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It’s Time to Ask the Question: What are Prisons For?

By Glenn E. Martin

One of the most significant obstacles to ending mass incarceration and perpetual punishment is the lack of imagination among Americans about what we can do differently. 

Current policies have been implemented over the past four and a half decades, so millions of Americans have never seen a different public safety model.  To eliminate mass incarceration, Americans must be able to imagine something else.

It happens when visionaries plant the seeds of imagination. 

The “Reimagining Prison” initiative, launched yesterday by the Vera Institute, creates a space for that kind of big-picture thinking.  I was proud to be one of the speakers at the event, which took place at Eastern State Penitentiary, once the “model” for prison facilities when it was built in the early 19th century in Philadelphia—and now (appropriately) a museum.

Day-to- day, we are grinding away on the nuanced policy levers, trying to slow down the levers of the human grist mill that we’ve created in the years since Eastern State Penitentiary was built, but rarely do we invest the time and cultivate the space to help people imagine something different. 

Space to ask the question, “What if?”

Now is the right time, because we have a shared baseline of agreement that what we’re doing doesn’t work.  I’ve had reporters call and ask me to help them find somebody, anybody, who thinks mass incarceration makes sense. 

Look at the reaction to Senator Tom Cotton’s statement a few weeks ago that mass incarceration isn’t real,  and that we should be locking more people up. 

"If anything,” he said in remarks to the Hudson Institute, “We have an under-incarceration problem. For the vast majority of crimes, a perpetrator is never identified or arrested, let alone prosecuted, convicted and jailed."

Even conservatives said he was way off base. 

 I’m not Pollyanna-ish enough to believe that just because we have an agreement we’re going to be able to head in right direction on all reforms, but I do believe that when there are enough people who believe we can do things differently, it creates an opening and an opportunity for progress if we can fill that void. 

And there is a void. 

In the past it’s been, “what law can we tweak, what policy or practice can we change?” But now it’s “how do we re-envision the system?”That’s a different question and we have the potential to offer answers that help move us to a tipping point.

In order to move ahead, there are some basic foundational principles we have to have in place.  First, transparency:  of policies, practices, data, what happens inside prisons and jails, and even of the architecture that we employ in locking people up. 

The only way to change the culture of punishment is to let people see what is going on in their name. 

Second, we have to take the deprivation of liberty more seriously.   Taking away a defendant’s liberty is our default response.  Even after people are locked up, for instance, the way we deal with someone with mental health issues in prison is to put them into solitary confinement.  But that should be the last measure we take. 

Even if a person has the potential to do harm to his/herself,, the incarceration dosage should be just enough to get beyond the potential for further harm.   

Prison should always be the method of last resort.

And when it is used, it should be used sparingly.

Acceptance of these principles is becoming widespread. Now it’s up to us to put them into action.

Glenn E. Martin is founder and president of JustLeadership USA. His Twitter handle is @glennEmartin. He welcomes your comments.

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When Systems Collide: Gwen’s Story

By Franklin Cruz

When I worked in the Bronx criminal justice system, I encountered many examples of poor people of color who had profound needs that were being “met” by cycling them through jail, rather than identifying appropriate services or alternatives that would address the underlying causes of their arrests. 

What was striking about so many of these individuals is that by the time they were caught up in the justice system, they had already been involved with multiple public services that should have been able to identify and help resolve their mental health issues, their addiction, their homelessness, their disability, or the many other issues that often co-occur with justice-involved populations.

Gwen, a young mother of 15, is a poignant example.  She had been in and out of group homes after being removed from her mother’s care due to allegations of neglect.  Fed up with the conditions in those homes, Gwen escaped to the streets—and came to the frequent attention of police who picked her up for petty theft and fights with other youth.

That landed her repeatedly in the juvenile justice system.

At the age of 16, she became a mother—which brought her into contact with the child welfare system. New York’s Administration for Children’s Services became involved, because Gwen still had no permanent home, being herself a ward of the state.  Her caseworker would refer her to programs to assist her in locating supportive housing—in high demand but low supply—as well as prescribe the standard “individualized plan” that included parenting classes regardless of who you were. 

In juvenile court, Gwen was referred to anger management counseling and group therapy.  She also had regular check-ins with her probation officer, in addition to those with her caseworker from child welfare.  Remarkably, Gwen had stayed in school; but she had already been through six schools in five years, as she changed placements or was transferred. 

Ultimately, she was expelled and placed in a special school for those students who could not thrive in New York City’s regular high schools, but had to miss classes and appointments to meet her other responsibilities with both the juvenile and child welfare systems. 

When she eventually dropped out, she was sanctioned by juvenile probation for not keeping up with her studies, as required by the court.  During the two years I knew her, Gwen became pregnant again, struggled to see her first child who was still in placement, and eventually picked up criminal cases for getting into fights. 

All the while, as she shuttled through juvenile court, criminal court, child welfare and family court, and the school system, Gwen’s life continued to spiral out of control.  She continued to violate conditions imposed upon her that kept building up and sometimes conflicted.  And she was never placed into supportive housing or into an adequate program to help her deal with her trauma and other potential mental health issues.

I would not say that Gwen’s story was typical, but she was neither rare nor unique. 

While intuitively it might seem that Gwen’s attachment to so many systems, each with varying access to supportive services, would work to her benefit, she experienced what has become a common narrative of multi-system youth and adults.  They are caught among systems that collide instead of coordinate with each other.

The result is not surprising: enormous collateral damage to youth and families.  What’s worse, the Gwens in this country suffer worse outcomes despite the higher needs.  And they are almost always poor and of color.

There has been growing attention to the needs of dual status and “multi-system” youth over the past decade.  In addition to child welfare, juvenile justice and school systems, youth and families may be involved with service systems for the homeless and for individuals suffering from behavioral health problems. 

But they pay a high price.  Young people involved in child welfare and juvenile justice systems are more likely to have experienced exposure to multiple, interpersonal trauma with long-term impacts than other youth.  Being held in juvenile detention centers or moved through the foster care system only exacerbates the trauma for these children, translating into more profound behavioral health problems and outbursts of antisocial behaviors that lead in turn to deeper involvement in the juvenile and ultimately criminal justice systems. 

In many jurisdictions across the country, the case worker in child protective services may not even be aware of the juvenile justice case and certainly would not be speaking to juvenile probation about the case.

Schools are also disconnected even though they can play important roles in improving conditions for youth or exacerbating their challenges.  Zero tolerance disciplinary policies can be the first step in a young person’s involvement in juvenile justice (or complicate a pre-existing case).  Truancy may trigger not only juvenile justice involvement, but child welfare involvement with a neglect petition filed against the parent or guardian who now has a court case on top of everything else. 

While youth may be able to get supportive services through schools, including through classification as special needs, they may also suffer the consequences of being labeled and treated as “problems.”  Even when a young person lands in the best school environment, they may not be there long enough to reap the benefits. Dual-status youth often change schools as they move through foster or group home placements.

