking of cellphones has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police, with hundreds of departments large and small using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, the New York Times reports. Cellphone companies are marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts, or provide other services.

Some departments log dozens of traces a month for emergencies and routine investigations. Police call phone tracing a valuable weapon in emergencies like child abductions and suicide calls, and investigations in drug cases and murders. Civil liberties advocates say the wide use of cell tracking raises legal and constitutional questions, particularly when the police act without judicial orders. Many departments require warrants to use phone tracking in nonemergencies. Others claim broad discretion to get the records on their own The American Civil Liberties Union provided the times with 5,500 pages of internal records from 205 police departments nationwide.

New York Times

 

Millions in Forfeited Bail Uncollected in Texas’ Tarrant County

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When police in 2003 busted a Texas man accused of dealing cocaine, a judge set his bond at $100,000. An attorney posted the bond, but the man jumped bail and years after the drug bust is nowhere to be found, reports the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. The attorney didn’t pay the $100,000. He hasn’t yet paid a penny. The bond forfeiture went into a kind of legal thicket, eliminating a big incentive for bond agents to track the suspect down.

The Star-Telegram found that in the past three years, hundreds of bond forfeitures, for some of the worst criminal offenses, have been delayed, dismissed, or settled for a small fraction of the amount. District Attorney Joe Shannon said, “The vast, vast majority of them comply, the vast majority of them show up, the vast majority of them deal with the judicial system as it comes along.” Critics question the effectiveness of the county’s criminal justice system when forfeitures amounting to millions of dollars go uncollected. “If the bondsman never has to pay a penalty, then what is the point of having bail bonds?” said Mark Holtschneider of Lexington National, a Maryland-based bail bond surety company. “The forfeiture must be enforced.”

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

 

As Prisoner Numbers Decline, 1/3 of Texas Jail Cells Are Empty

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Jones County, Tx., has an empty $35 million lockup to house 1,100 state convicts who never arrived, says the Austin American-Statesman. Such situations are increasingly common in Texas and across the U.S. because of declining crime rates, government budget cuts, and increased use of treatment programs that have deflated a 20-year boom in building jails and prisons.

The trend is drawing few cheers in Jones County and other places where taxes are going up to pay for the empty lockups. While counties mostly operate jails, which house pre-trial prisoners and those serving time for minor offenses, more than a dozen counties in Texas have for years housed state prison convicts – either in their county jails or in prison-like lockups built with the help of private firms. More than 30,000 of the state’s 93,000 county beds currently sit empty – both at county jails and at the ones built with county-private partnerships. “The problem is, there just aren’t enough prisoners to go around anymore,” said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden.

Austin American-Statesman

 

CA Prison Gang Changes Could Cut Numbers in Solitary

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California has for decades used long-term segregation to combat gang violence in its prisons, says the New York Times. Thousands of inmates said to have gang ties have been sent to solitary confinement for years, or in some cases decades. California corrections officials – prodded by two hunger strikes by inmates last year and the advice of national prison experts – has proposed changes in the gang policy that could decrease the number of inmates in isolation.

Depending on how California moves forward – critics say the changes do not go far enough and have enough loopholes that they may have little effect – it could join a small but increasing number of states that are rethinking the use of long-term solitary confinement, a practice that became common in the U.S. over the past three decades. The changes in California would represent one of the largest shifts in how it handles prison gangs since officials began pulling gang leaders, known as shot-callers, out of the general population in the late 1970s. “California really pioneered the mass segregation of gang members,” said David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project. “So California could start to show the way out.”

New York Times

 

Prescription Drug Deaths Down in OH–Start of Turnaround?

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Prescription-drug overdose deaths in Ohio inched downward last year for the first time in 10 years, reports the Columbus Dispatch. Four fewer people fatally overdosed in 2011 than in 2010. While the statewide decline is small, more than half of Ohio’s counties saw a reduction – including virtually all of southern Ohio, considered the heart of the problem.

The persistent correlation between the number of pills handed out and the number of drug-related deaths held true: 17 fewer people lost their lives in Scioto County. Credit for the possible turnaround is multifaceted: a concentrated effort to close “pill mills” that dispensed prescriptions or drugs in large quantities, a new state law cracking down on pain clinics, an active public-private education campaign, and doctors’ newfound awareness about the dangers of overprescribing addictive painkillers.

Columbus Dispatch

 

High Court, 5-4, Allows Strip Searching Minor Offenders in Jail

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Jails may conduct strip searches of people arrested on minor offenses, the Supreme Court ruled today, 5 to 4. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “Correctional official have a legitimate interest, indeed a responsibility, to ensure that jails are not made less secure by reason of what new detainees may carry in on their bodies.” The court ruled against Albert Florence, who complained that strip searches in two New Jersey county jails violated his civil rights.

Florence was strip searched after his arrest on a warrant for an unpaid fine, even though the fine had been paid. The court majority rejected Florence’s suggestion that new detainees who are not arrested for serious crimes be exempt from strip searches as “unworkable,” noting that the seriousness of an offense is a poor predictor of who has contraband. In a dissent for the court’s more-liberal members, Justice Stephen Breyer said, “I cannot find justification for the strip search policy at issue here-a policy that would subject those arrested for minor offenses to serious invasions of their personal privacy.”

