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Showing posts from February, 2013

Ontario’s justice system in a ‘crisis’ for aboriginals: Frank Iacobucci report

Ontario’s justice system is in a “crisis” concerning First Nations people who are overrepresented in prisons yet cut out of participating in juries, says a hard-hitting independent review released Tuesday.
Former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci spent more than a year leading an investigation into the lack of native people participating on jury trials and inquests.
In the course of his probe, he found he could not ignore “systemic racism” in the courts, prison and jury process including mistreatment of First Nations inmates in penitentiaries, general disrespect by police and “discriminatory public reaction to First Nations complaints.”
Iacobucci urged the Ontario government to implement 17 recommendations to fix the courts, prison and jury process, saying the problem “warrants urgent response.”

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Chicago Installed Thousands of Cameras on its Rail Platforms. Crime Jumped by 21 Percent.

A couple of weeks ago, Chicago Transit Authority president Forrest Claypool announced that the agency would install high-definition surveillance cameras in 850 rail cars. There are already more than 3,600 cameras throughout the rail system, in stations and on trains, and the CTA spent a lot of money putting them there—approximately $26 million. “With more cameras, we will be able to step up our efforts to fight crime on the system,” said Claypool.

But the Chicago Sun-Times reports that rail-station crime has actually increased since the cameras were installed. The Sun-Times found that, in 2012, the number of crimes reported at CTA rail stations jumped by 21 percent year over year, and by 32 percent from 2010, prior to when most of the cameras were installed. Many of these crimes involve theft, drug use, vandalism, and fare evasion. (CTA spokesman Brian Steele told me that much of the rise in crime is due to a 41 percent jump in fare evasion.) Violent crime, however, i…

Students Occupy University President’s Office To Protest Naming Stadium After Private Prison Company

Last week, the administration of Florida Atlantic University raised eyebrows when officials announced that they had sold the naming rights to the school’s new football stadium to the GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company.

And students aren’t taking the deal lying down. On Monday afternoon, dozens of activists staged a sit-in inside university President Mary Jo Saunders’ office demanding FAU revoke their agreement with GEO Group. After two hours, Saunders agreed to schedule a public meeting with the university community, according to the Palm Beach Post:

After some negotiations, Saunders emerged from her office for a brief meeting with the protesters, who have accused the GEO Group of human rights violations at its facilities, some of which are in Florida.

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Manning's Right to a Speedy Trial Not Violated After 1,000 Days, Judge Rules

Bradley Manning has not had his rights violated while waiting in a cell for almost three years before being granted a trial, judge Colonel Denise Lind ruled in a pre-trial hearing Tuesday.

Manning's lawyer, David Coombs, had argued that the prosecution was guilty of "extreme foot-dragging" and "shameful" lack of diligence, which violated Manning's right to a speedy trial—in a final bid that could have had the charges against Manning dismissed.

A soldier in the military has had his or her speedy trial rights violated when it takes over 120 days before an arraignment, Kevin Gosztola reports at FireDogLake, which is the case for Manning. However, Lind ruled in favor of the prosecution who said some of those days didn't actually count in the speedy trial rule, due to “excludable delays” initiated by the prosecution.

The pre-trial hearings will now be certain to move to a full court martial trial in June.

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Ashley Smith strapped to chair for 8 hours after banging her head

Guards at a Nova Scotia prison used “extraordinary force” when they strapped Ashley Smith in a specially designed restraining chair for eight hours in 2007 for banging her head on the floor of her cell, says the lawyer for the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.
Jurors at the inquest into Smith’s October 2007 death viewed dramatic video Tuesday showing the teen being strapped into a chair at the Nova Institution because she was harming herself in her segregation cell.
“It’s an extraordinary deprivation of her liberty. She was in that chair for eight hours strapped in like that. It’s an extraordinary use of force on someone who was essentially compliant with them,” Breese Davies said in an interview outside the inquest.
“There doesn’t seem to have been any effort to take measures to de-escalate the situation with her,” Davies said.

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The court sides with secrecy

When Congress and the executive branch collude to keep Americans in the dark about whether their privacy is being invaded, the Supreme Court should be willing to lift the veil of secrecy — at least to the extent of forcing the government to explain how often it is monitoring the confidential conversations of Americans. The court abdicated that important watchdog role Tuesday when it ruled 5 to 4 that a group of journalists, lawyers and activists couldn't challenge the constitutionality of a shadowy electronic surveillance program. It's only the latest example of the court's refusal to afford victims (or potential victims) of post-9/11 policies their day in court.

