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The Misleading Science of Arson Investigations

By Paul Bieber

The Department of Justice recent announcement of an  expanded review of forensic science testimony  which will include not only hair microscopy but other troubling forensic disciplines, such as fingerprint examination and ballistic tool mark comparison, is a tremendous step.

Yet one important area remains unexamined: investigation of fires.

Since 1991, over 35 men and women have been exonerated from wrongful arson convictions in the United States.  In more than two-thirds of these cases, the exaggerated testimony of expert fire investigators played a lead role in the original conviction.

This is far greater than the influence of misplaced forensic science testimony generally, affecting 23 percent of total exonerations in the U.S. since 1989.

The core factors that promote exaggerated and misplaced testimony by forensic experts are well known: A subjective process, the influence of irrelevant but potentially biasing information, and a lack of genuine independence from law enforcement.

These factors are disturbingly frequent in fire investigations nationwide. 

The process of examining and analyzing the damage at the scene of a fire in order to determine where and how the fire began is based entirely on human interpretation.  As a result, this work is highly subjective and prone to error. 

And while forensic examiners working in a lab are, on occasion, exposed to outside information that might challenge their objectivity (think of the DNA analysis in “Making a Murderer”), most public sector fire investigations are conducted by an arson investigator who serves as both the forensic examiner and the criminal investigator, at the same time and on the same case. 

This can lead to a prosecutorial bias, which in turn promotes exaggerated and misleading expert witness testimony.

The wrongful conviction and eventual execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas was largely based on outdated and particularly unreliable fire pattern evidence.

Exposing and recognizing these errors seemed to introduce a new era in fire investigation. 

Along with the perceived rejection of the unreliable forensic processes that were key in the Willingham case, advances in our understanding of fire behavior and improvements in fire investigation guidelines have been credited with bringing fire investigators out of the forensic science shadows, and into the light of the objective search for the ground truth.

What has really happened is that while most of the fallacies used to convict Willingham and others have been rejected (though some retain traction among many fire investigators), these old techniques have been replaced with other equally unmeasured and unreliable forensic methodologies that are testified to by experts with a certainty unsupported by science. 

Over the years, the process of forming these expert conclusions has changed, but the outcome –in terms of misleading expert witness testimony –remains the same.

The fact is, fire investigators routinely testify to forensic methodologies that have never been measured for error or accuracy; They apply questionable “fire pattern analysis” at fire scenes where this technique has been shown to be completely unreliable; and they are given wide latitude by the courts, especially in criminal cases, to testify to their subjective opinions as if they are firm facts. 

The same latitude  was granted FBI forensic examiners who gave exaggerated testimony regarding microscopic hair comparison.

They were able to get away with it, so they did. 

I applaud the Department of Justice for expanding its review of forensic expert testimony that may have misled juries and led to wrongful convictions. 

But along the way, don’t forget about fire investigation. 

Paul Bieber is the founder and director of the Arson Research Project. He is a criminal and forensic investigator specializing in fire and death-scene investigations and assists innocence projects and public defender offices nationally on cases involving arson and fire investigation. He welcomes comments from readers. 

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Closing Rikers: Only First Step in Fixing Justice System Flaws

By Mary Buser

The growing movement to shut down Rikers Island, New York City’s troubled jail complex, was bolstered last month, when Comptroller Scott Stringer reported on the number of jailhouse claims, judgments and settlements against the city’s Department of Correction.

For those who might have been skeptical about media reports detailing unthinkable brutality at the notorious jail, there is nothing like cold numbers to confirm that the reports are, indeed, true.

According to Stringer, personal injury claims have skyrocketed in recent years; and despite efforts at reform, the numbers continue to rise.

“We cannot accept these increases as inevitable,” Stringer said. “We need to reduce claims filed against the City and take action to ensure a safe environment for all.”

He goes on to say that we need a criminal justice system that is fair and functional. Presumably, this would be achieved by shutting down Rikers. In fact, in November 2015, he was the first city official to call for its closure.

But, more importantly, beyond shutting down the massive complex, not only does he fail mention the logistics required to relocate the Rikers population, Stringer doesn’t address the underlying reasons for the violence and misery that Rikers has come to symbolize.

There seems to be an assumption that its closure will automatically restore humanity and justice—as if the island itself is the problem.

Having worked in the Rikers Island Mental Health Department for over five years, I can certainly attest to the volatility of the island’s jails—a volatility that is largely attributable to the limbo-like existence of the detainee, who comprise 85 percent of the Rikers population.

Charged with a crime but not convicted, the “presumed innocent” await their day in court—held behind bars simply because they cannot afford bail.

During this critical window between arrest and resolution of the case, emotions run high. Detainees vacillate between soaring hopes for exoneration and plunging despair,  as some contemplate grim futures in upstate prisons.

