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Juvenile Justice Reform: No Longer a Partisan Issue

By Marie N. Williams

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved S. 1169, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) of 2015. First signed into law by President Gerald Ford on September 7, 1974, and most recently reauthorized in 2002, the JJDPA embodies a partnership between the federal government and U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia to protect children and youth in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, to effectively address high-risk and delinquent behavior and to improve community safety. 

Moreover, at the time it first passed, the JJDPA represented a national consensus—that juvenile justice was a non-partisan issue, of equal concern to young people, families and communities all across the country. In fact, all but one United States Senator voted for the original Act.

Now, more than seven years overdue for reauthorization and  suffering from not-so-benign neglect, the JJDPA remains the only federal statute that sets out national standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system, and that provides direction and support for state juvenile justice system improvements.

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Bill Bratton and the NYPD: Dancing Partners For How Long?

By Joe Domanick

Bill Bratton’s announcement last week that he won’t be sticking around for a second term as Police Commissioner of New York seemed to surprise a lot of people—but not long-time Bratton watchers.

And given his history, it almost surely has nothing to do with the relationship between him and Mayor Bill de Blasio who, following the announcement, made abundantly clear he would like  Bratton to stay another term.

Responding to the 67-year-old Bratton’s comment that he’d be “70-some-odd years old” by the time a second term ended, de Blasio pointedly said he had just returned from a meeting with the septuagenarian Pope Francis I in Rome, who showed no evidence of flagging.

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Sanctuaries from Justice

By Marc Debbaudt

The recent murder of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco has cast a harsh spotlight on “sanctuary cities,” a term given to communities that shelter illegal immigrants and where local law enforcement agencies are discouraged if not outright forbidden from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

The suspect in Steinle’s murder, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, is an illegal immigrant who had accumulated seven felony convictions and had been deported from the U.S. five times. He had been released from his most recent prison sentence shortly before he allegedly gunned down Steinle in broad daylight while she was walking with her father on a pier. 

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Statutory Rape: When a Lie Can Ruin a Life

By Robin L. Barton

There’s no question that forcible rape—sexual intercourse that isn’t consensual— is unacceptable and should be illegal.

Statutory rape, however, is a murkier area.

Statutory rape laws make sexual intercourse involving willing partners illegal by virtue of the age of at least one of the participants. The theory is that young men and women below a certain age aren’t capable of knowingly consenting to sex with a full appreciation of the impact of the act and its possible consequences.

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The Crime Report’s Summer Reading List

By Adam Wisnieski

Our first-ever Summer Reading List — compiled with suggestions from TCR staff — includes titles to look forward to, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as recent research that provides context to some of the topical issues in criminal justice this year. And we’ve also added some classic from years past that are worth a second look (or a first look, if you overlooked them before).

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The Death Penalty’s ‘Normal Accidents’

By James M. Doyle

In the final days of this year’s Supreme Court term, Justice Stephen Breyer unexpectedly launched a new offensive against the American system of capital punishment. The offensive was announced in his dissenting opinion in a case upholding the legality of Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol.

Some commentators believed that Breyer was training his artillery on one particular target: namely, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Roberts Court’s perennial swing voter. Just days earlier, Kennedy had displayed his taste for making history in a grandiloquent opinion for the Court in the same-sex marriage case of Obergefell v. Hodges. He might be ripe for conversion.

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Modern Methods Help Judges Solve an Old Problem

By Anne Milgram

What do a newborn infant, a shortstop, and a television have in common?

The answer: we can accurately predict how each will perform, because we have supplemented our own intuition with something more concrete: consistent, objective data. The Apgar Test is far better at identifying babies in distress than doctors with years of experience. The book Moneyball famously captured how a baseball player’s stats could out-predict a seasoned scout. And we all gather data on electronics before making a major purchase.

My colleagues and I at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation are now working to add another group to this list: pretrial defendants.

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We Don’t Need Independent Police Prosecutors

By Marc Debbaudt

In the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, "a prosecutor should seek justice" when making a decision to file charges. Seeking justice does not mean filing charges when injustice would result. It does not mean filing charges to satisfy political interests or public opinion, or to make a social statement. And it does not mean that a District Attorney's Office should abandon its role as gatekeeper of justice, and pass the buck by filing charges to let the jury decide. 


But in California, a bill introduced this year would do exactly that. Assembly Bill 86 seeks to remove District Attorneys’ offices from reviewing police shootings, and from deciding whether criminal charges should be issued. The bill reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of a prosecutor and the administration of justice.

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Why Innocent Defendants Plead Guilty to Rape Charges

By Matthew B. Johnson and Stephanie Cunningham

The field of wrongful conviction is filled with seeming anomalies: faulty identifications by eye-witnesses, suspects who “confess” to crimes they did not commit, and unreliable testimony from “scientific” experts. As part of our continuing examination of wrongful conviction in rape cases, we have identified another seeming anomaly: innocent defendants who pled guilty to rape.

While a wrongful trial conviction is thought to be a rare and deplorable outcome, the notion of the innocent defendant pleading guilty rather than declaring his innocence at trial seems even more remote. Our examination of a series of such cases illustrates the circumstances that led to such outcomes.

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