The practice of charging jail and prison inmates a copay for non-emergency medical care is growing in Pennsylvania, reports the Bucks County Courier Times. A county inmate must now pay a fee ranging from $3 to $5 to see a nurse or doctor in county correction centers. A corrections official said he hopes the copays lead to fewer “frivolous” medical calls.
Neighboring Montgomery County, Penn., also charges jail inmates a copay of $3 and $5. Pennsylvania state prisons charge a $5 copay for a non-emergency medical service. Copays are also charged in cases where the “injury or illness is self-inflicted” or results from the inmate's “participation in a sport.” Twenty years ago, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project filed a lawsuit challenging a county prison system over inmate health copays. A federal appeals court ultimately ruled that prisoners can be charged a fee if they can afford to pay it.
Immune to bad weather and disease, laws are perhaps Louisiana’s most reliable crop, with fresh statutes sprouting by the hundreds each year regardless of the state’s political climate, says the Baton Rouge Advocate. Some laws stay on the books. Others expire by judicial decree. But in Louisiana, some invalidated criminal laws — from an anti-sodomy law to one creating the crime of defamation — remain on the books for decades even after being ruled unconstitutional.
That places law enforcement agencies in the awkward position of arresting people for a violation that, whether they know it or not, prosecutors can’t and won’t pursue. That may be changing. Legislators have ordered a comprehensive review of state laws declared unconstitutional by a final court judgment. The reports, to be done biennially by the non-partisan Louisiana Law Institute, will recommend to lawmakers whether to repeal or revise any laws discovered to be unconstitutional.
A gunman opened fire early Thursday at a Florida State University library, sending hundreds of students who had been studying for exams scrambling for cover, says the Associated Press. Three students were wounded before police killed the gunman in a shootout. His motive was not immediately known. Two of the victims were taken to a local hospital. FSU officials said a third student who was grazed by a bullet was treated at the scene and released.
The AP identified the dead gunman as Myron May, an FSU graduate who attended law school at Texas Tech. Police and FSU officials called the shooting an "isolated incident." FSU's compact campus is located less than a mile from downtown Tallahassee and the state Capitol. The attack started soon after midnight when students inside the multistory library heard about half a dozen gunshots. Tallahassee and FSU police confronted the gunman just outside the library and ordered him to drop his handgun, but he fired a shot at them and they unleashed a volley of shots, police said.
As a grand jury in St. Louis nears a decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of a black teenager, activists are planning scores of protests across the nation, leading the FBI to warn of potential violence, says the New York Times. But with a few exceptions — most notably metropolitan St. Louis — law enforcement authorities appear to be greeting the prospect of demonstrations with equanimity.
From Detroit to Atlanta, officials said they expected little trouble or violence should the grand jury decide not to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot Michael Brown, 18, after a dispute on Aug. 9. The exceptions are Oakland, Calif., where authorities have advised residents and businesses near downtown to protect their cars and reinforce their doors, and Pittsburgh, where a police official said his department was hoping for the best but girding “for the very, very worst.”
Concerns about the administrative costs of public disclosure requests have prompted Seattle to second-guess its plan to outfit its police officers with body cameras, reports the Seattle Times. The city is within weeks of launching a six-month pilot program to outfit 12 officers with body-worn cameras. But the plan to equip more than 1,000 officers by 2016 could be shelved due to public disclosure requests already filed by one citizen and the expectation of many more, said Mike Wagers, the police department’s chief operating officer.
Officials say legislators should change the law, although a public records advocate questions the need. On Tuesday, the anonymous citizen--known only by an email address--filed an information request seeking daily updates that Wagers said would be virtually impossible to fulfill. The citizen is seeking details on every 911 dispatch on which officers are sent; all the written reports they produce; and details of each computer search generated by officers when they run a person’s name, or check a license plate or address. He or she also wants all videos from patrol-car cameras and plans to seek copies of body-cam videos once police begin using them.
Vocativ explores a disturbing pattern in Idaho of the deaths of children of parents who believe in faith healing. Journalist Shane Dixon Kavanaugh contrasts Idaho with Oregon, which in 2011 enacted strict laws that eliminate religious-defense statutes often used by professed faith-healers. Since then, Oregon has successfully prosecuted three faith-healing cases, putting mothers and fathers in jail on charges of criminal mistreatment, negligent homicide and manslaughter.
Meanwhile, at least 12 children have died since 2011 in the care of faith-healing parents in Idaho, yet not a single charge has been filed. Idaho authorities do not investigate or prosecute faith-healing deaths, which occur largely without scrutiny from the public or media. Of the dozen documented cases in the last three years—and there are likely many more that have gone unreported—all were members of the Followers of Christ, a small Christian denomination that shuns medical care.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich believes it is possible to create a bipartisan majority to "rethink" criminal justice. The Georgia Republican told the first national summit on justice reinvestment in San Diego Wednesday that "substantial aspects of sentencing and parole have to be rethought." Speaking via Skype, Gingrich said politicians went too far with harsh prison sentences in the 1980s and 1990s. While defending a "very tough approach" to violent crime, he said he now realizes that long prison terms meant "destroying the future" for many offenders.
Speaking with Gingrich was Van Jones, founder of Rebuild the Dream, whose #Cut50 project aims to reduce the U.S. prison population by half over the next decade. Jones said there is a "bipartisan moment of opportunity" to reduce incarceration. He said Democrats have been reluctant to lead the effort because many still are afraid of being labeled soft on crime. Jones said he disagrees with Gingrich on most other policy issues, but he said "strange bedfellows" should form a new coalition for change. Gingrich said a "new generation" of Republican governors might take the lead. The summit gathered government leaders and others from 35 states to discuss justice reforms.
State officials want to expand Minnesota’s specialty courts for chronic drunken drivers, which they say reduce recidivism and save taxpayers money, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. A national two-year study released Wednesday showed that in nearly all nine of the DWI courts evaluated, the rearrest rates for graduates of the intensive program dropped dramatically compared with offenders who went through traditional court.
Although dozens of DWI and drug courts have been researched, Minnesota’s study is the first to include a cost analysis. Because of the reduced recidivism, local agencies and the state save more than $1.4 million over the two years studied. Minnesota has 16 DWI or hybrid DWI/drug courts. DWI courts typically work to change the behavior of repeat drunken-driver offenders with the threat of incarceration if they fail the program. The treatment includes behavior therapy, frequent alcohol and drug testing and constant contact with probation officers.
Michigan lawmakers are poised to act on a legislative package that would reduce some prison sentences, says the Detroit News. The package of bills, on the legislature's agenda after a two-week recess, calls for a state commission to adjust tough sentencing policies adopted in 1998 that crowded prisons and sharply increased corrections spending. The legislation is aimed at reducing crime while reining in the state's $2 billion prison budget through sentencing, parole and probation reforms.
The vision is for the number of prisoners to decline over time, and for all released prisoners to receive supervision. The number of inmates incarcerated by the state has dropped below 44,000 from a high of 51,554 in March 2007, and cost increases have moderated because of policy changes and the contracting out of some prison services to private companies.
A former policy analyst for the New York City Council filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday claiming he was fired in September for speaking to reporters to voice his criticism over testimony given by Police Commission William Bratton about use of force by police officers, reports the New York Times. Artyom Matusov was fired after contacting reporters to question statistics that Bratton presented to the Council on Sept. 8. He called Bratton's data "not true.”
The suit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, asserts that the council fired Matusov, an analyst since 2011, for speaking out, but that it gave him no explanation for its action. His attorney, Norman Siegel, called it “a classic free-speech case.” A council spokeswoman said the claims had “absolutely no merit.”