Held in close quarters with thousands of others consumed with similar legal pressures, this agonizing uncertainty is at the heart of much of Rikers’ explosiveness. Much of this volatility could be reduced by minimizing the time spent in jail, and in many cases, eliminating it altogether.

This would entail bail reform as well as facing the fact that despite the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a “speedy trial”—trial is often years away.

Both of these issues were highlighted in the highly publicized and tragic case of Kalief Browder, who committed suicide last June after spending three years on Rikers—two of which were spent in solitary confinement.

Charged with swiping a backpack, Browder could have fought the case from home—not Rikers Island—if he had been able to afford bail. And had the promise of a speedy trial actually meant something, his stay behind bars would never have stretched out for three horrible years.

The resolution of these core issues of judicial unfairness and bias against the poor are essential to any real change, and these issues should not be overshadowed in the zeal to simply close Rikers, with the hope that, with its closure, these matters will somehow resolve.

While good intentions are driving the movement to shutter Rikers, let’s not forget that several decades ago, it was good intentions that forced the nationwide closures of the big state psychiatric hospitals, once they were deemed as “snakepits.”

But without any type of “Plan B,” thousands of vulnerable people who resided in these hospitals were simply dumped out onto the streets, a tragedy whose effects continue to be felt to this day.

Obviously, in the case of inmates, no one would be released to the streets;  but the hospital scenario points to the very real danger of replacing one failure with another.

Shutting down Rikers Island is a commendable goal, one which would immediately eliminate important elements of unfairness, such as the transportation hardship faced by visiting family.

Since Rikers houses the poor, family members rarely have cars, and are forced to endure a two- hour train/bus ordeal in getting out to the jails to visit a loved one. Situating the jails within the boroughs, as opposed to a barely accessible island, would reduce this hardship and likely bring about increased family visits. It would have the added benefit of producing a calming effect on the detainee and, by extension, the jail.

But the relocation of Rikers would not address the deeper issues of a flawed criminal justice system. And without meaningful bail reform, and enforcement of the Sixth Amendment, the Kalief Browders of tomorrow will languish behind bars for years on end awaiting trial—but now inside a gleaming new state-of-the-art facility.

That would be an even worse tragedy.

While Comptroller Stringer’s fiscal report underscores the humanitarian crisis on Rikers Island, his remedy may be oversimplified.

In his report, he states that of the ten jails with the greatest number of legal claims, eight of them are on Rikers, which only adds fuel to the call for its closure. This is misleading. It gives the impression of a network of non-Rikers jails that are running smoothly.

That’s not the case: There’s just a sprinkling of small jails in a few of the boroughs.

For all intents and purposes, Rikers is the New York City jail system, and without changes to the underlying causes of its current strife, any relocation effort could result in little more than a disbursement into the boroughs of the misery and suffering that we see today.

Mary E. Buser was a clinical social worker in the Mental Health Department on Rikers Island between 1995 and 2000. She served as assistant chief of Mental Health in the island’s Mental Health Center, as well as the 500-cell Punitive Segregation Unit. Her book, "Lockdown on Rikers," (St. Martin’s Press) was published in September. She welcomes readers’ comments.

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Policing the Homeless: Broken Windows ‘On Steroids”

By Lynn Lewis

Cities, towns and rural areas all over the United States are experiencing a housing crisis not seen since the Great Depression. Homelessness is the tip of the iceberg of that crisis; but rather than address its causes, local authorities are treating it as a law enforcement problem.

That has not only led to real tragedies, but violates the Constitution.

In recent years, we’ve seen police officers used to force homeless folks out of public spaces, buttressed by laws that effectively criminalize life-sustaining behavior such as lying down in a park, or by regulations that restrict the ability of homeless people to share the same rights of access to public space as those with homes. 

New York City has set an especially poor example.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) recently created a new category to define instances where two or more individuals, assumed to be homeless, congregate in public. In an internal memo, obtained by the Picture the Homeless organization, where I am director, it termed these as “hot spots” where police are empowered to intervene. And such “hot spots” could include parks or other public spaces.

The memo, dated Jan. 19, 2016, was “issued to all commands” with the subject line: Re: Homeless Encampment Procedure.” [A copy of this memo is available on request from Picture the Homeless.]

Substitute race, age, gender or any other category in this definition, and it would be considered blatant discrimination. 

Most city residents know that rents are becoming increasingly exorbitant, stretching the budgets of low-income, working and middle class individuals. For those earning a minimum wage and who rely on fixed incomes of social security or disability benefits, it is becoming more difficult each day to afford rent.

Too many are one missed check, medical condition or emergency away from losing their home.  

