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Memo to Cops: Lower Temperatures, Don’t Raise Them

By David J. Krajicek

I arrived in New York from Nebraska in 1984 and would soon be working as a Daily News crime reporter. The front-page story that fall was the police shooting of Eleanor Bumpurs, 66, an obese, ailing and emotionally disturbed black woman who was facing eviction from her $100-a-month flat in the Sedgwick Houses in the Bronx. She had been in arrears just four months.

It was a case study in the perils of aggressive police tactics. Officers popped the lock when the paranoid Bumpurs refused to open her door. She was waiting inside with a butcher knife. A team of cops failed to subdue her with plastic shields and other nonlethal alternatives. Feeling at risk, Officer Steven Smith fired two fatal shotgun blasts.

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Juvenile Lifers: Reason for Hope?

By Tamar R. Birckhead

The U.S. Supreme Court has again deflected an effort to clarify whether its landmark 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama banning mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles should be applied retroactively. It was the second time this term and at least the fourth time since June. The Court’s December 1 refusal to hear an appeal of an Illinois Supreme Court ruling allowing for retroactive application means that at least 80 of the 100 inmates serving juvenile life without parole in that state will now have an opportunity for resentencing.

But the fate of an estimated 2,000 individuals across the United States who are currently serving mandatory life-without-parole sentences for homicide offenses committed as minors still remains unclear.

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When Cops Get ‘Lit Up’: Reacting to a Law Enforcement Crisis

By Eric W. Rose

Every police chief, sheriff and law enforcement union leader knows that a day will come when their organization will be “lit up”—hit by a crisis that could be a disaster for the organization.

The reputation of every police or sheriff’s department depends on the confidence of its key stakeholders: the public, employees, the union, the media and sometimes outside government regulators. Sooner or later, virtually every law enforcement organization faces a crisis that has the potential to destroy its public reputation. While that day is almost inevitable, it always comes as a huge shock.

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Lessons of the Irish ‘Troubles:’ Settling for Imperfect Justice

By Robin L. Barton

But those promises have been undermined by court orders requiring the disclosure of notes on, and recordings of, the interviews to British authorities. (This Stanford Law Review article does a good job spelling out the legal process and theories that resulted in the orders to release the interviews.) British authorities are using the disclosed information to open investigations into certain disappearances and murders from the Troubles.

For example, on the basis of this information, Gerry Adams, president of the Irish political party Sinn Fein, was brought in for questioning in connection with the abduction and murder of  Jean McConville. He was eventually released without being charged. British authorities did officially charge Ivor Bell with aiding and abetting the McConville murder. They’ve also reopened investigations into at least 16 unsolved disappearances from the Troubles.

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Deep, Justice-Related Thoughts About Reality TV

By Adair Iacono

When Orange Is the New Black started getting lots of attention, I was struck by the perversity of it all: millions of Americans are incarcerated right now, many for crimes far less serious, knowing, and incredibly avoidable than carrying drug money, and it’s only a marketable story when people realize it can happen to a pretty, white, educated woman? Viewed in a certain light, Piper Kerman’s story is an instance of justice being color- and class-blind—a system success story, in that it demonstrates that punishment can sometimes be meted out just as harshly to a woman like her as it is daily to people of color. Increased severity is not the way most of us would hope to see the American justice system achieve racial parity, I grant you, but it is one way to go about it.

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Changing the Priorities of a ‘Prison-Happy Country’

By Walter C. Holton, Jr.

We've done many good things over the last 20 years to reduce violent crime. More communities across our country now employ strategic approaches to improve safety, ranging from community policing to the current Smart on Crime initiative. We should congratulate ourselves for these achievements. 

But we have made mistakes. One big one is promising states money to build prisons if they agreed to lengthen prison sentences. They did. Prisons sprang forth and have filled. We have incarcerated prisoners at a world-record pace, taking in the violent and the non-violent. 

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Prop 47: As California Goes, So Goes the Nation?

By Barry Krisberg

Last night, Californians resoundingly approved a ballot initiative—Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act—that will not only have a major impact on California’s prison population, but have significant resonance across the U.S.

The initiative, which passed with 58.5 percent of the vote, changes many crimes from felonies, which generally require prison terms, to misdemeanors that usually carry penalties of probation, fines or very short jail time. Most instances of drug possession and property crime under $950 are no longer felonies. Current prisoners who were charged with these crimes can now petition to have their sentences reduced.

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Learning in Criminal Justice: Small Cases, Big Lessons

By James Doyle

When criminal justice fails in a spectacular way—for example, in a wrongful conviction discovered after an innocent man has served 20 years—people find it easy to see the point of using the model employed by the National Transportation Safety Board: investigate the event and see if we can learn some lessons. 

This is the thrust of the recent Special Report of the National Institute of Justice, Mending Justice: Sentinel Event Reviews.

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