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North Carolina Prisons Sharply Cut Use Of Solitary Confinement

North Carolina prison officials, moving away from the broad use of solitary confinement, have cut in half the number of inmates kept in isolation, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Last spring, 5,330 of the state’s 38,000 prisoners – 1 in 7 – were segregated from other inmates on any given day. This month, that number was 2,540. Prison officials say solitary confinement is not working and doesn’t lead to positive behavioral change. State prison Commissioner David Guice said staff members are assaulted more often in the locked-down units. Other states that are moving away from solitary have seen assaults decline, he said.

Solitary confinement exacerbates the symptoms of those with mental illness. The shortage of community mental health funds and services has landed many of North Carolina’s mentally ill population in jails and prisons, many of whom have been kept in solitary confinement. Guice said, “Let’s do something different or new. We are changing the culture.” Suicides and self-harm occur disproportionately more often in solitary confinement than anywhere else in prisons. The ACLU and other prison advocates last year asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate North Carolina’s use of solitary confinement, particularly the practice of keeping mentally ill inmates in isolation.

 

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Juvenile Justice Advocates Back Programs House Funders Would Kill

Reformers are dismayed by a House spending bill that would eliminate funding for several major juvenile justice programs, reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. The House bill is in sharp contrast to the Senate funding proposal, which would increase juvenile justice spending slightly. The Act4JJ Coalition, an umbrella organization that represents more than 150 children’s advocacy, legal, medical and educational organizations, said the House bill would limit how well states can serve youth. “Progress can’t be made if promises aren’t kept. We must have a national commitment to the rehabilitative purpose of the juvenile justice system; it is both cost effective and the morally right thing to do,” said Marie Williams of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, co-chair of Act4JJ.

The House Appropriations Committee approved the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill by voice vote this week. For the second year in a row, it would eliminate Title II state formula grants, which are used to support delinquency prevention and intervention programs, and the Title V Local Delinquency Prevention Program, matching grants that supports community-based delinquency prevention efforts using evidence-informed approaches. The Senate Appropriations Committee would increase funding for Title II grants from $58 million to $63 million and for the Title V grants from $17.5 million to $27.5 million. Neither the House nor Senate would fund Juvenile Accountability Block Grants, which were killed several years ago. The Obama administration wants to restore $30 million for the program.

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Hardly Any Chicago Suspects See Lawyers While In Police Custody

In the past three years, fewer than half of 1 percent of people arrested in Chicago saw an attorney while in police custody, a possible violation of their constitutional rights, according to statistics provided by the Chicago Police Department after CNN filed a Freedom of Information Act request. A Police Accountability Task Force named by Mayor Rahm Emanuel found that the police department "generally provides phone access (to arrestees) only at the end of processing, after interrogation and charging" and "when individuals in custody attempt to invoke their legal rights to counsel, they report facing hostility from police."

The task force accused the police department of institutional racism and found that officers alienated blacks and Hispanics with their use of force. Emanuel ordered many changes recommended by the panel but did not promise that arrestees would be given access to an attorney while in custody. "They are keeping 99 percent of the detainees incommunicado," said Eliza Solowiej of First Defense Legal Aid, which provides free legal representation to those in custody. Clients say they were not given access to a phone while in detention, she said. "When will (the city) ... make sure that 99 percent of the people (arrested) are not alone with police or prosecutors?" Solowiej asked. The police department said the "vast majority of arrestees ... are released in a matter of hours, and not questioned in custody." Many arrestees may not request an attorney because it would prolong their detention, the department said.

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Arrest Made In 2014 FL Law Prof Killing Described As Murder-For-Hire

The day after a Miami Beach man was arrested in connection with the slaying of Florida State University law professor Dan Markel, police continue to investigate his killing as a murder for hire, reports the Tallahassee Democrat. Sources say more arrests are expected. Police remained tight-lipped about the arrest of Sigfredo Garcia, 34, who has been charged with first-degree murder in Markel’s killing nearly two years ago. Markel 41, was found with a point-blank gunshot wound to the heat in his car in his garage. 

Garcia, who has an extensive criminal history in South Florida, was arrested Wednesday night. Police found suspected cocaine in his wallet. Police have maintained contact with Markel’s family throughout the investigation. Markel's former wife, Wendi Adelson, Florida State law school faculty. She resigned last year. The two divorced in 2013 and were fighting in court over the terms of their child custody agreement for their two young sons when he was killed. 

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Colorado Counties, Cities Cash In On Taxes From $1 Billion Pot Sales

From small towns that barely dot the map to Colorado’s largest urban areas, revenue from retail marijuana sales is helping communities address homelessness, send children to college, patch potholes, secure water rights and fund an array of projects, reports the Denver Post. Aurora is using $1.5 million of its revenue from pot sales and fees to address its homeless issue. Money also is going to road improvements and a new recreation center. Although many cities stash the cash in their general funds, Aurora City Councilman Bob Roth, who led a committee that drafted retail marijuana regulations, said it was important to show residents exactly how the money is being spent, especially those who opposed marijuana legalization.