Tuesday's decision came in a lawsuit filed by several people — including lawyers for suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay — who claim that a 2008 law authorizing the surveillance of non-Americans abroad violates the constitutional rights of Americans whose phone conversations and emails mig…

The Impact of Federal Budget Cuts on State and Local Public Safety

Federal Public Safety Funding at Historically Low Levels Over the past two years, federal support for the criminal justice assistance grant programs through the Department ofJustice has been decreased by 43 percent.Some programs have been eliminated; others have taken deep cuts. For instance, since FY2012 the Byrne Justice AssistanceGrant (Byrne JAG) program has been cut by 34 percent, the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring grantsby 44 percent, the in-person drug treatment supported by the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for State Prisoners(RSAT) program by 67 percent, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) by 75 percent, the juvenile delinquency prevention initiatives funded by the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act Part A (JJDPA) by more than 50 percent, and reimbursement to state and local governments though the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) by 27 percent. These programs are at historically low levels of f…

The Supreme Court Will Hear A Republican Party Lawsuit To Make Citizens United Even Worse

The Supreme Court’s election-buying decision in Citizens United v. FEC enabled wealthy corporations to spend unlimited money to change the course of American elections, and a subsequent lower court decision gave the green light to super PACs funded by unlimited donations from millionaires, billionaires and corporations. Today, the Supreme Court announced it would hear another case — brought by none other than the Republican National Committee — that would go even further towards transforming American democracy into the Wild West.

Despite recent election-buying decisions permitting unlimited donations to super PACs and other groups that exist independently of campaigns and political parties, federal law still limits individual donations to candidates and to the parties themselves. In the next election cycle, these limits include a $2,600 cap on individual donations to a single candidate, and an overall limit of $123,200 in contributions to candidates, political party comm…

Christie Blatchford: Coralee Smith describes the harrowing deterioration of her daughter, Ashley

A warm, wee slice of the Maritimes has arrived at the Ontario coroner’s inquest examining the grim prison death of teenager Ashley Smith.

With a gracious handshake and proffered condolences from the presiding coroner, Dr. John Carlisle, Ashley’s mother Coralee swept into court Wednesday.

Within 10 minutes, speaking with a soft New Brunswick accent, Ms. Smith from the witness stand was proudly introducing her grandson, Jordan, and her other daughter, Donna, to the small room.
The trio travelled from the family’s home in Moncton for Ms. Smith’s appearance here. Though a so-called “party” with standing at the inquest, which means she is represented by a lawyer, she is testifying here of her own volition.

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Panic Does Not Make for Good Policy

Sexual violence, like other forms of violence, is traumatic and devastating. The question is not whether the state has an interest in preventing such harm, but whether current laws are appropriate and effective.

The U.S. legal landscape was reshaped by federal laws passed in the mid-1990s, in response to heinous but statistically unusual crimes involving stranger abduction, rape and murder. The Wetterling Act required convicted sex offenders to register with local authorities, and Megan’s Law required law enforcement to notify neighbors about the presence of a sex offender in their community. As a result, all states now post searchable online lists of at least some categories of registered sex offenders. The U.S. Department of Justice links all the states’ registries in a single searchable site, available to neighbors, employers, landlords and the public at large.

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Prison Nation: A Young Black Man With No Diploma Is More Likely to Be in Jail Than Find a Job

The shocking statistic comes in a New York Times article shedding new light on an old topic: how prison keeps people in poverty.

A New York Times article is shedding new light on an old topic: how prison keeps people in poverty. And the article, written by John Tierney as part of a series on the social science of incarceration, contains a shocking statistic: “For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.”

The article follows the ordeal of Carl Harris and Charlene Hamilton, who exemplify how poverty is perpetuated by the prison system. Harris was a crack dealer in Washington, D.C., and made a lot of money before being arrested and incarcerated for assault. As a result of Harris’ imprisonment, his partner Charlene ended up homeless.
Hamilton “went on welfare and turned to relatives to care for their daughters while she…

Reproductive Rights in New York

New York State once led the nation in advancing women’s rights. Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to re-establish that pre-eminence with an omnibus agenda on women’s equality. The most important piece of that agenda would essentially enshrine in state law existing federal protections for abortion rights.