Practitioners see young people and families caught between systems regularly.  We know a lot about what the impacts are.  We know some about the prevalence of the phenomenon.  Yet, there is so much more that we do not know. 

Many jurisdictions have no idea how many children are or have been involved in child welfare systems and juvenile justice systems.  Add youth and families involved with other systems, and the crossover data are nonexistent.  The information systems across these agencies (not to mention the other youth and family serving agencies) are in silos. Not only does this mean that youth and families do not receive wraparound services that are optimized for their success; it has unfortunately shown that they suffer worse outcomes and are damaged and traumatized by being stuck between systems.

In 2011, King County, WA (Seattle) published Doorways to Delinquency, an analysis of its dual status population.  The landmark report provides one glimpse into quantifiable costs to young people and their families.  Two of every three youth referred to the juvenile justice system in King County had some contact or involvement with the child welfare system.  Dual status youth, particularly those with a child welfare history, became involved in the juvenile delinquency system at least a year earlier than their counterparts without child welfare histories. 

Beyond their early involvement, they also recidivated at higher rates.  Within two years of their first offense, 70 percent of dual status youth were back in the juvenile justice system, twice the rate for other youth. 

The collision of these systems around these young people is not just inefficient; it comes at a high price in the lives of the people they are supposed to serve.

Editor’s Note:  To learn more about dual status youth and some of the effective practices to help coordinate systems effectively, visit the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice at www.rfknrcjj.org

Franklin Cruz is Chief Operating Officer and Program Director of the Justice Management Institute (JMI), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice.  Franklin, who currently leads JMI’s Fair Justice Initiative promoting equity improvement efforts in criminal justice, previously spent over a decade as a manager at a public defender office in Bronx, NY. He welcomes comments from readers.


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The Limits of Self-Defense as a Legal Defense

By Robin L. Barton

The concept of self-defense seems so simple that even children have a basic understanding of it. After all, any time a kid tells a parent, “But he started it” or “She kicked me first!” what he’s essentially saying is that he was only defending himself and thus is innocent.

But in reality, the application of the self-defense argument to criminal charges is more complex and nuanced, and involves more factors than just who was the initial aggressor. A recent case in New York is a good example of some of the issues that can arise when someone claims self-defense.

Nenegale Diallo was in her Bronx, NY, apartment when there was a knock on the door. Thinking her son had returned, she opened it, allowing Earl Nash, a career criminal, to burst inside.

Nash bluntly told Nenegale that he was going to rape her as he locked the door and started removing his pants. He then struck her, knocked her to the floor and ripped her clothes off. At one point, he even threw a chair at her.

During the attack, Nenegale was able to get to her phone and dial her husband Mamadou, screaming at him to help her and to call the police.

By the time Mamadou arrived, Nash was in the hallway, pacing in front of the elevator. Nenegale told her husband that Nash was the one and not to let him go.

Mamadou, who was armed with a tire iron, swung the weapon at Nash and drove him into the elevator, where Mamadou continued to beat him for more than a minute. Nash fought back with a belt. (The incident was caught on video.)

Nash later died at the hospital from his injuries, which included a fractured skull.

Mamadou was initially charged with manslaughter but was instead arraigned on assault, harassment and weapons charges, likely due to the Bronx District Attorney’s Office consideration of the circumstances of the incident. The case has yet to be presented to a grand jury.

The defense of self-defense is usually codified in a state’s criminal law. Although there may be some differences among jurisdictions, the basic principles are generally the same or similar.

Despite the name, an individual has the right to defend both himself as well as someone else from a physical assault or imminent attack. For example, Sec. 35.15(1) of the New York State Penal Law says that, subject to certain conditions, a person may “use physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to defend himself, herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by such other person.”

The key elements of the defense are that the individual arguing self-defense must reasonably believe the use of physical force was necessary and that such force was needed to respond to an attack or imminent threat of an attack. So if the attacker has already been subdued or is running away, there’s no longer an imminent threat of an attack and thus the use of force wouldn’t be justified.

The use of deadly force in self-defense is more limited. Sec. 35.15(2) of the New York penal law says, “A person may not use deadly [emphasis added] physical force upon another person under circumstances specified in subdivision one unless the actor reasonably believes that such other person is using or about to use deadly [emphasis added] physical force.”

In other words, the force used must be proportional, i.e., you’re only justified in using deadly force to defend against deadly force. For instance, you can’t shoot someone for slapping you in the face.

Lastly, the law may include a duty to retreat rather than use force, especially deadly force. For instance, under New York law, a person may not use deadly physical force if he or she knows that, with complete personal safety to himself and others, he may avoid the necessity of using deadly force by retreating or leaving the threatening situation.

However, there are limits on the duty to retreat. For example, an individual generally doesn’t have to retreat if he’s in his home and wasn’t the initial aggressor. (Note that some states have so-called “stand your ground” laws, which negate the duty to retreat.)

Now let’s look at how these principles apply to the Mamadou Diallo case.

A husband may come to the defense of his wife. In fact, the law of self-defense also protects individuals who come to the aid of complete strangers. So Mamadou may be justified in using physical force to protect Nenegale from being assaulted or raped.

But the requirement of an imminent threat poses a significant hurdle.

When Mamadou encountered Nash, it was after Nash has attacked Nenegale and was trying to leave via the elevator. Nash was nowhere near Nenegale when Mamadou arrived on their floor. At that point, Nash’s assault and attempted rape of Nenegale was over.

When Mamadou struck Nash, his wife was neither being attacked nor under an immediate threat of attack. So regardless of his feelings in that awful moment when he came face-to-face with his wife’s attacker, strictly speaking, he wasn’t defending her in the eyes of the law.

In addition, based on the video of the encounter, it doesn’t appear that Nash hit or struck Mamadou first. Thus, Mamadou also can’t argue that he was trying to defend or protect himself when he hit Nash with the tire iron.

If Mamadou is able to get past the hurdle of imminent threat, he still faces the issue of whether he went too far. In other words, was his use of deadly force justified?

Mamadou rushed home to save his wife armed with a tire iron, which would be considered a weapon under the law. He encountered Nash in the building’s hallway, not in his apartment. So he can’t argue that he had no duty to retreat. And it appears that he could have safely avoided a confrontation with Nash, although doing so would likely have allowed Nash to escape.

Mamadou exercised deadly physical force by repeatedly striking Nash about the head and body with the tire iron, ultimately fracturing his skull and causing his death. Given that Nash was apparently armed only with a belt, was it reasonable for Mamadou to believe that Nash was about to use deadly physical force? Not likely.

So based on a logical, objective analysis of the law on self-defense and its application to the facts of this case as they’ve been reported in the media, Mamadou doesn’t seem to have a viable self-defense argument.

