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Post-Katrina Study Finds More Crime Where Former Prisoners Live Near Others

Within three years of their release, about two-thirds of ex-prisoners in the U.S. are arrested again. One of the most significant factors in recidivism, says a new National Academy of Sciences study reported by The Atlantic,  is whether the released prisoners live in the same neighborhood as other parolees. Author David Kirk, sociology professor at the University of Oxford, says, "Put simply, the alarming rates of recidivism in the United States are partly a consequence of the fact that many individuals being released from prison ultimately reside in the same neighborhoods as other former felons." About 650,000 prisoners are released each year. A significant share of the released tend to cluster in a a few very disadvantaged neighborhoods. It’s hard to test what would happen if these reentry patterns were different, but living conditions in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina gave Kirk that chance.

The disaster destroyed a lot of property and geographically redistributed the former-prisoner population. Instead of concentrating in the same places as they had before Katrina, ex-prisoners released after the storm spread out across new neighborhoods. Kirk compared the re-incarceration rates in neighborhoods that had seen a change in parolee concentration to ones that hadn’t and found that "the greater the concentration of ex-prisoners in a neighborhood, the greater the rate of subsequent recidivism. I find that concentrating former prisoners in the same neighborhoods leads to significantly higher recidivism rates than if ex-prisoners were more dispersed across neighborhoods." He concluded that, "Although parole and public housing policies and practices were designed, in principle, to enhance public safety, they may in fact be undermining it."

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Congress Tackles Police Reform; Little Agreement On House Panel

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) says he “will not rest until we make progress” on criminal justice reform, but his first public effort to build consensus degenerated into partisan mudslinging yesterday. Politico says that suggests Goodlatte and reform advocates have a long way to go if they want to find consensus on new police standards or training. The first of several planned hearings on the rising tensions between cops and black communities turned ugly at times, including arguments about the use of the word “ghetto” and whether black-on-black crime should get more attention. “I want us to get to the point where we lament the murder of a black female … at the hand of her abusive husband … just as much as if it was at the hand of a white cop,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a former federal prosecutor.

Democrats sought guidance from policing experts about what Congress should do to help and shared personal stories of being stopped by the police. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke blasted the panel for getting involved in police issues at all, arguing they are a local matter. By contrast, a Senate hearing yesterday was much more sedate. Presidential contender Lindsey Graham (R-SC) held a hearing on body cameras, scheduled at the request of Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who’s pushing for more federal money for such technology. Senators drilled down into technicalities: when cameras should be turned on and off on the beat, how much they cost to store, when the public could request footage and how the government could be helpful.



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Scathing Report Describes Poor Health Care In Illinois Prisons

A scathing report by court-approved researchers paints a bleak picture of Illinois prison medical care, describing treatment delays, haphazard follow-up care, chaotic record keeping and a litany of other problems that may have cut short the lives of some inmates, reports the Associated Press. The 405-page report, which the Illinois Department of Corrections disputed, was filed yesterday in federal court in Chicago in a class-action suit against the agency, which oversees 49,000 inmates statewide.

The report concludes that "Illinois has been unable to meet minimal constitutional standards with regards to the adequacy of its health care program." The state says the authors should not have drawn sweeping conclusions after visiting just eight of 25 Illinois prison facilities. The experts reviewed a sample of 63 Illinois prisoner deaths from illness in recent years and found "significant lapses" in care in 60 percent of those cases. It called that percentage of prisoners who received shoddy care "unacceptably high."

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Washington, D.C., Tops Nation In Police Officers Per Capita; Portland, OR Low

Portland, Or., has fewer police officers per city resident and fewer minority officers than most other law enforcement agencies its size, a new national survey shows, the Oregonian reports. The city had 16 sworn officers per 10,000 residents in 2012, according to the national survey released last week by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Forty-four other major police departments had higher ratios. Washington, D.C., was No. 1 in staffing with 61 sworn officers per 10,000 residents, said the 2013 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics Survey.

Most of the departments with more police per capita had higher violent crime rates, but not in every case. There were more officers per capita in Austin, Tx.; Honolulu; and Columbus, Oh., but they had lower violent crime rates than Portland. Deanna Mitchell-Wesson, policy director for Mayor Charlie Hales, described the officer-per-resident ratio as "an easy and consistent number to measure across locales, but it does not take other key matters into consideration, including: community expectations for policing practices, level of community of engagement desired, the number of calls for service, and geography."

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Rodney Monroe To Retire As Charlotte Chief; Led During Crime Decline

Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s first black police chief, Rodney Monroe, will retire July 1 after leading the agency during a period of steady crime reduction, including a record low homicide total, the Charlotte Observer reports. Monroe, 58, was hired as chief in 2008 after stints in Macon, Ga., and in Richmond, Va. His predecessor, Darrel Stephens, was a nonconfrontational boss known for his book smarts but criticized because of the city’s soaring crime rate. Monroe is known as a tough law-and-order cop who learned policing during 21 years in Washington, D.C.’s police department.