Antiquated language in the state’s abortion law bans the procedure after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless the woman’s life is at risk. Federal rulings also require an exception to protect a woman’s health. Mr. Cuomo’s proposal would bring New York into line with those standards. 
This is important because complications severely affecting a woman’s health often arise later in pregnancy. Although New York’s law cannot be enforced because it is superseded by federal law, as a practical matter, some New York doctors fear prosecution and, as a result, some women are forced to leave the state to get the care they need. Mr. Cuomo’s proposal is a crucial move at a crucial time. A strong law wou…

When Prostitution Wasn't a Crime: The Fascinating History of Sex Work in America

From the Louisiana colony to the California Gold Rush, prostitutes were some of the first women in early American settlements.

You've heard this before: “What two consenting adults do behind closed doors is their own business.” In the United States, it's even almost true – arguments guarding sexual rights and privacy won out in the landmark Supreme Court ruling Lawrence v. Texas, in which state sodomy laws were declared unconstitutional. But that does not apply to people who wish to exchange sex for money. Sex workers' rights are largely unprotected, and remain a political battleground; meanwhile, people who buy and sell sexual services are arrested, shamed, compelled into “rehabilitation” programs, and branded with criminal records.

But there was a time in American history when it wasn't quite so. Laws against selling sex are fairly new – just about 100 years old – and came onto the books long after the sex trade took root in American cities. Does that mea…

Elizabeth Warren Embarrasses Hapless Bank Regulators At First Hearing

Bank regulators got a sense Thursday of how their lives will be slightly different now that Elizabeth Warren sits on a Senate committee overseeing their agencies.

At her first Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, Warren questioned top regulators from the alphabet soup that is the nation's financial regulatory structure: the FDIC, SEC, OCC, CFPB, CFTC, Fed and Treasury.

The Democratic senator from Massachusetts had a straightforward question for them: When was the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial? It was a harder question than it seemed.

"We do not have to bring people to trial," Thomas Curry, head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, assured Warren, declaring that his agency had secured a large number of "consent orders," or settlements.

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There is a good video with this story.  Tom

What’s Happened In The Trayvon Martin Case Since You Stopped Paying Attention

It’s been nearly a year since George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old on his way back to his father’s townhouse. In the weeks following the shooting, the story captured the nation’s attention, culminating with Zimmerman being charged with second-degree murder last April.

But as the story has receded from the headlines, the legal case has plodded along and the trial is likely to be completed this summer. Here’s what you may have missed:

1. Zimmerman has spent over $300,000 in donations over the last year and is desperate for more funds to finance his defense. Zimmerman has “spent more than $125,000″ on living expenses — not including security — over the last year. His lawyer acknowledged that “Zimmerman’s personal spending may seem exorbitant.” Zimmerman is considering asking the court to declare him “indigent, meaning the public would have to pay for Zimmerman’s defense.” Zimmerman was also sued by a security company for unpaid bills. [Orland…

Why the Violence Against Women Act Is Crucial for Native American Women

Republicans until Tuesday, had proposed amendments to strip Native American rights and jurisdiction over non-Native perpetrators of violence on the reservation.

A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground…” -- Cheyenne proverb
This week’s debate on the Violence Against Women Act marks, what may be a very important stage in improving relations between tribal governments, state and federal governments and the protection of women.   The law has been up for re-authorization for five years, and has a few sticking points, mostly around the protection of Native and immigrant women, and gay and lesbian people.  Republicans until Tuesday, had proposed amendments to strip Native American rights and jurisdiction over non- Native perpetrators of violence on the reservation. In what appears to be a change of heart, Tuesday’s passage of SB 47 with tribal jurisdiction intact, was a step in recognizing that as Senator Patrick Leahy said, in debates, “… a vic…

How Law Enforcement and Media Covered Up the Plan to Burn Christopher Dorner Alive

HIghly disturbing behavior by newspaper and Live TV sources in complying with the San Bernardino Sheriffs.

At approximately 7 PM ET, I listened through a police scanner as San Bernardino Sheriffs gave the order to burn down the cabin where suspected murderer Christopher Dorner was allegedly hiding. Deputies were maneuvering a remote controlled demolition vehicle to the base of the cabin, using it to tear down the walls of the cabin where Dorner was hiding, and peering inside.

In an initial dispatch, a deputy reported seeing “blood spatter” inside the cabins. Dorner, who had just engaged in a firefight with deputies that killed one officer and wounded another, may have been wounded in the exchange. There was no sign of his presence, let alone his resistance, according to police dispatches.

It was then that the deputies decided to burn the cabin down.

