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Viewpoints

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Are We Facing a “Crisis” in Ex-Inmate Supervision?

By Irene M. Keeley

In the following months, thousands more inmates will be released. The vast majority will require supervision by a federal probation officer. And this is not a short term concern: The average term of supervision for drug trafficking offenders is nearly four and a half years. The President’s clemency initiative, although off to a slow start, may very well accelerate in the coming months, and congressional proposals to release lower-risk inmates from custody, if enacted, will send thousands more offenders back into the community.

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Rethinking the Boston Heist: Let's Catch Today’s Art Thieves

By Erin Thompson

This year, the 25th anniversary of the Boston Heist theft, brought renewed public attention to missing art. In April, the FBI arrested, on unrelated weapons charges, a man associated with local organized crime groups who they claim was involved in the theft. According to authorities, he boasted to an undercover agent that he could sell him some of the missing art. This information revived the hopes of those who believe that the artworks are still hidden away, perhaps as a sort of retirement plan or insurance policy for the thieves, who could cash in on them or offer to trade information about their location in return for leniency if convicted of another crime.

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Re-Imagining Policing: Some Practical Suggestions

By C. Jama Adams

This is an age of uncertainty but also one of opportunity. Daily, we are presented with evidence that traditional models of policing and adjudicating unacceptable behaviors are flawed in important ways. We are uncomfortable about some of these practices, but for complex reasons are reluctant to adopt new approaches that make sense—lacking the political will to do so.

We are becoming more risk-averse. That has the paradoxical effect of increasing the risk that we will be harmed. So when a politician says she is going to be tough on crime it usually means she is going to incarcerate more people who are poorly educated, chronically unemployed, are embedded in inadequately-resourced support networks, abuse substances, and have mental health problems.

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Flawed Forensics: The Story Behind An Historic FBI Review

By Norman L. Reimer

In July 2013, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project (IP) signed an historic agreement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review thousands of criminal cases in which the FBI conducted microscopic hair analysis of crime scene evidence.

Two major developments created the impetus for this groundbreaking review.

First, in a 2009 report on forensic science, the National Academy of Sciences specifically identified microscopic hair-comparison evidence as problematic. The second and more directly triggering event was the exoneration of three men between 2009 and 2012 who had served lengthy prison sentences, and whose convictions were tainted by microscopic hair comparison evidence that exceeded the limits of science.

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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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Lynch at DOJ: 'Little Time and a Long Docket'

By Gloria Browne-Marshall

Loretta E. Lynch is about to make history. If, as expected, the Senate votes to approve her nomination today, she will be the 83rd U.S. Attorney General—and the first African-American woman to hold that office.

Lynch, 55, knew she was placing herself in the cross-hairs of a political battle when President Barack Obama placed her name in nomination five months ago. With little time and a long docket, she must now prove herself in the midst of a storm. She will have to navigate allegations of race-based police killings, as well as address a sensitive agenda that includes the threat of cybercrimes and terrorism, and national policies on immigration, voting rights, Wall Street chicanery, and the future of Guantanamo Bay—all while under the scrutiny of a Republican-controlled Congress and a conservative-led Supreme Court.

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The ‘Revolving Door’ for the Justice-Involved Mentally Ill

By Joseph Galanek

State Sen. Barb Goodwin has received broad support for her proposal last month to build three 16-bed diversion facilities, at a cost of $5.5 million, that will offer short-term stays for individuals with mental illness. The facilities are intended to provide evaluation services and “immediate treatment” for persons taken into police custody.  

The proposal addresses a chronic problem. The scarcity of psychiatric crisis beds has frequently forced officers to transport individuals hundreds of miles away for evaluation—often after the individual has already spent many hours waiting in a hospital emergency department for an assessment by a mental health professional and then locating a hospital bed somewhere in the system.

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The Death Penalty and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

By James M. Doyle

The superb opposing legal teams in the Tsarnaev case will provide an indictment of the system in principle. They will prove that an adversary trial can never produce what the Supreme Court says capital punishment depends on: the community’s individualized moral judgment on a particular defendant.

No lawyers can supply what that judgment needs: a full understanding of an individual.

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TCR at a Glance

Treating Mentally Ill Offenders

June 30, 2015

An Illinois lawsuit claims “deliberate indifference’ to the needs of the state’s 11,000 mentally ill prisoners.

Locked Up and Alone

special report June 29, 2015

Is isolating troubled kids solitary confinement? A California debate draws national attention.