U.S. Supreme Court

 

McCarthy Shuffles Chicago Command Staff As Murders Spike

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Amid a 35 percent spike in murders this year, Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy reshuffled his command staff, replacing commanders in five of the city’s 23 districts, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. McCarthy also promoted three supervisors to deputy chief positions. He said the changes were made to “strengthen the department’s ongoing efforts to reduce violence” and create a “more efficient departmental structure.”

As of Thursday, there have been 114 murders this year, up 35 percent from last year. Through March 18, crime has dropped 10 percent in the city compared with 2011. Because of the spike in gang-related murders, McCarthy is putting together an anti-gang strategy that includes getting patrol officers detailed information about gangs in their districts; keeping tactical officers in their districts to fight gang crime instead of assigning them outside the district, and improving the exchange of gang intelligence among the patrol division, gang units and detectives. In 2008, newly appointed Superintendent Jody Weis swept out 21 of 25 district commanders and replaced the first deputy and other top brass.

Chicago Sun-Times

 

Judge Overturns Fine For Virginia Tech Over Warning on Shooting

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Virginia Tech did not violate federal law in its email response time that notified students of a shooting before a campus rampage that left 33 people dead, the worst mass shooting by a gunman in U.S. history, said an administrative judge’s ruling reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The Department of Education had fined the university $55,000 for waiting more than two hours after the first round of gunfire to send out an email warning students, teachers, and others to take cover. Judge Ernest Canellos said the university did not violate a law requiring timely warnings of safety threats, and overturned the fine. “Yes, the warning could have gone out sooner, and in hindsight, it is beyond regretful that it did not,” he wrote. “If the later shootings [ ] had not occurred, it is doubtful that the timing of the email would have been perceived as too late.”

Los Angeles Times

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Crime and Justice News: March 30, 2012

March 30, 2012

Today’s Stories

– Albuquerque Police Union Stops Special Payments to Officers Who Shoot

– FBI Casts Wary Eye on Growth of ‘Sovereign Citizens’ Movement

– In ‘Big Step,’ NY Courts Can Allow False Confession Testimony

– Tennessee Legislators Take Greater Role in Oversight of Judges

– Concerns Over Financing Stall Juvenile Justice Reforms in Georgia

– Didn’t Trayvon Martin Have a Right to Stand His Ground, Too?

– Are Homeowners at Risk if Watch Captain at Fault in Martin Shooting?

– Discipline Is Rare in Cases of Prosecutorial Misconduct in Texas

– Shakeup and Headline Murder Create Bottleneck in MA Parole Process

– Texas Seeks More Time to Transfer Mentally Incompetent Prisoners

– VA May Shift Monitoring of Sex Offenders From Troopers to Civilians

– Crime and Delinquency Council Issues Annual Media Awards

 

On every business day, Criminal Justice Journalists (CJJ) provides a summary of the nation’s top crime and justice news stories with Internet links, if any. Crime & Justice News is being provided by CJJ with the support of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, its Center on Media, Crime and Justice, the Ford Foundation, and the National Criminal Justice Association. The news digest is edited by Ted Gest and David Krajicek.

You may go to TheCrimeReport.org to search all archived CJN stories. Please e-mail Ted Gest at CJJ with concerns about the editorial content of our news items, to suggest news stories, or with general comments.

 

Albuquerque Police Union Stops Special Payments to Officers Who Shoot

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Under pressure over its policy of paying officers involved in shootings, the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association said Thursday that it was ending the practice, reports the New York Times. Those opposed to the payments had characterized them as bounties since the practice was revealed last week by the Albuquerque Journal. The announcement was made at a news conference with Mayor Richard J. Berry and the police chief, Raymond D. Schultz,who said they ppposed the payments. “I feel very strongly that the practice of cash payments needed to stop, and I am very pleased that the union has made this decision,” Berry said.

The Journal reported that 20 Albuquerque police officers involved in shootings in 2010 and 2011 received payments from the police union of either $300 or $500. A written statement from police union president Joey Sigala said the payments were to cover some expenses for officers who have been involved in “critical incidents” and their families “to find a place to have some privacy and time to decompress outside the Albuquerque area.”

New York Times

 

FBI Casts Wary Eye on Growth of ‘Sovereign Citizens’ Movement

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USA Today reports on “a troubling re-emergence of an anti-government movement” that hearkens back to 1995, when Timothy McVeigh-angered by the government’s botched 1993 raid of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas-detonated a truck bomb outside the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people. In the past three years, there has been growing concern over activities of so-called “sovereign citizens,” who “claim to exist beyond the realm of government authority,” according to a January FBI bulletin to state and local law enforcement officials warning of the potential for violence.

The sovereign movement, estimated by the Southern Poverty Law Center to number 100,000 ardent followers and about 200,000 sympathizers across the country, is rooted in an ideology that rejects government authority at its most basic levels, from its power to tax to the enforcement of criminal laws, including common traffic regulations. Although the FBI does not track sovereigns by number, the bureau does not dispute the law center’s estimates, which have swelled dramatically a national anti-government network of related “patriot” and “militia” groups. Since 2008, the number of groups surged from 149 to 1,274 in 2011, the law center reported this month. The rapid growth, according to the law center, has been fueled by a collision of factors, from the troubles related to the struggling economy and foreclosure crisis to the election of President Obama, the nation’s first black president, to the government’s aid to Wall Street banks and automakers.

