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Firm Doing Criminal Risk Assessments Headed By Repeat Offender

Sean Hosman is a leading voice in the push to transform the justice system by predicting which criminals will commit crimes again, reports the Associated Press. Hosman, 48, is a repeat offender himself, whose trips in and out of jail provide a case study of the movement he helps lead. Hosman is CEO of Assessments.com, a Utah firm with about 100 contracts with state and county governments nationwide. He has been a frequent visitor to county jails in his home state of Utah and elsewhere. Since 2010, he has been arrested at least nine times, including for DUI and cocaine possession.

Like tens of thousands of defendants undergoing risk assessment, he has been booked, assessed, jailed and sent to rehab. Hosman's company is a player in a movement that has had little public attention. Most states use some form of risk assessment, which includes questionnaires that use issues beyond criminal history to help set treatment or sentencing conditions. Advocates say the tools replace gut instincts with hard data, saving money by routing low-risk offenders from prison. The AP found: Assessments work only if every other piece of the system does, too. If defendants fudge the truth, or probation officials do not check facts, the tools can prove meaningless. Critics say assessments can punish people for poverty, taking into account factors such as work history and family background.

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NRA Donations Soared 11.5% In Year After Newtown Killings

Donations to the National Rifle Association soared in year after the Newtown, Ct., school massacre, reports the New York Daily News. Contributions and grants to the NRA in 2013 totaled $96.4 million, up 11.5 percent from the $86.4 million raised the previous year, according to the latest financial disclosure form filed by the gun group with the IRS.

The money poured in as Congress and states, including New York, debated gun control measures after the killing of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. Leah Gunn Barrett of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence charged that the NRA riled up its base with “fearmongering” that President Obama and the left wanted to take away people’s guns after Newtown.

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Divided Court Voids Fisherman's White-Collar-Crime Conviction

The U.S. Supreme Court today threw out a Florida fisherman’s conviction under an evidence-tampering provision of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley white collar crime law for disposing of fish while he was under criminal investigation, Reuters reports. Voting 5 to 4, the court said that fisherman John Yates’ actions were not the type of conduct covered by the law, which was intended to prevent fraud of the sort committed by a company like Enron Corp. Yates was convicted in 2011 on two of three charges, including one under the anti-shredding provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley law.

The provision penalizes the destruction or concealment of "a tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct or influence" a government investigation. There was not a clear majority on the legal reasoning in the high court's ruling. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote on behalf of herself and three colleagues that a “tangible object” should be defined as an object that is used to record or preserve information. Justice Samuel Alito, who provided the decisive fifth vote, said the term was intended to describe file-keeping. Dissenter Elena Kagan called the law in question an "emblem of a deeper pathology in the federal criminal code."

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AP Finds "Significant Problems" With Offenders' Risk Assessment Surveys

More states are using risk assessment tools to help drive down prison populations, the Associated Press reports. The tools are questionnaires that explore issues beyond criminal history, based on surveys of offenders making their way through the justice system. The idea is to use data about past offenders to predict what current defendants with similar backgrounds might do when released from prison. The AP reports "significant problems with the surveys, which are used inconsistently across the U.S." Supporters cite research like a 1987 Rand Corp. study that said the surveys can be up to 70 percent accurate in predicting the likelihood of repeat offenses. The Rand study was skeptical of the surveys' effectiveness.

The AP says it is nearly impossible to measure the surveys' impact on recidivism because they are part of broader efforts. Many surveys rely on criminals to tell the truth, though jurisdictions do not always make sure the answers are accurate. The surveys are clouded in secrecy. Some have the potential to punish people for being poor or uneducated by attaching a lower risk to those with steady work and high levels of education. Adam Gelb of the Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project defends the use of risk assessments, saying they are "a vast improvement over the decision-making process of 20, 30 years ago when parole boards and the courts didn't have any statistical information to base their decisions on."

 

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Homeland Security Building System To Alert Cybercrime Victims

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has become the unlikely hero of the new White House campaign to stop cybercrime, despite a history of mismanagement and a possible cutoff of its funding, NPR reports. To succeed, the bureaucracy must inspire trust and compete against similar efforts by the tech industry. If cybercriminals work fast enough, "they can get these pieces of malware into an operation fairly quickly," says John South of Heartland Payment Systems, whose company fell prey in 2008 to one of the biggest credit card hacks in history. Imagine a super smart digital collection bin where every company and local and state government agency could submit a warning: We got hit by this line of code; don't let it happen to you. The Department of Homeland Security is working to build it.

