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Ex-MA Probation Chief Convicted Of Running Office Like Criminal Enterprise

John J. O’Brien, the disgraced former Massachusetts probation commissioner accused of corruption, was convicted yesterday in a sweeping verdict that found he ran the department like a criminal enterprise, handing out jobs to the politically powerful for his own personal benefit, the Boston Globe reports. His top aide, Elizabeth Tavares, 57, was convicted of aiding and abetting the scheme, and a deputy, William Burke III, 71, was found guilty of participating in a racketeering conspiracy.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for 51 horurs over seven days before reaching the verdict, which one jurors said should serve as a “wake-up” to the state government. “After weeks of testimony, it became clear there was serious corruption in the practices of the Probation Department,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. O’Brien, 57, appeared to be trembling as the verdict was read. The defendants will appeal. One juror said the panel found political patronage was widespread in government, and that it occurred before O’Brien’s tenure. He said O’Brien committed a crime, however, by violating hiring procedures.

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Hot Prisons Causing Health Problems For Aging Inmate Population

A prisoner with severe mental illness died in an overheated cell at Rikers Island, the biggest jail in New York City, this year. The exact cause of Jerome Murdough's death is still under investigation, reports NPR, but the temperature in the cell when he was found was at least 100 degrees. His death called renewed attention to a long-standing problem: maintaining reasonable temperatures in jails and prisons. The high temperatures at some  facilities can form a dangerous and even deadly combination with the aging inmate population.

Medications can make the mentally ill more susceptible to heat, and some prison guards say it's not safe for them either. Dr. Susi Vassallo, a physician and New York University medical school professor, stood in an un-air-conditioned prison cell one summer. "It was, even after five minutes ... absolutely stifling — it was inconceivable to live there 23 hours a day, day after day." She said that for most people those conditions are uncomfortable, but that those with some health conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes, or those taking certain medications, can be much more sensitive. For those prisoners, exposure to heat can lead to long-term health consequences or death.

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Nevada Judge Objects To Leg Shackles, Hogtying Of Juveniles

One week after ordering all Clark County, Nv., juvenile offenders removed from a state facility amid allegations of hogtying, a Las Vegas Family Court judge said he wants to tour another youth center as well, reports, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Judge William Voy said he is concerned that staff at the Caliente center, about two hours north of Las Vegas, used “mechanical restraints” on juvenile offenders held in isolation.

“If a parent did that, it would be child abuse — probably charged criminally,” Voy said. Bruce Burgess, the superintendent at the Caliente Youth Center, told the judge that uncontrollable juveniles have been restrained with handcuffs and leg shackles while in cells. “When you treat a kid like an animal, you’re going to get an animal,” Voy said. “There’s other ways of dealing with it, without resorting to something that would otherwise be child abuse if it wasn’t in an institution.” Last week, after receiving reports that staff had hogtied juveniles at the Nevada Youth Training Center in Elko, Voy ordered 12 offenders returned to his jurisdiction.

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HBO Comedy Show Pokes Fun At Federal Bureau Of Prisons Chief

On Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” on HBO, the comedian host devoted almost 18 minutes to a segment critiquing the U.S. prison system, says the Center for Investigative Reporting. Oliver zeroed in on an incident that occurred in February at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on solitary confinement. U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asks Charles Samuels, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons: “How big is a cell? How big is the average cell in solitary?”

It’s the kind of question you’d think the head of our federal prison system would be able to answer quickly. Instead, Samuels “almost comically struggles,” as Oliver puts it. And as Samuels attempts to stall for time, Franken wonders aloud, “Am I asking this wrong?”  Finally, Samuels wagers a guess. “The average size should be equivalent to 6 by 4” feet – dimensions less than those of a queen-size bed. It’s not until later in the hearing that the prisons director touches back on the question with a new answer: “Actually, it’s 10 by 7 – for the cell size.” The segment can be seen here.

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Non-Academic Juvenile Crime "Expert" Gets Lots Of Speaking Gigs

Phil Chalmers, an Ohio real-estate agent, says he is the nation's foremost authority on juvenile homicide on mass murder, although he has not been employed in either a police department or a district attorney’s office, nor has he studied criminal justice, Newsweek reports. The magazine says Chalmers "might be the most popular motivational and anti-violence speaker on the circuit." He between 50 and 150 speeches to schools and law enforcement agencies each year for up to $3,500 per gig. This is based partly on the 2009 publication of Inside the Mind of a Teen Killer, in which he claims to identify the 10 reasons kids kill, as well as warning signs. Several experts emphatically dispute his assertions.

Chalmers says his work has helped law enforcement avert many crimes. Without explaining, he says, “We’ve stopped over 200 school massacres since Columbine. Probably more.” Chalmers’s in-your-face approach has drawn ire from parents who think it might be too violent for kids. Laurence Steinberg, a juvenile crime expert at Temple University, says that making data-based conclusions and predictions on behavior requires a large sample, and there aren’t enough teen killers for a sufficient sample group. “There may be lots of factors that kids who have committed homicide share in common,” he says, but “there are probably millions of people who have those factors who haven’t committed homicide.”

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$3.25M Settlement Offer In Denver Jail Beating; Judge Urges U.S. Probe

Former Denver jail inmate Jamal Hunter has big plans for the $3.25 million offered by the city in his jail abuse case, says the Denver Post. Hunter said he wants to build a house for his ex-wife and two of his kids, take care of his four children, buy a beauty salon and barber shop, market his own line of hair extensions and weaves for women, and donate wigs to cancer patients. He said he does not feel bitter. "I think this is a positive life-changing situation not only for me but the whole community," he said. "I'm happy to be the one with this responsibility."