USA Today

 

In ‘Big Step,’ NY Courts Can Allow False Confession Testimony

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New York’s highest court said for the first time on Thursday that expert testimony about false confessions should be allowed at trial if it is relevant, reports the New York Times. But the court also seemed to set a high bar for determining that relevance: In a 5-to-2 decision, the judges upheld the convictions of Khemwatie Bedessie in the rape of a 4-year-old boy, arguing that the testimony of her expert witness was not germane to the specifics of her confession.

Still, the decision by the New York Court of Appeals was a welcome sign for defense lawyers and innocence advocates who have argued that police interrogation tactics can lead people to admit to crimes they did not commit. About a quarter of the convicts exonerated by DNA evidence nationwide gave false confessions, made self-incriminating statements or pleaded guilty, according to the Innocence Project. “That the phenomenon of false confessions is genuine has moved from the realm of startling hypothesis into that of common knowledge, if not conventional wisdom,” Judge Susan P. Read wrote in the majority opinion. An Albany Law School professor called the ruling “a big step.”

New York Times

 

Tennessee Legislators Take Greater Role in Oversight of Judges

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A bill that would reform how judges are disciplined won unanimous approval from the Tennessee Senate Thursday, as lawmakers accepted a compromise meant to increase the legislature’s oversight of the judicial branch, reports the Tennessean. Senators voted 30-0 to replace the Court of the Judiciary, which reviews and rules on complaints against judges, with a new 16-member board appointed by judges, legislative leaders and the governor. The unanimous vote increases the likelihood that the House would sign off on the measure, though a final vote has not been scheduled on companion legislation making its way through that chamber.

The new Board of Judicial Conduct would be created after years of complaints that the Court of the Judiciary did not aggressively investigate claims of judicial misconduct and was too closely tied to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which appointed more than half of its members. The measure, Senate Bill 2671, also sets up a procedure for investigating complaints against judges and requires the board to report regularly to the legislature on how grievances are resolved.

Tennessean

 

Concerns Over Financing Stall Juvenile Justice Reforms in Georgia

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A push to reform juvenile justice in Georgia failed over finances in the state legislature, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 246-page proposal was a rewrite of the entire Georgia Code that deals with children, including incarceration, foster care and termination of parental rights. It was the result of five years of work and assurances that reforming the juvenile justice system would save money and young lives that otherwise would be lost to the criminal justice system. But the would-be reforms died over concerns that local governments would have had to cover millions in costs, and the state would have to come up with more money. The bill had passed the House but didn’t get on the Senate’s final calendar.

“The governor knows we need significant reform in our juvenile justice system,” said Brian Robinson, Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokesman. “He agrees with the direction of the legislation, but right now, there are too many unknowns about the costs involved. Estimates vary widely, but we do know that it comes with a hefty price tag. The governor would like to see that issue resolved, so that we can move forward on these needed improvements.” Douglas County District Attorney David McDade, who was among the prosecutors arguing against the bill, said, “The difficulty has been good government costs money, and if we’re going to have to implement that [bill], we need the resources. We support the bill as long as it’s fully funded.”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

 

Didn’t Trayvon Martin Have a Right to Stand His Ground, Too?

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Didn’t Trayvon Martin have a right to stand his ground, too? Delores Jones-Brown, an ex-prosecutor and former director of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, asks that question in an essay posted at The Crime Report. On the night he was shot, Martin was tailed by George Zimmerman, who then pulled a gun on the teenager. Jones-Brown writes, “Under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, Trayvon was allowed to stand his ground and use force to defend himself. If the gun was visible as Zimmerman approached him, Trayvon would have been allowed to use deadly force against Zimmerman.”

She continues, “To Trayvon, Zimmerman was a stranger. The media has made much of the fact that there are no other witnesses to what happened except George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. That would mean that this child was being approached on an isolated street by a strange adult, with a gun, driving a big vehicle. Zimmerman is a threat, and Trayvon is in the fight of his young life-perhaps in the belief that he is fighting for his life. Ironically, I have not yet seen this version of the Trayvon Martin case portrayed in the media. Standard media analysis of this incident begins with Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and the applicability of the ‘stand your ground’ law to Zimmerman. Did Trayvon have no right to be afraid of this strange, large man, with a gun, who had been following him for some time, in a vehicle large enough to abduct him?”

The Crime Report

 

Are Homeowners at Risk if Watch Captain at Fault in Martin Shooting?

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Homeowners could be at risk financially in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, reports the Orlando Sentinel. The shooting happened Feb. 26 at the Retreat at Twin Lakes development in Sanford, Fla. George Zimmerman, who shot Martin, was the point man for the subdivision’s Neighborhood Watch. If he is charged with and convicted of killing Trayvon, the community’s homeowner association and property-management company will likely be sued by the victim’s family regarding the way the watch program was established and operated, said Donna Berger, a lawyer who specializes in homeowner-association law.

“They may wind up getting sued and getting hit with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and damages,” said Berger. “Who will pay is every member of the association, and they will have to make special assessments.().It’s a cautionary tale for other associations.” Located about six miles west of downtown Sanford, the 6-year-old Retreat at Twin Lakes contains about 200 two-story town homes.

Orlando Sentinel

 

Discipline Is Rare in Cases of Prosecutorial Misconduct in Texas

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In 91 criminal cases in Texas since 2004, the courts decided that prosecutors committed misconduct, ranging from hiding evidence to making improper arguments to the jury, according to Innocence Project data. Yet none of those prosecutors has ever been disciplined, reports the Texas Tribune. “It paints a bleak picture about what’s going on with accountability and prosecutors,” said Cookie Ridolfi, founder of the Northern California Innocence Project, who researched misconduct data in Texas and other states.

