Thursday, March 31, 2011
In Glynn County Georgia, reports the popular radio show This American Life this week, Lindsey Dills is the victim of horrifying injustice in the name of drug treatment. For forging two checks on her parents’ checking account when she was 17, one for $40 and one for $60, Ms. Dills ended up in that county’s drug court for five and a half years, including a total of 14 months behind bars – and then, when she was finally kicked out of drug court, prison. In other Georgia counties and in other states, the penalty for this first-time, low-level offense would have been a term of probation and/or drug treatment.
Ms. Dills’ harrowing journey includes a lengthy stay in solitary confinement, being denied access to prescribed anti-depression medication and a suicide attempt. When she entered Glynn County drug court, Ms. Dills had no idea that she was entering a Kafkaesque world in which she had virtually no rights, was subject to the whims of a single dangerous judge and would end up losing years of her life in a dark, unexamined corner of the American criminal justice system.
Is it dangerous to fire a gun into the air?By Brian PalmerPosted Wednesday, March 30, 2011, at 6:43 PM ET
A crowd of Libyans fired guns in the air and chanted slogans in support of Muammar Qaddafi at a rally in the city of Sirte on Monday. Isn't it kind of dangerous to shoot bullets into the sky?
Yes ... well, probably ... maybe ... it kind of depends. The Explainer is far from being the first to ask this question. Everyone from the U.S. military to The Straight Dope's Cecil Adams has probed the lethality of falling bullets. That includes forensic scientists, cardio-thoracic surgeons, and the hosts of the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters—which devoted nearly a whole episode to the matter. And yet, no one has been able to come up with a straightforward answer. The general consensus is that a bullet fired straight up—at precisely 90 degrees to the horizontal—is unlikely to kill a healthy adult when it returns to Earth. That's because, on the way down, air resistance prevents the bullet from returning to its initial velocity. The bullet would deliver a painful wallop but could only have a chance of killing you with a direct hit to the eye, ear, or mouth.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Excessively Harsh Sentences for Minor Drug Offenses and Misuse of Confidential Informants Undermines Criminal Justice System
JACKSON, Miss. - March 28 - Overly harsh and punitive sentences for low-level, non-violent drug crimes feed a racially discriminatory criminal justice system in Mississippi that fails to protect the public’s safety, according to a new report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi.
According to the report, “Numbers Game: The Vicious Cycle of Incarceration in Mississippi’s Criminal Justice System,” black Mississippians are three times more likely than whites to go to prison on drug charges, even though drug use rates across the state are virtually identical for blacks and whites. And because the state’s drug task force funding is contingent upon securing convictions, low-level drug offenders ensnared in the system feel compelled to become confidential informants who are used indiscriminately to ramp up the quantity of drug arrests with little regard to the quality of the cases they help to build.
“There is an urgent need to reform the policies that govern the drug enforcement system as a whole in Mississippi,” said Nsombi Lambright, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “Arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement tactics need to be replaced by policies that actually enhance our public safety, protect civil rights and ensure the state’s fiscal solvency.”
Friday, March 25, 2011
There is a terrible irony in the experience of incarcerated women: the lives of abuse and subordination that frequently brought them to prison are most often replicated behind prison walls. Women’s experience of prison as a place of abuse, violence, psychological deprivation and physical harm is both a human rights tragedy and an indictment of our justice system. Although many aspects of prison life produce tangible harm to women prisoners, their families and ultimately the community, the crisis proportions of sexual violence behind bars demands our immediate attention.
Institutionalized sexual abuse is an all too common experience for incarcerated women in this country. It is a practice well documented by leading human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The problem is so pervasive that in its recent national survey of prisons and jails, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that 88,500 adult prisoners were sexually abused in their current facility in the past year alone. But despite the acknowledged problems of sexual violence in correctional facilities across the country, the abuse continues largely unabated. This abuse takes the form of rape, but it also includes verbal harassment, improper groping during pat-down searches, improper visual surveillance while women bathe and perform personal hygiene tasks, and "consensual" sex for protection and material exchange.
