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HBO Comedy Show Pokes Fun At Federal Bureau Of Prisons Chief

On Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on HBO, the comedian host devoted almost 18 minutes to a segment critiquing the U.S. prison system, says the Center for Investigative Reporting. Oliver zeroed in on an incident that occurred in February at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement. U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asks Charles Samuels, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons: “How big is a cell? How big is the average cell in solitary?”

It’s the kind of question you’d think the head of our federal prison system would be able to answer quickly. Instead, Samuels “almost comically struggles,” as Oliver puts it. And as Samuels attempts to stall for time, Franken wonders aloud, “Am I asking this wrong?”  Finally, Samuels wagers a guess. “The average size should be equivalent to 6 by 4” feet – dimensions less than those of a queen-size bed. It’s not until later in the hearing that the prisons director touches back on the question with a new answer: “Actually, it’s 10 by 7 – for the cell size.” The segment can be seen here.

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Non-Academic Juvenile Crime "Expert" Gets Lots Of Speaking Gigs

Phil Chalmers, an Ohio real-estate agent, says he is the nation's foremost authority on juvenile homicide on mass murder, although he has not been employed in either a police department or a district attorney’s office, nor has he studied criminal justice, Newsweek reports. The magazine says Chalmers "might be the most popular motivational and anti-violence speaker on the circuit." He between 50 and 150 speeches to schools and law enforcement agencies each year for up to $3,500 per gig. This is based partly on the 2009 publication of Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer, in which he claims to identify the 10 reasons kids kill, as well as warning signs. Several experts emphatically dispute his assertions.

Chalmers says his work has helped law enforcement avert many crimes. Without explaining, he says, “We’ve stopped over 200 school massacres since Columbine. Probably more.” Chalmers’s in-your-face approach has drawn ire from parents who think it might be too violent for kids. Laurence Steinberg, a juvenile crime expert at Temple University, says that making data-based conclusions and predictions on behavior requires a large sample, and there aren’t enough teen killers for a sufficient sample group. “There may be lots of factors that kids who have committed homicide share in common,” he says, but “there are probably millions of people who have those factors who haven’t committed homicide.”

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$3.25M Settlement Offer In Denver Jail Beating; Judge Urges U.S. Probe

Former Denver jail inmate Jamal Hunter has big plans for the $3.25 million offered by the city in his jail abuse case, says the Denver Post. Hunter said he wants to build a house for his ex-wife and two of his kids, take care of his four children, buy a beauty salon and barber shop, market his own line of hair extensions and weaves for women, and donate wigs to cancer patients. He said he does not feel bitter. "I think this is a positive life-changing situation not only for me but the whole community," he said. "I'm happy to be the one with this responsibility."

Revelations in his case led to Sheriff Gary Wilson's resignation this week and an investigation by independent monitor Nick Mitchell revealing scores of inmate grievances that hadn't been properly investigated. A federal judge overseeing Hunter's case urged federal authorities to investigate the practices of the police and sheriff's departments. U.S. District Judge John Kane has not said whether he will approve the settlement. He also might pursue contempt-of-court charges against city officials. In 2011, Hunter, 40, said he was the only person with a misdemeanor charge placed in a jail pod with more than 60 felons, including gang members. Inmates beat him for supposedly being a snitch and intended to murder him, he says. 

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Even Politically Friendly States Resist Obama Plea To House Migrant Kids

In statehouses and mayor’s suites, in city council chambers and local police agencies, the challenge of housing tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American migrant children is forcing an emotional, uncomfortable and politically treacherous conversation on policymakers at every level, reports the Washington Post. Since large numbers of migrant children began showing up in the Rio Grande Valley, federal officials have turned to states as far north as New England and many places in between in the search for places to keep the children while the government figures out whether to unite them with family members in the U.S. or deport them.

Even in places where the administration can usually count on support, it has frequently been met by resistance, suspicion or, in some cases, plain old puzzlement. The Democratic governors of Connecticut and Maryland have objected to specific proposals to locate shelters for the children in their states. When federal officials turned to Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin for a hand, they weren’t exactly given a set of keys to the 1,000-child capacity facility they were seeking. “We obviously don’t have anything close to that in Vermont,” said Shumlin’s deputy chief of staff, Susan Allen. “We don’t have armories available; we don’t have a military base.” In Tucson, a left-leaning university city in conservative Arizona, confusion and distrust spread after the appearance of work crews at a sprawling, two-story apartment complex that formerly housed college students. Eventually, federal officials confirmed that the complex was being rehabbed to house unaccompanied minors.

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AZ Execution Takes Two Hours; Lawyer: "The Experiment Failed"

Executions by lethal injection usually take about 10 minutes, but Joseph Rudolph Wood's yesterday in Arizona took two hours, reports the Arizona Republic. There had been concern about the drugs used in this execution, a cocktail of the Valium-like midazolam and a narcotic called hydromorphone. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to delay it. For an hour and a half, Wood made a sound the newspaper described as "a snoring, sucking, similar to when a swimming-pool filter starts taking in air ... it was death by apnea."

Finally, Wood started to gasp less frequently. Once, twice, minutes apart. Finally, Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan appeared and announced that the execution had been completed. One of Wood's lawyers said, "The experiment failed."

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Bucar, New Pittsburgh Safety Director; Agrees Police Morale Is Low

Stephen Bucar is expected to be confirmed today as Pittsburgh's public safety director, taking the helm of a police department that saw its former chief sent to federal prison this year. reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s such a pleasant and personable guy,” said City Council President Bruce Kraus of the 54-year-old former FBI agent and Pennsylvania state trooper. “To me, he’s the complete package.”