At a symposium this week in Austin, exonerees, lawyers and legal scholars discussed the need for increased accountability for prosecutors. The symposium was part of a national accountability campaign by the New York-based Innocence Project. Prosecutorial misconduct has become a national issue in the wake of the high-profile exoneration cases, including one prosecuted by Ken Anderson in Williamson County, Texas. A man served 25 years of a life sentence before DNA results showed last year that he was innocent. His lawyers discovered that Anderson did not turn over evidence that could have led to his acquittal. A rare court of inquiry is scheduled to consider whether Anderson committed criminal misconduct.

Texas Tribune

 

Shakeup and Headline Murder Create Bottleneck in MA Parole Process

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Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s revamped Parole Board has voted since last April to grant early release to 17 serious criminal offenders, most of them probably convicted murderers, but the panel has not notified any of the inmates – or the families of their victims – that they are on the path to freedom, reports the Boston Globe. The delay in processing applications for parole by so-called lifers – inmates serving sentences of 15 years to life – is part of a broader backlog that has built up at the Parole Board since a paroled lifer fatally shot a Woburn police officer, triggering a shake-up at the agency.

The Parole Board also has failed to notify more than 100 lifers that their requests for parole over the last year have been rejected. Prisoner advocates say the delays, coupled with stricter standards for releasing other inmates on parole, have contributed heavily to a 58 percent drop in the number of inmates who are released under parole supervision, from 1,028 in 2010 to 435 in 2011. “The total effect is more people in prison overall, and fewer people released under supervision,” said James R. Pingeon of Prisoners’ Legal Services, a group that provides representation to inmates. “It’s doubly bad.” The Parole Board chairman, Josh Wall, defends his agency’s performance, arguing that the new board is simply being more careful while coping with a shortage of resources.

Boston Globe

 

Texas Seeks More Time to Transfer Mentally Incompetent Prisoners

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Texas officials say they can’t obey a court order forcing them to move more than 150 mentally incompetent prisoners to psychiatric hospitals by June 1 because they don’t have enough space, staff or money to do so, reports the Austin American-Statesman. The Texas attorney general’s office has asked District Judge Orlinda Naranjo to review her January decision forcing the Department of State Health Services to start moving all current “forensic commitments” to state psychiatric hospitals. All such prisoners who arrive after June 1 would have to be moved to a psychiatric hospital within 21 days of a judge’s order.

Complying with the court order would cost between $39 million and $55.2 million, according to a motion for a new trial filed by the attorney general’s office this month. “The short timelines set forth in the court’s order makes it physically, fiscally and logistically impossible for DSHS to comply and indicates a lack of appreciation for the magnitude of the task and the complications inherent in implementing the terms of the order,” the state wrote in its motion. The attorney general has also appealed the ruling with the state’s 3rd Court of Appeals. Naranjo’s ruling stemmed from a 2007 lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Texas, a federally funded organization that is an advocate for people with disabilities, including mental illness. Over the past two years, the average prisoner spent six months in jail waiting for a hospital bed, Naranjo wrote in her order.

Austin American-Statesman

 

VA May Shift Monitoring of Sex Offenders From Troopers to Civilians

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Virginia State Police troopers’ duties to check on registered sex offenders could be shifted to unarmed civilians under a little-noticed provision in the two-year state budget pending before the General Assembly, reports the Virginian-Pilot. Tucked into the $85 billion spending blueprint is Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposal to hire 43 “non-sworn” personnel to monitor people “required to comply with the requirements of the Sex Offender Registry.” Under the current system, troopers and state parole and probation officers conduct semi-annual residence and employment status checks on thousands of registered offenders.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has said the switch would “free up troopers currently in that unit to get back on the roads” for patrol and other functions. However, the plan has triggered alarm bells for an organization that lobbies to change sex offender laws. Its implementation also is being watched closely by a State Police advocacy group. Mary Devoy, executive director of Reform Sex Offender Laws of Virginia, said: “We understand the state is looking to cut costs, but appointing inexperienced and insensitive rent-a-cops to conduct home and employment checks would be a big mistake.”

Virginian-Pilot

 

Crime and Delinquency Council Issues Annual Media Awards

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The National Council on Crime and Delinquency announced winners of its annual Prevention for a Safer Society (PASS) awards to print and broadcast journalists, TV news and feature reporters, producers, writers, and those in film and literature “who focus America’s attention on our criminal justice, juvenile justice, child welfare, and adult protection systems in a thoughtful and considerate manner.”

The council says it seeks stories “that illustrate current realities or the promise of reform, especially those that help people understand the complex issues surrounding the nation’s social systems.” Council president Alexander Busansky said, “With the national dialogue on the Trayvon Martin case, we have all witnessed the power of the media to shine a light on issues of justice.” He added that the PASS awards “recognize those who skillfully bring home to us the critical issues that affect justice and safety in our nation.” Click on the link to see the list of award winners.