Evidently not. Except for occasional civil complaints by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the nation is left to face a disturbing spectacle: crime without punishment. Massive injuries were done to millions of people by reckless bankers, and vast wealth was destroyed by elaborate financial deceptions. Yet there are no culprits to be held responsible.
Former Senator Ted Kaufman was especially upset by this. Kaufman was appointed in 2008 to fill out the remaining two years of Vice President Biden’s term as senator from Delaware. With no ambition to stay in politics, he was free to speak his mind. He made unpunished bankers his special cause.
A teenager in a young offenders institution: a rise in youth crime is feared because of cuts to youth offending teams. Photograph: Mark
A crime prevention project in Cornwall that has helped more than 960 young people since it started in 2003 is to close at the end of this month because its £185,000 funding from a government local area agreement is to end. The project, White Gold, a partnership between the police and Cornwall youth offending team (YOT), is an early casualty of funding cuts.
Nationally, ministers have been warned that funding reductions will mean that some of the 157 local authorities across England and Wales will find it "exceptionally difficult to maintain a basic youth offending team". Sandwell council in the West Midlands has placed the entire 80-strong YOT staff on its "at risk of redundancy register", as cuts of up to 30% in youth justice funding start to bite across England and Wales.
The national network of YOTs was set up to bring together the work of the police, probation, social services, education and others in tackling youth offending, with significant results in cutting crime, which council leaders now fear will rise.
State cocaine sentencing disparities include:
* In Missouri, where a defendant convicted of selling six grams of crack cocaine faces the same prison term –a ten-year mandatory minimum – as someone who sells 450 grams of powder cocaine, or 75 times that amount.
* In Oklahoma, which maintains a 6-to-1 quantity-based sentencing disparity, a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence is triggered for five grams of crack cocaine and 28 grams of powder cocaine.
* In Ohio, sentencing disparities vary across felony categories based on quantity amounts. The state uses a 10-to-1 ratio of 1,000 grams of powder cocaine and 100 grams of crack cocaine for major drug offenses and imposes a ten-year mandatory minimum.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Could it be that America is actually turning less violent? Or are we as violent as ever — but have simply found different ways of assuaging our urges?
Los Angeles' violent-crime rates are four times lower now than they were 1992. The interesting thing is, nobody can really explain why.As of December 25, last year, only 293 homicides were reported in LA, along with 781 rapes, 10,734 robberies, and 9,129 aggravated assaults. In 1992, that blood-soaked year of the Rodney King Riots, Los Angeles saw 1,092 murders, 1,861 rapes, 39,222 robberies, and 47,736 aggravated assaults.
Theories abound. Various agencies, such as the office of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, credit themselves with the shift. But in the din of the applause, some of these theories and claims cancel each other out.
For years, there have been rumors that Congress might increase good time credit for federal inmates. None have come to pass.
There is no parole in the federal system. The amount of good time is the same for everyone -- 54 days a year after the first year.
Sentencing Law and Policy reports that one of the speakers at the Sentencing Commission's hearings last week was Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin. After discussing how overcrowded our prisons are, and what can be done to alleviate it, he said that the Justice Department is working with Congress on two proposals. The first would increase the good time from 54 days a year to 61 days (not much of a change.) The second proposal is more promising: [More...]
Monday, March 21, 2011
A STUDY of jurors has found that more than half favoured a more lenient sentence than the judge imposed in their case.
The Australian Institute of Criminology study of 698 jurors from 138 trials revealed that 52 per cent of jurors selected a less severe sentence than the judge.
This was most likely the case for culpable driving and property offences. In sex, drugs and violence offences, the responses were more evenly split between jurors who would have picked more severe and those who would have picked less severe sentences.
The study of Tasmanian jurors, released by the Australian Institute of Criminology, found that 90 per cent of jurors surveyed thought that the sentence imposed in their case was appropriate.
