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Prisons, Police Would Get Increase In PA Gov's First Spending Plan

New Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, in his first budget proposal, wants deep cuts in education programs but protects public safety agencies, reflecting the governor's background in the area, says the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. The corrections budget would grow $186.5 million from $1.7 billion to $1.9 billion dollars. The proposed budget restores $173 million in temporary federal stimulus funding that expires in June.

Proposed increases include $68.5 million to house 1,260 new inmates in four institutions and at community facilities. 2,100 inmates temporarily housed in Virginia and Michigan would be returned to Pennsylvania prisons for a savings of $29.6 million. Inmate medical care would increase by $1 million to $244 million. Funding for the Board of Probation and Parole would increase from $142.1 million to $149.1 million, including an increase of $7.3 million for supervision of offenders. $3.4 million will fund additional parole officers. For the state police, The general fund appropriation would increase by $10 million from $175.6 million to $185.6 million, and the appropriation from the Motor License Fund would rise by $31.6 million from $533.5 million to $565.1 million.

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Violence Drops in Seattle but Domestic Violence Assaults Rise

Violent crime reported to Seatte police dropped 9 percent last year compared with 2009, reports the Seattle Times. Of the 19 homicides in the city last year, detectives made arrests in 15 — plus arrests in four additional "cold-case" killings, including one dating back to 1968, said Assistant Chief Jim Pugel. The homicide rate was the lowest since 1956, "which was the year before I was born, and I'm old," Police Chief John Diaz cracked.

Robberies were down 20 percent in 2010 compared with the previous year. Diaz said one troubling trend is the slight rise in the number of aggravated assaults, crimes that typically involve the use of deadly weapons or result in great bodily harm. Though the 1,973 aggravated assaults committed was only a 1 percent increase over the 1,945 in 2009, "hidden in those numbers" is a trend showing a disturbing rise in assaults related to domestic violence, Diaz said. Police have been focusing on reducing burglaries, car prowls and auto thefts — and each of the department's five precincts have created lists of their 10 most-wanted suspects in each category. By concentrating on pattern burglars, officers in one precinct caught one-third more burglars last year than the year before.

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Ex-U.S. Prosecutor Disbarment Sought; First Such Action in a Decade

Regulators have asked the District of Columbia's highest court to strip a former federal prosecutor of his law license for his "illegal and unethical" conduct during high-profile murder cases in the mid-1990s, reports USA Today. If the D.C. Court of Appeals disbars former assistant U.S. attorney G. Paul Howes, it will be the first time in at least a decade that any court disbarred a federal prosecutor for ethics violations in a criminal case.

USA Today has documented 201 cases since 1997 in which courts found that federal prosecutors had violated laws or ethics rules. Each case was so serious that judges overturned convictions or rebuked prosecutors for misconduct. Even so, prosecutors faced little risk of being punished: Only six federal prosecutors faced any discipline from state offices that oversee legal ethics, and none was disbarred.

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Insider: ATF Has Allowed More Guns Into Mexico Than It Has Stopped

U.S. authorities in Mexico charged with stemming the flow of U.S. weapons to drug cartels have been hampered by shortfalls in staffing, agents with limited Spanish skills, and the difficulty of recruiting new agents to the dangerous posting because they can't officially carry weapons, current and former staff members tell the Los Angeles Times. Facing new accusations that investigators with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed buyers to funnel high-powered assault weapons into Mexico, a senior agent posted to Mexico before 2010 said the agency had not fielded the resources necessary to block mass movements of weapons across the Southwest border.

These movements have come under scrutiny amid revelations that ATF investigators delayed for months the arrests of suspected cartel gun buyers, allowing the flow of hundreds of weapons to Mexico in the hope of catching bigger buyers. The policy has outraged many agents and prompted a Senate investigation. Yesterday, most architects of the Phoenix-based operation, known as "Fast and Furious," were called to Washington to discuss it. Rene Jaquez, a former ATF attache in Mexico, said U.S. agents there did not have the resources to run down gun smugglers effectively. Jaquez said ATF  offices in Mexico were so short-staffed that agents were either forced to spend most of their time on paperwork or didn't have necessary backup to safely do street work. "ATF has put all this money into Mexico, what have we done? How many guns have we stopped from coming into the country? Well, this whole scandal shows we've probably allowed more guns into the country than guns we've stopped," Jaquez said.

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MI YouTube Child Porn Case Question: Were Children Abused?

