U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) wants the federal government to spend $100 million to help local police agencies pay for body-worn cameras for their officers, McClatchy Newspapers reports. Scott Safer Officer and Safer Citizens Act of 2015 would provide grants over five years to places that provide a 25 percent match in funds they request. Scott said local law enforcement agencies that apply for funding would have to develop policies for retaining the video captured on the body cameras and disclosure issues. "Our goal is not to find a way to nationalize local law enforcement,” he said yesterday, “but to specifically do the exact opposite."
Scott has been one of Congress’ leading proponents of body cameras. He stepped up his advocacy after the fatal shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed African American, by a white North Charleston police officer in April. There already are some funds for body cameras in appropriations bills that have yet to clear both chambers of Congress. In May, the Justice Department embarked on a $20 million pilot program that will provide grants to as many as 50 police departments to purchase body cameras and train officers on their use.
Philanthropy groups and some legislators are giving college education for prisoners a fresh look, as criminal-justice policies put more emphasis on preparing inmates for life beyond bars, the Wall Street Journal reports. Public funds for college education largely dried up in the 1990s, when Congress rendered prisoners ineligible for federal Pell grants. In recent years, Doris Buffett’s Sunshine Lady Foundation and the Ford Foundation have contributed millions of dollars to programs that give prisoners the chance to earn college credit. This year, the Kresge Foundation in Troy, Mi., and the Andrew Mellon Foundation awarded grants for such programs.
Buffett, whose foundation has supported prisoner education since the early 2000s, described a “surge” in support for prisoner education, adding: “It’s a worthwhile use of money, and it’s going to do what we want it to.” A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn’t. Earlier studies have also showed a strong correlation between education and lower recidivism. “There is nothing proven to be less expensive and more effective than college,” said Max Kenner of the Bard Prison Initiative, which annually enrolls nearly 300 prisoners in degree programs from Bard College in New York. Prisoners received $34 million in Pell Grants in 1993, the year before Congress made inmates ineligible for them. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in June that includes $12 million to promote statewide priorities, including college classes in state prison.
After winning back their freedom and their jobs, five former members of an elite Philadelphia narcotics squad who were acquitted this year on federal corruption charges have sued the district attorney, the mayor, and the city's police commissioner for defamation, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The three city leaders unfairly maligned the officers and made accusations that led to their firings and arrests, Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, and John Speiser alleged in federal court. By deciding in 2012 that his office would no longer accept any cases stemming from their squad's investigations, District Attorney Seth Williams "started a gigantic, destructive avalanche of severe and permanent wrongs, damages and injustices" that continues to affect the officers today, wrote their attorney, Christopher Mannix.
In a racketeering conspiracy trial that concluded in May, federal prosecutors alleged Liciardello and his squad mates routinely beat drug suspects, pocketed money, and fabricated police reports to cover up their crimes. Government witnesses, many of them with long criminal records, described being dangled over balconies, threatened with the seizure of their homes, held in hotel rooms for days, or beaten as the officers kept score on who could inflict the most debilitating injuries. A jury found that testimony unconvincing and acquitted the officers. U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger has said he stands by his office's work on the case. Mannix described that federal case as "literally laughable and disgraceful." The lawyer did not include the U.S. Attorney's Office or the FBI among the defendants in the defamation suit, though he hinted in an interview that he may be considering a case against them.
The panel that will decide Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Wes Kerrick’s fate won’t reflect Mecklenburg County’s diversity, says the Charlotte Observer. The trial will decide whether Kerrick used excessive force when he shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell in 2013. Kerrick is white and Ferrell was an unarmed black man. African Americans make up nearly a third of the county’s population, so the jury would need four black members to mirror county demographics. It now has two African Americans, and there’s only one remaining seat. So far, the group includes seven whites, two Hispanics and two black women, but no black men.
African Americans historically have been underrepresented on U.S. juries. That trend persists today, experts say, and a new Charlotte Observer analysis suggests it holds true in Mecklenburg County. No law requires a jury to reflect a community’s demographics, and a jury doesn’t have to be diverse to be fair. Experts say one argument for diversity is that it increases public confidence in a verdict. They say another reason might be more compelling: Diversity creates better juries. Members of mixed-race juries deliberate longer, bring up a broader range of ideas and make fewer errors than all-white juries, says Cornell University Law Professor Valerie Hans, co-author of “American Juries: The Verdict.” She says, “In general, the diversity of views strengthens the group’s ability in fact-finding. Not only do they have different information and perspectives, they don’t take other people’s word for it. You have people really testing your claims.”
True-crime writer Ann Rule of Seattle, whose more than 30 books included a profile of a former co-worker, serial killer Ted Bundy, died at 83, the Associated Press reports. Rule's first book in 1980, “The Stranger Beside Me,” profiled Bundy, whom she got to know while sharing the late shift at a Seattle suicide hotline. Bundy, who was executed in 1989 in Florida, confessed to 30 homicides in several states. She also wrote “Small Sacrifices,” about Diane Downs, an Oregon woman convicted of shooting her three children, killing one and seriously wounding two; “The Lust Killer,” about shoe fetishist and necrophiliac Jerome Brudos, of Salem, Or.; and “The I-5 Killer,” tracing the case of Randall Woodfield, a Newport, Or., high-school football star and former Green Bay Packers draftee.