And, 83 per cent also believed that judges were in touch with public opinion.
Here is a link to the report. Tom
Fresno State’s criminology department has a reputation for being one of the best in California, if not in the United States. Because of this, it’s no wonder why students who are pursuing higher education in the field of criminology would want to do so at this university.
However, many students have become disappointed when the programs they have seen in the catalog are not actually offered.
In the 2008-2009 catalog, students are invited to apply for the Joint Doctorate in Forensic and Behavioral Sciences (Ph.D.). “Application can be made at www.csumentor.edu. Please go to the Criminology Department Website for more information at www.csufresno.edu/criminology/,” it states. However, the program never existed, and according to Dr. Ruth Masters, the criminology department chair, it probably never will.
“Two years ago the plug was pulled,” Masters said. “We never offered it. It doesn’t look like we were ever going to offer it. It’s not operational. It’s not in progress. It doesn’t exist.”
Thursday, March 17, 2011
“Let us not delude ourselves, it is getting worse, not better. Between 2000 and 2008, the number of homicides in Canada attributed to gangs doubled from one in eight to one in four.” – Prime Minister Stephen Harper in announcing government funding for an anti-gang program.
It’s unfortunate that Stephen Harper chose Surrey, B.C., to make his remarks about gang-related crime rates “getting worse.” Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has been trying so hard to change the image of the municipality, backed with statistics that show the city’s crime rate has decreased every year since 2003.
Yet Mr. Harper did not pull crime statistics out of thin air. He was partly right in what he said. But in promoting the Conservative government’s approach to crime, Mr. Harper ignored general trends in homicide. Relying on out-of-date statistics, he distorted the numbers to back up his political agenda.
The Prime Minister made the comments as he announced the renewal of financial support for a federal $37.5-million youth-crime prevention program, a worthwhile initiative that is helping young people make better decisions in their lives.
His comments reflect Statistics Canada figures that show gang-related homicides nationally jumped to 138 in 2008, from 72 in the year 2000. But before looking at those numbers, consider some perspective from Statistics Canada.
Meanwhile you can read a New York Times editorial Talking About Guns here. Tom
In 2010 New York City spent $75 million arresting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Three members of the New York City Council joined advocates and community members on the steps of City Hall today at a press conference organized by the Drug Policy Alliance and the Institute for Juvenile Justice Reform and Alternatives. They announced the release of a new report: "$75 Million A Year - The Cost of New York City's Marijuana Arrests."
The report, written by CUNY Professor Harry Levine and attorney Loren Siegel, shows that since 1996 New York City has spent from half a billion to over a billion dollars arresting people for less than an ounce of marijuana.
Each arrest costs at least $1,000 to $2,000 (conservatively estimated), and in 2010 the NYPD made nearly 1,000 arrests a week. The 50,383 people arrested for marijuana in 2010 were all fingerprinted, photographed, and most spent 24 hours or more in jail. In all cases, marijuana possession was the highest charge or the only charge.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Three state legislators have coauthored a bill that would make it easier for California elected officials to obtain a concealed weapons permit. Under current law, police chiefs or county sheriffs can award such permits to applicants who show "good cause" for needing one, meaning they have a dangerous job or their lives are under threat. The bill, SB 610, says the good-cause determination would be deemed to be met for any California member of Congress, statewide elected official or member of the Legislature.
The surprising thing about this bill isn't just that it has appeared in California, which tends to favor restrictive gun laws, but that its coauthors are all Democrats who in the past have voted to limit gun rights for ordinary citizens. SB 610 was introduced by Sen. Roderick Wright of Inglewood, who in 2009 voted for a bill limiting the ability of residents from rural counties to use their gun-carry permits in large urban counties; another coauthor, Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani of Tracy, voted for the same bill. The third, Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana, voted for a Galgiani bill last year prohibiting the carrying of even unloaded firearms in the state Capitol.
