Federal judges considering California’s request for more time to reduce prison crowding asked the state in turn to limit how long some mentally ill prisoners spend in solitary confinement, reports the Los Angeles Times. U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton accepted a state offer to limit the time severely mentally ill prisoners who have committed no rules violations can be held in isolation to 30 days. Hours later, he and the other two judges pushed the state's deadline to reduce crowding to April 18. Karlton is holding hearings on the treatment of mentally ill inmates and also sits on the federal three-judge panel that ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding. California has been ordered to remove 7,000 inmates from state prisons, reductions that judges say are needed to remedy unconstitutionally dangerous conditions, including inadequate medical and mental health care. Karlton said he was concerned about 230 mentally ill prisoners housed in isolation cells, though they have committed no infraction.
One staple may cost New Jersey taxpayers more than $2 million, reports NJ Watchdog on Philly.com. Christopher Onesti of Drexel Hill, Pa., collects a police disability pension for life because he stapled the ring finger of his non-shooting hand. State authorities ruled he is “totally and permanently disabled” — no longer able to handle a gun or perform duties as a New Jersey Transit cop. As a retiree at age 29, Onesti now visits firing ranges to shoot a high-powered rifle for fun between trips to the bank to cash nearly $46,000 a year in tax-free pension checks. Nearly 5,500 retired officers pocket more than $200 million a year in disability pay from the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System. Such generosity adds to the woes of state pension funds that face a $47 billion shortfall. "There are huge loopholes that are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars," said John Sierchio, a PFRS trustee and reform advocate. “Why the legislature doesn’t do anything about it, God only knows.”
In the year since the Newtown, Ct., school schootings, schools across the U.S. have reacted with nearly opposite responses, says the Center for Public Integrity. Texas' Jonesboro Independent School District has armed a select group of staff members. “If somebody walked in that door and opened fire,” says Superintendent Matt Dossey, “we would have a chance.” Monroe, Ct., nine miles from Newtown, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars upgrading buildings and hiring school resource officers, town police officers who are posted at the schools full-time. Connecticut tightened the law on guns in school so that only active or retired law enforcement officers could serve as armed guards.
In Washington, D.C., the Justice Department gave $46.5 million in the 2013 fiscal year to fund 370 school resource officers for schools nationwide. Districts have added thousands of such officers on their own, said Mo Canady of the National Association of School Resource Officers — augmenting the 10,000 or so that had already patrolled hallways nationwide. Dozens of states passed laws. Rhode Island, for example, required schools to conduct safety assessments with police and fire departments every three years, and another requiring that schools update emergency plans annually. In March, South Dakota explicitly allowed schools to authorize concealed weapons for teachers. Six states have passed similar laws—Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas, says the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The impact on criminal justice spending of a Congressional budget deal that may avert another federal government shutdown is not yet clear, but more spending cuts may be ahead. Under the deal announced yesterday, which still must be approved by the full Congress, federal spending overall would be $45 billion higher in the current fiscal year than it otherwise would have been. The higher spending would replace many cuts that had been planned under the budget "sequestration" process, both in defense and non-defense areas like criminal justice. Sequestration would continue overall under the deal. There were two justice provisions in the budget bill, one requiring the identification of inmates requesting or receiving improper payments, and another cancelling unobligated balances in the Justice Department's assets forfeiture fund.
The specific effect of the deal on criminal justice and other federal spending areas will not be known until Congress approves appropriations for each agency. In the Justice Department, which along with the Department of Homeland Security accounts for most federal criminal justice spending, anticrime grants for states and localities must compete with large units like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Prisons. Federal prison population and spending have been rising in recent years, although some key members of Congress have made proposals to stem that growth, arguing that the funds could be better spent on other programs.
Fox News reporter Jana Winter may use New York's Shield Law to block a Colorado court subpoena to compel her to reveal sources for an article on James Holmes, the "Batman" theater shooter, says a divided New York Court of Appeals ruling reported by the New York Law Journal. Judge Victoria Graffeo said for a 4-3 majority that allowing a New York court to uphold the Colorado subpoena "would offend our strong public policy—a common law, statutory and constitutional tradition that has played a significant role in this State becoming the media capital of the country if not the world."