National Council on Crime and Delinquency

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Crime and Justice News: March 29, 2012

March 29, 2012

Today’s Stories

– FBI Recants Suggestion That Agents Can ‘Bend or Suspend the Law’

– Police Footage Shows No Obvious Wounds to Trayvon Martin’s Shooter

– Facing Retrial, Some on TX Death Row Plea Bargain for Life in Prison

– State Trooper Shortage Pushes PA to ‘Verge of a Public Safety Crisis’

– Despite Perception, Many Big CA Court Awards Feature Biz v. Biz Cases

– Times Columnist: In Shooting Discussion, Pols Avoid the Topic of Guns

– Experts See Broader Ramifications in Acquittals of Hutaree Militia

– Post’s Dionne: Health Care Arguments Showcased Judicial Activism

– Judge Orders UC Davis Report Released, Though Without Most Names

– Officials, Citizens Puzzled by Murder of Muslim Mother Near San Diego

– EU Plans Center in Netherlands to Combat Growing Cybercrime Problem

– Meth Lab in a OH Nursing Home Linked to ‘Shake and Bake’ Method

 

On every business day, Criminal Justice Journalists (CJJ) provides a summary of the nation’s top crime and justice news stories with Internet links, if any. Crime & Justice News is being provided by CJJ with the support of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, its Center on Media, Crime and Justice, the Ford Foundation, and the National Criminal Justice Association. The news digest is edited by Ted Gest and David Krajicek.

You may go to TheCrimeReport.org to search all archived CJN stories. Please e-mail Ted Gest at CJJ with concerns about the editorial content of our news items, to suggest news stories, or with general comments.

 

FBI Recants Suggestion That Agents Can ‘Bend or Suspend the Law’

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The FBI once taught its agents that they can “bend or suspend the law” as they wiretap suspects, reports Wired in its Danger Room national security blog. But the bureau says it didn’t really mean it, and has now removed the document from its counterterrorism training curriculum, calling it an “imprecise” instruction. That is good, national security attorneys say, because the FBI’s contention that it can twist the law in pursuit of suspected terrorists is just wrong. The passage was included in 876 pages of training materials about Muslims and Arab-Americans.

The reference to law-bending was noted in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller from Sen. Richard Durbin obtained by Wired. A spokesman provided a copy of the document this week but refused to say who prepared it, how long it was in circulation, and how many FBI agents, analysts and officials received its instruction. The document notes that “under certain circumstances, the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.” Those circumstances include “the ability to gather information on individuals which would normally be protected under the U.S. Constitution through the use of FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act], Title 3 monitoring [general law enforcement surveillance], NSL [National Security Letter] reports, etc.”

Wired

 

Police Footage Shows No Obvious Wounds to Trayvon Martin’s Shooter

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Police station surveillance video from the night Trayvon Martin was shot dead in Sanford, Fla., shows no blood or bruises on George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who says he shot Martin after he was punched in the nose, knocked down and had his head slammed into the ground, reports ABC News. The video gives the first public images of Zimmerman since the shooting last month. His face and head are cleanly shaven.

The initial police report noted that Zimmerman was bleeding from the back of the head and nose, and after medical attention it was decided that he was in good enough condition to travel to the police station for questioning. His lawyer later insisted that Zimmerman’s nose had been broken in his fight with 17-year-old Martin. In the video an officer is seen pausing to look at the back of Zimmerman’s head, but no abrasions or blood can be seen in the video and he did not check into the emergency room following the police questioning.

ABC News

 

Facing Retrial, Some on TX Death Row Plea Bargain for Life in Prison

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Facing costly, time-consuming retrials of death row inmates, prosecutors in Houston have spared the lives of three defendants in the past several years by accepting plea deals for life sentences, reports the city’s Chronicle. Officials says it is a pragmatic approach after more than a dozen death row cases from 20 years ago have been overturned in recent years for flawed jury instructions. Three other men whose capital murder cases were reversed have gone through a second grueling trial and are back on death row.

The death penalty cases tied to flawed jury instructions continue to come back to Harris County as they exhaust their other appeals. Last week, Roger Wayne McGowen’s case was sent back for a retrial. The 48-year-old, on death row for 25 years, was convicted of killing a 67-year-old woman during a bar robbery in 1986. McGowen’s case is typical of what the District Attorney’s Office has to review before deciding whether to again seek the death penalty. The office has to balance the time and energy of redoing an old case against finite resources, which may mean a death row inmate can get a deal by pleading guilty to stacked life sentences.

Houston Chronicle

 

State Trooper Shortage Pushes PA to ‘Verge of a Public Safety Crisis’

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The number of Pennsylvania state police troopers continues to decline and will soon reach a dangerously low level, spurred by increased retirements and the state’s failure to pay for training more new police cadets, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That was the conclusion of both state police management and its troopers union, expressed to joint Senate and House judiciary committee members Wednesday. “If we do not proactively address our reduced ranks now,” said Pennsylvania State Troopers Association President Joseph Kovel, “it will reach a point of financial impossibility to do so, and we will all pay a terrible price for that lack of foresight. Pennsylvania, without question, is on the verge of a public safety crisis.”

He said 350 new troopers should be added over the next year, but that is something everyone agreed won’t happen because it would cost too much. But state police Commissioner Frank Noonan did agree that action is needed quickly to boost the ranks, which “continue to shrink.” He said retirements from the state police ranks are increasing — 180 announced so far this year, with more than 220 likely by June 30, compared to an average year of 150. That leaves the ranks at 4,282 officers now, compared to the 4,677 that are authorized.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

Despite Perception, Many Big CA Court Awards Feature Biz v. Biz Cases

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Complaints about anti-business lawsuits and astronomical jury verdicts are common, notes California Watch. But data compiled by the National Law Journal – and highlighted by the Consumer Attorneys of California, which fights restrictions on lawsuits – shows a different dynamic was in play in the state’s courts last year. The biggest verdicts in California in 2011, including a $2.32 billion award made by a jury in Los Angeles, came in lawsuits in which one big corporation sued another. That trend undercuts the complaint that abuse of the legal system is creating a poor business climate, argued J.G. Preston, spokesman for the lawyers group.