In New York City, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles, and many smaller cities, the impact of failed housing policies that do not provide affordable living options for residents go back decades. But instead of correcting these policies, local authorities have empowered police departments to pursue strategies of homeless removals, sometimes in conjunction with Business Improvement Districts and other civic groups.

Mandates that force the homeless go somewhere else, with police ordering them to move at any hour of the day or night, have become all too common. The impact of such police actions can be catastrophic. Clearing the homeless in sudden police sweeps often means that they lose their personal effects, ranging from medications and IDs, to clothing and family photos. 

The real goal is humiliation and harassment: It sends a message to disappear out of public sight into the shadows. 

This is “broken-windows” policing on steroids.  It’s not just mean or bad policing; it is also unconstitutional. 

Being homeless is not a crime. But the strategies that criminalize the homeless are authorized by local laws and policies that violate anti-discrimination laws and rights to due process—and which people with little-to-no legal resources are ill-equipped to challenge in court.

For example,  NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who is considered one of the country’s foremost proponents of the broken-windows policing strategy, recently announced that homeless New Yorkers found sleeping will be removed from  subway trains and platforms—regardless of whether they paid their fare.  

Editors’ Note: In other reports, Bratton insisted the NYPD would wake individuals up in order to protect them, claiming that 50 percent of reported crimes on the subway “involve sleeping passengers.”   

This announcement flagrantly undermines New York City’s own laws.

In 2013, it became the first jurisdiction to prohibit police from profiling individuals based on housing status. Local Law 71, passed as part of the Community Safety Act, bars police from using factors such as actual or perceived housing status as the determinative factor in initiating law enforcement action.  

That law, while evidently not stopping police abuse, was a start in the right direction.  But there’s a lot more to be done.  Under Local Law 71 for example, a homeless person who experienced police eviction must prove he or she has been the victim of profiling—which requires the kind of legal assistance unavailable to most homeless.

During the administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has made affordable housing a key part of his platform, we’ve also seen the NYPD collaborating with other city employees to confiscate and throw away the belongings of homeless people—a clear violation of due process and property rights.

An incident in East Harlem in October was captured on a surveillance camera. In that incident, no one was arrested, but homeless people were physically abused and had their property thrown away as part of a broader police initiative meant to harass, intimidate and force people to “leave the area.”

Elsewhere in the country, the increase in the use of “move on” orders by local police in order to disperse  and dismantle  what have loosely been called “encampments” has drawn some opposition from the Department of Justice in a legal filing, and policy recommendations opposing such approaches to “encampments” have been issued  by the White House Interagency Council on Homelessness.  

Yet Bratton bulldozes on. He recently indicated in a speech at the Manhattan Institute that “courts have barred officers from shooing people sitting on the sidewalk or lying on a subway grate — though the rules are so complex that if someone is lying in a box instead of a piece of cardboard, forcing them to move along is OK.”

Bratton has a long history of targeting and stigmatizing the homeless.  In his first term as police commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Bratton declared soon after his appointment in 1994 that ”we are going to flush them [homeless people] off the street in the same successful manner in which we flushed them out of the subway system.”

But the struggle to oppose such stigmatizing is also gaining traction. Homeless folks are not only asserting their rights, but promoting real solutions to homelessness in many of their communities.   

Picture the Homeless in New York, the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) in several western states, the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, and Denver Homeless Out Loud are just a few examples.  In both Denver and San Francisco, sweeps of homeless folks and their belongings have been met with resistance. 

Grassroots organizing, led by the homeless, is the only way to end these abusive practices and educate the broader public that homelessness is directly connected to bad housing and community development policies

and practices. 

Discriminatory broken-windows policing exacerbates homelessness. It destroys lives. And it undermines our values as a society.  

We are better than this. We need to advance real housing solutions, not the status-quo, politically expedient approach that designates law enforcement as the first responder to homelessness.

Lynn Lewis is the director of Picture the Homeless In New York City. Readers’ comments are welcome.


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Americans Say ‘No Jails’ For Kids: Will Politicians Listen?

By Liz Ryan

To find out what Americans want when it comes to the juvenile justice system, the Youth First Intiative commissioned a nationwide poll.  Conducted between January 19-24 among 1,000 adults in 50 states by GBA strategies, a national public opinion research firm that has conducted surveys for Democratic political candidates, nonprofits and corporations, the poll found that 73 percent agreed with the statement that youth can be taught to take responsibility for their actions without resorting to incarceration.

More impressively in our current election cycle, the poll found broad bipartisan support among Americans aged 18 and older for shifting the youth justice system from incarceration and punishment to prevention and rehabilitation. The figures were: 79 percent of Democrats, 71 percent for Republicans, and 80 percent of those who identified as Independents.

