Friday, June 17, 2016

Machine Bias: There's Software Used Across the Country to Predict Future Criminals. And It's Biased Against Blacks
"Criminologists have long tried to predict which criminals are more dangerous before deciding whether they should be released. Race, nationality and skin color were often used in making such predictions until about the 1970s, when it became politically unacceptable, according to a survey of risk assessment tools by Columbia University law professor Bernard Harcourt.

In the 1980s, as a crime wave engulfed the nation, lawmakers made it much harder for judges and parole boards to exercise discretion in making such decisions. States and the federal government began instituting mandatory sentences and, in some cases, abolished parole, making it less important to evaluate individual offenders.

But as states struggle to pay for swelling prison and jail populations, forecasting criminal risk has made a comeback.

There have been few independent studies of these criminal risk assessments. In 2013, researchers Sarah Desmarais and Jay Singh examined 19 different risk methodologies used in the United States and found that 'in most cases, validity had only been examined in one or two studies' and that 'frequently, those investigations were completed by the same people who developed the instrument.'"

Documenting and Explaining the 2015 Homicide Rise: Research Directions
"The debate over the size, scope and causes of the homicide increase in 2015 has been largely free of systematic evidence.  This paper documents the scale of the homicide increase for a sample of 56 large U.S. cities.  It then examines three plausible explanations of the homicide rise: an expansion of urban drug markets fueled by the heroin epidemic, reductions in incarceration resulting in a growing number of released prisoners in the nation's cities, and a 'Ferguson effect' resulting from widely publicized incidents of police use of deadly force against minority citizens.  The paper concludes with a call for the more frequent and timely release of crime information to address crime problems as they arise."

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F.B.I. Steps of Use of Stings in ISIS cases
"The F.B.I. has significantly increased its use of stings in terrorism cases, employing agents and informants to pose as jihadists, bomb makers, gun dealers or online 'friends' in hundreds of investigations into Americans suspected of supporting the Islamic State, records and interviews show.

Undercover operations, once seen as a last resort, are now used in about two of every three prosecutions involving people suspected of supporting the Islamic State, a sharp rise in the span of just two years, according to a New York Times analysis. Charges have been brought against nearly 90 Americans believed to be linked to the group.

The increase in the number of these secret operations, which put operatives in the middle of purported plots, has come with little public or congressional scrutiny, and the stings rely on F.B.I. guidelines that predate the rise of the Islamic State.

While F.B.I. officials say they are careful to avoid illegally entrapping suspects, their undercover operatives are far from bystanders. In recent investigations from Florida to California, agents have helped people suspected of being extremists acquire weapons, scope out bombing targets and find the best routes to Syria to join the Islamic State, records show."


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Special Pleading: On the Identity Politics of "Blue Lives Matter"
"Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is currently poised to approve House Bill 953, which the State Senate approved 33-3 last Tuesday, following a 91-0 approval in the State House. Known as the 'Blue Lives Matter' bill, HB953 will extend the list of 'protected classes' recognized by existing Louisiana hate crimes legislation to include law enforcement professionals and firefighters. In other words, present or past employment as a cop (or a prison guard, a traffic officer, etcetera) will now stand alongside 'race, age, gender, religion, color, creed, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, or ancestry' as a category of identity awarded special protection against victimization under the law.

Although Louisiana, like most other states, already penalizes people for assaulting police or interfering with their activities, HB953 will mandate up to an additional five years of jail for felonies committed against police and their property, up to six months for misdemeanors, and escalated fines for both."

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Pfizer's Death Penalty Ban Highlights the Black Market in Execution Drugs
"Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer made big news last week when it announced a ban on the use of its drugs to carry out the death penalty by lethal injection. 'Sweeping controls on the distribution of its products' have clamped shut 'he last remaining open-market source of drugs used in executions,' the New York Times reported, calling it a milestone in the fight against capital punishment.