Supreme Court justices have life tenure to assure their independence and impartiality. The court’s lack of a recusal policy leaves each justice to decide whether he or she is meeting that standard. That plainly violates the age-old legal principle: Nemo iudex in causa sua — no one should be a judge about his or her own case. It damages the justices’ credibility and the court’s authority.
The court is still not addressing the issue despite months of questions about possible cozy friendships, suspected political biases and family ties. Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia was asked to recuse himself from an upcoming case about alleged gender bias at Wal-Mart Stores because his son is co-chairman of the labor and employment practice at the law firm representing the company.
A bipartisan group of 107 law professors from 76 law schools have made their own proposal for how the court should solve its recusal problem. They argue that justices should follow the ethical code that applies to other federal judges. (Under the rule about avoiding the appearance of impropriety and not letting others “convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge,” Justice Antonin Scalia would not have been able to go duck hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003 after the court agreed to hear a case involving Mr. Cheney.)
This is a New York Times editorial. Tom
A Kitchener man is suing the Toronto police for detaining him and searching his bag in a public park before a G20 protest last summer in an incident that was caught on video and posted to YouTube.
Such searches were commonplace across downtown Toronto during the summit, and were widely decried by activists and civil libertarians as a violation of the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
n the 10-minute video, Luke Stewart is stopped by three male officers as he arrives at Allan Gardens to attend an anti-poverty demonstration on Friday, June 25, the day before the principal protests against the G20. The officers insist on searching a red backpack Mr. Stewart is carrying; the 25-year-old refuses and repeatedly asks them under what law they are allowed to search his bag.
The trio are unable to provide a reason and, when Mr. Stewart refuses to turn over his bag, they call up a sergeant to deal with him. When she repeats the order that he turn over his backpack, he asks her the same questions.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
One more down, fewer to go! By taking the historic step of signing into law last week a repeal of the death penalty in Illinois, Gov. Patrick Quinn lent further momentum to efforts in other states across the country to abolish state-sanctioned killings.
Long plagued with flaws including the sentencing to death of 20 people who were later freed after being found to be innocent, racial bias, rampant legal errors and law enforcement, attorney and court misconduct and incompetence that besieged the capital prosecution system, Illinois' death penalty system had to go.
This latest addition to the abolition collective of states — joining most recent inductees, New Mexico in 2009 and New Jersey in 2007 — brings the total number of states who refuse to kill their own citizens to 16. (Note: the efforts to reinstate the death penalty in New Mexico and West Virginia have failed so far this year.)
Currently, strong abolition campaigns in Connecticut, Maryland and Montana may have further positive results for all people who care about justice.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Last year, Connecticut stopped treating all 16-year-old defendants as adults, and next year will do the same for 17-year-olds. Illinois recently transferred certain low-level offenders younger than 18 into its juvenile system. And in January, lawmakers in Massachusetts introduced a bill to raise the age of adulthood in matters of crime, and their counterparts in Wisconsin and North Carolina intend to do the same.
By year’s end, New York might be the only state where adulthood, in criminal matters, begins on the 16th birthday.
The changes followed studies that concluded that older adolescents differed significantly from adults in their capacity to make sound decisions, and benefited more from systems focused on treatment rather than on incarceration.
Bradley Manning Humiliated and Abused: Why Is Exposing a War Crime More Dangerous Than Committing One?
NOTE: On March 20 CODEPINK and others will be traveling to the Quantico Marine Base to rally in support of Bradley Manning. You can sign the CODEPINK petition here asking President Obama to pardon Bradley Manning.
Bradley Manning is accused of humiliating the political establishment by revealing the complicity of top U.S. officials in carrying out and covering up war crimes. In return for his act of conscience, the U.S. government is holding him in abusive solitary confinement, humiliating him and trying to keep him behind bars for life.
The lesson is clear, and soldiers take note: You're better off committing a war crime than exposing one.