Revelations in his case led to Sheriff Gary Wilson's resignation this week and an investigation by independent monitor Nick Mitchell revealing scores of inmate grievances that hadn't been properly investigated. A federal judge overseeing Hunter's case urged federal authorities to investigate the practices of the police and sheriff's departments. U.S. District Judge John Kane has not said whether he will approve the settlement. He also might pursue contempt-of-court charges against city officials. In 2011, Hunter, 40, said he was the only person with a misdemeanor charge placed in a jail pod with more than 60 felons, including gang members. Inmates beat him for supposedly being a snitch and intended to murder him, he says. 

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Even Politically Friendly States Resist Obama Plea To House Migrant Kids

In statehouses and mayor’s suites, in city council chambers and local police agencies, the challenge of housing tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American migrant children is forcing an emotional, uncomfortable and politically treacherous conversation on policymakers at every level, reports the Washington Post. Since large numbers of migrant children began showing up in the Rio Grande Valley, federal officials have turned to states as far north as New England and many places in between in the search for places to keep the children while the government figures out whether to unite them with family members in the U.S. or deport them.

Even in places where the administration can usually count on support, it has frequently been met by resistance, suspicion or, in some cases, plain old puzzlement. The Democratic governors of Connecticut and Maryland have objected to specific proposals to locate shelters for the children in their states. When federal officials turned to Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin for a hand, they weren’t exactly given a set of keys to the 1,000-child capacity facility they were seeking. “We obviously don’t have anything close to that in Vermont,” said Shumlin’s deputy chief of staff, Susan Allen. “We don’t have armories available; we don’t have a military base.” In Tucson, a left-leaning university city in conservative Arizona, confusion and distrust spread after the appearance of work crews at a sprawling, two-story apartment complex that formerly housed college students. Eventually, federal officials confirmed that the complex was being rehabbed to house unaccompanied minors.

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AZ Execution Takes Two Hours; Lawyer: "The Experiment Failed"

Executions by lethal injection usually take about 10 minutes, but Joseph Rudolph Wood's yesterday in Arizona took two hours, reports the Arizona Republic. There had been concern about the drugs used in this execution, a cocktail of the Valium-like midazolam and a narcotic called hydromorphone. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to delay it. For an hour and a half, Wood made a sound the newspaper described as "a snoring, sucking, similar to when a swimming-pool filter starts taking in air ... it was death by apnea."

Finally, Wood started to gasp less frequently. Once, twice, minutes apart. Finally, Department of Corrections Director Charles Ryan appeared and announced that the execution had been completed. One of Wood's lawyers said, "The experiment failed."

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Bucar, New Pittsburgh Safety Director; Agrees Police Morale Is Low

Stephen Bucar is expected to be confirmed today as Pittsburgh's public safety director, taking the helm of a police department that saw its former chief sent to federal prison this year. reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s such a pleasant and personable guy,” said City Council President Bruce Kraus of the 54-year-old former FBI agent and Pennsylvania state trooper. “To me, he’s the complete package.”

Bucar acknowledged low morale at the police bureau, which he called a “very professional organization” though one in which a “small number of bad seeds” get all the publicity. “It taints and paints with a broad brush,” he said, adding that public perception of officers affects their work. The way forward, he said, is to build leadership that instills respect in the rank and file, and a new chief who not only can inspire officers but successfully reach out to communities that have seen a deteriorating relationship with the department. Councilman Ricky Burgess complained that the department had flatly refused to fully implement the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime, a 4-year-old local version of a violence-intervention program that has seen success in other cities and one that Mayor Bill Peduto and Bucar say they want to revamp.

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Judge Declares Class Action In CA Inmate Suit On Race-Based Punishment

A federal judge in Sacramento has awarded class-action status to a lawsuit filed by California prison inmates alleging their rights are violated by widespread practices of race-based punishment, reports the Los Angeles Times. Prison officials acknowledge they respond to outbreaks of violence by ordering lockdowns and other sanctions, and that every inmate is assigned a race or ethnic code: black, Hispanic, white or other. They deny that punishments are decided by race. However, they commonly contend that inmates align themselves with gangs based on race and ethnic group.

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley's ruling yesterday found it is "undisputed" that California uses statewide policies governing lockdowns that utilize race. He wrote that "any assertion denying the existence of the [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's] policy to be insincere at the very least." The case stems from a 2008 court complaint by inmate Robert Mitchell, who protested that he was repeatedly subjected to lockdown and denied access to exercise or programs because of his race. Mitchell alleged, according to the lawsuit, that prison officials said it was state policy that “when there is an incident involving any race, all inmates of that race are locked up.” The class action consists of about 125,000 male inmates in the California prison system.

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TCR at a Glance

Caging Kids ‘Like Animals’

July 29, 2014

Civil rights groups ask DOJ to investigate San Diego County youth facilities after probe of pepper spray abuses

Merging Family and Drug Courts

new & notable July 25, 2014

London's court for parents who abuse drugs and alcohol uses specially-trained judges and multi-disciplinary teams, according to a report ...

Five Things About Deterrence

new & notable July 24, 2014

A National Institute of Justice flyer argues that the certainty of punishment, rather than severity, deters crime