“One thing I felt very strongly about was that it not just to go the general fund but kept in a separate bucket so we could show the community what specifically we were doing with it,” Roth said. There are 62 cities and 22 counties that allow retail marijuana sales. Marijuana sales this year are expected to reach $1 billion in Colorado, and local government entities are cashing in.

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Divided CT Supreme Court Spares 11 Men On Death Row

After a second Connecticut Supreme Court ruling that outlaws the death penalty in the state, the top state prosecutor said that the 11 men on death row would be re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release, reports the Hartford Courant. Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane's announcement signaled a definitive end to prosecutors' fight to keep in place the death sentences of those on death row and uphold the wishes of state legislators, who in 2012 repealed capital punishment with the caveat that those already sentenced to death could still face execution.

The 5-2 ruling by the state's highest court was met with relief yesterday by the once-condemned inmates who could have new lives in the general prison population instead of the solitary lives near the rarely used death chamber, said Michael Courtney of the office of the chief public defender. "They're relieved that it's finally over," said Courtney, who visited five of the men on death row. "I don't think anybody who has a death sentence is not afraid of being executed. They believed it could still happen." For the survivors of their crimes, the decision was like a punch in the gut where there is already enduring pain. "I think it's an unfortunate decision by the Supreme Court based on individual opinion and prejudice, not the law," said William Petit Jr. Dissenting justices said "every step" of the majority's opinion was "fundamentally flawed."

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With Police Under Scrutiny, Providence Offers An Academy For Citizens

 

Providence, R.I., offered a 10-week police citizens academy in which two dozen civilians, including journalists, lawyers, members of community and youth recreational organizations, religious leaders, business leaders, and even a Supreme Court judge, learned learn about policing from the inside. Providence Journal reporter Amanda Milkovits took part. It was a first for the Providence Police Department. The timing was right. "The last 18 months have been a trying time for law enforcement," Police Chief Hugh Clements tells the class. "When there's an incident, good or bad, anywhere, it's put on social media and it goes viral. We all know about it, and people who are friendly with us say, 'Why did the police officer do what he did?'
"We've seen situations when the community is right," he added. "By the same token, we deal with nuances. We have thousands of interactions with the public, and the amount of training that we go through serves us day in and day out." When the call comes in, it's up to the police to figure out what to do. That's something recruits will learn when the real academy starts in a few months. It's what the citizens academy gave us a brief chance to experience, through discussions, role-playing and ride-alongs. One thing Milkovits and an officer had to deal with: a naked man smoking crack at a bus stop.

 

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Is CA Senate Candidate Harris, Ex-Prosecutor, A Justice Reformer?

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, 51, is the leading Democratic candidate in this year’s race for a U.S. Senate seat. The New York Times Magazine says she "embodies the party’s ambitions and contradictions" on criminal justice issues. In a 2009 book, “Smart on Crime,” she argued for re-­entry services for prisoners returning home and programs to help children in violent neighborhoods deal with trauma. As district attorney in San Francisco, Harris started a program that offered first-time offenders caught selling drugs the chance to earn a high-school diploma and get a job instead of going to prison. The initiative is small, with fewer than 300 graduates over eight years, but has a strikingly low recidivism rate.

Other district attorneys and President Obama’s Justice Department have embraced a “smart on crime” approach similar to Harris’s.  During Harris’s tenure as attorney general, reformers in California have taken far bigger whacks at what they see as a broken system. “The carceral state — prisons, prosecutors and police — is having its biggest legitimacy crisis in 40 years,” says Jonathan Simon, a law professor at the University of California Berkeley. “She could exercise significantly more leadership." Harris didn't take a position on two sentencing reform ballot propositions that ended up passing easily. That suggestsng that Harris is more cautious about addressing mass incarceration than are California voters. “ ‘Smart on crime’ is still a good phrase,” says Natasha Minsker of the American Civil Liberties Union. “but the support for more significant reform has gotten broader and gone farther than where she is.” Harris’s critics charge that she has failed to take on prosecutorial misconduct.

 

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States Try To Do Better At Connecting Inmates With Their Children

Many states are looking at a growing body of research showing that having a parent behind bars can have a destabilizing effect, reports Stateline. An estimated 1.7 million children have incarcerated parents. The separation can have costly emotional and social consequences, such as trauma and trouble in schools, homelessness, and bigger welfare and foster care rolls. Some states are encouraging greater contact between the children and their parents by using new technology such as televisiting, or by placing parents in the closest correctional facility. Some try to intervene when a parent is charged, tried and convicted of a crime to provide emotional support and a stable home for the children.

In New York, the Senate’s corrections committee advanced a bill in March that would create a pilot program that places sentenced parents in the nearest jail or prison. The federal government allows states to use funding from the National Family Caregiver Support Program to provide grandparents and other elderly relatives who care for the children with services such as counseling. Washington has a statewide network of “kinship navigators” that connects families and extended relatives with legal services, health care and parenting classes. Some states are looking at ways to reconnect children with their parents after they leave jail or prison, and to help ease parents back into society to provide a more stable family life for their children.

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