An Army intelligence officer stationed in Kuwait, the 23-year-old Manning - outraged at what he saw - allegedly leaked tens of thousands of State Department cables to the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. These cables show U.S. officials covering up everything from U.S. tax dollars funding child rape in Afghanistan to illegal, unauthorized bombings in Yemen. Manning is also accused of leaking video evidence of U.S. pilots gunning down more than a dozen Iraqis in Baghdad, including two journalists for Reuters, and then killing a father of two who stopped to help them. The father's two young children were also severely wounded.
By BOB HERBERTIt has often been the case in America that specific religions, races and ethnic groups have been singled out for discrimination, demonization, incarceration and worse. But there have always been people willing to stand up boldly and courageously against such injustice. Their efforts are needed again now.
Representative Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, appears to harbor a fierce unhappiness with the Muslim community in the United States. As the chairman of the powerful Homeland Security Committee, Congressman King has all the clout he needs to act on his displeasure. On Thursday, he plans to open the first of a series of committee hearings into the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism and the bogus allegation that American Muslims have failed to cooperate with law enforcement efforts to foil terrorist plots.
“There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community,” he said, “and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.”
Bob Hebert is a New York Times columnist. Tom
In his new book, “Philosopher Kings? The Adjudication of Conflicting Human Rights and Social Values,” law professor George C. Christie notes that with respect to the conflict between privacy rights and free expression rights, the United States and Europe seem to be going in different directions. European jurists will try, as one court put it, to strike “a fair balance . . . between the competing interests of the individual and of the community as a whole”; American courts are likely to come down strongly in favor of the individual’s right to free expression even when an expressive activity arguably pollutes the community’s conversational space or is intentionally hurtful to other individuals.
At the end of his book, Christie wonders how the Supreme Court will decide Snyder v. Phelps, a cause of action brought by the father of a dead soldier at whose funeral members of the militantly anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church waved signs saying (among other things) “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “You’re going to Hell.” Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder’s father alleged an injury under the tort category of the intentional infliction of emotional distress. Christie declares that he would be “disappointed if the Court were to allow recovery for [this] admittedly grossly tasteless and insensitive demonstration.”The Court did not disappoint him, for, as everyone now knows, it held for Westboro and against Snyder by a vote of 8-1. Justice Samuel Alito was the lone dissenter. He was also the lone dissenter in a case decided a year ago (United States v. Stevens) when the Court stuck down a statute criminalizing the sale of videos depicting kittens being crushed to death by the high-heeled “spike” shoes of a dominatrix. The majority opinion in both cases was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, and the result in Snyder was predictable, given Roberts’s rejection in Stevens of “any balancing of relative social costs and benefits” when it comes to free expression rights: they trump.
From the New York Times opinion pages. Tom
The term "mustang" is derived from the Spanish word mestengo, or "stray animal," and is used to describe any type of feral horse. Every year, the Bureau of Land Management rounds up thousands of "excess" mustangs across 10 Western states. At the Wyoming State Honor Farm, convicts train, or "gentle," wild horses that have been rounded up from the high Plains. If the gentling goes smoothly, a mustang will be tame enough to saddle, mount, and ride in three months. This photo essay looks at the innovative prison program designed to rehabilitate prisoners through the challenge of training the descendants of the first horses brought to North America 500 years ago.
Watch the photo essay.
Friday, March 4, 2011
The Supreme Court was correct that Westboro Baptist Church is protected by the 1st Amendment.Faced with a conflict between freedom of speech and the protection of grieving parents from abuse, the Supreme Court on Wednesday made the only choice allowed by the 1st Amendment. It ruled in favor of Pastor Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, which pickets military funerals claiming that the deaths of service members are divine retribution for America's toleration of homosexuality.
Westboro Baptist had been sued by the father of Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq. Protesters from the church had gathered outside Snyder's funeral holding signs reading "God hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11," "America is doomed," "Don't pray for the USA," "Thank God for IEDs," "Thank God for dead soldiers," "Pope in Hell," "Priests rape boys," "God hates fags," "You're going to hell" and "God hates you."