An overwhelming majority (92 percent) of survey respondents want our current juvenile justice system to help kids in trouble with authorities to get back on track, rather than confine them to detention facilities.

The message seems clear: Americans don’t want kids locked up. Will politicians listen?

The poll showed specific support for measures that our policymakers at federal, state and local levels should consider:

  • Provide financial incentives for states and municipalities to invest in alternatives to youth, incarceration, such as intensive rehabilitation, education, job training, community services, and programs that provide youth the opportunity to repair harm to victims and communities.
  • Close youth prisons and redirect the savings to community-based programs including intensive ones designed for youth who pose a serious threat to public safety (This proposal gets especially  strong support from  respondents aged 18-29, and among impacted communities, such as African-Americans.)
  • Design treatment and rehabilitation plans that include a youth’s family in planning and services.
  • Require states to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.

The pollsters isolated respondents who had contact with the justice system, such as individuals or family members who were connected with law enforcement, were victims of a crime, or had been incarcerated.

The results were essentially the same.

Polling in several states in different regions of the county —Connecticut, Virginia and Kansas—where youth justice reforms are under consideration showed similar results.

Connecticut’s youth prison, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS) was the subject of an investigation by the Office of the Child Advocate (OCA). With the release of a report and video footage on the over-use of restraints, and subsequent calls by the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance and others for closure, Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy announced that he would close CJTS by July 2018.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe proposed closing Beaumont and Bon Air, the state’s  two remaining youth prisons, and investing the savings from the closures in community-based alternatives to incarceration. The RISE for Youth campaign advocated for these youth prison closures and for redirection of resources; the Virginia General Assembly subsequently approved language in its two-year budget plan to give the state Department of Juvenile Justice the authority to redirect savings from youth prison closures to community-based programming for youth.

Kansas’ House is considering comprehensive juvenile justice reform legislation (SB 367), already approved by the Kansas Senate. A juvenile justice reform task force, supported by the Pew Public Safety Performance Project, put forward recommendations in November that the legislation was based on. With support from Kansans United for Youth Justice (KU4YJ) and others, this legislation is likely to become law.

These poll results should provide additional support to federal efforts to reform the juvenile justice system, such as federal legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) spearheaded by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). This legislation (S. 1169) has strong support from the Act 4 Juvenile Justice campaign and has been approved by the judiciary committee. There have been several attempts to bring it to the Senate floor for a vote this year.

Perhaps most importantly, the results make clear that Americans are dissatisfied with what has been, until recently, the “tough-on-crime” approach to juvenile justice.

“When it comes to the youth justice system, Americans place a premium on rehabilitation as a means to prevent recidivism,” the pollsters reported. “They also believe that taking responsibility is not predicated on incarceration and that we should not incarcerate for offenses that would not be crimes if committed by adults.”

If we needed any more evidence to accelerate the momentum for transforming our juvenile justice system, the results of this survey should be conclusive.

For the children directly impacted by incarceration, these reforms can’t come soon enough.

Liz Ryan is CEO of the Youth First! Initiative. She welcomes comments from readers.

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A Police Chief’s Apology for the Drug War

By Leonard Campanello

Police officers are perfect: We always win, we always make the right call, we never treat anyone with less professionalism, dignity, respect, and compassion than they deserve. We never have bad days and we never—ever—apologize.


The fact is: We are faulty, hate to lose, try to make the best decisions in the worst of circumstances; and are capable of the kind of jaded attitudes that can lead us to treat others with less respect than we should.

But we can also change. And one big area where that change should come is in re-thinking our so-called “War on Drugs.”

That “war” was a failure by anyone’s calculations.  And if we needed any proof of that, we can see the rising numbers of individuals who have become victims of opioid addiction in New England and across America.

Trying to find, and charge, every drug dealer, does little to address the collateral damage of that war inflicted on addicted individuals and the communities where they live.

We need to re-think our approach—and specifically we need to re-think the role of law enforcement in dealing with the drug trade. Our methods up to now have been aimed at “killing the snake” of drug trafficking by cutting off its head; but we can’t arrest our way out of the problem, as we have done for the past 60 years.

We need to work smarter. In my city of Gloucester, MA, we launched what we have called the “Gloucester Angel Initiative,” which begins by apologizing for the way we have stigmatized addicts—and failed to treat them with  compassion and professionalism.

In doing so, we are honoring the words of the father of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, who said “the police are the people and the people are the police”

What that translates to is realizing that our “end game” in the communities we serve is not prosecution.  It requires us to use discretion in the way we enforce the law.   

Yes, discretion can be corruptible or misused, but it is also critical to maintaining the health of our community.  The principle of discretion must be instilled into every police officer as a way to mitigate and help, not to overuse the powers given them by the public

We arrest the bad guys; we protect the innocent. Everything in between is a blurred line. A police officer’s duty is to recognize when to cross that line—and when not to.

