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White House Ignores Parole Board Chairman On Prison Reform; He's Leaving

One person who would be expected to be at the table for high-level strategizing on the issue of prison reform is the chairman of the U.S. Parole Commission, former Washington, D.C., police chief Isaac Fulwood. The Washington Post says that Fulwood, who’s leaving the post this week after nearly six years as chairman, has yet to meet President Obama or have a one-on-one meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder, whose centerpiece initiative has been “smart on crime” prison reform.

“It is with bittersweet sorrow that I have decided to retire,” Fulwood wrote to Obama on Jan.­ 8. “I have made this decision based on personal health challenges and the fact that the (U.S. Justice) department has not been as supportive over the years as they should have been,” citing staffing, funding and attention to issues of prison reform. In 2013, well before Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island and other troubling law enforcement incidents, Fulwood wrote to Obama suggesting that the Justice Department “lead a dialogue with law enforcement about racial profiling,” an issue he has long been concerned with during his decades of work in law enforcement. He got no response. Not even a robo-signed “Thanks for your letter.”

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Grand Jury Secrecy Debated After Controversial Police Cases

For centuries, grand juries have held some of the criminal justice system's best-kept secrets. Their private process has come under extraordinary public scrutiny after recent decisions not to indict police officers in the deaths of unarmed men, the Associated Press reports. Calls for more transparency have sounded in Congress, statehouses and editorial pages, mixed with notes of caution. The debate has "been more exposed in the last three months than ever," says Robert Weisberg, a Stanford University law professor.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a limited lifting of the grand jury veil when police kill unarmed civilians, and this week a New York City judge will consider whether to release transcripts of a grand jury's investigation into Eric Garner's chokehold death. Proposals to replace grand juries with preliminary hearings in open court, at least in some police killing cases, have recently been floated by lawmakers in Washington and Missouri.

 

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L.A. Jail Time Served Up, Bookings Down Under Proposition 47

For decades, Los Angeles County jail inmates divided their sentences by five, 10 or 20 to calculate the time they would actually spend behind bars. Because of overcrowding, they left after completing as little as 5 percent of their sentences, says the Los Angeles Times. As Proposition 47 begins to reshape the California criminal justice system, they are serving much more of their time.

The new law, passed by voters Nov. 4, reduced drug possession and other minor crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The county jail population plummeted and sheriff's officials began increasing the time served for the remaining inmates to 90 percent or more. Most of the affected inmates will end up serving only half of that, under to automatic credits prescribed by state law, but the change is still profound. Because of Proposition 47, others who would have landed in jail are not being arrested as street cops take a pass because of the low stakes. At the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, bookings are down by 23 percent and narcotics-related arrests are down 30 percent.

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Georgia Executes Murderer Despite Pleas From Human Rights Groups

Twice-convicted murderer Warren Lee Hill was executed yesterday despite pleas by human rights groups and legal representatives who argued that Hill's intellectual disability should have made him ineligible for the death penalty, CNN reports. Hill's attorney slammed the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to grant a stay of execution. "Today, the court has unconscionably allowed a grotesque miscarriage of justice to occur in Georgia," said Brian Kammer, Hill's lawyer. "The intellectual disability community, which has strongly supported Mr. Hill's case for many years, joined his legal team in the belief that the Supreme Court would step in and prevent Georgia's flagrant disregard of the Constitution on behalf of the rights of people with disabilities," said Kammer.

In a joint statement, the NAACP, the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, and Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty called a state board's decision to deny clemency, "an embarrassment to our state." Federal law -- stemming from a 2002 Virginia case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court -- says executing intellectually disabled individuals violates the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling allows states to define intellectual disability. In Georgia, that means attorneys for death row inmates have to prove mental impairment "beyond a reasonable doubt." "This is the strictest standard in any jurisdiction in the nation," Kammer said.

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Air Force Officer Coming In To Run Alabama's Troubled Prison System

There's a change at the top in Alabama's troubled prison system, reports the Alabama Media Group. Department of Corrections Commissioner Kim Thomas has resigned today, and Air Force Col. Jefferson Dunn, an Alabama native who is working at Maxwell Air Force Base, will take over when he retires from the Air Force in March. Thomas spent a career working his way up through the prison system before being named commissioner in 2011. He has overseen a system that includes 15 prisons and more than a dozen smaller work centers.

Last year, the U.S. Justice Department told Gov. Robert Bentley it found conditions at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women unconstitutional because of a failure to protect inmates from sexual abuse and harassment by male guards. That followed reports by the Equal Justice Institute and the National Institute for Corrections on the same problems. The state has installed a security camera system at Tutwiler, improved privacy in showers, tried to recruit more female corrections officers and taken other steps. Overcrowding has been a constant in the state's prisons since the 1990s. The inmate count, almost twice what the prisons were designed to hold, soared after a 1977 law mandated longer sentences for repeat offenders.

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DEA Car Spying Program: Expectation Of Privacy "Doesn't Work Anymore"

Civil libertarians are riled over the news that the Drug Enforcement Administration is building a massive highway license-plate-camera program to spy on millions of unwitting drivers to catch smugglers and other criminals, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The development comes on the heels of other revelations about digital surveillance that suggest a growing push by Washington to check on what people are up to in real time, often when they’re not suspected of doing anything wrong.

The national car-spying program differs from terrorism-related National Security Agency surveillance programs such as those President Obama has vowed to scale back. Americans may be more carefully weighing societal benefits versus privacy, given the ubiquity of Big Data and reliance on GPS-dependent hand-held computers and phones. “We either ignore the issue altogether or we run around like chickens, screaming, 'Big Brother! Big Brother!' ” says law Prof. Clifford Fishman of Catholic University. “The Supreme Court’s standard of Americans having a reasonable expectation of privacy ... doesn’t work anymore, so we need a new way to define when privacy needs to be protected from digital surveillance and retention of data.”

 

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Motorola's Aggressive Push Into Broadband For Cops Causes Concern

As Chicago police braced for protests at the NATO and G-8 summits in 2012, hometown radio giant Motorola, which has used tenacious marketing to reign over the emergency radio business, donated $1.8 million in telecom equipment that could beam data and videos to law enforcement officers shielding the world leaders. McClatchy Newspapers reports that Motorola executive John Molloy said the firm also could operate a network for the city as a “test platform” and provide Chicago agencies entrée to the world of emergency broadband LTE, the new standard for transmitting large amounts of data at rocket speed. From Mississippi to Texas and California, the company now known as Motorola Solutions Inc. has reshaped its business strategy "in the face of a technology tsunami that threatens to upend its decades-long hold on the emergency communications market," McClatchy says.

While fighting to preserve its walkie-talkie franchise, Motorola has maneuvered to become a player in broadband, where it must contend with new and bigger competitors in a scrum for billions of dollars of taxpayer funds pledged for a coast-to-coast emergency data delivery network. Motorola’s aggressive push into broadband, however, is a cause for consternation among officials of the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, the Commerce Department agency tasked with building the first nationwide public-safety communications system. Motorola has landed scores of sole-source radio contracts and wielded enough pricing power to sell its glitzy handsets for up to $7,000 apiece, at a taxpayer cost of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars that could have been saved in a more competitive market.



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TCR at a Glance

FBI: Crime Down in First Half of 2014

new & notable January 27, 2015

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Who’s Scanning Your License Plate?

January 22, 2015

Electronic license plate readers are a new surveillance tool for law enforcement. Privacy advocates say the public deserves access to the...