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Why Journalists (and Prosecutors) Should Heed the Rolling Stone Lesson

By James M. Doyle

Criminal justice journalists need the public’s trust as much as the criminal justice system operators they cover. And both can jeopardize that trust, in the same way, by yielding to the same temptations.

That is among the lessons of the analysis published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism (CGSJ) of Rolling Stone’s disastrous and eventually retracted story of an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity party. Rolling Stone has published the full report. The CGSJ analysis is a review of a wrongful conviction—even though it is a media conviction, not a courtroom conviction, the crime may never have occurred, and the convicted “defendants” may not even exist.

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Let’s Bring Sunshine Into Private Prisons

By Alexa Capeloto

Will someone please sue the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA)? Or The GEO Group, Inc.? Or the Management and Training Corporation? I don’t have a problem with these companies, per se. Nor am I saying they do anything particularly wrong or illegal as they operate private prisons on behalf of government agencies across the country.

But challenging them for information related to the 137 facilities they collectively manage in the U.S. might help tighten a loophole that government contractors often slip through with ease.

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‘Blue’ Lives AND Black Lives Matter: We Need to Keep Talking

By Graham Kates

America is a place where nearly 7 million lives are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, while nearly 78 million lives have had direct experience with it, and with the millions who spend their lives working as part of that system.

But their voices are getting lost. The very people who should be setting the agenda for a much-needed conversation about police-community relations, criminal justice policy and police tactics are the ones who seem to have the least influence in the debate.

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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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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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The Media and Ferguson: A Mixed Review

By David J. Krajicek

The evolution of breaking news coverage stood out like an appositional thumb during the turmoil in Ferguson, Mo.

Ferguson affirmed Twitter’s position as the piston that drives the engine of spot-news journalism. Hundreds of people, including reporters, citizens, law enforcers and representatives of “observer’ organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), were serial-tweeting from Ferguson during the most contentious mid-August nights in the St. Louis suburb.

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Fantasy v. Crime: Where’s the Line?

By Robin L. Barton

Have you ever have a really bad day at work and indulged yourself in a detailed daydream of how you’d torture and maybe even kill your awful boss á la the movie “Horrible Bosses”? Maybe you even shared this fantasy with a like-minded co-worker over drinks. Based on your daydream, should you be arrested for planning or conspiring to commit a crime? Or are such fantasies a harmless way to deal with job frustrations, sexual desires and other feelings?

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The Edward Snowden Case: More Than a Crime Story

By Timothy J. McNulty

The cat-and-mouse Edward Snowden/National Security Agency (NSA) scandal has fueled the summertime news cycle with a high tech—though drawn-out— version of a police chase. Reporters flocked to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport   to search for the contractor who revealed secret NSA surveillance activities, and booked seats on flights to countries where Snowden might find refuge from the long arm of the United States government—only to discover he was a no-show. 

Meanwhile, the diplomatic posturing of Latin American officials who feel the U.S. is bullying them into refusing asylum to Snowden added a side drama to media coverage of the actual crime—assuming that the courts will judge his actions a crime.

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Do We Really Need More Criminal Code Offenses?

By Julie Stewart

A new bipartisan task force comprising members of the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing this month  to examine the growing problem known as overcriminalization.

I was cautiously optimistic when I first learned of the task force’s creation, because I believe that the explosion of federal criminal laws—many of which are vague and carry lengthy mandatory minimum sentences – has done more harm than people realize.

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TCR at a Glance

When Justice Wasn’t Blind

q & a May 25, 2015

A unique encyclopedia documents the painful and often tragic history of African Americans and the law since the colonial era.

Study: Rape on Campus an 'Epidemic'

new & notable May 22, 2015

A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds rampant instances of both incapacitated and forcible rape on campus