But it’s easy to play Monday-morning quarterback.

In the heat of the moment, it would have  been nearly impossible for Mamadou to turn his adrenalin off once he arrived in the hall outside his apartment and saw his wife.

Put yourself in Mamadou’s shoes. Your spouse has just called you. She’s hysterical, crying that she’s being attacked and begging for your help. You rush home to find your naked, sobbing wife in the hall. She yells to you that the man you just passed outside the elevator is the one who attacked her.

What would you do?

At a minimum, you’d likely try to keep him from escaping. But once he was subdued and not able to flee, would you be able to rein yourself in and stop beating him until the authorities arrived?

The people certainly have spoken. The public has shown overwhelming support for Mamadou’s actions, cheering for him when he was released after arraignment. Even a female state senator has said the charges against him should be dropped and he should get the keys to the city.

Of course, it helps that Nash had a lengthy and violent record, and isn’t a sympathetic “victim.”

So should the Bronx DA have charged Mamadou with those lesser charges or just dismissed the case against him? Is justice really served if Mamadou is prosecuted? Even if he’s indicted, prosecutors will be hard pressed to find unsympathetic jurors willing to convict him for his actions.

I understand the support for Mamadou—and I’m certainly not shedding any tears that Nash is dead.

But under a strict reading of New York criminal law, self-defense doesn’t apply. So the Bronx DA’s Office was right to file charges against Mamadou and follow the law. But the best-case scenario for everyone might be if Mamadou testifies in front of the grand jury, which then refuses to indict him.

Prosecutors will have enforced the law, a hero in the eyes of many will avoid a criminal record and the public will have been educated on what self-defense really means in a criminal law context.

Robin L. Barton, a legal journalist based in Brooklyn, NY, is a former assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and a regular blogger for The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.

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Linking Risk Assessments & Race in Adult Corrections

By Jesse Russell

Are risk assessments used in adult corrections racially biased? Do they unfairly label people of color as higher risk for future crimes?

These are important and often uncomfortable questions, raised most recently in a laudable ProPublica analysis of the COMPAS risk assessment used in adult corrections sentencing decisions.

Aside from the question of what decisions risk assessment should, and shouldn’t, be used for, there is a question of whether risk assessment itself perpetuates inequity. The answer: Yes. And no.

Risk assessment, at its best, can reduce bias in decision making. At its worst, it can propagate bias.

This is exactly why using risk assessment for sentencing in adult corrections is troubling. The adult corrections system is often racially biased and overwhelmingly punitive in nature. Risk assessments used at sentencing are being used to drive punishment as the risk score moves higher.

In a racially biased system, or in a society that has inequities, risk assessment will create a disproportionate impact on a particular group, in this case, African Americans.

The key fact we need to keep in mind is that before risk assessment has any chance to influence any individual’s corrections involvement, a long list of other factors has already established inequity in the system.

For example:

  • Federal housing policies like redlining made it difficult for some communities to sustain intergenerational economic prosperity;
  • Financial redlining created pockets of underserved communities with few resources that have been linked to higher arrest rates;
  • Policing practices have unfairly targeted black and African-American communities; 
  • Drug sentencing laws have had disproportionate impacts on black and African-American communities; 
  • Implicit biases affect how threatening African Americans are perceived to be by decision makers, as compared to whites. 
  • A history of institutionalized disenfranchisement of African-American communities has eroded the representativeness of democracy. 
  • The destructive myth of the African-American “super predator” has shaped criminal justice policy and practice. 

Until and unless these types of structural and implicit inequities are resolved and untethered from the adult corrections system, use of fair and equitable risk assessment tools will not be sufficient to transform adult corrections in the United States.

People who care about how decisions are made in justice settings often ask whether it is an ethical problem if African-Americans are more likely to get a high-risk assessment score. The worry is that higher risk scores lead to negative outcomes.

This is a valid concern, and it holds true if the risk assessment is used to direct punishment, prison sentences, or punitive probation practices (see the ProPublica article for good examples). In this case, the issue is not with the risk assessment, but the punitive intervention the corrections system and the community are investing in.

That means  risk assessment can be an essential part of non-punitive decisions in adult corrections, including pre-trial release, targeting alternatives to placement, parole review and release, etc. The positive uses of risk assessment are, in fact, a strong argument in support of justice reform—not that we should need any further convincing.

Advocates, funders, researchers, justice system workers and, most of all, every person who cares about a fair, effective justice system should want well-constructed and well-tested risk assessment as part of the ideal system that they are working to create.

We all deserve to be treated equitably, afforded opportunities and resources as needed, and empowered to contribute to our communities. Risk assessment can be part of that vision.

Jesse Russell, PhD, is the chief program officer of the National Council on Crime & Delinquency. NCCD works to improve outcomes for at-risk children, adults, families, and communities by bringing research and data-driven decision making to the juvenile and adult criminal justice, child welfare, and adult protection systems. Dr. Russell welcomes comments from readers. 

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When The War Comes Home

By Sean Fields and Anna Zaros

Chris, an infantry officer,  had been deployed for over 12 months during Operation Iraqi Freedom. When he returned home, reconnecting with his wife of three years and their young child was a struggle.  

Then the struggle turned violent. Unable to sleep or confide in his wife about his combat experiences, he was constantly on edge---snapping at his family for no apparent reason, even as he experienced flashbacks of  his combat experiences.   

Then one night, Chris (whose full name has been withheld) and his wife got into an argument and he found himself lunging at her. She called  911 and police later charged him with “terroristic threats”—a common domestic abuse-related charge.

Filled with shame, Chris struggled to reconcile the image he had of himself – a war hero who was protecting his country from “real terrorists” – to the person he was now labeled as: A terrorist to his family.

His case is not unusual.  As America marks Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, we must redouble our efforts to address the pain and tragedy suffered by many of our veterans and their families.

According to the Department of Defense, there were 16,109 incidents involving veterans and their families that “met criteria for domestic and child abuse” in 2014, the last year for which such data is available.  That represented an increase of 189 domestic and child abuse incidents from the year before. (However, taking child abuse and domestic abuse separately, there were 498 fewer incidents involving domestic abuse.)

While domestic abuse is prevalent in all families, regardless of ethnicity, religion, class, or military experience, working with military families who are experiencing abuse has unique challenges.

In their 2011 Victim Advocate Guide, the Battered Women’s Justice Project, which has studied the intersection of military service and domestic abuse, found that most returning military personnel “do not become abusive to their partners and/or families.”

Nevertheless, it added:

…there are reports of increased violence upon return in some relationships with a history of controlling behavior and/or physical violence prior to deployment to the war. And there are reports of psychological and/or physical violence upon return from the war in some relationships with no history of violence prior to deployment.

