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Suit: NC Prison Officers Helped Arm Inmate Gangs

Five former inmates at Lanesboro Correctional Institution have filed a federal lawsuit alleging that officers at the North Carolina prison repeatedly helped gang-affiliated inmates get weapons and wage attacks, reports the Charlotte Observer. Some officers went so far as to open locked doors to allow attacks on inmates, the lawsuit contends.

It’s the latest in a string of troubling allegations about Lanesboro. The high-security prison has repeatedly drawn scrutiny after violence, inmate deaths and claims of improper conduct by officers. Earlier this year, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety asked the FBI to assist in a wide-ranging investigation into gang activity and other problems at the prison. The plaintiffs in the latest complaint say they were assaulted by fellow prisoners wielding contraband weapons. They’re seeking monetary damages, along with changes to ensure the safety of current inmates at Lanesboro.

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Judges Question 'Outrageous' ATF Drug-Sting Tactics

An increasing number of judges are questioning the use of fake drugs in “stash-house stings” by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, reports the New York Times. Suspects are lured to the houses, expecting to rip off drug dealers. Instead, they are arrested. The ATF has made a specialty of the ruses, conducting 365 such stings over the past decade. The bureau says it has sent to prison more than 1,000 of the country’s most “violent, hardened criminals” as a result.

But this year, the judge in a Los Angeles sting case dismissed the charges against two of the defendants on the rarely invoked grounds of “outrageous government conduct.” Judge Otis D. Wright II described the bureau in his March decision as “trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas — all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past.” Other judges in California and Illinois have also questioned the tactics.

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AL Studies Justice Reforms, But It Won't Come Easy

Most agree that Alabama's criminal justice system is broken. But fixing it won't be easy, reports the Montgomery Advertiser. For several months, the Prison Reform Task Force, led by state Sen. Cam Ward, and the Council of State Governments Justice Center have been working together to study the system, devise policy recommendations and identify funding needs. Underfunded courts, overcrowded prisons and limited rehabilitation services for offenders all contribute to the failing system.

Reversing a criminal justice culture rooted in harsh punishments is a challenge in the conservative state. Ward said, "It's going to be very hard to push through because you have to change a lot of mindsets about how you deal with criminal justice." He apparently has an ally in state Chief Justice Roy Moore, who said, "I consider the present criminal justice system to be unfair in its application. We have people serving life without parole who have never confronted a victim. The habitual felony law has been misused to add extremely long sentences that are unjustified."

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More PA Inmates Charged Health Care Copay Fees

 

The practice of charging jail and prison inmates a copay for non-emergency medical care is growing in Pennsylvania, reports the Bucks County Courier Times. A county inmate must now pay a fee ranging from $3 to $5 to see a nurse or doctor in county correction centers. A corrections official said he hopes the copays lead to fewer “frivolous” medical calls.

Neighboring Montgomery County, Penn., also charges jail inmates a copay of $3 and $5. Pennsylvania state prisons charge a $5 copay for a non-emergency medical service. Copays are also charged in cases where the “injury or illness is self-inflicted” or results from the inmate's “participation in a sport.” Twenty years ago, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project filed a lawsuit challenging a county prison system over inmate health copays. A federal appeals court ultimately ruled that prisoners can be charged a fee if they can afford to pay it.

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Louisiana Set to Cull Moldy Invalid Laws from Books

Immune to bad weather and disease, laws are perhaps Louisiana’s most reliable crop, with fresh statutes sprouting by the hundreds each year regardless of the state’s political climate, says the Baton Rouge Advocate. Some laws stay on the books. Others expire by judicial decree. But in Louisiana, some invalidated criminal laws — from an anti-sodomy law to one creating the crime of defamation — remain on the books for decades even after being ruled unconstitutional.

That places law enforcement agencies in the awkward position of arresting people for a violation that, whether they know it or not, prosecutors can’t and won’t pursue. That may be changing. Legislators have ordered a comprehensive review of state laws declared unconstitutional by a final court judgment. The reports, to be done biennially by the non-partisan Louisiana Law Institute, will recommend to lawmakers whether to repeal or revise any laws discovered to be unconstitutional.

