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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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New York Prison Officer Charged With Giving Tools To Escapees

A portrait has begun to emerge of the veteran corrections officer accused of helping two convicted murderers break out of a New York state prison, as court documents suggested that he had a complicated and mutually beneficial relationship with the two escapees, the Wall Street Journal reports. The guard, Gene Palmer, 57, allegedly passed inmates David Sweat and Richard Matt needle-nose pliers and a flathead screwdriver, both forbidden items behind the high walls of the Clinton Correctional Facility.

In return, authorities said, Palmer received paintings from Sweat and Matt, who have been at large since they made their escape on June 6. Palmer also received information about “illegal acts” inmates were committing inside the prison, court documents say. After the escape, authorities said, Palmer allegedly destroyed a number of those paintings in a fire pit at his home. Police said he tried to conceal some of the others by burying them in the nearby woods. Palmer has apologized and said he had no prior knowledge of the escape plan.

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PA Court Voids Law That Made It Easier For NRA To Challenge Gun Controls

In a victory for gun-safety advocates, a Pennsylvania court yesterday overturned a state law that had made it easier for gun owners and the National Rifle Association to sue cities and towns over local gun ordinances, reports the Philadelphia Daily News. "The court has preserved the ability of democratically elected local officials ... to do what they think is necessary to protect their citizens from the scourge of gun violence," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

In striking down the law, the court concluded that the Republican-controlled Legislature used unconstitutional - and underhanded - tactics to pass the law in the final days of last year's voting session. The law enabled the NRA and other groups to challenge a local gun ordinance on behalf of its members in court without having to demonstrate that a gun owner had been harmed by the ordinance. The law also allowed successful challengers to seek monetary damages and recoup legal fees. After the law took effect last January, many municipalities repealed local gun bills, fearing lengthy and expensive legal fights mounted by the well-funded NRA.

 

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TCR at a Glance

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special report June 29, 2015

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

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commentary June 24, 2015

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