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Ex-Prisoner's Group Brings "Cell On Wheels" Around Milwaukee As A Warning

The setup and the message are simple: if you do the crime you’re bound to do the time. Through its Cell on Wheels program, a Milwaukee organization called the Phenomenal Men’s Support Group (PMSG) aims to paint an accurate picture of what that time in jail is actually like, reports the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. “A lot of guys who were in prison come home and act like it’s a badge of honor to be in there,” said Johnson “Smithy” Chapman, president of the group. “That’s the image we’re trying to shake.” PMSG was founded 15 years ago as a support group for recovering addicts and alcoholics. Chapman was one of five founding members. Today the organization has 75 members.

At a recent block party, the cell quickly became one of the most eye-catching attractions. The dimly lit cell holds a bunk bed, toilet and a dull piece of reflective aluminum for a mirror. Everything inside the makeshift jail cell was donated by the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department. The trailer is rarely cleaned and its overall dingy state is intentional. “We didn’t want to make this a fun experience for them. A single bad decision could end you up in here and not enough kids realize that,” Chapman said. “Once you step in [the cell] you lose your name and become a number.” Chapman added that before he was president of the organization and mentor to 50 youths in the community, he spent three years behind bars. After going to college on a track scholarship and starting a career in the Army, Chapman said he gave it up and “chose the streets.”

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Gun Control Could Be A More Prominent 2016 Campaign Issue

After years of ducking presidential-campaign battles over gun laws out of fear of the powerful gun lobby, some Democrats may go on the offensive, reports Business Insider. Democrats are becoming more outspoken about gun violence after mass shootings, despite the fact that the public remains as opposed as ever to many gun-control measures. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton set the tone early in her campaign after a mass shooting at a historically African-American church in Charleston. She has become much more vocal in her calls for stricter gun laws, making it a recurring feature in her stump speeches. "This is a controversial issue. I am well aware of that. But I think it is the height of irresponsibility not to talk about it," Clinton said this week.

Obama has called the failure of Congress to pass new gun laws the biggest frustration of his tenure. "Previously, people talked about an intensity gap, that, 'Yeah, everybody agrees, but this isn't anybody's No. 1 issue,' and we've seen that change dramatically in the last few years because of the big events, and the ones that don't make as much news," said Erika Soto Lamb, of Everytown, the gun-control group cochaired by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "I worked here in 2012, and I know how hard it was to get the candidates to address gun violence," she said. "The candidates have been talking about guns far more than they did then." On the other side, Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America, noted that Bill Clinton "admitted that threatening gun rights can be a perilous issue politically" when the Democrats lost control of the House in 1994. "Hillary Clinton is repeating the error her husband made in 1994 — pushing for gun-control legislation. He realized his mistake and said so," Pratt said.




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In Closing Baltimore Jail, Hogan Says Legislators Were Dragging Feet

When Gov. Larry Hogan decided to close Baltimore's long-troubled men's jail, he didn't call members of a state commission who had studied the issue or the mayor of Baltimore. He just did it, says the Baltimore Sun. "You don't do this by committee," said Stephen Moyer, Hogan's secretary of public safety and correctional services. "You make a decisive action. Look at this place. It's got to be closed." Hogan said he didn't consult other politicians because he wanted to "make this decision without it being interfered with by politics." He added, "The General Assembly decided it should take 10 years. We think it should take a couple of weeks. The Baltimore City Detention Center has been a black eye for our state for too long." His go-it-alone style was criticized as brash by Democrats but praised as bold by members of the GOP.

In his announcement, Hogan characterized state lawmakers as dragging their heels on jail reform. He pointed to the 2013 indictments of inmates and corrections officers on charges of widespread corruption, resulting in 40 convictions. "In case you have forgotten the shocking and disgraceful headlines, for years the Black Guerrilla Family gang maintained a stronghold over this facility, running an empire built on the trafficking of drugs, contraband and intimidation," Hogan said. "Maryland taxpayers were unwittingly underwriting this criminal enterprise run by gang members and corrupt public servants." He singled out former Gov. Martin O'Malley for ridicule, saying O'Malley "called the case a 'positive achievement in the fight against gangs. It was just phony political spin on a prison culture created by an utter failure in leadership."

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Zimbabwe Seeks To Extradite Minnesota Dentist In Killing Of Cecil The Lion

Zimbabwe's wildlife minister says extradition is being sought for Walter Palmer, the Minneapolis-area big-game hunter and dentist implicated in the killing of Cecil, a prized research lion in Zimbabwe, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Oppah Muchinguri, environment, water and climate minister, said today, "We want him tried in Zimbabwe because he violated our laws. ... Police should take the first step to approach the prosecutor general who will approach the Americans. The processes have already started." She said almost 500,000 people are calling for his extradition.