"We have to do the one thing the adversary can't. And that is connect all the dots — from what the private sector sees, what we in government see, and put it together and make it available to every computer on the planet that needs to be protected," says Phyllis Schneck, deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity. A handful of federal rules require sectors like banking and health care to report hacks, and most breaches go unreported. Homeland Security is working on a new, automated system for public and private entities to use — a shared language to share threat information, like specific lines of malware, and the unique IP addresses of attacking computers.

 

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Fewer Black FBI Agents, Bureau Acknowledges After Comey Talks On Race

The diversity of the FBI’s agent ranks slipped further in the past three years, Politico reports. African Americans accounted for 4.5 percent of agents at the end of 2014, down from 4.74 percent in early 2012 and 5.6 percent in 1997. Hispanic agents made up 6.81 percent of the force in December 2014, down from 7.14 percent in 2012 and 6.9 percent in 1997. The numbers were posted on the FBI website after some high-profile attention to the agency’s problems recruiting a more diverse workforce.

FBI Director James Comey delivered a speech on racial issues this month, acknowledging that unconscious racial biases pervade police work, particularly in low-income communities that draw a lot of police attention. During a question-and-answer period, Comey said he believes it’s important that law enforcement personnel be diverse. He acknowledged that the FBI hasn’t done enough to hire and retain racial minorities and women as part of the elite force of special agents. “It is an imperative for all of us in law enforcement to try to reflect the communities we serve,” said Comey, who took over as FBI director in 2013. “Big challenge for the FBI — the FBI is overwhelmingly white and male among my agent force. … I have to change the numbers.”

 

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After Controversial Incidents: Get Info Out Quickly, Police Told

Suburban law enforcement officials who followed the news of the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last summer and the widespread protests that erupted soon after are examining their strategies for high-profile incidents in hopes of avoiding similar upheaval. One item on their lists, says the Chicago Tribune: brushing up on tactics for dealing with the press. A training session by the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police titled "Media Relations Training: Don't Be the Next Ferguson, Missouri!" drew 70 police officials. Rick Rosenthal, president of RAR Communications and a former Chicago broadcast journalist, promised to help police "win with the media." Rosenthal said that doesn't mean "vanquishing" the media, but making sure law enforcement gets a fair shake — has been striking a chord.

The major takeaway, he said, is to get as much information out as quickly as possible while still getting it right. If facts aren't available or releasing details could harm an investigation, police should talk about their process so people know the situation is being taken seriously and know what to expect, he said. "The bottom line is there was an information vacuum from the Ferguson police department, and the Twitterverse filled that vacuum," Rosenthal said. "Instead of information and facts, you were getting speculation, rumor and outright falsehoods, and there was no counterbalance."

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S.C. Police Use New DNA Technology To Generate Suspect Image

Four years ago, Candra Alston and her 3-year-old daughter, Malaysia Boykin, were murdered in their Columbia, S.C., apartment. Police collected DNA at the scene, but the investigation stalled, says the Washington Post. Police gathered 150 DNA samples and conducted 200 interviews with likely suspects, but had no solid results. Now the police are experimenting with a new technology that uses tiny amounts of DNA to create a computer-generated illustration of their suspect. Snapshot, a program developed by a Reston, Va., company called Parabon NanoLabs, goes beyond simply listing physical attributes — eye color, hair color, ethnicity and facial features — and creates a 3-D image of what the killer might look like.

The police in South Carolina hope that publicly releasing the suspect’s image and description will bring up fresh leads in a stale case. Dabrien “Dabe” Murphy of Parabon sits in front of three monitors. With a few keystrokes, he brings up a revolving 3-D image — the back of a head. Another few taps and a face attaches itself along the hairline. The face is a man’s' olive skin, greenish eyes, full lips. Murphy has fed DNA markers linked to certain facial attributes, into 3-D imaging software to create what he calls a “composition.”

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TCR at a Glance

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Chain of Command

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What was the BOP Doing in Afghanistan?

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The federal agency overseeing prisons played a previously undisclosed role in the war on terror overseas. The ACLU wants to find out more.