Noting that the Shield Law represents a fundamental pillar of press freedom traditions since colonial times, Graffeo said, "Protection of the anonymity of confidential sources is a core—if not the central—concern underlying New York's journalist privilege." At issue was Winter's story for FoxNews.com a week after Holmes was charged with killing 12 and wounding 70. Her story quoted unidentified law enforcement sources describing a notebook Holmes sent to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the July 20, 2012, shooting suggesting he had plans to commit a massacre.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation released a survey gauging public opinion on rehab vs. prison for low-level drug and property offenders, says the Grits for Breakfast blog, quoting the Austin American-Statesman. It found that Texans by a wide margin support more treatment and rehabilitation programs for non-violent lawbreakers instead of prison time, which the newspaper called "a significant about-face by voters on the issue."
The poll commissioned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank backing prison reforms, showed 84 percent of likely voters favoring alternative-to-prison programs for non-violent drug offenders. By more than a 2 to 1 margin (62 percent to 27), Texans believe spending money on education and treatment is more effective than building prisons. Grits for Breakfast says the survey also is startling because of persistent public misperceptions about crime trends. Reported crime has consistently fallen, but 30 percent in the survey believed it had gone up, and only 18 percent correctly believed it had declined.
The Los Angeles City Council agreed to pay nearly $6 million to a group of police officers who accused their superiors of imposing a secret traffic ticket quota system, reports the Los Angeles Times. The settlement brings to more than $10 million the amount of taxpayer money spent on payouts and legal fees from the ticket quota cases. That number could grow because one more officer's case is still pending.
The ticket controversy has been a black eye for the Los Angeles Police Department. Ticket quotas are against state law. Dennis Zine, a former City Council member and career motorcycle officer, said the settlement calls into question the department's traffic division management. Police Chief Charlie Beck defended the department's practices. Management set "goals" to reduce traffic violations that resulted in serious injury and death, Beck said, but the jury in a separate 2009 case interpreted that as quotas, he said.
Maricopa County, Az., jails are installing a new video system that will allow inmates to have virtual visits with family, while earning the county sheriff hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but make it harder for some relatives to see loved ones, reports the Arizona Republic. The high-tech system, which will be the largest of its kind in the U.S. according to the manufacturer, will let family and friends anywhere in the world talk with inmates via video, so long as they have access to a computer with a camera and a credit card to pay $12.99 for a 20-minute conversation.
The system, expected to be in place early next summer, is meant to make visits easier and improve security at the county jails, which book 100,000 people every year. As work begins on installing the Internet-based system, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office cut regular visiting time from three hours per week to 30 minutes. Although sheriff’s officials say the system will make visiting inmates easier, it’s not being welcomed by prisoner-rights advocates. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona criticized the sheriff's office for planning to eliminate face-to-face visits at its three jails because it could mean fewer people have access to inmates.
In the wake of this year’s corruption scandal at a Baltimore jail, a Maryland legislative commission is issuing 18 recommendations today, including endorsement of a 10-year, $533 million plan to replace the sprawling, antiquated complex where guards were indicted for aiding a dangerous gang, the Washington Post reports. The commission is comprised of a dozen legislators. Other proposals include tougher penalties for cell phone smuggling, subjecting all new correctional officers to polygraph tests and relocating some high-risk offenders from the Baltimore jail to longer-term state correctional facilities.
Several recommendations include broader changes to the state prison system while others more narrowly focus on the state-run Baltimore City Detention Center. The commission was set up after the federal indictments this spring of 13 corrections officers and leaders of the Black Guerrilla Family gang at the Baltimore detention center. A draft of the commission’s report notes that the primary Baltimore jail was built in 1859. While it has undergone 11 renovations since then, it remains sorely lacking in several respects. Those include plumbing failures, broken elevators, bug and rodent infestations and mold. Moreover, the design of the facility creates poor lines of sight for officers, which make assaults more likely, the report says. And other features, such as cells with bars, makes its easier to smuggle contraband within the jail.
Last week, the New York City Police Department said that its precincts no longer would provide journalists with the forms detailing crime reports. On Monday, shortly after CUNY Graduate School of Journalism Dean Stephen Shepard protested the change to Commissioner Raymond Kelly, the department announced access would be restored, reports The Nabe. Deputy Police Commissioner of Public Information John McCarthy, responding to Shepard’s letter within a half-hour of getting it by email, said that journalists still will be allowed to view the weekly crime reports in a timely manner – provided they make requests through his office.
McCarthy said police officials want to ensure that “confidential information that could jeopardize the safety of a witness or compromise an ongoing investigation” is not released to the media. He said information withheld also would include the identities of arrested minors, victims under 16, abused or neglected children and sex crime victims. The Nabe said that information already is kept confidential in its dealings with the NYPD's 88th Precinct. McCarthy said many precincts for years have allowed reporters regular access without going through the “chain of command.” Journalists at community news outlets were told by local precinct officials last week that they would no longer be able to see crime reports.