“The big money in California lawsuits isn’t going to people suing businesses, or even people suing other individuals,” he wrote in a summary of the California verdicts. “It’s going to businesses suing other businesses, typically in intellectual property or breach of contract suits.” The top three California verdicts involved complex business disputes in which hundreds of millions in profits were at stake. In the biggest verdict, St. Jude Medical Inc., which manufactures pacemakers, sued a Chinese medical manufacturer called Nervicon, claiming theft of trade secrets. The jury awarded $2.32 billion in damages.

California Watch

 

Times Columnist: In Shooting Discussion, Pols Avoid the Topic of Guns

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The controversial shooting death of Trayvon Martin near Orlando last month has devolved into a political debate over tangents, like hoodie sweatshirts, writes Gail Collins in the New York Times. “This is pretty much par for the course,” she writes. “Whenever there is a terrible shooting incident somewhere in America, our politicians talk about everything except whether the tragedy could have been avoided if the gunman had not been allowed to carry a firearm. You would think that this would be a great time to address the question of handgun proliferation, but it has hardly come up in Washington at all. This is because most politicians are terrified of the National Rifle Association.”

Collins continues, “The Violence Policy Center has a list of 11 police officers and 391 private citizens who have been killed over the last five years by people carrying concealed weapons for which they had a permit. That includes a man in Florida who killed four women, including his estranged wife, in a restaurant in 2010 and another Floridian who opened fire at Thanksgiving, killing four relatives. You would think all of this would cause states to stop and rethink. But no. And, personally, I’m worn down from arguing. Florida, follow your own star. Arizona, arm your kindergarteners. Just stop trying to impose your values on places where the thinking is dramatically different. Really, just leave us alone. If you don’t like our rules, don’t come here.”

New York Times

 

Experts See Broader Ramifications in Acquittals of Hutaree Militia

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The acquittal of seven Michigan militia members charged with conspiring to go to war against the government could make federal agents reluctant to pursue certain investigations at a time when the number of so-called patriot groups is increasing nationwide, reports the Associated Press. “It’s an embarrassment to the government to lose this case,” said Mark Potok, who tracks extremist groups at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama. “I very much worry this could discourage officials from moving forward on the most open-and-shut cases in the future. I’m not trying to criticize the judge at all, but it might have ramifications.”

Potok’s center counted more than 1,200 anti-government groups last year and lists them on its website. The FBI recently said it is focusing on “sovereign citizen” extremists who don’t recognize government authority. The FBI ran an 18-month probe of the Hutaree militia and placed an informant and undercover agent inside the group. After six weeks of trial, however, a judge this week said the case didn’t even deserve to go to the jury and declared all seven not guilty. Prosecutors this week acknowledged there was no specific plan – an admission that clearly irritated the judge. “What the government has shown, instead of a concrete agreement and plan to forcibly oppose the authority of the government, is that most – if not all – of these defendants held strong anti-government sentiments,” Roberts said in a 28-page decision. “But the court must not guess about what defendants intended to do with their animosity.”

Associated Press

 

Post’s Dionne: Health Care Arguments Showcased Judicial Activism

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Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. says the Supreme Court arguments over the health care law “demonstrated for all to see that conservative justices are prepared to act as an alternative legislature, diving deeply into policy details as if they were members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.” Dionne says it was difficult to discern at times whether it was a courtroom or a lobbyist’s office. He writes, “It fell to the court’s liberals – the so-called ‘judicial activists,’ remember? – to remind their conservative brethren that legislative power is supposed to rest in our government’s elected branches.”

He continues, “The conservative justices were obsessed with weird hypotheticals. If the federal government could make you buy health insurance, might it require you to buy broccoli, health club memberships, cellphones, burial services and cars? All of which have nothing to do with an uninsured person getting expensive treatment that others – often taxpayers – have to pay for. Liberals should learn from this display that there is no point in catering to today’s hard-line conservatives. The individual mandate was a conservative idea that President Obama adopted to preserve the private market in health insurance rather than move toward a government-financed, single-payer system. What he got back from conservatives was not gratitude but charges of socialism – for adopting their own proposal.”

Washington Post

 

Judge Orders UC Davis Report Released, Though Without Most Names

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A judge rejected nearly all attempts by a campus police union to block release of portions of a report on the Nov. 18 pepper-spraying of UC Davis students by university officers, reports the Los Angeles Times. Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo disagreed with assertions that large chunks of the report – designed to scrutinize the day’s events and craft new policy – should be sealed because they contain the same kind of information as in officer personnel files compiled for disciplinary purposes. He also rejected union arguments that officers named in the report have a constitutional right to privacy.

Grillo sided with the union only in granting a preliminary injunction to withhold the names of all but two officers. He excluded Lt. John Pike because images of him casually dousing seated protesters had already gone viral on the Internet, and UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza, whose identity is widely known. The much anticipated full report – commissioned by UC officials in the interest of transparency – won’t be available to the public until at least April 23, pending possible appeal. Although Grillo has allowed UC to immediately release uncontested portions, officials said Wednesday they are unsure whether they will do so because the extent of the redacted material could slant the report’s overall tone.