That requires discretion.  The premise of the Angel Program is that police can use their discretion to suspend arrest for the possession of an illegal substance when there is a potential for saving that person’s life and giving him or her a chance to reintegrate into society. Since we began our program last June, nearly 400 addicts in our area have been referred to treatment or rehabilitation programs—instead of being arrested.

When a blurred line presents itself, discretion has the power to make things clearer.

Our approach in Gloucester has now been followed in other police departments across the country. More than 40 police agencies in nine states have adopted a version of our program.

There are skeptics of course.  But we intend to stay the course. That means siding with our community.

Not to do so would be the ultimate betrayal of the sacred trust that we are given as sworn officers of the law.

Editors’ Note: For a detailed description of the Gloucester Angel Initiative, please click HERE.


Leonard Campanello is Chief of the Gloucester (MA) police department. He welcomes comments from readers.



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Sheriff Joe and Donald Trump: The Prequel

By Joe Domanick

As Arizona primary voters go to the polls today, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s full-throated endorsement of Donald Trump for president last weekend will be ringing in their ears.

Speaking at a rally outside Phoenix Saturday, the 83-year old Maricopa County sheriff told the crowd that Trump will ‘do things different.”

No two men, in fact, fit better together this election year. I once spent an evening at a banquet hall watching and speaking with Arpaio—an evening I think will tell you all you need to know about him; and how his approach to undocumented immigration created the template for most of Trump’s current campaign.

The banquet took place in 2008; but the concerns about criminalization of immigration currently enveloping the nation this election year were the same that enveloped that evening eight years ago.

I was on assignment for Playboy magazine, focusing on the resistance to undocumented immigrants which “Sheriff Joe” had made into a cause celebre---and propelled him into the national spotlight. In the process, he radically extended local police power into an area historically reserved for federal immigration agents.

Using a specially trained 160-officer immigration squad and “volunteer posses,” Arpaio so intently and demagogically targeted those who had crossed Arizona’s border with Mexico illegally, that the federal justice department, successfully launched a suit against him for racial profiling during “saturation” traffic stops. Raids of homes and workplaces also became widespread.

Arresting individuals on the slightest suspicion they might be illegal became his signature approach, and that included stopping motorists for minor or spurious infractions based on appearance or accent.

 Arpaio and Trump are great mutual admirers.  And for good reason; Prior to Arpaio’s raids and searches, residing in the U.S. illegally had been handled as a civil violation. But Arpaio’s law enforcement strategies have been key to the emergence of nationwide support for criminalizing people who violate. U.S. immigration laws.  

Those strategies appear to have fueled Trump’s own “build a wall” approach to immigration—perhaps one reason why some unconfirmed reports claim Arpaio could be appointed attorney general in a Trump Administration.

But back to the dinner:  The event was the “Annual Lincoln Day Republican Dinner;” the venue was the Nautical Inn in Lake Havasu City—a Colorado River boating and party town on a man-made lake in the otherwise godforsaken Mojave Dessert.  

Joe Arpaio stood at the podium, looking out at a well-lubricated, 375-strong dinner crowd. Dressed in a navy-blue suit and a burgundy tie with a gold .45 handgun tie-pin, he looked far more like an unassuming retired book keeper than the controversial sheriff he’d already become.

By that night in 2008, Arizona had already become ground-zero for opposition to undocumented immigrants. The state registered the largest number of intercepted border crossings, with a work force of whom an estimated 10 percent were undocumented laborers---and a huge block of angry white voters demanding the border be immediately sealed and the ‘illegal’ workers rounded up and sent home.

That year,  the precursor to Trump’s “beautiful wall”—a 670-mile, rust-colored border wall, stretching from Calexico in California all the way to Douglas, Arizona—was also just reaching completion. It featured 1,800 high-tech, 100-foot-tall border towers, at a cost of $2 billion. (The wall Trump is proposing, according to Trump, would cost $14 billion to build—and would, he said later, be paid for by Mexico.)           

Arpaio began his speech by feeding his audience what they’d come to hear: How he forced the county’s 10,000 jail inmates to wear pink underwear as a tool of humiliation; how he lowered the cost of feeding jail inmates to just 18 cents per prisoner per day by serving them only two daily meals, mainly consisting of green, oxidized baloney sandwiches – a cost which he proudly contrasts with the $1-a-day allocated to feed a dog at the county’s pound.

Next he moved on to his creation of “the only female chain gang in the history of the world.”

You know the Super Bowl,” he told the audience. “I put all of the chain gangs in front of the Super Bowl, and always make sure there’s trash there that they have to pick up.  Especially the ones with a DUI, I put big signs on their pink shirts,  ‘I’m a drunken driver.’  (Now) we’re going to form a new chain gang with signs that say ‘I’m a drug user.’”  