According to a 2009 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public Health and Environmental Hazards, 81 percent of veterans suffering from depression and PTSD , such as Chris, engaged in at least one violent act against their partner in the previous year. And male veterans with PTSD are two to three times more likely to engage in domestic violence than  those without PTSD. 

A veteran has been trained to think about violence differently than a civilian. Service members risk their lives on behalf of our country, and they use violence to protect themselves and their comrades;  but their military training, including the hierarchachal structure of chain of command and violent tactics, do not often translate to civilian life. While this is not an excuse for abuse, a service member’s experience can intensify domestic violence in the home, and make it more difficult for an individual to change  his or her abusive behavior.

Now, caregivers and advocates have some new tools to address the problem.

One example is CHANGE STEP, a program created by the Domestic Abuse Project, a nationally recognized leader in trauma-informed work with men who have demonstrated abusive behavior. The program, designed specifically for veterans who have been abusive to their intimate partners, aims to replace abusive behaviors with actions that build and support healthy relationships. 

CHANGE STEP is tailored specifically to veterans of the armed services and incorporates military culture into its approach—with special attention to the effects of combat.

After his arrest, Chris was ordered through probation to join CHANGE STEP. With nine other veterans he participated in a 24-week program that brought him face to face with the roots of his own violent behavior. A crucial element in the program is assigning new members to a  “battle buddy“—a fellow participant nearing the end of his time in the program, who could hold an individual accountable for his actions while empathize with his  combat experiences.

Chris had to complete assignments in order to “graduate,”  including preparation of a plan to maintain self-control , and a presentation to his peers where he took responsibility for his abusive behavior. Case managers helped Chris navigate the veterans’ benefits system so he could receive the medical care he needed to treat his PTSD. Chris was able to learn and practice healthy behaviors for dealing with the stresses of civilian life.

Domestic violence interventions often focus on the victim, and not the perpetrator. Yet working with perpetrators is essential to ending the cycle of violence in families. Abusive behaviors are learned, and we can teach perpetrators how to approach conflict in a healthy way.

More needs to be done.

For military service members and veterans, the challenge of ending abusive behavior is unique. Members of the military who experience symptoms of PTSD from combat exposure may struggle to reintegrate into their families, and are often unable to adjust to the new normal of life after deployment---potentially contributing to a downward spiral towards domestic violence.  But their families need attention as well---and existing domestic violence programs rarely take the special needs of military families into account.

But CHANGE STEP is an impressive start. If you know a veteran who needs this help, please don’t hesitate in telling him about the program---or request a training to facilitate a CHANGE STEP program in your community.

The veteran—and his family---will be grateful.

Sean Fields, PsyD, MA is the Internship Program Supervisor, Youth Therapist, and Change Step Therapist at Domestic Abuse Project. At Domestic Abuse Project, Sean provides group and individual therapy to children impacted by domestic violence, as well as adult men who have used abusive behavior. Sean served in the U.S. Army National Guard and Reserves for 10 years.

Anna Zaros, MA, is the Director of Development and Communications at Domestic Abuse Project. Anna holds a bachelor’s degree in Theology and Religious Studies and a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame in International Peace Studies. They welcome comments from readers.

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The Policing Task Force One Year Later: Return to the Basics

By Frank Straub

Public hostility toward the police is every bit as disruptive of peace and order, as police indifference to, or mistreatment of, citizens. Citizens in our urban communities will never obtain the police protection they badly want—and need—until police officers feel that their presence is welcome, and that their challenges are understood.

Nevertheless, the duty of taking the initiative clearly falls on the police, both because they are organized and disciplined, and because they are public servants sworn to protect every member of the community they serve.

It’s an urgent duty.

Social tensions continue to grow and crime continues to challenge America’s cities. It is clear, the police cannot preserve the public peace and control crime unless the public participates more fully in the mission. Bad community feelings do more than create tensions or engender actions against the police that may embitter police officers and trigger irrational responses. It stimulates crime.

Those self-evident truths should guide the thinking of our national and local leaders as they address the future of American law enforcement in the next decades. The first anniversary of the publication of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing offers an appropriate moment to look back on how we got here—and to look ahead.

In the 1960s, the civil rights movement exposed the deep divide between communities of color and the police—and led to protests, civil disturbances and calls for reform. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice recommended that the police become more responsive to the challenges of a rapidly changing society, and the importance of community-police relations.

The Commission set in motion a series of police reforms that focused in large part on what would become the primary activities of community poling: organizational transformation, community engagement and collaborative problem-solving.

In the 1970s, the attention to police reform, and the increased availability of government funds for research, stimulated academic interest on the role and effectiveness of the police. The Police Foundation, for example, launched a series of research projects that studied preventive patrol in Kansas City; the impact of one-or-two officer units in San Diego; police misconduct and ethics; police technology; and police hiring practices.

In the late 1970s, Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey established walking beats to deter crime and engage police officers in neighborhood problem-solving. While the walking beats had mixed results regarding crime reduction, researchers concluded that the presence of foot patrol officers reduced citizen fear of crime and fostered closer relationships between the police and neighborhood residents.

In the late-1970s, Professor Herman Goldstein proposed a new approach to policing based on a collaborative relationship with the community to identify and solve the underlying causes of neighborhood problems: “problem-oriented policing.”

Interest and momentum around community and problem-solving policing continued to grow in the 1980s, stimulated by research and innovative police practices. For example, in a seminal 1982 article for The Atlantic, George Kelling and James Q. Wilson explored the relationship between social disorder, neighborhood decline, and crime. According to Kelling and Wilson, if police officers, particularly those assigned to walking beats, focused on the initial problems of social disorder, the police could reduce fear of crime and stop the process of neighborhood decay.

Police departments across the country established storefront police stations; team policing, community policing and/or problem-solving units; citizen advisory boards; increased minority hiring; and implemented programs designed to engage the community in crime prevention and control.

Community policing and problem-oriented policing accelerated in the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton established the Office of Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) in the U.S. Department of Justice to help state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies enhance their capacity to improve public safety through the implementation of community policing strategies.

Since 1994, the COPS Office has invested more than $14 billion to advance community policing. It has awarded grants to hire community-policing professionals, to develop and test innovative policing strategies, and to provide training and technical assistance to community members, local government leaders and all levels of law enforcement.

Ironically, as President Johnson led the nation in calling for police reform and community engagement, the President also set the tone for what became a “war on crime.” The “frontline soldier” in that war was the local law enforcement officer, according to LBJ.

Under President Richard Nixon (and accelerated later by Ronald Reagan’s Administration), the country’s self-declared war on crime morphed into a “war on drugs.”  Police chiefs across the nation emerged as the leading warriors.  The media focused on prominent personalities like Daryl Gates, then chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, who testified before the U. S. Senate “that we are in a war” and “that casual drug users should be taken out and shot

In the three decades since, in response to surges in violent crime and the public’s demand for quick, impressive action, many police departments have moved away from community policing. They have returned to traditional law enforcement strategies to fight crime—and added some new ones, such as tactical enforcement teams, “stop-and-frisk” initiatives, neighborhood sweeps, civil injunctions, and public housing “bar outs.”


