Thousands of California felons are benefiting from what the Washington Post calls "a grand experiment, an act of mass...
Senators who wrote pending sentencing-reform overhaul are preparing several key changes aimed at mollifying conservative...
A legal challenge has led more than 20 Texas towns to ease restrictions on where sex offenders can live, the Associated Press reports. While other states such as Oklahoma continue to push offenders away from some neighborhoods, about 45 Texas towns received letters in November from the group Texas Voices for Reason and Justice demanding they repeal residency restrictions. The nonprofit, which is critical of sex offender laws it considers ineffective, also has sued 14 towns and has a powerful ally, the state attorney general's office. "We advocate an individual assessment on a case-by-case basis to determine if someone is a threat to the community," said Richard Gladden, an attorney for the group. "The myth that people who commit sex offenses just generally are unable to control their sexual conduct is just that, a myth."
At issue is how Texas' small towns are differentiated from larger ones. Communities with fewer than 5,000 people are "general law" towns, which can't adopt an ordinance that the legislature hasn't permitted. Dozens of these smaller communities have restricted where sex offenders can live — usually with the purpose of keeping them away from schools and other places children gather — but only later learned they've run afoul of state rules. Other states have been looking to increase restrictions on housing for sex offenders. Last year, Montana made it a felony for high-risk offenders to live or work in some areas, and Oklahoma added playgrounds and parks maintained by a homeowners association to the list of places prohibiting offenders, says the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Robert Olsen was a DeKalb County police officer when he killed Anthony Hill on March 9 while responding to a call about a naked man behaving erratically outside an apartment complex. When his case went before a grand jury last month, Olsen spoke to the panel for 20 minutes. Even though District Attorney Robert James won an indictment against Olsen, he thinks the law on police and grand juries has to change. "It's profoundly unfair," he said. Georgia is the only state that allows an officer's unchallenged statement at the end of a grand jury session, said Chuck Spahos of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia. In some other states, a prosecutor can call the officer as a witness, but the officer is subject to questions and can't listen to other testimony. The law has drawn criticism as police use-of-force cases face increasing scrutiny nationwide.
Three decades after the crack epidemic, "the national attitude toward drug addiction is utterly different" as most of the victims are whites, law Prof. Ekow Yankah of Yeshiva University writes in the New York Times. Police chiefs in the cities most affected by heroin are responding not with military metaphors, weapons and tactics but by ensuring that police officers save lives and get people into rehab. One former narcotics officer said, “These are people and they have a purpose in life and we can’t as law enforcement look at them any other way.”
Says Yankah: "Suddenly, police officers understand crime as a sign of underlying addiction requiring coordinated assistance, rather than a scourge to be eradicated." African Americans, who were targeted in the crack years, feel a "bittersweet sting...witnessing this national embrace of addicts," Yankah says. "When the face of addiction had dark skin, this nation’s police did not see sons and daughters, sister and brothers. They saw 'brothas,; young thugs to be locked up, rather than 'people with a purpose in life.' " Yankah says that, "White heroin addicts get overdose treatment, rehabilitation and reincorporation, a system that will be there for them again and again and again. Black drug users got jail cells and 'Just Say No.' "
After a recent uptick in stabbings in New York City, officials are crafting strategies to improve public safety, while assuring residents that the incidents are isolated and not part of a broader pattern, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The number of knife attacks has climbed by 15 percent in the past year, says the New York Police Department. The jump was highlighted after a young woman in Brooklyn was attacked while riding the subway last week.
Despite the spike in stabbings, officials warn against labeling it as a trend. "These are individual incidents," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "There is not a pattern here." The police department would like to ban “career criminals” from riding the subway. In the meantime, officers will start waking sleeping passengers and remind them about being alert. About half of all crimes committed on the subway target sleeping passengers, Gothamist.com reported. Some are worried that an initiative to shake passengers awake will unfairly target straphangers of color and create even more negative interactions with the police.
