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The Confederate Flag: Symbol of Terrorism or Free Speech?

By Gloria Browne-Marshall

The Confederate flag represents racial oppression to many. Yet to others, it is a mere relic of Southern history. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments to decide whether this symbol of the old Confederacy should be allowed on official Texas license plates.

In the case of Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc, the Confederate Veterans are appealing a decision by Texas to reject their request to have an official license plate bearing the Confederate flag. Currently, Texas motorists pay an extra $30 for the specialty plate. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ fight. Nadine Strossen, New York Law School professor and former ACLU president, advocated on behalf of the Confederate flag on the grounds that Texas’ refusal to allow the specialty plate amounts to censorship—even while admitting the flag is offensive to many people, especially African-Americans.

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Why Police Need ShotSpotter

By Eric W. Rose

The latest version of ShotSpotter is a wide-area acoustic surveillance system that detects and locates gunshot and explosive events in near real-time. The technology works by installing three sensors containing microphones and global satellite positioning technology.

Following an explosive sound, the sensors are triggered and the system utilizes triangulation to detect and locate the shot’s origination. Audio from the incident is then sent to the SST Incident Review Center via secure, high-speed network connections for real-time confirmation of shots being fired.

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Memo to Texas Sen. Cornyn: Don’t Gut PREA

By Liz Ryan

Late last year, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) offered an amendment, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a voice vote, that would have dramatically weakened the enforcement of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). The amendment would have exempted programs that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had slated to be subject to a financial penalty for states for non-compliance with PREA.

It didn’t make it all the way through the Congress last session. But according to press reports, Sen. Cornyn appears to be preparing to offer it again.

If he does, Senate Judiciary Committee members should reject this ill-advised amendment. Here’s why:

PREA’s implementation is at a crucial phase.

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Justice Commission Needs America’s ‘Best and Brightest’

By Lee P. Brown

President Barack Obama’s Task Force On 21st Century Policing, released earlier this month, provides local law enforcement with concrete ideas designed to improve the relationship between the police and the people they are sworn to serve.

I am especially pleased that the interim report lists as its first overarching recommendation the creation of a National Crime and Justice Task Force “to evaluate all components of the criminal justice system for the purpose of making recommendations to the country on criminal justice reform.”

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What Meaningful Grand Jury Reform Should Cover

By Robin L. Barton

The Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases focused attention on police departments and their relationships with the minority communities that they serve. After the police officers involved in those incidents were not indicted on criminal charges, those cases also drew attention to the grand jury process.

In response to this attention, the St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch chose to release redacted transcripts of testimony and other evidence heard by the grand jurors, who refused to indict Officer Darren Wilson.

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What Caused the Crime Decline? Assessing the Brennan Center Report

By Richard Rosenfeld

It’s now well known that crime rates have decreased in the United States and in other developed nations over the past two decades. The reasons offered have included rising incarceration, improved economic conditions, better policing, aging populations, decreased crack use, abortion policy changes, reductions in childhood exposure to lead, or some combination of these and other factors.

None of these evaluations is considered definitive. Many assessments point to an array of possible causal factors without much supporting evidence. And those that identify a single explanation for the decline, such as changes in abortion policy or reductions of lead in the environment, have been criticized for attributing an implausibly large causal role to that one factor without accounting for the influence of others. No study has incorporated a broad range of possible explanations of recent crime trends in a single analysis—until now.

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After Ferguson: We Need a Presidential Commission on Justice

By Lee P. Brown

Last summer, President Barack Obama addressed the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, by calling on Americans to “use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment –the potential of a young man and the sorrow of parents, the frustrations of a community, the ideals that we hold as one united American family.”

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which will release its report shortly,  is only the first step in what must be a much longer journey—one that must focus on more than the police.

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Was the Ferguson Grand Jury Misled?

By Caleb Mason

As I’ve previously written here, I think the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Ferguson was probably correct. The forensic evidence tended to corroborate Wilson’s version of events and to conflict with that of Dorian Johnson, Michael Brown’s friend, who was the other principal eyewitness.

But there’s one lingering question still nagging at me and other commentators: the possibility that the grand jury was misinstructed on the law governing police use of deadly force. 

While St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch released transcripts of the witness testimony, he never released the written legal instructions that the grand jurors were provided. We know from the transcripts that the grand jurors were originally given a printout of a Missouri state statute on police use of deadly force; and then, on November 21, on the very last day of the session, just before deliberations, the Assistant Prosecuting Attorneys handling the indictment told the jurors that they had “discovered” that the statute was invalid under a 1985 Supreme Court case called Tennessee v. Garner.

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Can the Drop in Juvenile Incarcerations Offer Lessons for Adult Policy?

By Marc A. Schindler

After a few years of modest decreases in the adult prison populations, states added 6,858 people to prisons, according to the most recent numbers. This uptick (around a 2 percent increase in state prison populations) has occurred despite modest changes to sentencing structures and the implementation of reinvestment strategies.

By contrast, states have dramatically reduced the number of young people confined in juvenile justice facilities across the country – a 41 percent decrease between 2001 and 2011.

So what’s going on here? Why are we seeing such a profound divergence in trends?   

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Pennsylvania’s Wild Justice: The Perils of a Rising Star

By Matthew T. Mangino

The English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), once wrote “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.” In the modern era of Pennsylvania politics. Justice has indeed been wild.

In the last decade, the state has seen a Supreme Court justice convicted; her sister, a state senator, imprisoned; and two House Speakers and minority leaders in the House and Senate jailed. A host of legislators have left in disgrace. Last month, State Treasure Rob McCord resigned with the intent to plead guilty to federal criminal charges, and in the 1990s a Republican Attorney General went to prison.

Now, in that spirit of “wild justice, the knives are out for Kathleen Kane, the first female (and first Democrat) elected in 34 years as state Attorney General. Prominent members of Kane’s own Democratic party are aligning themselves to take her job. Those hopefuls are not talking about a 2016 primary challenge: they are wooing Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf for a possible appointment.

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TCR at a Glance

Prop 47: The Debate Continues

March 23, 2015

Just four months after Californians passed a landmark referendum to reform the criminal code, they’re immersed in a debate over its...

New Indictments in Narco Freedom Case

March 20, 2015

Operators of one of New York’s largest drug treatment programs are accused of exploiting substance abusers in a wide-ranging &ldquo...

The Missing Public Defender

March 19, 2015

More lawyers for poor defendants would reduce pretrial detention---and save money, says a new report.