In times of perceived crisis, police and political leaders have declared crime emergencies, increasing patrols in hard-hit neighborhoods, establishing curfews, and cordoning off neighborhoods to create “safe zones.” Closed-circuit camera networks, gunshot detection and location systems, as well as facial and pattern recognition technology vastly expanded surveillance capabilities and created police omnipresence in America’s most crime-challenged neighborhoods.

The results have been painful and tragic.

The U.S. now imprisons more people per capita than any other country in the world. For some demographic groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling. While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 are behind bars, for African-American males in that age group the number is one in 9. In the poorest communities, as many as 20 percent of adult men are locked up on any given day, and there is hardly a family without a father, son, brother, or uncle who has not been incarcerated.

To complicate things further, September 11, 2001 thrust American policing into a new “war.” Terrorism, once perceived as something that happened—for the most part—outside U.S. boundaries, was now a real threat to Main Street, USA. American police departments were once again placed on the “front line,” as tremendous amounts of federal grant dollars enabled them to purchase the equipment and weapons systems considered necessary to protect our communities.  As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were waged, the “warrior” mindset was admired and replicated in American policing.  

The foregoing shows graphically how U.S. policing has developed on two tracks since the 1960s. 

The first track seeks to build police organizations that truly “serve and protect” communities through the three activities of community policing: organizational transformation, community engagement and collaborative problem solving. The second is oriented towards equipping and training “frontline soldiers” to wage wars on crime, drugs and terrorism.

Understanding the tension between those two tracks is essential to dealing with the confusion of goals and methods we face today, among our police agencies, as well as in the communities they serve. In too many instances, police efforts to bring safety and security to crime-ravished neighborhoods have disenfranchised the very residents the police were trying to help, and led to tragic incidents.

The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing offered a path forward. The five pillars identified in the Report provide a clear road map, and an opportunity to clearly transform American policing. The thoughtful work done by the task force, the many conversations they had with community and police leaders, and their recommendations, harken back to the important work done in the late 1960s, and the tremendous effort that has been made since then.

The recent announcement, tied to the first-anniversary report, that the COPS office has selected 15 police departments to receive funds enabling them to adopt or continue to implement the Task Force recommendations shows great promise by providing models of success to police departments and the communities they serve.

Although not selected as one of the 15, Chief Jeff Hadley, Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, is using the Task Force Report as a “scorecard” against which to assess his department’s community policing strategies. The Chief was proud to tell me that his department has implemented many of the Task Force recommendations and they were committed to working with the community to implement many of the remaining recommendations.

The Police Foundation recently undertook a series of field studies, funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, designed to highlight agencies that have returned to traditional foot patrols to better connect and build trust in their communities. During field visits to New Haven, Connecticut; Portland, Oregon; Evanston, Illinois; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and Cambridge, Massachusetts, we interviewed dozens of police officers, community members, supervisors, and police executives who agreed there is no better way to engage the community on a consistent basis than by walking neighborhood streets and interacting with residents, business owners, young people, the mentally ill, and the homeless.

I believe we have a real opportunity, once again, to realize the vision of a responsive and community-oriented police force first conceived during the turmoil of the 1960s. But it can only be achieved through a genuine partnership with our communities that addresses the need to remove the hostility and distrust that have turned police and citizens into dueling camps.

Frank Straub, is the Director of Strategic Studies with the Police Foundation, has spent 31 years in federal, state and local law enforcement and public safety. He holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice from the City University of New York, and is recognized nationally for his work in the areas of community policing, juvenile justice, mental health and police reform. He welcomes comments from readers.

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Guardianship Policing in a Warrior Culture

By Doug Parker

Policing moves in cycles. Since 9/11 the cycle has shifted away from community engagement to securing our communities against terrorism, and controlling crime through aggressive intervention.

In the midst of these changes, the self-constructed role of police officers as warriors has not only persisted, but become dominant. We prefer to think of ourselves as “crime fighters” whose sole mission is to protect our communities from the evils of the world by locking up the bad guys.

This romanticized perception of warrior policing can be self-satisfying. After all, the image of the warrior pervades our culture. However, as professionals we are not in the business of perpetuating popular fantasies. Our duty is to serve and protect. We are guardians.

What is warrior policing? Warrior policing narrowly focuses on controlling crime via power and authority. It perpetuates the cultural view that excludes “outsiders” from police work; people not privy to the responsibilities and complexities of the job. Such a simplistic dichotomy is attractive because it creates clear lines of social engagement. Unfortunately it also perpetuates stereotypes while bolstering serious resistance to change.

Warrior policing considers power and authority as rights exclusively reserved for police officers.

The “warrior mindset” preached by many in American law enforcement ignores the role warriors actually played in Native American tradition. Warriors served as community caretakers, caring for widows, orphans and the elderly. They saw that food was distributed fairly, that shelter was available for every member of the tribe. When the community was threatened from outside, they went to war. Their role as “fighters” was important but not primary.

What is guardianship policing? Guardians consider themselves legally and morally responsible for peacekeeping and peacemaking within the community. They serve as the stewards of community life and health, deriving their power and authority from the community they serve.

When circumstances dictate they act as warriors, defending the community from attack. 

The Navajo Peacekeeper Project is great example of how police officers can move beyond enforcement to guardianship. Building on traditional values that emphasized maintaining and restoring harmony (hozho), officers were schooled to identify the root causes of disputes. Intervention focused on conflict resolution.

By engaging in peacemaking efforts, repeat calls were reduced and harmony restored, making the community safer for both officers and citizens. Sounds like community policing?


Guardianship is a philosophy of policing, not a program. American law enforcement has often succumbed to “flavor-of-the month” thinking when it comes to how we police our communities. This ebb and flow results in disjointed efforts and fragmented perceptions of what role officers are to play. Riding to the rescue comes the satisfying vision of the police officer as warrior, the one constant amidst professional chaos.

Law enforcement has become the primary tool to address a wide array of social problems. For example, citizens suffering from mental illness have been released into communities because treatment is no longer available.

When these unfortunate souls cause problems in the community, police officers are called to the deal with them. Local law enforcement officers confront the results of transnational crime every day in the form of drug and human trafficking, representing a plague on community life and health. Natural and man-made disasters threaten communities in the form of weather events, wildfires, transportation accidents and chemical spills.

Who are the first responders? Police officers and their peers in public safety. In today’s world we are called on to fill many roles.

In order to survive as a profession we should embrace a new philosophy of policing. Guardianship is a philosophy with an expansive view of our place in society which places police officers squarely within community life. It moves far beyond the narrow perception that police control events by applying power to the problem. It acknowledges that our authority is limited to what is granted by our citizens rather than what we choose to acquire for ourselves.