Los Angeles Times

 

Officials, Citizens Puzzled by Murder of Muslim Mother Near San Diego

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Officials and residents in El Cajon, Calif., have more questions than answers after an Iraqi-born mother of five was fatally beaten last week, a threatening note said to be found at the scene, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Shaima al-Awadi, a 20-year resident of the San Diego area, had moved with her husband and children into a rental home in El Cajon two months ago. She was found beaten and unconscious by a daughter on their dining room floor. A note nearby said, “This is my country. Go back to yours, terrorist,” according to the daughter, Fatima al-Himidi.

A similar note, Fatima says, had been found on the front door earlier this month. Fatima says her mother had dismissed it, considering it a prank. El Cajon has one of the largest Iraqi immigrant communities in the United States. Federal authorities were participating in the investigation. The family is sending Awadi’s body back to Iraq for burial. Her father is a well-known cleric there.

Christian Science Monitor

 

EU Plans Center in Netherlands to Combat Growing Cybercrime Problem

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The European Union will open a new cybercrime center in the Netherlands next year to combat online fraudsters who are skimming millions of euros a day from a growing number of its half billion citizens, reports the International Herald Tribune. In addition, an EU committee proposed mandatory jail time across all 27 member states for some online offenses. The EU Commission said cybercrime was a global and cross-border phenomenon that now brought more profits for organized crime – $388 billion a year worldwide – than the global trade in marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined.

In Europe, detection and prosecution of cybercrime has been hampered by inadequate information sharing between national jurisdictions. The new center, set to open early next year, will focus on organized crime gangs engaged in online fraud, online predators who sexually exploit children, and hackers who attack critical infrastructure and IT systems. It will be located at the headquarters of Europol, the European criminal intelligence agency in The Hague. The Commission estimated that more than a third of EU citizens now bank online and the incidence of fraud is growing.

International Herald Tribune

 

Meth Lab in a OH Nursing Home Linked to ‘Shake and Bake’ Method

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Three weeks ago, an explosion in a room at a nursing home near Cleveland fatally burned a man who lived there. It turned out he was operating a meth lab. The Cleveland Plain Dealer asked how the operation could have gone undetected in a nursing home. The answer: As odd as it might seem to those unfamiliar with the meth trade, law enforcement officials say it is entirely possible that someone could have used a room at the home as a makeshift lab without attracting the attention of residents or employees.

In fact, they say the case illustrates a new and very dangerous evolution in the methods used to make the drug. Meth makers once needed a room full of apparatus, including cookers. But today they often shun the cooking process in favor of a “one pot” method in which a toxic stew is prepared in a 2-liter bottle and then shaken to create a reaction. The latest “meth labs” can fit inside a shopping bag. The one-pot phenomenon, also referred to as “shake and bake,” has caused a surge in traumatic burn injuries across the country.

Cleveland Plain Dealer

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In Alaska, hopes for a different kind of prison economy

On a recent media tour of the now-completed Goose Creek Correctional Center, one reporter asked Joe Schmidt, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Corrections, what the area surrounding the prison — on a remote stretch of road 30 minutes outside of Wasilla — will look like in 10 years.

“Cañon City, Colorado,” he replied simply. In 10 years, “somebody’s going to say, who put the prison right in the middle of that city?”


Goose Creek Video

The following is a video on Goose Creek Correctional Center produced by the Mat-Su Borough

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Goose Creek Tour

A week or so ago Alaska CURE was invited to tour the new correctional center in the Mat-Su Valley–Goose Creek Correctional Facility (GCCF).  Amid a lot of controversy and outcry from the public and politicos alike the 1300 bed facility is nearing completion and according to the facility’s project manager, on time and on budget.

During the tour we were told that beginning in early March (2012) the first offenders will be brought into GCCF to “test it out” and each month 128 more offenders will be brought in over the next year until the facility reaches capacity.

This post will outline the key components of the facility and what issues may arise from Alaska CURE‘s point of view.

Location

GCCF is located on Point Mackenzie in Alaska’s Matanuska Susitna Valley approximately an hour drive from Wasilla and two to two and a half hours from Anchorage. A bridge that will connect the Mat-Su Valley (Port Mackenzie) to Anchorage is in the works with construction being completed in 2015 (estimate). GCCF is in a remote location and while the roads are well maintained, in the winter months it will still be a difficult drive to the facility for friends and family as well as GCCF staff.

Entrance and Visitation

A lot of rumors have been brought up about there not being any contact visiting at GCCF. This was our first question of the tour. As soon as you arrive at the facility visitors will enter in through the main entrance and check in with an officer at a desk. To the right are two video link cubicles and then a large waiting area for visitors to wait to be called. To us it looks a lot like a bus station waiting area.

We did not tour the visiting area of GCCF as it was one of the areas that was not yet completed. A question we plan to pose to DOC regards visiting.

At GCCF visitors will have to exit the main building and walk to a separate area for visitation. There are no plans at this time to cover this walk way.

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Housing

The housing areas at GCCF was where we spent the most time on the tour and most of the questions were asked. GCCF is divided up into housing modules A through K each housing 128 offenders and double teired. All of the housing units (except segregation) are on the south side of the facility.

