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Does Tsarnaev Trial In Boston Spell The End For Venue Changes?

Does the decision to try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the Boston Marathon bombing in Boston spell the end to changes of venue in high-profile cases? The Christian Science Monitor raises that question, noting that the 1997 trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was moved to Denver on the grounds that he wouldn't receive a fair trial in Oklahoma. Lawyers for six Baltimore police officers facing charges related to the death of Freddie Gray in their custody could make a strong case for a change of venue. "Whether that [trial] will be held in a different part of the state or not will be a really interesting issue," says Northeastern University law Prof. Daniel Medwed.

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Feds Could File Hate Crime Charges In Charleston; SC Lacks Authority

Federal officials are investigating the Charleston, S.C., church shooting as a hate crime, and the U.S. Justice Department could weigh in with a federal hate crimes charge. South Carolina prosecutors can't add hate crime charges, because the state is one of five without a hate crime law, NPR reports. Defendant Dylann Roof may face the death penalty, regardless of his motives. Proponents of hate crime laws say the additional punishment is important for criminal justice. "People understand that this is something different," said Brandeis University president Fred Lawrence, who specializes in hate crimes. "If we were to say to the African-American community of Charleston, 'we're just going to treat this like any murder, we don't think the race of the victims is relevant at all,' I think that would be an enormous affront to that community," he said.

It's rare for federal law enforcement to get involved in hate crime cases, because most fall under state law. Most hate crime cases involve vandalism, assault, aggravated assault and murder. The feds get involved if they think the state's penalties don't adequately address the crime. In the 45 states with hate crime laws, they can make a big difference in sentencing. They may call for adding years to a prison term or changing a crime from misdemeanor to felony. The FBI found about 6,000 hate crime incidents reported in 2013. It's likely a vast undercount; the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated nearly 300,000 hate crimes in 2012, based on victim surveys. If the laws are effective, wouldn't the number of incidents be going down each year? Not necessarily. Proponents say a stronger law means more people may be willing to report hate crimes who wouldn't have before.

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NY Prison Manhunt Ends; One Escapee Killed, The Other Wounded

The three-week manhunt for two escaped inmates ended yesterday when New York State Police shot and wounded David Sweat as he jogged along a road about 40 miles from the maximum-security prison that they fled, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sgt. Jay Cook spotted Sweat in the town of Constable at around 3:20 p.m., two miles from the Canadian border, taking him into custody two days after fellow escapee Richard Matt was fatally shot by federal agents.

Cook, on patrol alone, ordered Sweat to come to him, but the fugitive turned around and gestured to seemingly say, “What do you want from me?” said state police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico. While Sweat, 35, wasn’t armed, Matt, 49, was carrying a 20-gauge shotgun when he was killed near Lake Titus. Autopsy results show Matt was shot three times in the head after officials said he refused to comply with a command to put his hands up.  Sweat’s capture brings to a close a massive manhunt that involved about 1,300 local, state and federal law-enforcement officers since the June 6 breakout and disrupted typically quiet towns around Plattsburgh, N.Y., and in the Adirondacks.


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"Prison Composition Index" Would Help Judge Which Reforms Are Working

Many states are focusing expensive prison beds on violent and career criminals with new policies that divert lower-level offenders into non-prison sanctions or reduce the time they spend locked up, yet most states cannot readily determine whether the new policies are working any better than those they replace, Adam Gelb and Craig Prins of the Pew Public Safety Performance Project write in the Washington Times. Beyond a simple count of prisoners, the typical state report offers basic demographic information and breaks down how many inmates are serving time for violent, property, drug and other crimes. These numbers reveal only fragments of the information necessary to paint a meaningful portrait of inmate populations. For instance, an offender serving time for a relatively minor crime may have a string of prior violent convictions that make him a higher risk to society than someone in prison for a more serious offense not likely to be repeated.

A more holistic look at prison use would blend current offense, prior record and risk of recidivism, say Gelb and Prins. By joining some combination of these elements into a single measure — a prison composition index — policymakers and the public could develop a better understanding of how their prison beds are being used and whether their reforms are succeeding. Pennsylvania may be the first state to use a sophisticated prison composition index. Under Secretary John Wetzel, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections uses an “Offender Violence Risk Typology” tool, which merges information about current offense, prior record and risk level to create three categories of inmates. The index says  69 percent of state prison admissions and 59 percent of the total population in 2013 fell into the least serious of the three categories, figures that have changed little since 2010.

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TCR at a Glance

Treating Mentally Ill Offenders

June 30, 2015

An Illinois lawsuit claims “deliberate indifference’ to the needs of the state’s 11,000 mentally ill prisoners.

Locked Up and Alone

special report June 29, 2015

Is isolating troubled kids solitary confinement? A California debate draws national attention.

Reinventing American Policing

commentary June 24, 2015

Top criminologists Cynthia Lum and Daniel Nagin propose a “seven-point blueprint for the 21st Century"