How do we adopt guardianship policing? We should develop new templates for recruiting and search for people with the capacity for critical thinking. We need to understand the cultural influences that shape officers’ attitudes over the course of years. We should confront the barriers to change erected by police culture and set them aside. We must partner with community activists and organizations as well as academia to develop a broader perspective of community needs.

Instead of resisting increased accountability we should embrace it. We should emphasize the value of communication skills and stop equating de-escalation techniques with threats to officer safety; no such relationship exists. 

At the same time we must not discard policing practices because they may be unpopular. The warrior role will always have its place in police work. There will always be situations requiring officers to use force as the last resort to protect lives including their own. However we must recognize that this is not the only role police officers play, nor is it the most important.

We live in times of enormous social transformation. Like it or not, the cycle of social transformation moves forward and law enforcement is caught in the flow of events. We can jump into the water and swim against the tide. Or we can build a better boat that allows us to ride the current to new places.

It’s time to transition to a better style of policing: guardianship.

Doug Parker served over 36 years with three Colorado police agencies: University of Colorado-Denver campus police; Littleton Police Department; and the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office. He served as a street supervisor, administrative lieutenant, SWAT team leader, Watch Commander and Division Commander. A summa cum laude graduate of Regis University (Denver), he received an MS in Criminology this past April. He welcomes comments from readers.

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Art, Science and the Challenge of Justice Reform

By Greg Berman and Julian Adler

Almost every week brings more grim news about the state of criminal justice in the United States: Unwarranted uses of force, fees and fines being used to balance municipal budgets, dire statistics about mass incarceration, protests in the streets… the list goes on and on.

Alongside these developments, we have seen—drip by drip—the continued erosion of public trust in justice, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and among communities of color.

How should we respond to these challenges? 

In recent days, a veritable cottage industry has emerged that suggests that we already know the answers. An article in Vox declares: “We Know How to Stop Gun Violence.”  In an op-ed, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, writes, “We know what works. And now is the time to rally behind these proven solutions and bring them to scale.”

As these, and other, voices of reform have highlighted, we have come a long way since the days when researchers despaired that “nothing works” to reduce crime or to change the behavior of offenders.

We now know, for example, that certain interventions—problem-solving courts, focused deterrence initiatives, and targeted therapies, to name just a few—are capable of making an appreciable difference in the lives of offending populations.  We also know that if criminal justice officials treat individual defendants and victims with dignity and respect, it is possible to change perceptions of justice and promote law-abiding behavior. 

And we know that in order to be effective we must carefully match the intensity of the interventions we offer to the level of risk that offenders present.

So why aren’t these practices and programs standard operating procedure in the criminal justice system?

One reason is that there is no single criminal justice system.  Rather, there are something like 3,000 local justice systems, each with its own distinct history and traditions. While federal officials can help change the national conversation and articulate a path for reform, to effect change within the criminal justice system means going county by county to change the practice (and hopefully, the hearts and minds) of local police officials, judges, prosecutors and others. 

We should not underestimate the enormity of this challenge.  Any effort to create a kinder, more rational justice system that does not misuse incarceration must confront the realities of local institutional cultures that are deeply resistant to change.  

We learned this lesson from a randomized controlled trial that our agency, the Center for Court Innovation in New York City, recently completed.  

The goal of the study was to evaluate an effort to encourage clinicians to use validated assessment tools to match addicted defendants to appropriate treatments.  Despite their willingness to participate in the study and use the assessment instruments, the study found that the clinicians failed to change their actual treatment decisions. When the advice of the tools conflicted with their instincts, they stuck with their usual way of doing business. 

To paraphrase the late management guru Peter F. Drucker, culture ate strategy for breakfast.

Experience teaches us that reforming the justice system is both an art and a science. If we are to do this right, we need to be nerds. We need to be clear thinkers who look at data and consult the latest social science and statistical techniques.  

But we also need to be guided by compassion and to remember that the justice system is not an abstract process or a series of numbers on a page. It is a collection of people. And no matter what role they have been assigned in this drama—be they police officers or perpetrators, concerned citizens or community corrections officials—all of these actors are animated by the same tangle of motivations and idiosyncrasies that always drive human behavior. We can never hope to improve justice unless we wrestle with this reality.

We are living through a unique moment of public interest in justice reform.  How long this moment will last is anyone’s guess.  As Adam Gopnik warned in The New Yorker, we should not fall prey to amnesia about the effect of crime on middle-class voters – the political appetite for change may be highly dependent upon voters’ sense of personal safety. 

Seizing the current window of opportunity means more than just identifying the right policy goals or providing money to scale up model programs.  We need to be thoughtful about the details of implementation, and give practitioners the tools and training they need to do things differently. We need to actively engage frontline justice professionals in the reform process to ensure that they will take ownership of new ideas rather than working behind the scenes to subvert them. 

And we need to be patient: It took us years to get into this mess, and we should expect that it will take us years to get out of it. 

But we are optimistic that by marrying good ideas to careful implementation, it is possible to change the culture of local justice systems, and help them become fairer, more effective, and more humane. 

Greg Berman and Julian Adler are, respectively, the director and director of research-practice strategies at the Center for Court Innovation.  They are working on a book, to be published by The New Press, about how to safely reduce mass incarceration. They welcome readers’ comments.

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Reclaiming Innocence: Brooklyn’s Fight to Reverse Wrongful Convictions

By Rukiya King

Why do some jurisdictions have more confirmed wrongful convictions than others?

Early research on wrongful conviction reported remarkable variation around the country. Confirmed wrongful convictions were concentrated in Texas, New York and Illinois, which are among the most populous states—so the implications were unclear. 

New York and Illinois also had very effective innocence advocacy projects (the original Innocence Project was established by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufield at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, respectively); so, were wrongful convictions more frequent in these states or just more likely to be discovered?

More recent research revealed pronounced county variability in wrongful convictions which had been masked by the earlier statewide data.  It turns out that Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, along with Cook County, Illinois, and Dallas County in Texas, are among the counties with the largest number of confirmed wrongful convictions.  

Kenneth Thompson became Brooklyn's first African-American District Attorney in 2014 after defeating incumbent Charles J. Hynes in the 2013 Democratic primary. Shortly after assuming office Thompson established a Conviction Review Unit to investigate past Brooklyn convictions (an endeavor that was likely to put a new DA at odds with other prosecutors, law enforcement, and judicial authorities who secured the convictions). 

As of March 2016, Thompson's Conviction Review Unit had exonerated 19 defendants.  All of them had served at least five years in prison; many had served one, two, or three decades.  Seventeen of the 19 had been convicted of a homicide.  Three defendants died in prison before they were exonerated.  All but one of the exonerees (Vanessa Gathers) were male.  In terms of ethnicity, all of the exonerees appear to be Black or Latino

A review of the features associated with the recent Brooklyn exonerees reveals interesting patterns. 