One of the first things that we were told was that the offenders are going to be expected to go throughout the facility for all of their services and nothing will be brought to them. This includes: meals, programming, jobs, recreation, medical, etc. They want the daily life of the offender to mimic (as much as possible) the life of the outside.

The facility will utilize a proxy card system for each offender. This will allow access into their cells as well as all of the programs and services needed on a day-to-day basis. An offender’s proxy card will only allow access to what is programmed on his card meaning he can not access another housing unit or another offender’s cell.

The first concern we had was no access to natural light in the cells. There are no windows in the living units except a bank of skylights at the top of each unit. Also at the top of each unit is a state-of-the-art ventilation system and ceiling fans.

Offenders will be double bunked with the exception of a couple of handicapped equipped cells in each living unit. We noted that the cells were of normal size for a new modular type design with little storage for the offender’s personal property–consisting of four storage bins under the bottom bunk.

We noted that there is a small desk for writing and presumably for an offender’s personal T.V. as this is where the coaxial outlet is located. There are no shelves at the end of the bunks as found in most facilities.

We were told that the offenders can purchase small flat screen type televisions through the commissary for $160.00.

The doors to the cells are metal and contain a large window and a locking mechanism to be used with the proxy key. Also a large window is located to the side of each door offering little privacy to the offenders in their cells.

The day room of the living units is large. The furniture had not arrived at the time of our tour but we were told it will be of the type found in most prisons–plastic formed chairs. There are two televisions in each day room as well as two banks of telephones.

An officer will be at a desk in each living unit and will be the primary point of contact for the offenders.

Restrooms and showers are on one side of the living unit as well as washer and dryers. We were told that offenders will be allowed to wear “civilian clothes” most likely meaning sweat shirts and pants and t-shirts while in the living units but will be required to be fully dressed in state issued clothing any time they leave the housing unit.

Offices for case managers and other staff are in each living unit as well as a multi-purpose room.

Food Service

The kitchen area for the food service was impressive. We were told that it is the largest commercial kitchen in the state of Alaska and will handle 4500 meals a day when fully operational. We were also told that the offenders will only be receiving steamed and convection oven type cooking. There will be no fried foods at all. We were told that only a three day supply of food will be in the facility at any given time. We were told this was a security measure in that: “If offenders were to riot then they will get hungry soon.”

There are three dining halls on the north side of the facility and the offenders will be fed one unit at a time. They will be given 15 minutes to eat in assigned seating. The dining halls are food port type. Meaning an offender walks up to a window, picks up his tray and gets a cup of juice and sits down and returns his tray to a food port on the other side of the dinning hall and exits the building.

An offender’s proxy card will be utilized for meals. If they have eaten the offender will not be allowed “second helpings”. The proxy card will also keep track of the number of meals that an offender eats in a given period of time.

Medical Service

The medical offices are on the north side of the facility and we were told that they will be staffed only eight hours a day by physicians. We were told that this is a “state of the art” medical facility and includes eight negative pressure beds for offenders suffering from TB and other illnesses. This was another question that arose as the medical staff is not available more than 8 hours per day.

Programs and Recreation

At GCCF they have several vocational/work areas for the offenders. These areas were designed so they can be utilized in a variety of programs (i.e. wood shop, electrical shop, etc) and customized as needed. There is a paint booth on site and we were told that GCCF offenders will maintain state vehicles at the site.

A Library, GED and other school-type class rooms, are on the north side of the facility as well as a chaplains office and a place for worship. We did not tour these classroom areas as they were still under construction.

A gymnasium is located on the south side of the facility as well as several basketball courts outside in the courtyard that separates the two main buildings of the facility. Two large softball/multi-use fields are at the east end of the facility and separated by a fence.

It is unknown if the yard areas will be open during the winter months.

Offender Jobs

We were told that offenders will be employed throughout the facility in areas such as food service, laundry, vocational programs, school, etc. We were told that a large majority of the offenders will be working on the grounds crew shoveling snow and sweeping, etc. All offenders will be paid for their work assignments as is the policy throughout the system.

Segregation

GCCF has two segregation units on the north side of the facility. One punitive segregation and one “secured housing unit” and protective custody wing. The segregation cells look like any other ‘jail within a jail’ setting. But we did find it concerning that the offenders will be double bunked in these cells.

In the segregation unit we were shown a small cage like enclosure where we were told that a “law library” will be held for the offenders in segregation. This access will be offered by computer terminal only, presumably to sites like Westlaw and Lexus-Nexus. We were told the offenders in segregation will not be allowed to have access to any other law library materials (books, etc.) other than what is offered on the computer terminal.

Impression

Looking at the facility through educated eyes, we feel that it is a state of the art facility in many respects but it will be quite restrictive. GCCF will be classified as a medium custody facility.We understand what the goals are of the Department of Corrections and that security is the first priority. It is evident at GCCF. We feel that the facility will meet the needs of the offenders doing time at GCCF but on a scale that may not be geared toward rehabilitation.

Sure it will be a way to “get our guys home” and return them from being housed at a prison in Colorado but that is only a temporary solution. GCCF is only one facility of five that were slated to be built in Alaska so that means that an ever present overcrowding problem will continue.

Issues

Alaska CURE has already discussed several issues with GCCF and the facility is not even open yet. Some of the big concerns:

Medical Staffing Availability

Food Service

Law Library Access in Segregation

Access to Natural Light

Access to Outdoor Exercise

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