Bucar acknowledged low morale at the police bureau, which he called a “very professional organization” though one in which a “small number of bad seeds” get all the publicity. “It taints and paints with a broad brush,” he said, adding that public perception of officers affects their work. The way forward, he said, is to build leadership that instills respect in the rank and file, and a new chief who not only can inspire officers but successfully reach out to communities that have seen a deteriorating relationship with the department. Councilman Ricky Burgess complained that the department had flatly refused to fully implement the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, a 4-year-old local version of a violence-intervention program that has seen success in other cities and one that Mayor Bill Peduto and Bucar say they want to revamp.

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Judge Declares Class Action In CA Inmate Suit On Race-Based Punishment

A federal judge in Sacramento has awarded class-action status to a lawsuit filed by California prison inmates alleging their rights are violated by widespread practices of race-based punishment, reports the Los Angeles Times. Prison officials acknowledge they respond to outbreaks of violence by ordering lockdowns and other sanctions, and that every inmate is assigned a race or ethnic code: black, Hispanic, white or other. They deny that punishments are decided by race. However, they commonly contend that inmates align themselves with gangs based on race and ethnic group.

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley's ruling yesterday found it is "undisputed" that California uses statewide policies governing lockdowns that utilize race. He wrote that "any assertion denying the existence of the [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's] policy to be insincere at the very least." The case stems from a 2008 court complaint by inmate Robert Mitchell, who protested that he was repeatedly subjected to lockdown and denied access to exercise or programs because of his race. Mitchell alleged, according to the lawsuit, that prison officials said it was state policy that “when there is an incident involving any race, all inmates of that race are locked up.” The class action consists of about 125,000 male inmates in the California prison system.

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MI Man Accused Of Killing 2-Year-Old Girl Freed Early For Jail Work

The Michigan man accused of fatally shooting a 2-year-old girl execution-style was expected to be in jail at the time of the incident on an 11-month sentence, but he served only about 3 months after being released for good behavior, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office tells the Detroit News. Raymone Jackson, 25, was arraigned before Wayne County Circuit Judge David Groner yesterday on charges including first-degree murder, torture and two counts of assault with intent to murder.

Groner recalled sentencing Jackson to 11 months of jail time and 2 years of probation on a drug charge in September. At the time of that sentence, Jackson was already on parole for a separate drug charge. So Groner was stumped when he asked Wednesday why Jackson hadn’t done the 11 months but had instead been discharged from parole a week before prosecutors say he shot KaMiya Gross, 2, in the head on July 1 outside of her home. The sheriff's office said Jackson was able to earn time off his sentence by working in jail. In 2010, Jackson was sentenced to 2-5 years for manufacturing and delivering a controlled substance more than 25 grams. 

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FBI Checking How Swindlers Got Information On Migrant Children

The federal government is investigating how detailed information about migrant children being held at two American military bases was obtained by con artists who are using it to lure unsuspecting relatives into paying hefty sums to reunite their families, preying on people who have been separated for years, says the New York Times. Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Mexico and Central America have crossed the southwest border in the last year. Amid the surge, it has sent several thousand of them to emergency detention shelters on military bases until they can be placed with relatives or sponsors in the U.S.while their cases are decided in court

The FBI says swindlers have got hold of precise details about the children to reach out to their relatives across the country, claiming that payments are required to cover the processing costs and travel expenses of reuniting families. Cases of the fraud have been reported in 12 states so far, from New York to California, with the con artists seeking $350 to $6,000 in so-called fees. “There are enough cases that it’s not an isolated incident. It is a problem,” said Michelle Lee of the FBI in San Antonio. The leak of information is the latest setback in a saga that has compromised the Obama administration’s broader aspirations for an immigration overhaul. Investigators are trying to determine whether a federal database on the children was hacked, or if a contractor or government employee with access to information on the minors sold it to con artists. The children whose families were targeted were housed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, military installations that have held nearly 4,500 unaccompanied minors since they began handling the overflow of Central American children arriving at the border.

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Blacks Disproportionately Ticketed for Consuming Pot In Seattle

Blacks were disproportionately cited by Seattle police for consuming pot in public in the first six months of 2014, the Seattle Times reports. The police department said officers wrote 82 tickets for public pot consumption in the first half of the year, with 37 percent of those going to blacks. Blacks account for 8 percent of the Seattle population. Half the tickets went to whites, who represent 70 percent of city residents. Racially disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws is one of the chief arguments used by advocates for legalizing pot.

A national study by the ACLU found that 3.7 blacks were arrested for every white on pot charges. Survey data from the U.S. Public Health Service shows that blacks and whites consume pot at nearly the same rates; in 2010, 14 percent of blacks and 12 percent of whites reported using pot in the previous year. Overall, women accounted for just 11 percent of the citations; 41 percent of all people who received tickets lived in low-income housing, shelters, motels, or vacant lots. People cited ranged in age from 18 to 77. The real issue is who police are likely to contact in downtown public spaces for violating the law, said Loren Atherley, a Seattle Police Department criminologist and co-author of the report.

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TCR at a Glance

Merging Family and Drug Courts

new & notable July 25, 2014

London's court for parents who abuse drugs and alcohol uses specially-trained judges and multi-disciplinary teams, according to a report ...

Five Things About Deterrence

new & notable July 24, 2014

A National Institute of Justice flyer argues that the certainty of punishment, rather than severity, deters crime

The ‘War’ Against Whistleblowers

July 19, 2014

Hackers and free speech activists gather in New York to denounce what they call unprecedented government efforts to prosecute leakers