According to data reported at the National Registry of Exonerations, the leading contributors to the Brooklyn wrongful convictions were:  perjury/false accusation, official misconduct, and false confession.  In some cases perjury/false accusation involves a mistaken or lying witness totally independent from the police or prosecution.  However in other cases, false accusations and perjury are engendered by prosecutors who intentionally "manufacture" evidence through incentives (cash payments or reductions in legal penalties) provided for testimony. 

The National Registry of Exonerations defines official misconduct as significant abuse of authority, or of the judicial process, which contributes to a wrongful conviction.  The most common form of official misconduct, according to the literature on wrongful conviction, is suppression of exculpatory evidence (a "Brady violation").  The prosecution is required to reveal to the defense any evidence suggestive of a defendant's innocence.

The third leading contributor among Brooklyn exonerees was false confession.  The National Registry of Exonerations notes false confession refers to circumstances, either where defendants made false incriminating statements, or where police asserted the defendant made such statement.  While the term ”false confession” implies the erroneous statement was produced by the suspect, typically these defendants initially assert their innocence—but during the course of a prolonged interrogation with coercive elements, deception, and inducements to “confess,”  suspects are persuaded to make incriminating statements. 

A recent Crime Report commentary by Matthew B. Johnson argued for mandating the electronic recording of the entire interrogation so there is a record of the interrogation tactics that were used. 

Examination of the Brooklyn Conviction Review Unit exoneree cases, as presented at the National Registry of Exonerations, suggests these wrongful convictions were highly preventable.  In other words, policy reform, combined with altering the culture in the DA’s office, can substantially reduce the occurrence of wrongful convictions.

The presence of perjury/false accusation in several cases illustrates the extent to which police and prosecutorial conduct contribute to wrongful conviction.  In these cases perjury/false accusation rarely occurred without official misconduct or incentivized testimony.  

One example is the wrongful conviction of William Lopez.  In August 1989, Elvirn Surria was robbed, shot and killed in a residence where he sold drugs.  In September of that year, Janet Chapman, a substance abuser, was arrested for prostitution and a probation violation.  During an interview, she reported her presence at the residence and identified William Lopez in a police line-up.  Lopez was arrested, despite information from Surria’s employees describing two men who entered the residence who did not fit Lopez’s description.  Lopez’s counsel failed to investigate these claims as well as Lopez’s alibi.

Chapman provided testimony for the prosecution at trial regarding Lopez’s involvement in Surria’s murder.  She denied she was receiving favorable treatment for her testimony.  Lopez was convicted, and before sentencing, the prosecution received a tip from a woman who knew Chapman and claimed Chapman told her she lied about Lopez’s involvement in the homicide in order to be released.   A few months afterward, Chapman told Lopez’s brother she implicated Lopez in order to be released early.  

In 2013, during a hearing, affidavits and transcripts about Chapman’s deal with the prosecution in exchange for testimony was revealed.  Lopez was granted a new trial that cited Chapman’s recantation, his alibi, prosecutorial misconduct, and new testimony from a former worker present at the residence during the time of the offense.  Lopez’s conviction was vacated.  District Attorney Charles Hynes attempted to appeal the decision.  However, after losing to Kenneth Thompson in the 2013 election, the appeal was dropped.  Lopez died later that year.  

He had spent almost half of his life trying to prove his innocence.

Perjury/false accusation also contributed to the conviction of Andre Hatchett.  Hatchett was convicted in 1992 for the 1991 murder of Neda Mae Carter. He was visiting his aunt, who lived in the same building as Carter, on the day of the murder.  At the time, he was recovering from gun injuries and had to walk with crutches.  Unrelated to the murder, Gerard Williams was arrested for burglary.  He told officers he had information about the murder of Neda Mae Carter.  

Williams claimed he and a woman named “Popeye” were present during the time of the murder, and he stated he saw someone with a crutch at the scene of the offense but later recanted his statement. 

Hatchett agreed to participate in a two separate line-ups where Williams and “Popeye” identified him.  Hackett was convicted at trial.  At the time, attorneys did not present medical records to validate Hatchett’s physical inability to commit the crime.  The Conviction Review Unit re-examined the case and found the following: Williams had originally identified another person, he was under the influence of crack during the time of the offense, and Williams burglary charge was dismissed on the day he implicated Hatchett—thus strongly suggesting Williams provided testimony in exchange for favorable treatment from the prosecutor. 

In March 2014, the DA’s office filed a motion to exonerate Hatchett and the motion was granted.

False confessions have also contributed to wrongful conviction, as demonstrated by the cases of Anthony Yarbough and Shariff Wilson.  Eighteen-year-old Yarbough returned home one morning and discovered his mother, sister and sister’s friend stabbed to death in his apartment.  Police interrogated 15-year-old Wilson and Yarbough for the offense.  Wilson provided an admission of guilt and a taped confession implicating Yarbough and himself.  Yarbough also signed a written statement implicating himself in the three homicides.  

Wilson went to trial in 1994. He claimed the interrogating detectives threatened him and promised to release him if he confessed.  However, medical examiners presented evidence suggesting that the victims were murdered after Yarbough claimed to have discovered their bodies.

At Yarbough’s trial, which began after Wilson’s conviction, he testified that neither he nor Wilson committed the crime and that he signed the written statement after being physically struck by interrogating officers.  A mistrial was declared due to a hung jury.  Yarbough went to trial again and Wilson testified against him in exchange for a reduction in sentence.  Yarbough was convicted and sentenced to 75 years.  

In 2005, Wilson wrote a letter to Yarbough’s aunt admitting he falsely implicated Yarbough.  Yarbough petitioned for re-trial in 2010 and used Wilson’s recantation and medical records indicating the time of death was much earlier than that reported by the medical examiner at trial.  Also, DNA evidence from underneath his mother’s fingernails did not match the profile of Yarbough or Wilson.  

The DNA was linked to another homicide in Brooklyn, committed while Yarbough and Wilson were incarcerated.  Although the exculpation of Yarbough and Wilson via DNA evidence is noteworthy, the recognition of their innocence might have been expedited if their interrogations were recorded.  

In 2014, DA Thompson requested a motion to vacate both the Wilson and Yarbough convictions.

Vanessa Gathers’ wrongful conviction further illustrates the extent to which a false confession could have been prevented.  In November 1991, Michael Shaw was assaulted and robbed in his home. Then- NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella was assigned to this case.  Five months later, Michael Shaw died in the hospital due to injuries sustained from his assault.  Gathers was questioned and informed Scarcella a woman in the neighborhood admitted to involvement in the offense.  The woman was interviewed and she denied her involvement, implicating three other women. 

