April 5, 2012
— 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.
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Connecticut to Become 17th State To End Death Penalty
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.
Judge OK’s Ohio Executions; One Per Month Scheduled Until 2014
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.
National Panel to Study Causes and Consequences of U.S. Incarceration Rate
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,
Gun-Rights Bills Advance in States, Congress Despite Martin Case
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.
Crime, Public Housing Voucher Relocations Linked in Chicago
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.
Stiff Sentences for Ex-New Orleans Cops in Post-Katrina Bridge Shootings
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.
Heroin Deaths In Oregon Up Again, Way Short of 1990 Peak
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.”
George Will Weighs the Merits Of Legalizing Drugs
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.
FBI’s Arena to Retire, Run New Detroit Crime Commission
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.
GA Law Will Cut Some Penalties, Promote Problem-Solving Courts
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.
Gardening Work Said To Reduce Inmate Recidivism
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.
Philadelphia Detective Gets Clearance To Resume Popular Twitter Account
“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.
- CT voting to repeal the death penalty (blaspheromones.com)