U.S. wildlife authorities said they been unable to contact Palmer. The head of Zimbabwe’s safari industry association told the Star Tribune that he believes bribery was involved in the hunt because Palmer’s guide did not have proper hunting licenses and permits. “There had to be [bribes],” said Emmanuel Fundira, president of Zimbabwe’s Safari Operators Association. Fundira believes it is “highly, highly likely” that Palmer will be charged by Zimbabwe authorities, though he added that Palmer “probably committed the offense unknowingly.” Palmer’s guide, Theo Bronkhorst, already has been charged in the killing. (The e-mail version of the Crime & Justice News story on the case yesterday incorrectly attributed information to the Minnesota Star Tribune; the correct title is the Minneapolis Star Tribune.)

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States Rethink Banning Food Stamps, Welfare For Drug Felons

Nearly a half million Americans are serving time for drug offenses. For many, leaving prison with a felony conviction on their record adds to the hurdles they face re-entering society. A 1996 federal law blocks felons with drug convictions from receiving welfare or food stamps unless states choose to waive the restrictions, Stateline reports. The bans, which don’t apply to convictions for any other crimes, were put in place as part of a sweeping reform of the nation’s welfare system, and at the height of the war on drugs. Now many states are rethinking how to help felons become productive citizens and reduce the likelihood they will return to prison.

Since 1996, 18 states have lifted restrictions on food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and 26 allow people with certain types of drug felonies to get those benefits—leaving six states where a felony drug record disqualifies a person from receiving them. States have been more restrictive when it comes to extending welfare benefits through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families: 14 have lifted the restriction, 24 have some restrictions and 12 have full restrictions barring felons with a drug conviction from receiving cash assistance. Marc Mauer of The Sentencing Project, which advocates reforming the laws, said banning people from getting food stamps runs contrary to policies designed to ease inmates’ re-entry to society and to curb recidivism. “This increases the odds they will commit new crimes by virtue of the fact that you’re creating a significant financial obstacle,” Mauer said. This year, Texas and Alabama became the latest states to lift blanket bans on receiving food stamps.

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MD Gov To Close Baltimore Jail, Troubled Civil War-Era Facility

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan plans to announce the closure of the Baltimore City Detention Center today, the Baltimore Sun reports. It was not immediately clear when the jail would be shut down or where prisoners would be transported. Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union and Public Justice Center called on a federal judge to reopen a lawsuit against the state of Maryland over what they described in court documents as a facility so substandard that it brings "shame to his city." In response, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Stephen Moyer said he was committed to making changes. He also pointed out that the state has spent more than $58 million to improve the safety and security of inmates and staff over the past 10 years.

The Civil War-era jail was taken over by the state in 1991, and has a history of corruption and violence. In 2013, federal and state authorities announced dozens of indictments of inmates and corrections officers on allegations of widespread corruption directed by the Black Guerrilla Family gang. The jail is part of a larger complex of corrections facilities east of downtown Baltimore, including the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center and the Chesapeake Detention Facility, formerly known as Supermax. After the federal indictments, a state commission endorsed a half-billion dollar plan to knock down the jail and rebuild it. Corrections officials have long pushed for a better jail, laying out designs for a 27-acre downtown jail campus at least as far back as 2004.

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How Chicago Jail Is Retooling To Handle Huge Mental Illness Problem

Some jail wardens complain that their facilities have become little more than makeshift mental asylums, and that they lack the money and expertise needed to handle problems, says the New York Times. “It’s a national disgrace how we deal with this,” says Cook County, Il. Sheriff Thomas Dart, who appointed psychologist Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia to run the Cook County Jail and who refers to the facility notorious for its history of violence and overcrowding, as the nation's largest mental institution in the country. He said that as many as one-third of the jail’s 8,600 inmates were mentally ill. Three large jails — Rikers Island in New York City, the county jail in Los Angeles and Cook County in Chicago — are operating under federal oversight, in part because of mistreating the mentally ill.

Cook County has become a model of sorts for other troubled institutions in how to deal with the mentally ill, and it recently hosted delegations from Rikers Island and Los Angeles County. Before becoming warden, Dr. Jones Tapia oversaw health care at the jail, and under her guidance, Cook County began offering services that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. All new inmates now see a clinician who collects a mental health history to ensure that anyone who is mentally ill is properly diagnosed and receives medication. The jail forwards that information to judges in time for arraignments in the hope of convincing them that in certain cases, mental health care may be more appropriate than jail. "We’ve started to focus on the entirety of the system, from the point of arrest through discharge, and really forcing the whole system to take a look at the people that we’re incarcerating,” Dr. Jones Tapia said.

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