The case turned cold and Scarcella was reassigned to it five years later as a cold case investigator.  He bought Gathers in for questioning again.  He told her two witnesses informed him she was at Shaw’s residence during the time of the offense.  He also told her he had forensic evidence linking her to the crime but if she admitted to the offense she would be released.  After taking a polygraph, Scarcella told her she failed.  Gathers provided a videotaped confession and was arrested for manslaughter, burglary and robbery.  Gathers immediately recanted her statements.

Her trial began in 1998 and the confession she provided was the primary evidence used to convict.  However, after a New York Times article about Scarcella’s corruption was released, The Legal Aid Society asked Kenneth Thompson to review Gathers’ case.  

The following inconsistencies were discovered.  Gathers stated in the videotaped confession she beat Shaw who was in a wheelchair and stole $60.   However, Shaw did not use a wheelchair and it was highly unlikely he had money available to steal.  Further, no forensic evidence linked Gathers to the scene of the crime.  Additionally, the polygraph indicated deception but was unreliable since it was taken five years after the crime.  Thompson’s motion to vacate the Gathers decision was granted.  Videotaping this interrogation may have resulted in Scarcella behaving more ethically and perhaps evaluating exculpating evidence more rigorously.

The extent of former NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella’s misconduct stretched far beyond Gathers’ wrongful conviction.  A prime example is the wrongful conviction of brothers Alvena Jennette, Darryl Austin and Robert Hill for the murders of Ronnie Durant and Donald Manboardes.  Once again, the official misconduct that occurred in these cases is coupled with perjury/false accusation.  Based on a tip from substance user and drug trafficker, Teresa Gomez, Hill was charged for the murders of Donald Manboardes and Bruce Siblings.

Gomez asserted she was in a closet, looking through a keyhole, when Hill entered the residence, and shot and killed Bruce Siblings.  An investigator testified after visiting the scene there was no keyhole in the door where Gomez claimed to have been hiding.  Hill was acquitted for the Siblings murder.  As for the Manboardes murder, three other witnesses present at the time of the offense stated Hill was not the gunman. They agreed to testify but were not called to do so. Hill was convicted and sentenced for this murder.

Gomez also implicated Austin and Jennette for the unrelated murder of Durant.  Three witnesses came forward stating neither Austin nor Jennette were involved in the Durant murder but this information was not disclosed to the defense.  Prosecution relied mostly on Gomez’s testimony and the brothers were convicted.  Jennette was paroled in 2007.  

However, Austin died in prison in 2000.  A New York Times article  claimed Scarcella’s misconduct included manufacturing incriminating evidence, suppressing exculpating evidence, and coercing witnesses.  It noted Gomez testified in six unrelated murder cases for Scarcella. 

Scarcella denied that Gomez received cash compensation for testimony other than food money and cigarettes.  However, Scarcella’s former supervisor stated Gomez was one of several prostitutes who police paid $100 per murder for information.  Jennette, and Austin were exonerated.  

The extent to which Scarcella abused his power and utilized unethical policing procedures is alarming.  That brings up an important question: how many other law enforcement officers in New York and elsewhere have engaged in similar practices?

The exoneration of 19 defendants warrants recognition as a laudable achievement.  It has brought immeasurable relief to those unjustly deprived of their freedom as well as their family members.  Further, the conviction review process restores a degree of integrity to prosecution in Brooklyn.  It is also essential to recognize the tremendous personal, professional, political courage that is required to investigate the work of your colleagues, acknowledge past errors and violations, and seek justice for those who could be easily forgotten and ignored. 

But going forward, the challenges for Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson and the entire conviction review process remain formidable. 

It is critical that the lessons from past erroneous convictions be used to prevent wrongful convictions in the future.  The outstanding contributors to past wrongful convictions—perjury/false accusation, official misconduct, and false confession—demand prospective remedies.  Will the Brooklyn DA address perjury and false accusation by limiting, monitoring, or prohibiting the use of incentivized testimony? 

Will Ken Thompson establish effective penalties to deter suppression of exculpatory evidence?  Will Brooklyn lead the other boroughs of New York by requiring the recording and preserving of the entire period of custodial interrogation?  Will Brooklyn emerge as a national beacon and model for criminal prosecution?

Editors Note: For a table showing a list of all Brooklyn exonerees, please click HERE.

Rukiya King, a Brooklyn native, is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at City University of New York (CUNY).  She has been a member of Prof. Matthew B. Johnson’s Wrongful Convictions Research Group at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY since 2014.   She welcomes comments from readers.

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Ex-Corrections Chief Calls For Ending Solitary For Youth

By Ned Loughran

As someone who has been in charge of correctional facilities, I understand the need to keep staff and youth safe. However, I also know that the use of solitary confinement is often a symptom of broader problems within a facility such as inadequate staffing levels, minimal staff training on conflict management, and lack of coordination with mental health professionals. 

The use of solitary confinement—also known as segregation, isolation, restrictive housing, or separation—is one of the most challenging issues facing facilities that house youth. Historically, facilities place young people in solitary confinement for long periods of time as a method of punishment. However, recent national developments have highlighted solitary confinement as a serious problem, often leading to severe mental and physical consequences for young people without making facilities safer.

President Obama’s call for an end to solitary confinement of young people is a step forward, but much more needs to be done.  While the President’s new policy only applies to youth charged with federal offenses, it can serve as a model for state and county facilities, where most youth are incarcerated. In banning solitary confinement for youth in federal custody, Obama joined a growing number of government officials, medical and mental health professionals, and juvenile justice experts who want to end this counterproductive practice. This group includes many individuals who run juvenile facilities.

There must be a coordinated national movement to end solitary confinement for youth in all juvenile facilities. This should involve the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government, and include voices from all parts of the juvenile justice system, from youth and families directly affected by solitary confinement to agency administrators and facility superintendents who must ensure the safety of youth and staff in their institutions. 

A number of national organizations, including the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University, the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators, and the Justice Policy Institute are launching a national campaign, Stop Solitary for Kids, to end solitary for youth.  The campaign will include strategies to provide coordinated support and resources at the federal, state, and local levels to end the solitary confinement of all youth in custody.

It is also important to note that the American Correctional Association also supports the effort to Stop Solitary for Kids. 

We know that in programs where staff establish a relationship with youth, there are far fewer incidents that require disciplinary measures, such as isolation/solitary. In fact, the use of isolation/solitary undermines rehabilitation by denying youths the educational and treatment programs they require to become law abiding and productive citizens.

Most have found that reducing solitary actually decreases acts of violence in juvenile facilities, making youth and staff safer. Ohio and Massachusetts already do not use solitary confinement for discipline in juvenile facilities.  Mississippi does not use it in its facility for youth prosecuted as adults.  Indiana and Oregon have decreased the use of solitary substantially.

Ned Loughran is the Executive Director of the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators and former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services. He welcomes comments from readers.



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