Next, Arpaio moved on to his tent-city jail: “In August, 1992—eight months after I took office— we got Korean War tents, and [put them up] in some free land next to a dump. Now we have a whole tent-city jail. I had a New Zealand [reporter] following me around, who wanted to see the tents.

“So I took him, and it was 148 degrees [in one of the tents.] The guy from New Zealand said, ‘I can’t believe this.’…I said our men and women are fighting for our country and they’re living in tents in Iraq and Afghanistan and have all this gear on, it’s not nice living in those foreign countries.”

Applause drowned him out, as he added, “And that [argument] shuts everybody’s mouth up.”

“Why don’t you put up tents out there on the [river] barges?” someone shouts out from the audience, to more even more raucous applause.

I realize now that what I was witnessing was the vanguard of America’s current anti-immigrant crusade: seething, white people – most from the America of a half-century ago—feeling screwed, scared and bewildered that the rest of their increasingly brown, black and mixed-race country doesn’t see the world the way they do.

They had lived through the Cold War, hippies, racial riots, “welfare queens” and the debacle of Vietnam. And now, they were looking at Arab terrorists, gay grandchildren, another debacle in Iraq, stagnant wages, and all those Mexican “hordes” streaming across their border, for the dubious privilege of doing mule-work in the USA for sub-minimum wages.

For many in the room that evening, in fact, the intruders coming across the border were threats to their  personal safety—the same sentiment that has provoked stiff resistance to providing sanctuary to those fleeing the violence in Syria today. 

One women at the event, Michelle Dallacrose, summed up their mounting rage and anxiety by pointing out to me in an interview how, as the founder of “Mothers Against Illegal Aliens,” she’s had “hundreds of thousands of mothers calling [her] whose children are being raped [by illegal immigrants.]”

Dallacrose was not alone in making such pathologically inaccurate claims.

She was more than matched by Iowa’s  Republican Congressman Steve King, who has publicly stated—with zero factual basis—that 12 Americans a day are murdered by illegal immigrants, and 13 are killed daily by illegal drunken drivers.

In fact, as then-Mesa (Arizona) Police Chief George Gascon (now San Francisco’s District Attorney) would later point out to me in my interviews for the Playboy article, illegal immigrants actually commit less crime as a group than do native-born Americans. Since many of the illegals are disproportionately poor, young, and undereducated males– the very population traditionally most likely to get in trouble and be arrested—“they are less, not more, likely to be engaged in criminal activity,” he said.

Nevertheless, from the point of view of people like Dallacrose and King, they just keep on coming—even though recent figures show that the population of undocumented immigrants has dropped by one million since 2007,

“Now let me say this about illegal immigration,” Arpaio intoned, leaning into the podium. “I’ve been director of the U.S. drug enforcement in Mexico and South America, “So I do know a little about the Mexican people. 

“In Texas and Arizona, I covered that border…and I think of all this as a conspiracy, If you have a dope dealer coming in and 15 people are buying the dope, they’re part of a conspiracy.  That’s my opinion. So we’ve locked up 850 smugglers on conspiracy charges so far. And it’s a class- one felony. Not a little Mickey-Mouse misdemeanor.

“And we teach them to sing ‘God Bless America’ in jail. I can’t force them. But we can give them bread and water for two weeks if they don’t – so they sing “God Bless America’ – and they love it!”

At evening’s end, one woman shouted out, “We love you, Sheriff Joe,” as the audience gave him a standing ovation.

Today, Joe Arpaio’s long-standing actions have provided Donald Trump with both a law-enforcement stamp of approval, and an operational primer to begin enforcing the GOP frontrunner’s fantastical promise to round-up and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.

If Trump emerges the victor in today’s Republican primary, he can thank Sheriff Joe for exploiting and exacerbating the climate of fear and hate that could make that possible.

Joe Domanick is West Coast bureau chief of The Crime Report, and Associate Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College in NYC. He is the author of “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.”  Joe welcomes comments from readers.


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Why Is California Thumbing its Nose at a Federal Court?

By Caleb Mason

Earlier this year, I wrote here about what I thought was a very encouraging development in the ongoing efforts to reform the excessive use of solitary confinement in the California prison system.  The development had to do with “good-time credit” awarded to prisoners who were in solitary because of an allegation that they were affiliated with a gang. 

In California, prisoners in the general population get one day of good-time credit for each day served, while inmates in disciplinary segregation get one day of good-time credit for each three days served.  In January 2010, the state legislature changed the law so that inmates sent to disciplinary segregation based on alleged gang affiliation earned no good-time credit whatsoever.  

And the rule change applied retroactively: to prisoners who’d been convicted and sentenced under the prior good-time credit regime.

