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More Youths With Autism Entering PA Juvenile Justice System

New data indicates that the number of Pennsylvania youths with autism who are getting caught up in the juvenile justice system increased dramatically from 2005 to 2011, prompting researchers to call for a deeper dive into the numbers and better strategies to guide law enforcement and other agencies encountering those with autism, says The Reporter in Lansdale, Pa. The 2014 Pennsylvania Autism Census Update said the rate of juvenile justice system contact among individuals with autism grew from 659 per 10,000 people in 2005 to 1,423.4 per 10,000 people in 2011.

The most common criminal charges in such cases involved property offenses and incidents of physical contact. "Individuals with autism who have contact or multiple contacts with the justice system are (an) at-risk group both because contact with the justice system can be traumatic and misunderstood, and because the short- and long-term costs to the system for crisis events are generally disproportionate when compared to the cost of the services that might prevent such events,” the report concludes. Jason Schellack of the Autism Advocacy and Law Center said that, “When a student with a disability displays behavioral problems, such as aggression or making threats, school staff too often rely on law enforcement for help.”

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Cosby Case Shows How Social Media Encourage News Outlets To Cover Rape

In 2006, a woman publicly accused Bill Cosby of raping her two decades earlier. Her story lingered at the fringes. Two weeks ago, says the Washington Post, the same woman, Barbara Bowman, repeated the story about Bill Cosby she told in 2006. This time, the news media’s reaction was wholly different. The story triggered an explosion of coverage, which led other women to emerge with (or retell) similar stories, which led to even more coverage. Once reluctant to document uncorroborated claims of sexual violence, the news media has reshaped its approach rapidly. Rape allegations are more likely to be covered and to be treated with greater nuance and deference when they are, say people who follow the issue.

“I think there has been some change,” said Jaclyn Friedman of Women, Action and the Media, a nonprofit group that seeks gender justice in media portrayals. “You still see some victim-blaming coverage. . . . But I see a lot more credible, credulous coverage [of sexual violence issues] in a lot of mainstream places.” Friedman and others credit social media with revolutionizing the way the mainstream media approaches issues involving rape. 

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Obama Seeks "Specific Steps" To Improve Police-Minority Relations

While black leaders questioned the fairness of the grand jury proceedings in the Ferguson killing of Michael Brown, President Obama demanded the prosecution of looters who trashed the city and set the stage for a national debate on criminal justice reform and even possible race-based hiring changes at police departments, the Washington Times reports. Obama said yesterday he wanted to use the Ferguson tragedy to force communities to take “specific steps” to improve relations between their police departments and minority communities that often believe “our laws are not being fairly enforced.”

The president ticked off several solutions, such as better police training, and suggested police departments needed to become more racially diverse like their communities, hinting at the possibility of hiring quotas. "We know that a police force that is representative of the communities it is serving makes a difference,” Obama said, urging a national dialogue on healing minority communities’ biggest frustrations with law enforcement. “The frustration the people have generally … are rooted in some hard truths that have to be addressed,” he told a gathering in his hometown of Chicago. Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department's civil rights investigations in Ferguson will “continue to be thorough, they will continue to be independent, and they remain ongoing.”

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OK Boy, 3, Accidentally Shoots Mom To Death; Gun Mishaps Rare

A U.S. Army Reserve specialist was fatally shot by her 3-year-old son in their home Monday, the Tulsa World reports. The boy shot Christa Engles, 26, in the head while she appeared to be changing her daughter’s diaper in their living room. Detectives believe the boy picked up a loaded 9mm semiautomatic handgun from the low-lying table near the couch while his mother was distracted and accidentally fired at her.

The Engles’ children have been turned over to family members, police said, but a Tulsa-based expert in child behavior said their healing process has only just begun. Child specialists interviewed the toddler about the incident and a police officer said the boy “confirmed what the evidence led investigators to assume.” The National Safety Council says fatal firearms accidents among all age groups have dropped 31 percent between 1998 and 2012, and comprise less than 1 percent of fatal accidents in the United States. Bill Brassard of Project ChildSafe, said fatal firearms accidents such as Christa Engles’, while “historically low,” are always a tragedy because they are easily preventable.

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L.A. County Boosts Outpatient Mental-Health Treatment After Killings

Los Angeles County officials gave final approval yesterday for court-ordered intensive outpatient treatment for people with serious mental illness. reports the Los Angeles Times. The Board of Supervisors approved a mental health services plan that includes implementing Laura’s Law, adopted in California after a mental health patient launched a shooting rampage at a clinic that killed 19-year-old employee Laura Wilcox and two others.

Yesterday's unanimous vote creates 300 new treatment slots for people with serious mental health issues and allows hiring to begin for mental health workers to reach out to potential patients. In some cases, the county can seek a court order to require treatment. Los Angeles County launched a small program soon after Laura's Law took effect in 2003, targeting patients with serious mentally illness for intensive outpatient treatment. That program was strictly voluntary. The new program allows for court-ordered treatment of those who refuse voluntary programs. Supervisors approved spending $1.6 million in state money to set up the program, including salaries for 18 mental health workers. They will form  two outreach teams that will assess patients referred by family members, law enforcement, treatment providers and others.

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After FL Campus Shooting, NRA, Victim Back Allowing Guns For Self-Defense

Last week's shooting at Florida State University has prompted a renewed call for allowing guns on college campuses, reports the Tampa Bay Times.Among those leading the charge is Nathan Scott, one of three people shot and wounded when Myron May opened fire at the FSU library. Scott is part of a group called Students for Concealed Carry at Florida State, which yesterday asked state legislators to allow concealed-weapon permit holders to carry firearms on college grounds.

Their request may resonate in Tallahassee, with the powerful National Rifle Association echoing the call. The NRA's Tallahassee lobbyist Marion Hammer said she hopes to have a "thoughtful, deliberative" conversation on the subject when the Legislature reconvenes. "We're not going to rush into it emotionally, like a lot of people do after a tragedy," Hammer said. "But the reality is, there is a ban of guns on campus, and that did not stop an attacker. The law never stops the bad guy. It only stops the good guys from being able to protect themselves and others." Florida is one of 20 states that bans carrying concealed weapons on college campuses, says the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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TCR at a Glance

What the Ferguson Grand Jury Missed

commentary November 25, 2014

Why did the killing of a young black man by a police officer capture our attention—and challenge the national conscience?

Crime and Prison Population Fall in N.C.

new & notable November 21, 2014

A series of justice reinvestment reforms in North Carolina have created a more efficient system, according to a report by the non-profit ...

Does 'Right-to-Carry' Lead to More Crime?

new & notable November 20, 2014

Laws that allow concealed weapons in public are associated with higher rates of aggravated assault, rape, robbery and murder, according t...