“We’re gonna go ahead with the plan with the burner,” one sheriff’s deputy told another. “Like we talked abou…

District-Wide Model Bullying Prevention Policy

This Model Bullying Prevention Policy is a comprehensive strategy that was developed for all youth-serving agencies in the District of Columbia. The policy employs a three-level public health model to prevent bullying, which involves shifting agency norms; delivering services to at-risk youth; and responding to bullying incidents in a way that inhibits subsequent acts, with an emphasis on data analysis to measure intervention success. The policy was developed by the Urban Institute in collaboration with the 42-members of the District of Columbia Mayor's Bullying Prevention Task Force and Office of Human Rights.

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Treatment Alternatives to Incarceration for People with Mental Health Needs in the Criminal Justice System

The disproportionate number of people with behavioral health disorders involved in the criminal justice system puts a tremendous strain on scarce public resources and has a huge impact on health care and criminal justice budgets. This research summary demonstrates that with appropriate treatment and access to community-based services, this population is less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives—while resulting in substantial costs savings.

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Youth, Safety, and Violence: Schools, Communities, and Mental Health

This policy brief contributes to the urgent national conversation about violence against children, and provides three perspectives from Vera experts on school safety, mental illness, and the delivery of mental health services. The perspectives draw on Vera’s work with government partners in each of these areas to develop and implement ways of enhancing the safety, effectiveness, and fairness of systems. They offer recommendations on placing police in schools, considering mental health care as a public health issue, and providing mental health care service providers with the knowledge needed to prevent violence. Vera released the brief at a Congressional staff briefing in Washington, DC on February 12, 2013.

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Are We Living in a Police State?

What does a police state really look like in practice in America? Is it the cartoonish dystopia of sci-fi books? Is it like 1998′s “The Siege” which predicted a wholesale instatement of martial law? Or in the age of the  drone-wielding police department, is it something more mundane and subtle yet nonetheless pernicious? From this city in the middle of middle America, it looks like the latter.

When people think of Denver, many think of skiing and, since the last election, marijuana. But from here in the Mile High City, things seem a bit different. In the day to day operation of the city, we aren’t as much defined by snow and pot as we are by the fact that we live under the rule of an increasingly brutal police force. It is a police force that our political leaders are more than happy to deploy to punish undesirables, and worse, that the most powerful media organ is more than happy to defend.

We have become, in short, a national cautionary tale – one that no doubt epitom…

13 Men Condemned to Die Despite Severe Mental Illness

If juveniles and intellectually disabled people are ineligible for execution, why not paranoid schizophrenics?  Just how crazy must a person be to be ruled incompetent for execution in the United States? Being profoundly mentally ill is not enough. You have to be deemed legally "insane."

At trial, the insanity defense generally hinges on a person's inability to distinguish right from wrong or understand the "nature and quality" of his act. In the context of an impending execution, insanity means you cannot rationally comprehend that you are being put to death as a consequence of the crime you committed.

In 2005, a Texas jury found that Andre Thomas, the subject of my in-depth companion piece (see box below), was not insane at the time of his crime.

To put this in context, consider that Thomas was then, and still is, a delusional paranoid schizophrenic who hears voices—from God, he believes—telling him to do things. He carved out the organs of his …

Too Much Information

Supreme Court 2013: Why collecting DNA from people who are arrested won’t help solve more crimes. In April 2009, police easily arrested Alonzo J. King, Jr. in Wicomico County, Md. After King pointed a shotgun at a group of people, one of them told the police who did it, and King readily admitted his guilt. He was originally charged with felony assault and ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.
This seemingly insignificant criminal case is now before the Supreme Court, with arguments later this month. That’s because of what the authorities did next. When King was arrested, police took a cotton swab of skin cells from inside his cheek for DNA testing. They did not need his DNA to link him to the shotgun incident. Instead, the police entered King’s DNA profile into both the Maryland DNA database and the FBI’s national database, CODIS. King’s profile, like all those in the database, was then automatically compared every week to evidence from all unsolved crimes. And, …

Why the Gun Lobby Is Terrified of California

California would ban the sale of all semiautomatic rifles that accept removable magazines, slap a hefty tax on ammo, and require every gun owner to take a yearly safety course under a new package of firearms laws that would give the Golden State the nation's strongest gun controls.
These and many other proposed firearms laws were announced late last week by leading state Democrats and the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Many of the laws are expected to pass, in part because the Democratic Party in California now controls the governor's mansion and a supermajority in the Legislature.

"As it is with many issues, California is out front on firearms regulations," said Mark Hedlund, a spokesman for California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. "We don't represent the NRA. We don't think that the NRA represents the majority of Californians, by a long shot."
California's newly proposed gun laws would:

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Harper retreats to the safety of crime: Walkom

The prime minister's attempts to re-make Canada in his image have hit a roadblock.