Many inmates are sent to segregation based on the thinnest and most evanescent allegations of gang affiliation, many of which are little more than racial identification, and possession of prison newsletters or photos. The practice of so-called “gang validation” has received widespread criticism, because it was the primary vehicle under which thousands of California prisoners were  placed in solitary confinement for years at a time.

On September 25, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a case called Hinojosa v. Davey that the change in good-time credit policy was unconstitutional as applied to  inmates who had committed their offenses prior to the 2010 rule change.

I explained the ruling in my previous column: the Supreme Court held in 1967 that the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution forbade states from changing rules governing accumulation of good-time credit and applying those changes retroactively. So the Ninth Circuit’s decision should have put an end to the retroactive application of the 2010 rule changes—and several hundred inmates should have gotten back their wrongfully denied good-time credit, and had their release dates recalculated.   

As I wrote, I thought that the state had begun that process, because one of my former clients was released soon after the Hinojosa decision and was told that his goodtime credit had been re-credited to him. 

It turns out that the Crime Report is available in the California prison system, though, because after my column appeared, I started getting letters from inmates saying they’d read it and gone to their counselors to ask for recalculation of their goodtime credit.

They were told, flatly, no.

Prison officials are telling prisoners that the Department of Corrections is not awarding any back good-time credit to anybody based on Hinojosa, and that the Hinojosa decision does not apply to anyone other than Hinojosa himself.  Now, to a lawyer that seems absurd. The point of our common-law system of adjudicating disputes is that an appellate court’s decision is binding on every entity, institution and individual within its jurisdiction. So when the Ninth Circuit says the retroactive application of a statute is unconstitutional, then the state needs to stop retroactively applying that statute.

But here’s the thing: one of the holdovers from the uneasy truce the Framers made in coming up with our constitutional system is the concept of “dual sovereignty” in our courts.  Each state’s court system exists side-by-side with the federal system.  Now it turns out, that back in 2011, a California intermediate appellate court had ruled that the 2010 good-time statute changes were not unconstitutional under the ex post facto clause.

So what we have now in California is a direct conflict between a state court and the controlling federal court, over the meaning of a clause in the federal Constitution.

In a nutshell, state courts do not have to follow the rulings of the lower federal courts. They do have to follow the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court decides fewer than 100 cases a year (of the 8000 or so cert petitions filed each year from more than 30,000 federal appellate decisions and hundreds of thousands of state decisions).  So in a dispute in state court, a state judge could (and likely would) follow a state appellate decision despite a directly contrary Ninth Circuit decision.

But the dual sovereignty doctrine does not insulate individual state officials from federal law.  That’s why, for example, the federal district court in Kentucky could issue an injunction requiring a state official to issue marriage licenses.  Couldn’t prisoners in California do the same?  Couldn’t they invoke the ancient right of habeas corpus—the Great Writ dating from the barons’ revolt against King John in 1215—and ask a federal judge to order prison officials (normally the warden is the named defendant in a habeas petition) to give them back their unconstitutionally-denied good-time credit?

The answer is no. 

Prisoners—unlike every other category of litigant in the United States who wishes to vindicate his or her  constitutional rights—cannot go directly to federal court to challenge the constitutionality of their confinement.  They are required by federal law to first litigate all habeas issues in state court.   And then, once they’ve exhausted their state litigation, prisoners can still only get relief in federal court if they can show that the state court ruling denying their habeas petition was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” 

That means that in order to challenge a state-court denial of a habeas petition in federal court, a prisoner must show that the state-court ruling directly conflicts with a Supreme Court decision; conflict with a federal Circuit Court decision is not enough.  In other words, California state courts may safely ignore what the Ninth Circuit says, because prisoners cannot get into federal court to get a hearing, despite the fact that there is now a controlling precedent from the Ninth Circuit holding that the denial of good-time credit is unconstitutional.

If a prisoner can get the issue decided in a federal court, then the federal court will follow the Ninth Circuit and order the prisoner’s release.  State officials such as prison wardens are bound by federal-court orders.  That’s why Hinojosa himself was released. 

(In a procedural quirk in his case, the state court did not decide his habeas petition on the merits, but instead dismissed it on the grounds that he filed it in the wrong place, so the federal courts were able to reach the constitutional issue). 

But state prisoners cannot get into federal court, because they first have to litigate the issue in state court, and the state courts can ignore the Ninth Circuit precedent.  So state officials are simply ignoring the Ninth Circuit as well, because they know that prisoners can’t get into court to enforce the ruling.

That is an interesting state of affairs, one which I have a hard time explaining to non-lawyer Americans, let alone visitors from other countries who assume that the U.S.  has one court system and one decisional hierarchy that applies throughout the entire country.  Still more surprising is who we have to blame: President Bill Clinton. 