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AP Identifies Campus Gunman as FSU Graduate

A gunman opened fire early Thursday at a Florida State University library, sending hundreds of students who had been studying for exams scrambling for cover, says the Associated Press. Three students were wounded before police killed the gunman in a shootout. His motive was not immediately known. Two of the victims were taken to a local hospital. FSU officials said a third student who was grazed by a bullet was treated at the scene and released.

The AP identified the dead gunman as Myron May, an FSU graduate who attended law school at Texas Tech. Police and FSU officials called the shooting an "isolated incident." FSU's compact campus is located less than a mile from downtown Tallahassee and the state Capitol. The attack started soon after midnight when students inside the multistory library heard about half a dozen gunshots. Tallahassee and FSU police confronted the gunman just outside the library and ordered him to drop his handgun, but he fired a shot at them and they unleashed a volley of shots, police said.

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As Broad Protests Loom, Most Cities Say 'No Worries'

As a grand jury in St. Louis nears a decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the fatal shooting of a black teenager, activists are planning scores of protests across the nation, leading the FBI to warn of potential violence, says the New York Times. But with a few exceptions — most notably metropolitan St. Louis — law enforcement authorities appear to be greeting the prospect of demonstrations with equanimity.

From Detroit to Atlanta, officials said they expected little trouble or violence should the grand jury decide not to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot Michael Brown, 18, after a dispute on Aug. 9. The exceptions are Oakland, Calif., where authorities have advised residents and businesses near downtown to protect their cars and reinforce their doors, and Pittsburgh, where a police official said his department was hoping for the best but girding “for the very, very worst.”

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Info Requests May Stymie Seattle PD Body Cams

Concerns about the administrative costs of public disclosure requests have prompted Seattle to second-guess its plan to outfit its police officers with body cameras, reports the Seattle Times. The city is within weeks of launching a six-month pilot program to outfit 12 officers with body-worn cameras. But the plan to equip more than 1,000 officers by 2016 could be shelved due to public disclosure requests already filed by one citizen and the expectation of many more, said Mike Wagers, the police department’s chief operating officer.

Officials say legislators should change the law, although a public records advocate questions the need. On Tuesday, the anonymous citizen--known only by an email address--filed an information request seeking daily updates that Wagers said would be virtually impossible to fulfill. The citizen is seeking details on every 911 dispatch on which officers are sent; all the written reports they produce; and details of each computer search generated by officers when they run a person’s name, or check a license plate or address. He or she also wants all videos from patrol-car cameras and plans to seek copies of body-cam videos once police begin using them.

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As Parents Pray for Faith Healing, Children Die in Idaho

Vocativ explores a disturbing pattern in Idaho of the deaths of children of parents who believe in faith healing. Journalist Shane Dixon Kavanaugh contrasts Idaho with Oregon, which in 2011 enacted strict laws that eliminate religious-defense statutes often used by professed faith-healers. Since then, Oregon has successfully prosecuted three faith-healing cases, putting mothers and fathers in jail on charges of criminal mistreatment, negligent homicide and manslaughter.

Meanwhile, at least 12 children have died since 2011 in the care of faith-healing parents in Idaho, yet not a single charge has been filed. Idaho authorities do not investigate or prosecute faith-healing deaths, which occur largely without scrutiny from the public or media. Of the dozen documented cases in the last three years—and there are likely many more that have gone unreported—all were members of the Followers of Christ, a small Christian denomination that shuns medical care.

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Gingrich Urges Bipartisan Effort to Reform Criminal Justice

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich believes it is possible to create a bipartisan majority to "rethink" criminal justice. The Georgia Republican told the first national summit on justice reinvestment in San Diego Wednesday that "substantial aspects of sentencing and parole have to be rethought." Speaking via Skype, Gingrich said politicians went too far with harsh prison sentences in the 1980s and 1990s. While defending a "very tough approach" to violent crime, he said he now realizes that long prison terms meant "destroying the future" for many offenders.

Speaking with Gingrich was Van Jones, founder of Rebuild the Dream, whose #Cut50 project aims to reduce the U.S. prison population by half over the next decade. Jones said there is a "bipartisan moment of opportunity" to reduce incarceration. He said Democrats have been reluctant to lead the effort because many still are afraid of being labeled soft on crime. Jones said he disagrees with Gingrich on most other policy issues, but he said "strange bedfellows" should form a new coalition for change. Gingrich said a "new generation" of Republican governors might take the lead. The summit gathered government leaders and others from 35 states to discuss justice reforms.

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