A trio of federal pilot projects aimed at thwarting violent extremism are off to a tentative start. The Minneapolis Star Tribune says Minneapolis and two other cities chosen to host the Department of Justice anti-terror initiative are taking different approaches and all three are facing common hurdles. Critics have pushed back, arguing the projects train a damaging spotlight on Muslim communities and mainly seek to keep tabs on them. A lawsuit last week charges the feds have withheld documents that could shed more light on the initiative. The pilots have drawn a diverse cast of supporters who see a chance for government and community members to team up on preventing violence. Some are impatient with the slow pace and modest federal investment. In Los Angeles, law enforcement officials say the project has backfired, sowing confusion and alarm in Muslim communities.
Some community leaders say they’ll continue efforts to combat radical recruitment without waiting on the feds. “We have to figure it out for ourselves,” said Salam Al-Marayati, president of the L.A.-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. “We can’t wait for the next San Bernardino or the next Fort Hood or the next Boston Marathon.” In Boston, law enforcement, school and city officials, and community groups produced a broad plan, with more than 100 action points: antibullying programs, anti-radical messages on social media, hot lines for concerned family members, cultural sensitivity training for government staffers and more. “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” said Michael Downing, deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. “Our tenet is prevention.”
An opportunity to pass the most significant federal criminal justice reform in a generation may be slipping away, says the New York Times in an editorial. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 resulted from years of negotiation over how best to roll back the imprisonment spree of the past four decades, when the federal prison population grew from under 25,000 to more than 195,000. The bill would reduce long mandatory minimum sentences for many nonviolent drug crimes, give judges more control over sentencing, and give inmates more opportunities to get out early by participating in rehab programs.
Some Republicans say they will approve the bill only if it includes a change in the law to make corporations and their executives harder to prosecute for environmental or financial crimes by imposing a new intent, or “mens rea,” standard on these crimes. "There is absolutely no reason for this provision to be stuck into this criminal justice reform bill," argues the Times. Another obstacle to the bill’s passage is "old-fashioned scaremongering about the release of 'violent criminals' into the streets." This is not true, the Times says. In a similar vein, the Washington Post takes issue with a contention of Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), that the bill would lead to the release of thousands of violent felons. The Post Fact Checker gives Cotton two Pinocchios because he fails to note that judges would have to approve any releases, and it is not clear that most of the drug felons affected are violent.
Washington, D.C., is weighing a measure that would pay criminals to stay out of trouble, reports the Washington Post...
Contracts between police and city authorities, leaked after hackers breached the website of the Fraternal Order of Police, contain guarantees that disciplinary records and complaints made against officers are kept secret or even destroyed, reports the Guardian. An analysis of dozens of contracts obtained from FOP servers found that more than a third featured clauses allowing – and often mandating – the destruction of records of civilian complaints, departmental investigations, or disciplinary actions after a negotiated period of time. The review found that 30 percent of the 67 leaked police contracts, which were struck between cities and police unions, included provisions barring public access to records of past civilian complaints, departmental investigations, and disciplinary actions.
Criminologist Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska Omaha said there was “no justification” for the cleansing of officers’ records, which could contain details of their use of force against civilians. “The public has a right to know,” he said. “If there was a controversial beating, we ought to know what action was actually taken. Was it a reprimand? A suspension?” Walker said that while an officer’s whole personnel file should not be readily available to the public outside of court proceedings, records of disciplinary action should be. The leaked contracts became publicly accessible last week, when hackers breached the FOP website and put many files online. These provide a glimpse into the influence of police unions, which Black Lives Matter activists have accused of impeding misconduct investigations, particularly after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore in April. FOP President Chuck Canterbury said contract provisions were designed to protect the due process rights of police officers. “Disciplinary files are removed because they affect career advancement,” said Canterbury. “People make mistakes and if they learn from them, they should be removed. This is standard HR practice.”
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