Somewhat buried in the flurry of headlines that followed was the fact that Pfizer has never been known to supply states with execution drugs. It is only after the company acquired a different drug company last year — Hospira Inc., which produced several drugs states have used or intend to use in executions — that Pfizer put such restrictions in place. This doesn’t make its policy any less important: 'Pfizer has closed the circle,' said Arizona federal public defender Dale Baich, who litigates lethal injection challenges across the country. 'The states can no longer obtain drugs from legitimate and legal sources.' But as Baich and others know too well, many states stopped seeking drugs from legitimate sources a long time ago. Today, most active death penalty states rely on anonymous compounding pharmacies, whose loose regulations vary wildly from state to state, making them dangerously unreliable compared to FDA approved drug companies when it comes to the efficacy of their products. Other states have broken federal law by importing illicit drugs from overseas. In driving states to the underground market, Pfizer’s announcement merely makes official what has already been happening for years."

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The Failed Promise of Legal Pot
"The dream of legal marijuana as it is being sold to the American public is that it will not only give states a chance to reap a tax windfall off of a drug millions of Americans already use; it will end the back-and-forth tussle among cops, users, and dealers, and shift police resources to more serious crimes. Most compellingly, advocates hold out the promise of a major step toward dismantling one of the pillars of racially biased policing—the war on drugs—and finally reeling in a legal net that has long entangled black men at vastly disproportionate rates.

One-half of the dream is coming true. In the first two states to go legal, arrests for marijuana possession have dropped dramatically—by 98 percent in Washington and 95 percent in Colorado as of last year—and high taxes in both states are generating tens of millions of dollars a year for education and public health. At the same time, legal markets in Washington and Colorado along with loosening medical-marijuana laws around the country have together exerted enough downward pressure on street prices that Central American cartels have reportedly begun to shift production away from marijuana, toward more profitable drugs like heroin.

But the other half of the dream is faltering....

As legalization efforts proceed apace, the risk is that even as possession arrests taper off, black markets will continue entangling young black men..."

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The False Promise of DNA Testing
"...Modern forensic science is in the midst of a great reckoning. Since a series of high-profile legal challenges in the 1990s increased scrutiny of forensic evidence, a range of long-standing crime-lab methods have been deflated or outright debunked....

DNA typing has long been held up as the exception to the rule—an infallible technique rooted in unassailable science. Unlike most other forensic techniques, developed or commissioned by police departments, this one arose from an academic discipline, and has been studied and validated by researchers around the world....

The problem, as a growing number of academics see it, is that science is only as reliable as the manner in which we use it—and in the case of DNA, the manner in which we use it is evolving rapidly."

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Is America Finally Ready for Smart Guns?
"Gun safety advocates have pushed for commercially available smart, personalized guns that could only be fired by a specific person through radio frequency chips, fingerprint scans or other technology, for more than three decades. They argue that the technology could make guns safer by reducing accidental shootings and suicides, and by rendering stolen guns inoperable by crooks — if they were widely available and became more commonplace.

Now, there are signs that a commercial market for smart guns maybe has arrived. The federal government is quietly encouraging gunmakers to submit smart weapons for military-grade testing. New Jersey lawmakers are seeking to revise a law that has kept manufacturers and retailers from selling the guns for over a decade. And federal appeals court judges in the West are deciding whether states can require gunmakers to manufacture weapons with specific safety features."

The Report to the President Outlining a Strategy to Expedite Deployment of Gun Safety Technology


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How the NRA Keeps Killer Guns on the Market
"The Kel-Tec PF-9 pistol, which retails for about $300, is one of the cheapest American-made guns available on the civilian market. In used condition, these are junk guns, Saturday night specials. But last week, George Zimmerman listed his in an online auction with a starting bid of $5,000. This was the gun he used in 2012 to shoot and kill Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager.

These macabre sales actually happen all the time in the United States. Most of the 116,000 Americans who are shot each year (32,000 fatally) receive barely a mention in local news—the perpetrators aren’t notorious, and their guns don’t become collector’s items. But neither are they removed from the market. In fact, thousands of Americans buy used guns every year—legally—with no idea those weapons were used to take someone’s life."

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