In a federal election year with increasing concern about the rising federal deficit, don't look for any big increases in federal spending on anticrime programs. That was the message criminal justice organizations got in Washington, D.C. yesterday from a congressional staff member who deals with Justice Department funding. Among the perennial issues that must be addressed are how much to reimburse states for incarcerating immigrants and budget levels for homeland security--not directly a crime issue but since 2001 viewed as a competitor for anticrime funding. The Obama administration has proposed several new justice-related programs but money for them likely must be taken from existing projects.
Another complication that justice watchers might not think much about is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It happens that the NASA budget is handled by the same congressional committees that decide on Justice Department appropriations, and President Obama has proposed to end a major NASA program. Conceivably, any congressional efforts to restore NASA funding could affect the Justice Department's allotment. Another big issue Congress must grapple with are earmarks by members for specific programs. Some lawmakers may be forced to decide between projects for their districts and those sought by national organizations--" a hard choice for members to make," said the staff member.
Offices charged with ferreting out corruption among U.S. border and immigration employees are in a turf battle that has delayed some investigations and threatens to undermine a host of enforcement actions, reports the Center for Investigative Reporting in the Washington Post. The conflict pits the inspector general's office in the Department of Homeland Security against the agency's Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division and the FBI.
The turf battle came to a head about a week before the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack aboard an airliner, when Assistant Inspector General Thomas Frost ordered the top internal affairs official at CBP to drop any investigations underway outside the inspector general's supervision. When the memo was issued, CBP's internal affairs office was involved in about 100 criminal corruption inquiries, including joint investigations with the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The cases cover allegations including taking bribes from drug traffickers and improper searches of law enforcement databases.
New York City's homicide increase this year--109 through March 28 compared with 89 a year earlier, means that there likely will be about 500 this year the the third-lowest total since 1963, police spokesman Paul Browne tells the Wall Street Journal. The city has cut its police force to 35,000. That's about 5,000 fewer officers than were on the force when Raymond Kelly became commissioner in 2002. Patrick Lynch, president of the union that represents 22,000 patrol officers, called the trend worrisome. "The lack of uniformed police officers patrolling neighborhoods has emboldened the criminals who once again feel free to carry guns and use them in their crimes," he said.
Andrew Karmen of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York urged caution about looking for trends in less than three months of data. "This whole hullabaloo is a little premature," he said. "Frankly, this has happened before. There have been bad stretches, and each time it happens there are some questions about whether this is the beginning of the end of crime reductions  it's just way too early to say."
Hacking their way into home fax lines, inmates in Miami-Dade jails are racking up tens of thousands of dollars in collect calls billed to unsuspecting citizens, reports the Miami Herald. Recent victims include a federal judge, a Miami Herald columnist and the county architect who helped design a Miami-Dade jail. Corrections officials say the inmates, with help from accomplices on the outside, have figured out how to forward collect calls through AT&T from a victim's fax line to the inmates' girlfriends, pals or relatives -- who accept the calls but don't have to foot the bill.
Alabama-based Global Tel*Link, which operates jail collect- and prepaid-call systems nationwide, has reimbursed customers nearly $200,000 for bogus calls over the past two years. The Miami-Dade Corrections department and GTL say they can do little to stop the scam because the call forwarding is done through AT&T. An AT&T spokeswoman said the company is investigating. Inmates at five jails have free access to banks of phones, 600 in all, located in common areas. They can only make collect or prepaid phone calls of up to 30 minutes. To make them, an inmate must open an account with GTL and use their thumbprint to activate the phone. Despite those safeguards, authorities say they are unable to prosecute violators for fraud. Investigators would have to prove the inmate arranged the scheme and actually made the calls -- a nearly impossible burden when an inmate could claim he simply allowed another cellmate to use his account.
A program that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca championed three years ago to reduce the early release of jail inmates by placing as many as 2,000 additional offenders on electronic monitoring at home has failed to make a significant dent in the problem, reports the Los Angeles Times. When he announced the initiative in 2007 and prodded the state to allow it, Baca touted it as a major step that would free jail space and allow the department to keep more-serious offenders behind bars longer.
Officials concede the plan was based on a misunderstanding of the jail population. That doomed it from the outset. Last week, only 135 inmates were involuntarily serving sentences at home, where they wear electronic ankle bracelets to track their movements. There are now fewer inmates on home detention than when Baca pushed to expand the program in 2007. When they calculated how many inmates might be eligible for the program, sheriff's officials thought large numbers of nonviolent, low-security inmates suitable for home detention were in the jails. Their calculation took into account only the current charges inmates were being held on. Once they reviewed the criminal histories of inmates, officials said they found many had serious or violent records that made them ineligible for home detention. "The myth of the low-security, nonviolent offender in jail is just that: a myth," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.
