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Louisiana Legislature Advances Sentencing Reform Plan

A package of bills aimed at reducing Louisiana's world-leading incarceration rate has reached a critical juncture in the state legislature, where supporters hope they have made enough changes to the key components to satisfy concerns of sheriffs and district attorneys, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The bills grew out of the work of the Sentencing Commission, and are part of a multiyear effort to lower a state prison population that has more than doubled in the past 20 years while the cost of incarceration has tripled.

Some of the measures are noncontroversial, such as a plan to impose training requirements on Louisiana Parole Board members and improve oversight of home incarceration services. The most far-reaching bills, which would allow nonviolent, nonsex offenders to be paroled faster and earn good-time credits at a more rapid clip, were approved by the House yesterday. Louisiana is among at least a half-dozen states that are taking a fresh look at their sentencing laws as state budgets are strained by decades of tough-on-crime legislation that led to record numbers of people behind bars. Nowhere in the world is the rate as high as in Louisiana, where 1 in 55 residents is locked up. "This really is an evidence-based approach to looking at how can we get a better return on our public-safety investment," said Richard Jerome of the Pew Center on the States, which is providing research and other help to the Sentencing Commission.

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KY Sex Offender Restrictions Make Living Clusters More Common

Of the 74 registered offenders listed in the one zip code near Louisville, 29 live at one apartment complex, says the Louisville Courier-Journal. Two others live on streets just a few blocks away. With Kentucky placing more restrictions on where sex offenders can live, clusters of offenders are becoming more common in Louisville's Jefferson County, which more than 1,000 registered offenders call home. Lawrence Pilcher, a registered sex offender who was convicted in 1994 for crimes against his stepdaughter, has lived at the apartment complex for about five years, helping manage the properties and acting as a supervisor to keep the offenders who live there in check

“The law is pushing sex offenders into certain locations [ ] if they can't live by a church, school or playground, then there are only certain areas within that county or city where they can live,” said Trooper John Hawkins, a state police spokesman. Maia Christopher of the Oregon-based Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, said it isn't surprising to find such clusters. Some happen by accident, but many occur because offenders are made aware by probation and parole officers where they can live in a certain area. Kentucky law says offenders who committed crimes after July 2006 must live at least 1,000 feet, or less than a quarter of a mile, away from a school, publicly owned playground, or day care center.

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Amid Dissension, Armstrong Will Ask PERF to Review Memphis Police

Memphis police officials plan to hire the Police Executive Research Forum to assess the department, says new Director Toney Armstrong, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "They have conducted comprehensive studies of police departments and issues they confront from across the nation," Armstrong said. "I feel their insights would be useful as we seek to enhance what we do."

An anonymous source released three more snippets that were secretly recorded in a two-hour meeting between Armstrong and his command staff April 28. In an earlier release from the same meeting, when Armstrong charged that former police director Larry Godwin had created "monsters" inside the department. "It is always important whenever a new leader comes in to establish the differences in leadership style and to remind people of the changing of the guard," Armstrong said yesterday. "Keep in mind that the taping of these meetings proves that I am right to have some concerns about the agendas and the loyalty of those who serve." Armstrong believes those who are disgruntled are a small faction within the department. "I think it's a very small minority. Any time there's change, there's going to be resistance to change," he said.

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NJ Gov May Focus on Putting Ex-Offenders Back to Work

New Jersey inmate Rasuel Gunn expected to get out of prison five months ahead of schedule on May 9, but Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill that day cancelling the release program. After two inmates allowed out early were charged with homicide soon after their release, the governor led the charge to cancel the program, says the Newark Star-Ledger. Gunn and most other inmates are getting out eventually, and the challenge is making sure they don’t go back. Half of all state inmates are in prison again within three years of their release, costing taxpayers an average of $48,000 each annually.

It’s a politically charged topic, and some politicians have been fearful of being portrayed as soft on crime. The push to crack down has led to strict mandatory minimum sentences and "three strikes" laws around the country. More recently, overstuffed prisons have spurred other policymakers to evaluate ways to keep people out. Christie is developing his own proposal in conjunction with the New York City-based think tank the Manhattan Institute. A draft report recommends a focus on putting ex-offenders back to work to keep them from returning to crime. The Star-Ledger discusses the Gunn case as an example of the issues at stake.

 

 

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Houston Police Making Little Dent in Rape Kit Test Backlog

Five years ago, when the troubled Houston Police Department crime lab resumed DNA testing, more than 4,000 sexual assault kits sat in a property room freezer awaiting testing. Today, says the Houston Chronicle, much of that evidence — some dating to the 1990s — is still awaiting processing.

Only 200 cases have been shaved off that backlog. Lab officials say the slow process is due to a lack of manpower. Attorneys and policy makers say untested evidence in sexual assault cases has delayed justice for rape victims, many of whom have waited years for closure. "I'm outraged on behalf of the sexual assault victims who have had a sexual assault committed and an invasive procedure, that being the rape kit, and then learn that no one has used it in an investigation, that it's in a storage room somewhere," said state Sen. John Whitmire.

 

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Lappin Named Chief Corrections Officer for The Private CCA

Harley Lappin, the recently retired director of the U.S. Prisons, has been named Executive Vice President and Chief Corrections Officer for Corrections Corporation of America, which operates 66 facilities, including 45 company-owned units, with 90,000 beds. Lappin, 55  will be responsible for the oversight of facility operations, health services, inmate rehabilitation programs, purchasing and TransCor, a transportation subsidiary. He succeeds Richard Seiter, who resigned May 31.

Lappin, 55, was a warden at two federal prisons before rising through the ranks to be named director. He announced his departure after being arrested for drunk driving in February, although he said the retirement had nothing to do with the case. Many corrections advocates have urged Attorney General Eric Holder to consider appointing an expert outside of the prison bureau to succeed Lappin.

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TCR at a Glance

When Justice Wasn’t Blind

q & a May 25, 2015

A unique encyclopedia documents the painful and often tragic history of African Americans and the law since the colonial era.

Study: Rape on Campus an 'Epidemic'

new & notable May 22, 2015

A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds rampant instances of both incapacitated and forcible rape on campus