The year before Monroe started as chief, 75 people were killed in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Seven years later, the department investigated 42 homicides, the lowest number since police began keeping track of uniform crime statistics in 1977. The police department claimed credit for the crime drop, citing better use of technology and an increased emphasis on patrol. It’s unclear how big of a role the tactics played. Charlotte and other cities have been seeing drops in violent crime for two decades, a trend that has baffled criminologists.

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Feds Dramatically Increase Warnings Of Terrorist Attacks On U.S. Soil

Worried about the growing threat from the Islamic State, the Obama administration has dramatically stepped up warnings of potential terrorist attacks on American soil after several years of relative calm, the Los Angeles Times reports. Behind the scenes, U.S. authorities have raised defenses at U.S. military bases, put local police forces on alert, and increased surveillance at airports, railroads, shopping malls, energy plants and other potential targets. Driving the unease are FBI arrests of at least 30 Americans on terrorism-related charges this year in an array of "lone wolf" plots, none successful, but nearly all purportedly inspired by Islamic State propaganda or appeals. The group's leader, Abu Bakr Baghdadi, drove home the danger in a 34-minute audio recording released online last week. He urged Muslims everywhere to "migrate to the Islamic State or fight in his land, wherever that may be." The audio was released with translations in English, French, German, Russian and Turkish.

"It is pretty easy for [the Islamic State] to reach out to a very large number of people using a very robust social media presence. I suspect we should see more plots going forward, said J.M. Berger, a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution. In Texas recently, two would-be terrorists apparently prompted by Islamic State social media messages tried to shoot their way into a provocative contest for caricatures of the prophet Muhammad. Both gunmen were shot to death. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault, the first time it has done so for an attack on U.S. soil. FBI director James Comey warned this month that "hundreds, maybe thousands" of Americans are seeing recruitment pitches from Islamic State on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, as well as messages sent to smartphones of "disturbed people" who could be pushed to attack U.S. targets. "It's like the devil sitting on their shoulders saying, 'Kill, kill, kill,'" he said.

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Can Camden's Community Policing Serve As A National Model?

In 2012, crime was so bad and money so tight in Camden, N.J., that officials took the dramatic step of scrapping their 141-year-old police department and replacing it with a new, county-based force focused on putting cops on the street and building better relations with residents. Nearly two years later, President Obama hailed the nascent Camden County Police Department yesterday as a national success story, a model for other departments to emulate as cities grapple with increasingly stormy relations between cops and the minority neighborhoods they police, reports the Christian Science Monitor. “Just a few years ago, this city was written off as dangerous beyond redemption, a city trapped in a downward spiral,” the president said. “Parents were afraid to let their children play outside, drug dealers operated in broad daylight, there weren’t enough cops to patrol the streets, so two years ago the police department was overhauled to implement a new model of community policing.”

"There’s a clear recognition that police need to reengage and redouble their efforts and working with the community,” says Darrel Stephens of the Major Cities Chiefs, a professional association of police executives. "Once we got Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland and all the others – that’s why we’re seeing the emphasis on change.” Still, community policing isn't a cure-all. “When you start getting into places like West Baltimore or neighborhoods in the Bronx, and they have been dysfunctional for generations, you can’t just say, now we’re going to do community policing and everything will be better,” says Edward Connors of the Institute for Law and Justice in Williamsburg, Va. “You can’t just sweep in community policing if the schools are bad, if there are no jobs.”

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How Government, Private Entities Try To Keep Mentally Ill Out Of Jail

Police, judges and elected officials increasingly are pointing out that a high proportion of people in jail are mentally ill, and that in many cases they shouldn’t be there. Stateline reports that many cities and counties are trying to reduce those numbers by training police to deal with mental health crises, creating mobile mental health units to assist officers, and establishing mental health support centers as an alternative to jail, among other measures. A coalition including the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the American Psychiatric Foundation and the National Association of Counties are running a campaign to encourage local jurisdictions to collect data on the jailed mentally ill and adopt strategies to avoid incarceration. The MacArthur Foundation plans to send $75 million to jurisdictions interested in reducing unnecessary incarceration of people, including the mentally ill.    

State spending on mental health services has shrunk through the decades. Between 2009 and 2012, states cut back mental health spending by a total of $4.35 billion, according to a study by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. Although some of that funding has been restored in recent years, it has not been enough to meet the need, with the result that more mentally ill people are ending up in jail. “It’s been frustrating and tragic that so little has been done to address the problem,” said Ira Burnim, legal director of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “There’s not a lot of magic in the solution.” Many are hopeful that the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which extends health benefits to poor, single adults, will enable many to get mental health treatment and avoid the crises that previously landed them in jails. But 21 states have resisted expansion.

 

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TCR at a Glance

Ending ‘Incoherent’ Sentencing

special report May 26, 2015

A New York State Commission will propose a major overhaul of the state’s approach to sentencing tomorrow.

When Justice Wasn’t Blind

q & a May 25, 2015

A unique encyclopedia documents the painful and often tragic history of African Americans and the law since the colonial era.

Study: Rape on Campus an 'Epidemic'

new & notable May 22, 2015

A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds rampant instances of both incapacitated and forcible rape on campus