A new law to thin California's packed prisons has drawn political scrutiny and legal challenges over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s goal to save $500 million by releasing up to 6,500 inmates before they finish their original sentences this year, reports the San Diego Union-Tribune. The legislation will reward some felons with reduced terms if they attend vocational classes or earn a high school equivalency diploma. The state's leading advocacy groups for victims sued yesterday in San Diego Superior Court to challenge the law.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation insists that it’s following the law by continuing a program that encourages low-risk inmates to behave, learn a skill and better transition to life on the outside. Crime Victims United and their allies in the legislature say the prison agency’s practice violates a tenet of Proposition 9, approved by voters in 2008, which ordered a crackdown on early releases and established a series of rights for victims. “This amendment incorporated into the constitution the public’s right to prevent the early release of felons, adequate notice of the release to victims of those felons and funding of prisons adequately to protect the public,” the lawsuit states. Gordon Hinkle, a prison system spokesman, said the legislation has been incorrectly called an early-release program. “No serious or violent felons, no sex offenders and no gang members would be eligible for the new parole terms created by the law,” he said.
Advocates for domestic violence victims are sounding a warning about a U.S. Supreme Court case being argued tomorrow that they say could make it much harder for battered women and men to enforce restraining orders against their abusers, reports the National Law Journal. The case challenges the way restraining orders are enforced in the District of Columbia. D.C. law allows victims to bring criminal contempt charges when abusers infringe on a court order. At least 14 states have similar setups.
Family law experts say the private right to prosecute gives teeth to restraining orders -- or civil protection orders, as they're called in Washington. Victims can file the paperwork and argue at the hearing that the judge should jail a tormentor. They don't have to convince a busy prosecutor to add to his or her workload. The high court case asks the justices to decide in whose name they must be brought -- the victim's or the state's? More than three dozen anti-domestic violence groups, law professors and former judges have signed onto amicus briefs to argue for the victim's name. A ruling otherwise, they say, could so complicate the process that the abused would lose one of their most important weapons.
In 2006, state researchers estimated Colorado's prisons would be bursting with 29,443 inmates by 2013. Now, the Denver Post reports that it appears they were high by nearly 8,000 prisoners , reports the Denver Post. Instead of property and drug crime rising with high unemployment and economic desperation, crime rates and incarcerations continue a steady decline. Anti-recidivism efforts by Gov. Bill Ritter and governors in other states appear to be gaining traction in keeping repeat offenders away from expensive prison cells.
Ritter's February package of deficit-closing proposals included $19.4 million in corrections savings due to lower-than-expected prisoner counts. At a cost of about $20,000 a year to house a Colorado prisoner, the prisoner shortfall means the state would be spending at least $160 million less than predicted to hold prisoners in 2013. Ritter, a former Denver prosecutor, said he has watched the number of state prisoners balloon from 3,000 when he began his career in 1981 to beyond 20,000 and to predictions of nearly 30,000 in coming years. The recent drop in projections means "we're doing a lot of things right," Ritter said. An aging population, smarter recidivism programs, drug courts, and parole reforms all contribute to the improvement, he said. The knee-jerk, lock-them-up mentality of politicians and the public has also transformed, Ritter said. "People have come to understand the intersections with drug addiction and mental-health issues," he said, adding that putting more violent criminals away in the 1980s and '90s also improved crime rates and community stability.
Most speeding tickets in the Chicago area don't go on driving records thanks to court supervision, a type of probation that helps speeders avoid license suspensions and higher insurance rates, says the Chicago Tribune. An analysis of secretary of state data showed that 57 percent of drivers found guilty of speeding last year received supervision, which kept their driving records clean.
The practice last year kept more than 160,000 Chicago-area speeding tickets off the state system that records drivers' histories. The data reinforce a Tribune analysis that found that since 2006, area courts routinely have given supervision to speeders cited by state police for going 100 mph or faster. The probation has been granted regularly to drivers weaving at those speeds, even many who were drunk at 100 mph and beyond. Supervisions have been popular in area courts for the last three decades as a way for speeders to admit they did wrong but avoid any mention of it on their driving records. That way, insurance companies don't see the ticket. The secretary of state's office also can't use the ticket as a reason to suspend a license. The insurance industry and traffic safety advocates have complained about how much Illinois courts grant supervision, saying it emboldens bad drivers to keep driving dangerously. In the last decade, reforms have led to centralized reporting of supervisions and a limit of two a year.
Some Tennessee defendants are allowed to get a form of immediate probation without going to trial and without admitting their guilt. If they behave for a certain period of time, they can have their records wiped clean as if the crime never occurred. Those practices may be coming to an end, The Tennessean reports. Prosecutors support ending the practice because they say the alternative sentencing option is too cumbersome to manage. Defense attorneys say if the crime is a first offense and if it's not violent, defendants should get a break.
"There are instances where the judicial system should be rehabilitative and helpful," said Nashville criminal defense attorney David Raybin. "It avoids the cost and trauma of a trial and focuses on rehabilitation. To me, that is critical." A bill moving through the state legislature would eliminate the alternative called pretrial diversion. It comes into play when district attorneys and the accused agree to essentially put off the prosecution of a case for a certain amount of time — typically a year or two. If the defendant makes it through that period of time without getting into any more trouble, the charges are dropped. Police keep documentation of the arrest, but other public records connected to it are erased. Davidson County District Attorney argues that pretrial diversion "has kind of outlived its usefulness." "It's become a very convoluted process," he said. If prosecutors don't believe pretrial diversion is the right choice, a defendant can challenge that, opening an appeals process that can take years.