Some 20 million copies of her books have sold. Rule said she was fascinated by killers’ lives, going back to their childhoods to find clues to why they did what they did. She told the Seattle Times, “I wanted to know why some kids grew up to be criminals and why other people didn’t. That is still the main thrust behind my books: I want to know why these things happen, and so do my readers.” J.B. Dickey, owner of the Seattle Mystery Book Shop, said Rule did more than 15 book signings in the store. “She was a very popular writer,” he said. “It’s a difficult thing to say exactly why true-crime books are as popular as they are. I’m sure there’s some type of grisly schadenfreude aspect to it.” Last April, Rule's two sons were charged with bilking her out of $100,000.
New York magazine's cover story that shows 35 women who share an unenviable title, Bill Cosby's accusers, is called "required reading" by the Chicago Tribune. (In all, 46 have come forward to accuse the comedian of rape.) "A sorrowful sisterhood," Joan Tarshis, who says Cosby assaulted her in 1969, told the magazine. The Tribune calls the piece "a powerful, important piece of history in the making, finally gathering almost three dozen of the women who've accused Cosby of assault and giving them a united voice."
"The group, at present, ranges in age from early 20s to 80 and includes supermodels Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson alongside waitresses and Playboy bunnies and journalists and a host of women who formerly worked in show business," writes New York's Noreen Malone. "Many of the women say they know of others still out there who've chosen to remain silent." Malone's article considers our culture's slow evolution in its handling of rape accusations. A decade ago, she writes, 14 women had already accused Cosby of rape. "But they were met, mostly, with skepticism, threats, and attacks on their character," she writes.
Sandra Bland's death in a Texas jail cell highlights at least three major policy changes needed to keep the public safe from its protectors, says the Grits for Breakfast blog in Texas: The police officer should not have had grounds to arrest her in the first place; even if arrested, she should have been booked and released, not jailed, and once in jail, she should have been more closely monitored, assuming that her death was in fact, a suicide. While lots remains unknown about Bland's death, she would probably be alive today if she had been booked and released on a personal bond with a date to return to court for her hearing.
Bland's friends and family are raising a ruckus, saying she was a special person. Unfortunately, says Grits for Breakfast, the circumstances surrounding her unjust detention and preventable death weren't special at all. One can can learn much from what's unique about this young woman's case, but perhaps even more from what it has in common with dozens or hundreds of others. Last year in Texas there were 615 in-custody deaths; 410 were in state facilities, excluding 10 executions, and the rest were police shootings or deaths in jails.
In recent speeches on criminal justice, President Obama has emphasized one of the most problematic myths standing in the way of true penal reform, and his recent commutations of 46 federal sentences implicitly did the same, says law Prof. John Pfaff of Fordham University. Obama suggested that we can scale back incarceration by focusing solely on nonviolent offenders. The President made this a key point in his speech this month to the NAACP, when he said, "Here’s the thing: Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before. And that is the real reason our prison population is so high.” This claim, which is widely accepted by policymakers and the public, is simply wrong, Pfaff writes in the Washington Post.
It’s true that nearly half of all federal inmates have been sentenced for drug offenses, but the federal system holds only only about 14 percent of all inmates. In state prisons, which hold the remaining 86 percent, more than half of inmates are serving time for violent crimes, and since 1990, 60 percent of the growth in state prison populations has come from locking up violent offenders. Less than a fifth of state prisoners — 17 percent — are serving time for nonviolent drug offenses. Contrary to Obama’s claim, drug inmates tend to serve relatively short sentences. It is the inmates who are convicted of violent crimes who serve the longer terms. Pfaff says that, "We are going to have to reduce the punishments that violent offenders face if we really want to cut our breathtaking prison population down to size." He adds that, "This idea is a political third rail, and no leading politician has been willing to risk touching it."
If it seems like mass shootings are becoming more common, researchers say they are, reports the Los Angeles Times. Between a 2011 shooting at a restaurant in Carson City, Nv., that left four people dead and the 2013 attack on the Washington Navy Yard where 12 people were killed, a mass shooting occurred somewhere in the U.S. once every 64 days, on average. In the preceding 29 years, such shootings occurred on average every 200 days, say researchers from Harvard University's School of Public Health and Northeastern University. The study defined a mass shooting as an outbreak of firearms violence in which four or more victims were killed and the shooter was unknown to most of his victims.
Not only are such shootings more common, they have also become more deadly. In the 10-year period that ended with the Washington Navy Yard attack, 285 people died in such events. In the 13 years before that, 151 people perished in mass shootings. Between Jan. 1, 2015 and July 20, 2015 there have been 203 mass shooting events in which victims were both killed and wounded by gunfire, according to statistics from Mass Shootings Tracker, a Wiki-style site. That doesn't include the two moviegoers who were killed and nine wounded at the Grand Theatre multiplex in Lafayette La., last Thursday night. Although the fatalities in mass shootings are dramatic, they are dwarfed by the number of people killed by firearms in attacks that affect one or two victims at a time and largely escape public notice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 11,208 people died in homicides involving firearms in the United States in 2013.
Maine is at the burning core of a nationwide heroin epidemic, what the Washington Post calls "the perverse outcome of a...