Speaking for an 8-1 majority, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. persuasively countered three arguments against Phelps, who was ordered by a trial court to pay Snyder damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Last week, legislators in Tennessee introduced a radical bill that would make "material support" for Islamic law punishable by 15 years in prison. The proposal marks a dramatic new step in the conservative campaign against Muslim-Americans. If passed, critics say even seemingly benign activities like re-painting the exterior of a mosque or bringing food to a potluck could be classified as a felony.
The Tennessee bill, SB 1028, didn't come out of nowhere. Though it's the first of its kind, the bill is part of a wave of related measures that would ban state courts from enforcing Sharia law. (A court might refer to Sharia law in child custody or prisoner rights cases.) Since early 2010, such legislation has been considered in at least 15 states. And while fears of an impending caliphate are myriad on the far-right, the surge of legislation across the country is largely due to the work of one man: David Yerushalmi, an Arizona-based white supremacist who has previously called for a "war against Islam" and tried to criminalize adherence to the Muslim faith.
First, it was South Dakota. Then Nebraska and Iowa. The similarly worded bills, which have quietly cropped up recently in state legislatures, share a common purpose: To expand justifiable homicide statutes to cover killings committed in the defense of an unborn child. Critics of the bills, including law enforcement officials, warn that these measures could invite violence against abortion providers and possibly provide legal cover to the perpetrators of such crimes.
That these measures have emerged simultaneously in a handful of states is no coincidence. It's part of a campaign orchestrated by a Washington-based anti-abortion group, which has lobbied state lawmakers to introduce legislation that it calls the "Pregnant Woman's Protection Act" [PDF]. Over the past two years, the group, Americans United for Life, has succeeded in passing versions of this bill in Missouri and Oklahoma. But there's a big difference between those bills and the measures floated recently in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa.
G20 SUMMIT: ACCOUNTABILITY
IN POLICING AND GOVERNANCE
NOVEMBER 10 TO 12, 2010
TORONTO | MONTREAL
This is the report by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that is calling for a Public Inquiry. McGuinty has already said there will be no further inquiry. Tom
Bill CurryA new report into police conduct at the Toronto G20 summit concludes that only a federal-provincial public inquiry will get to the bottom of who called the shots in the run up to violent confrontations and the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.
The report by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Union of Public and General Employees summarizes concerns from the public that surfaced during three days of hearings the groups organized in November.
In addition to the reasons behind the 1,105 arrests by police, the authors of the report say comments from the public raise concerns that undercover police informants may have endorsed or supported the public displays of vandalism that were then used as justification for further arrests.
The call for a public inquiry is on track to become a formal position of the House of Commons later this month. The Commons public safety committee is scheduled to issue a report on G20 security later this month and all three opposition parties – representing a voting majority – support the call for a public inquiry.
A spokesman for federal Public Safety minister Vic Toews made clear Monday that the government does not share that view.
Mcguinty has already said no inquiry. Tom
Toronto Police used their Tasers 236 times last year, during which the device was fired 130 times by officers against suspects in life-threatening situations, says Chief Bill Blair.
The chief said his officers relied on Tasers as a threat 106 times — 45% of the total number times they were used.
Blair’s report — to be presented to the police services board on Thursday — said 545 Taser X-26s were issued in 2010 to supervisors of the Emergency Task Force and other high-risk units, such as the hold-up and drug squads.
“The device is used strictly to gain control of a subject who is at risk of causing harm,” Blair said in a submission that was released on Monday. “The
weapon is used in full deployment or drive stun mode when the subject is assaultive.”
The report notes an incident where a cop threatened to Taser two suspects’ testicles to obtain information. Const. Christopher Hominuk has pleaded guilty to threatening bodily harm and will be sentenced in June.
The report said Tasers were used in 210 incidents involving 226 subjects. It said officers at 31 Division were the highest users of the devices having relied on them 26 times last year. Officers from 41 Division were next with 24 times and 23 Division used them 11 times.
The report said 56 suspects in incidents where police used Tasers were believed to be emotionally disturbed.