Stephen Harper is moving back into safe territory.
That’s the significance of Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s announcement Monday that the Conservative government plans to get tougher on those who sexually abuse children.
The announcement was unusually content-free. Nicholson didn’t say how Ottawa would get tougher. On CBC radio the next day he was equally vague.
But clarity wasn’t the point. The point was to signal to voters that the Conservatives plan to focus more narrowly on crime as they prepare for the expected 2015 election.

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2 Years in Jail for Sitting on a Milk Crate? The Shocking Ways America Punishes Poor People Living on the Street

Laws all over the country are designed solely to target the homeless. There are better solutions.

Editor's note: There are more than one million homeless people in America and 138 million people who live paycheck to paycheck. Many more are struggling, wondering how they'll make rent or get enough food. Those numbers are astounding. This is America. Many proudly think our society is fair, but the evidence overwhelmingly shows that fairness in America is a myth. In the weeks and months ahead, AlterNet will shine more light on America's economic injustice in an ongoing series, Hard Times USA. Since many have chosen to look aside, or think the traditional ways of doing politics will fix things, there is still much to learn about how this problem will be solved, or not solved.

We are launching our ongoing series with two articles today: Part 1, below, looks at how America punishes poor people living on the street, part of a larger pattern of dealing with poverty throu…

US Prison Population Seeing 'Unprecedented Increase'

The research wing of the U.S. Congress is warning that three decades of “historically unprecedented” build-up in the number of prisoners incarcerated in the United States have led to a level of overcrowding that is now “taking a toll on the infrastructure” of the federal prison system.

Over the past 30 years, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the federal prison population has jumped from 25,000 to 219,000 inmates, an increase of nearly 790 percent. Swollen by such figures, for years the United States has incarcerated far more people than any other country, today imprisoning some 716 people out of every 100,000. (Although CRS reports are not made public, a copy can be found here.)

“This is one of the major human rights problems within the United States, as many of the people caught up in the criminal justice system are low income, racial and ethnic minorities, often forgotten by society,” Maria McFarland, deputy director for the U.S. pr…

Shhhh – What The FBI Doesn’t Want You to Know About its Racial Profiling Program

The FBI is using a racial and ethnic mapping program to collect intelligence on American communities – and it doesn’t want you to know which ones it’s spying on, or how it’s using census data to do so. The ACLU and the ACLU of Michigan filed a brief in federal court on Friday to challenge the FBI’s secrecy over its profiling practices.

FBI documents we already secured show that the Bureau is profiling some communities for intelligence collection based on false stereotypes that ascribe certain types of crimes to entire minority communities. Targeted groups include Muslims and Arab-Americans in Michigan, African-Americans in Georgia, Chinese and Russian-Americans in California, and broad swaths of Latino-American communities in multiple states.

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The Justice Department’s White Paper on Targeted Killing

Michael Isikoff at NBC News has obtained a Justice Department white paper that purports to explain when it would be lawful for the government to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen believed to be affiliated with a terrorist organization. Many of the white paper's arguments are familiar because Attorney General Eric Holder set them out in a speech at Northwestern University in March of last year. But the white paper offers more detail, and in doing so it manages to underscore both the recklessness of the government's central claim and the deficiencies in the government's defense of it.

The 16-page white paper (read it here) is said to summarize a 50-odd page legal memo written in 2010 by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to justify the addition of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Aulaqi to the government's "kill lists." That legal memo is one of the documents the ACLU is seeking in an ongoing Freedom of Information…

Blacks, Hispanics Waited Almost Twice As Long To Vote As Whites In 2012

During the November 2012 election, Black and Hispanic voters waited nearly twice as long to vote as whites, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology analysis. New York Times graphs summarizing the analysis show that white voters waited an average of 12.7 minutes, while Black and Hispanic voters waited an average of 20.2 minutes:

Long lines in several swing states were a major concern during this election, and the longest lines were in Florida, where another recent study estimated that at least 201,000 people may have been deterred from voting by lines that were hours long. This was in no small part due to Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) elimination of 6 early voting days in the state and othervoter suppression initiatives that several top Republicans later admitted were intended to keep Democrats from the polls. Both the MIT analysis and a New York Times/CBS poll showed that Democrats had longer average wait times than Republicans. In the wake of the election, 14 states a…

Mich GOP introduces bill mandating invasive transvaginal ultrasound probe for women seeking abortion

Yesterday, Republicans in Michigan went "there", introducing legislation that essentially requires a woman to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound probe just prior to having an abortion. Their justification? It "protects" women.