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Ferguson Among Two Dozen Law Enforcement Agencies Under DOJ Scrutiny

Ferguson has been one of about two dozen law enforcement agencies under investigation by the Justice Department, reports the Los Angeles Times. Police departments in Cleveland, Albuquerque and Newark, N.J., were the subject of scathing federal investigations last year. The number of departments under DOJ investigation has increased under the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder. Nineteen departments have been placed under some form of federal monitoring since 2000, said a 2013 report by the Police Executive Research Forum.
In 2012 alone, five major city police departments were placed under some form of federal monitoring. Ferguson officials will now probably enter negotiations with the federal government to determine what reforms and monitoring will be put in place. The Justice Department can sue the city to force reform if the two sides fail to come to an agreement, said criminologist Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska. Walker said Ferguson police would probably receive some kind of court-appointed watchdog. "A monitor is essential and has been included in all the other Justice Department settlements," he said. "You've got to have someone independent who reports to the judge, and those reports are public ... It provides a picture of what progress they are making."

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As Denver Violence Spikes, Gang Members Invited To "Ceasefire 2.0"

Amid a spike in violence, Denver gang members were invited to a closed-door meeting last night where cops and prosecutors laid down the law while social workers and other service providers offered options for a better life, the Denver Post reports. The meeting was part of the city's new Group Violence Intervention program, one of dozens of offerings in Denver's plan to reduce gang violence. It is an offshoot of Ceasefire, a gang-intervention effort started in 2012 by Police Chief Robert White. Ceasefire, which also called gang members into closed-door meetings, had demonstrated success in other cities but also has proved hard to maintain.

Group Violence Intervention program can be described as "Ceasefire 2.0," said Christine Downs, a Denver police spokeswoman. Commander Mark Fleecs, who supervises the police gang unit, said Ceasefire had mixed results. Some things worked. Some didn't. The plan now is to narrow the focus toward the people who are the most violent, Fleecs said. The total number of gang-related crimes reported in 2014 was 335, down from 367 in 2010, police said. Gang officers also watch aggravated assaults, which account for the highest number of crimes, and a figure described as "unique incidents," because that number reflects the actual number of crimes, which can have multiple victims.

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PA Supreme Court Reviewing Gov. Wolf's Moratorium On Capital Punishment

Opponents of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's moratorium on capital punishment gathered yesterday at the Capitol to criticize a decision they say was reached without input from crime victims or law enforcement officers, says PennLive.com. They came together on the day that inmate Terrence Williams had been was scheduled to be executed, the first death sentence to be reprieved as a result of the moratorium. "Pennsylvania crime victims deserve justice. What they are receiving from the governor is politics," said Rep. Mike Vereb. "He could approach the Legislature to try to get the law changed or he could have filed a lawsuit in court and seek an injunction in death penalty cases. The governor chose to pursue neither of those options."

On Feb. 13, Wolf signed an executive order putting executions on hold until he reviews a Senate-ordered study due later this year. Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said the governor's decision should not be interpreted as "an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row." He said the governor "stands with all those who have suffered at the hands of those in our society who turn to violence." Sheridan said Wolf looks forward to reading the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear a lawsuit by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams challenging Wolf's authority to impose the moratorium. 

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Grassley: Whistleblowers Allege OJJDP Grant Mismanagement In 8 Places

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) has widened his inquiry into whistleblowers’ claims of fraud and mismanagement in the awarding of grants from the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports. Grants went to states and territories that allegedly incarcerated foster children, runaway youth and other vulnerable juveniles in violation of federal law. In addition to states and territories named so far, Grassley’s office said, “The alleged mismanagement may extend to many more states and could date as far back as 1986.”

Grassley added, “Any failure to administer this program is a failure to those that it was intended to serve. Unfortunately, the alarmingly high prevalence of alleged failures and the department’s own responses to those allegations suggest systemic mismanagement that must be corrected. These kids and young adults deserve and depend on accountability from government.” In a letter to Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, Grassley outlined allegations by whistleblowers that oversight failures may have led to unlawful OJJDP grants to Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

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Teacher Asks Inmate Students To Write Their Own Obituaries

The obituary assignment at California's San Quentin State Prison came with a twist, says the Los Angeles Times. Instead of writing about a pop star's overdose or a political leader's assassination, journalism professor William Drummond of the University of California Berkeley told his incarcerated students they would be writing their own death.their own. They would choose how they would die, and they would sum up their own lives however they wanted.

"I did it as a way to find out how these guys had reconciled their crimes," Drummond said. "Were they able to take a critical look at what got them in trouble?" The inmates were uncomfortable. They were best known for their worst decisions, including stabbing a man to death, gunning down a bystander, robbing banks. Drummond wanted to know: "What is your real value?" The resulting obituaries, he said, were reflective, outlandish, candid, evasive, aspirational. They showed how people who have wronged society would like to be remembered.

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Firm Running TX Prison Where Inmates Rioted Is Bidding On A New One

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons is still dealing with the aftermath of a riot last month at the Willacy County Correctional Center that left the southeast Texas prison (a collection of Kevlar domes) “uninhabitable,” the Marshall Project reports. The Utah-based Management and Training Corporation, which runs the facility, has said the prisoners, mostly immigrants caught illegally trying to enter the U.S., planned a riot in hopes of being transferred to another facility.

Carl Takei of the American Civil Liberties Union blamed condition at the facility, including overcrowding, overuse of solitary confinement, and overflowing toilets. Next week, the private company is due to bid for contracts to run a new immigrant facility in Leflore County, Ms., as well as four existing immigration facilities in Texas. Takei says Willacy should be a cautionary tale for Leflore County. He also points to a series of scandals over poor conditions at state prisons run by the Utah company, which may lead to an ACLU-sponsored class action suit.

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TCR at a Glance

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new & notable February 25, 2015

Two new studies by the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group, highlight successful campaigns for changes to state criminal justice policy