Muskegon, Mi., is divided over the case of Evan Emory, 21, a singer and songwriter, who became a household name last month when he edited a video to make it appear that local elementary school children were listening to him sing a song with graphic sexual lyrics, reports the New York Times. He showed the video in a nightclub and posted it on YouTube. Prosecutor Tony Tague charged Emory with manufacturing and distributing child pornography, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Emory’s supporters, including the almost 3,000 people who have “liked” a "Free Evan Emory" Facebook page, say the case is a vast overreaction to a prank gone astray, and a threat to free expression.. “I think they’re making a very huge deal out of it ,and it’s really not that big of a deal,” said Holly Hawkins, 27, a waitress. “None of the kids were harmed in any way.” Legal experts say the case underscores the evolving nature of the law when it comes to defining child pornography in the age of Facebook, YouTube, and sexting. With the rise of technology, said Carissa Hessick of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State, “now we have situations where people are being arrested and charged” in connection with digitally altered images, where no child was abused.

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Texas May Cut Prison Officials' Housing Perks In Budget Crisis

Rick Thaler, who makes $133,301 as director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's prison division, lives in a state-owned, single-family house on prison grounds that costs him $75.65 a month, to help cover the cost of utilities, says the Austin American-Statesman. He is among more than 2,500 employees of Texas' corrections system who are getting free or discounted rent in state housing. Such housing is the costliest of several employee perks that range from use of the prison system's 11 employee-only swimming pools to free meals in prison mess halls to more than 2,100 state-issued cell phones to a $7-a-month haircut and laundry service provided by convicts for prison guards.

Top prison officials say the housing program essentially breaks even, but the American-Statesman says it lost about $900,000 in 2010 — at a time when the agency, to save money, is laying off 400 employees and cutting inmate treatment and rehabilitation programs that could make prison operations even more costly. In recent days, prison employee perks have been targeted by legislative leaders, who say that, with the state facing the largest revenue shortfall in more than two decades, costly employee entitlements need to go. "We should be cutting perks, not people," said state Rep. Jerry Madden, who heads the House Corrections Committee. "Before one state employee is laid off, we need to look at cutting a lot of these perks — including the housing."

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High Court Ruling May Allow More Convicts to Get DNA Evidence Tests

The Supreme Court pried open the courthouse door a crack for prisoners who after their convictions seek access to evidence for DNA testing, says NPR. By a 6-3 vote, the court ruled that prisoners have a right to use federal civil rights law to get such material. Texas leads the nation in the number of prisoners freed by DNA testing, with 41 DNA exonerations, but its state law imposes limits on such post-conviction testing. The Supreme Court's ruling yesterday allowed prisoners to challenge those limits in federal court.

The court ruled in favor of Henry "Hank" Skinner, was 45 minutes away from execution last March when the high court granted a stay to hear his case. Outside Texas, barriers to inmate DNA testing have been tumbling down of late. Just last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated a provision in that state's law that barred post-conviction testing in cases where the defendant had confessed. Prosecutors were dismayed by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association, says that "in the real world, people in prison have a lot of time on their hands" and "they now have an entire new avenue" to bring legal challenges.

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New Baltimore Prosecutor May Eliminate Police-Misconduct Unit

As the Baltimore Police Department faces one of its largest corruption scandals in history, the new city prosecutor is revamping the way prosecutors deal with police wrongdoing, reports the Baltimore Sun. Gregg Bernstein, who took office in January, is considering eliminating a decade-old division that is devoted to police misconduct cases. He has abolished a controversial list kept by his predecessor that banned certain officers from testifying at trial.

Such moves appear contrary to national trends "in larger jurisdictions" like Baltimore, says Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association. Most cities have a separate prosecutor's unit to investigate criminal allegations against police, he said, and everyone keeps tabs on officers who might have credibility issues. "Whether by formal policy or by common sense, you try to make sure that person isn't the lead investigator on every case," Burns said. Law enforcement analysts said Bernstein's moves are likely to be geared toward preserving positive relations with police. Bernstein campaigned on a platform of better relations with law enforcement, which roundly endorsed him after years of butting heads with predecessor Patricia Jessamy, who wasn't shy about criticizing the department. Bernstein refused to be interviewed.

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TCR at a Glance

How to Build the ‘Perfect Cop’

February 27, 2015

Can community policing restore public trust in a profession shaken by national events? The Sacramento News & Review gets a mixed answer.

Study: Medical Identity Theft on the Rise

new & notable February 26, 2015

The number of patients victimized by medical fraud schemes jumped nearly 22 percent in 2014, according to an annual study by the Ponemon ...

How to Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform

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

There Goes the Judge

February 24, 2015

Once-sleepy “retention elections” for judges have become vulnerable to big-spending partisan campaigns.

Chain of Command

February 20, 2015

Military brass undermine the ability to prosecute sex assaults, a New York City Bar Association panel is told

What was the BOP Doing in Afghanistan?

February 19, 2015

The federal agency overseeing prisons played a previously undisclosed role in the war on terror overseas. The ACLU wants to find out more.