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Obama Again Tries To End Aid For States To Imprison Illegal Immigrants

Under President Obama’s proposed budget for the year starting Oct. 1, the Justice Department would abandon a program that reimburses state and local prisons for housing illegal immigrants convicted of crimes. The Washington Post says the move to eliminate the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which would save the Justice Department $210 million, will face significant resistance in Congress and from local officials concerned about a loss of funding. The White House has moved in the past to reduce or eliminate the program, and each year, it has survived, said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, which generally supports reduced immigration.

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Utah's Lee Says Sentencing Reform Has Momentum, Backers Outnumber Critics

A co-sponsor of legislation to reduce some federal mandatory minimum drug and gun sentences believes Congress still can pass the bin despite recent setbacks. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said that although issues have arisen that have slowed the legislation, which is considered by sentencing reform advocates to be the most significant in decades, “I don’t believe it’s stalled. It’s getting momentum…True it can’t pass without Republicans. Are there detractors? Sure. But those who are with us outnumber those who are against us.” Lee spoke at a program sponsored by the Washington Post, which reported his remarks. 

A number of senators in recent days have raised concerns that the bill, if passed, could free violent criminals. Another obstacle is House legislation that would require prosecutors prove a defendant’s criminal intent in order to win convictions for certain federal crimes. President Obama and several congressional Democrats say this rule is an attempt to make it more difficult for the federal government to prosecute corporations, and they’ve warned that passing it could derail other criminal justice legislation. Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, discussing the issue of clemency at the same event, said, "Let’s not put all our eggs in granting clemency. Let’s make sure these people are not incarcerated in the first place. Let’s make sure we are really being sensible. And when we have judges around the country saying that their hands are tied and that they are anguishing over the fact that they can’t treat the facts of each circumstance as they deem appropriate tells us that we have to do something.”

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Ex-L.A. County Sheriff Baca Admits Lies In Federal Investigation

Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca admitted to a federal charge of making false statements, marking what the Los Angeles Times calls a dramatic turn in the ongoing federal investigation into corruption in the Sheriff's Department. A charging document filed by federal prosecutors yesterday said Baca lied twice about his involvement in hiding an inmate from FBI agents who were investigating brutality and corruption by sheriff's deputies in the county jails. Baca also lied when he said he was unaware that his subordinates planned to approach an FBI special agent at her home.

Baca's attorney, Michael Zweibeck, said his client has agreed to plead guilty to a single count as part of a deal with prosecutors under which he will spend no more than six months in prison and possibly no time at all. The U.S. attorney's office has agreed not pursue other charges against the former sheriff, and a federal judge must sign off on the deal, Zweibeck said. Federal sentencing guidelines specify up to six months in prison for making a false statement, but Baca could also be sentenced to probation and not serve any time behind bars.

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GOP Opponents Dig In On Sentencing Reform, Advocates Worry

Senators are searching for ways to win more Republican votes for a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that has stalled amid growing conservative opposition, including from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), The Hill reports. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Il.) said lawmakers are negotiating changes to "key sections" of the sentencing reform legislation. "We want to make sure that at the end of the day we have not lost too many people that we could help. So as we close down one category we may open another," said Durbin. Opponents are remaining tight-lipped about whether the potential changes would be enough to garner their support.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) voiced skepticism, suggesting that the Senate legislation is based on a “false premise” that non-violent first-time drug offenders are being locked up with lengthy sentences. Cotton introduced legislation yesterday, backed by Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) and Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-AlL) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), that would require the administration to disclose recidivism rates for federal inmates released early because of reduced sentences. The four senators called the criminal justice reform bill “dangerous for America.” Advocates of criminal justice reform say they fear lawmakers are making too many concessions in what was already a hard-fought compromise. “It was far from perfect to begin with it,” said Kevin Ring of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “It was far from being too bold or too ambitious and they just keep taking away more and more of the reforms.”  

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CO Pot Sales Near $1 Billion In Year, Taxes Benefit Schools

Licensed and regulated marijuana stores in Colorado sold $996,184,788 worth of recreational and medical cannabis in 2015, according to new data from the state Department of Revenue reported by the Denver Post. “I think it’s ethical to round that up to a billion,” cannabis industry attorney Christian Sederberg said Tuesday upon first hearing the 2015 totals. Colorado recreational marijuana sales started on Jan. 1, 2014. Colorado collected more than $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees in 2015, more than $35 million of which is earmarked for school construction projects.

“These are amazing numbers, especially on the tax revenue side,” said attorney Steve Fox, one of the principal drafters of Colorado’s pot-legalizing Amendment 64. “It’s remarkable that less than seven years ago, all of that money was being spent in the underground market,” said Mason Tvert, the Marijuana Policy Project’s communications director. “Clearly there’s a large demand for marijuana, and we’re now seeing that demand being met by legitimate businesses that are answering to authorities instead of criminals who answer to nobody.”

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Guns, Drugs, Cars Lowering U.S. Life Expectancy Rates

Guns, drugs and cars contribute substantially to the life-expectancy gap between the U.S. and other developed nations, says a study reported by the Associated Press. Deaths from these causes tend to happen at younger ages, contributing to many decades of life lost, researchers said. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show injuries including violence, car crashes and drug poisonings and overdoses are the leading cause of deaths for Americans to the age of 44. U.S. death rates from these categories exceed those in 12 nations studied: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Among men, life expectancy in 2012 in those countries was 78.6 years versus 76.4 in the United States. Injury-related deaths accounted for almost half of that difference, the study found. The researchers' estimates are based on an analysis of 2012 data from the U.S. government and the World Health Organization. The government study was published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "If we brought mortality from car crashes, firearm injuries and drug poisonings down to levels that we see in these other countries, we'd gain about a year of life expectancy," said lead author Andrew Fenelon of CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.

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NC Begins Denying Welfare To Applicants Who Fail Drug Test

Of several thousand North Carolina welfare applicants who were screened for drug use under a new law, 89 took the test and 21 tested positive, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. The law requiring testing of any Work First recipient suspected of being a drug user was enacted in 2013 over Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto. After a year’s delay, the state began requiring the testing in August. Of 7,600 applicants and recipients, about 2 percent were referred for drug testing. The 21 positive tests represent less than 0.3 percent of the people screened.

Work First is the state welfare program that offers short-term cash benefits, training and support services to families. The program starts with screening of applicants and benefit recipients. About 7,600 people were screened in the last five months of 2015, said Wayne Black of the state Department of Health and Human Services. Social workers ask those being screened about drug use in the previous 12 months to determine whether to refer them for testing. People convicted of felony drug offenses in the three years before applying for benefits are also referred. Benefits for adults are cut off if a test is positive, or a test appointment is missed. 

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Trump Asserts That "Every Single One" Of Freed Inmates Will Sell Drugs

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said at a New Hampshire town hall before winning yesterday's primary election that “every single one” of the convicted drug dealers released by the Obama administration ill return to selling drugs, Time reports. “These people are babies that think differently,” Trump said of the inmates. “And a lot of them don’t even think differently, they just don’t care. Frankly, I don’t even think they care, it’s almost like they don’t like the country. But out of those 6,000, every single one of them will be back selling drugs. It’ll be very rare for one that doesn’t.”

Trump was alluding to the 6,000 federal inmates freed last year after the U.S. Sentencing Commission reduced sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Legislation that could lead to more releases is pending in Congress but some Republicans are objecting that it could lead to the release of too many prisoners with violent tendencies.

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