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Showing posts from March, 2011

Interview with Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project

David Weisburd: Hot Spots of Crime and Crime Prevention

In Drug Courts, Judges Practice Their Own Version of Justice - And "Treatment"

Drug courts must be standardized, they must be held accountable and they must not be our primary policy approach to drug use and addiction.

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 w…

Watch Out for Falling Bullets

Is it dangerous to fire a gun into the air?By Brian PalmerPosted Wednesday, March 30, 2011, at 6:43 PM ETHow dangerous is it to fire a gun in the air?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…

ACLU Report Calls For Immediate Reform of Mississippi Drug Enforcement System

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 quanti…

We Can End Prison Rape

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…

How Wall Street Crooks Get Out of Jail Free

When Charles Ferguson received an Oscar for his documentary on the financial crisis, Inside Job, he reminded the audience that “not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.” Given the abundant evidence of massive fraud, Americans everywhere have asked the same question: Why haven’t any of those bankers gone to jail? If federal investigators could not establish criminal intent for any top-flight executives, didn’t they have enough evidence to prosecute banks or financial houses as law-breaking corporations?

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 fi…

Public sector cuts: Rise in youth crime feared as key teams are reduced

Ministers told that councils will find it 'exceptionally difficult to maintain a basic youth offending team'

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 …

New Report: Cracked Justice Shows 13 States Persist in Outmoded Crack Cocaine Sentencing

The Sentencing Project's new report, Cracked Justice addresses disparities in cocaine sentencing in 13 states and documents efforts at the federal and state level to correct these injustices.

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.

Read on...

David Brotherton: Globalization and the gang

Crime Rates Are Plummeting -- And No One Knows Why

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.

These figures echo a nationwide trend. "Crime Rate at 20-Year Low Level," reads a February 24 headline in the Frederick, Maryland News Post. "Major Crime at 39-Year Low in Elgin," the Chicago Tribune crowed on February 22. "Fresno's Murder Rate Is Drastically Down in 2011," announced that California's town's ABC-TV affiliate on February 23. Such …

Bureau of Prisons May Recommend More Good Time Credit

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...]Read on...

Jurors lean towards leniency, study shows

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.Read on...Here is a link to the report. Tom

Criminology department deceives grad students

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 Please go to the Criminology Department Website for more information at,” 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…

PM plays with numbers on gang-related homicides

“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 $3…

The NRA’s electoral influence

The National Rifle Association endorsed candidates in about two-thirds of congressional races in the midterm elections. Often, the choice not to endorse was pragmatic -- either both candidates had top NRA ratings or both had poor ratings. Of those endorsed, 80 percent won, according to The Washington Post's analysis.

Read on...

Meanwhile you can read a New York Times editorial Talking About Guns here. Tom

New York City Wasting $75 Million a Year on Marijuana Arrests

A new study reveals 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.

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 peop…

Hold your fire, legislators

The January shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona shocked and disturbed the nation, but one group is, perhaps justifiably, more freaked out by the incident than any other: elected officials. In response, bills have been introduced in such states as Montana and even in Congress that would make it easier for lawmakers to pack heat — the idea being that if politicians are armed, they can shoot back at a constituent who pulls a gun. This is the kind of over-the-top reaction one would expect in conservative, gun-friendly states, but when the trend hits California, some eye-rolling is in order.

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 Court’s Recusal Problem

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 ethica…

Kitchener man sues Toronto police over G20 search

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,…

Jim Parsons: Women's Life-Course Pathways to Justice-System Involvement

Wither the Death Penalty! First in 2011 — Illinois. Is Maryland Next?

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 ma…

States Prosecute Fewer Teenagers in Adult Courts

A generation after record levels of youth crime spurred a nationwide movement to prosecute more teenagers as adults, a consensus is emerging that many young delinquents have been mishandled by the adult court system.

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 incarcera…

Bradley Manning Humiliated and Abused: Why Is Exposing a War Crime More Dangerous Than Committing One?

Bradley Manning leaked cables showing officials covering up U.S. tax dollars funding child rape in Afghanistan, illegal bombings in Yemen and more -- and he's the one in jail?

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 cab…

Flailing After Muslims

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 investiga…

Sticks and Stones


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 othe…

Prison Cowboys

Can Mustangs do for prisoners what solitary and lock-up can’t?

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.

The right to be vile

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 …

Meet the White Supremacist Leading the GOP's Anti-Sharia Crusade

States across the country are considering far-right bills to ban Islamic law. For that, we have hate-group leader David Yerushalmi to thank.

Theodore Liasi/Zuma

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 …

Revealed: The Group Behind the Bills that Could Legalize Killing Abortion Providers

It's no coincidence that bills to expand justifiable homicide laws have popped up in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa. Meet the group that launched the effort.

Americans United for Life at the US Supreme Court in January 2011. Flickr/AUL.

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'…

Civil-liberties report ratchets up pressure for public inquiry into G20 summit

Bill Curry A 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 m…

Toronto Police detail Taser use

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. “Theweapon 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 …