The Catch-22 I just described was created by a 1996 federal statute championed by Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombings, the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, or AEDPA for short.

Now, as I indicated in my previous essay on this case, the State of California—specifically, Attorney General Kamala Harris)—could simply have decided to follow the Ninth Circuit. There is nothing in state law that says that the state must ignore decisions of the Ninth Circuit just because AEDPA prevents prisoners from getting into federal court.  

Unfortunately, however, the state has chosen to ignore the Ninth Circuit.  

That’s not just what inmates are saying, either; it is  the state’s official response to a   public records request I filed with the state Department of Corrections, asking for information regarding the state’s response to the Hinojosa decision. 

Here’s the official response:

“CDCR states that one inmate has been released by CDCR as of the date of this request based on recalculation of his release date pursuant to Hinojosa: Mr. Hinojosa….  CDCR states that it has recalculated one inmate release date pursuant to Hinojosa: Mr. Hinojosa’s….” 

 I also asked whether CDCR has any written policies or directives regarding compliance with Hinojosa.  The answer: No.

Needless to say, I find this response deeply disappointing Attorney General Harris needs to rectify the situation.  It may be that the matter has not actually percolated up to the Attorney General’s desk.  If so, I hope it gets there soon.  The buck stops with her.She should make a considered decision about whether to ignore the Ninth Circuit, and publicly explain it.  

Alternatively, the state could request that the Supreme Court of California issue an advisory opinion about the constitutionality of retroactive application of the good-time credit system.  (The Supreme Court of California, unlike federal courts, is empowered to issue advisory opinions.) 

But the current state of affairs is untenable.  Our democracy is not well-served when a major state agency decides to ignore a precedential decision of the governing federal Court of Appeals without giving any explanation, and gets away with it because prisoners are barred under AEDPA from getting into federal court to enforce their rights.

Attorney General Harris is a frontrunner in the race for a Senate seat from California. Her candidacy is championed by progressives of all stripes. I myself have been a longtime Harris fan, and I think she will make an excellent senator.  But I am deeply troubled by any state official or agency that is simply thumbing its nose a constitutional ruling issued by the controlling federal Court of Appeals.   

The state should not take advantage of the unduly restrictive AEDPA barriers to prisoners’ accessing the federal courts, in order to hide its head in the sand and pretend that the Hinojosa decision does not exist.

The Ex Post Facto Clause is an important component of the suite of procedural rights the Constitution created to protect all Americans from arbitrary and excessive punishment.  I call upon Attorney General Harris to address this issue publicly and, at a minimum, explain what the state’s position is, and how she justifies that position.

Caleb Mason is a regular contributor to TCR’s Viewpoints. He is a partner at Brown White & Osborn in Los Angeles, and a former federal prosecutor.  He welcomes comments from readers.

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Why Cops Need to Support Justice Reforms

By Frank Straub

Incarceration and the strong emphasis on “law and order” have torn a hole in the lives of more than two million Americans, their families and neighborhoods. People released from jails and prisons find it difficult to reintegrate into the community. They are virtually unemployable, find it difficult to secure adequate housing, and often suffer from the lack of medical, mental health, and drug treatment services.

Many young men and women, especially those living in the hardest-hit neighborhoods, believe their lives will end in prison or violently on the street.

It’s not surprising that, as calls for criminal justice reform dominate local and national news, police have been among the primary targets for change. In May 2015, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing challenged the nation’s police departments to make broad reforms, renew their commitment to community policing, and to replace a “warrior” approach with a “guardian” mindset.

The transformation won’t be easy.

The “warrior” mindset is rooted in the rhetoric accompanying  the tough-on-crime policies that influenced politicians, legislators and the public for decades.  Only now have we begun to realize that the indiscriminate use of aggressive police tactics was counter-productive. Not only did they often fail to bring peace and stability to neighborhoods in crisis; they disenfranchised residents living in the neighborhoods the police were trying to protect.

And as we all know from the headlines, already-strained community-police relations have been damaged further by incidents in which police officers used excessive force or took the lives of persons in unwarranted circumstances.

These incidents have energized calls for reform. But how do we get there?

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that the nation faces serious criminal justice challenges. Violent crime still threatens many of our communities, despite the fact that overall crime rates have plunged dramatically. In some of our major cities, there was an alarming spike in homicides last year, and in the first months of 2016, there have already been more than 40 mass shootings. Deadly attacks continue to claim the lives of police officers.

Meanwhile, the threat of terrorism is real, as demonstrated by the brutal attack in San Bernardino, Ca., which claimed the lives of 14 public health officials.

Criminal justice reform demands strong, tenacious and visionary leadership—not only by individual law enforcement agencies, but on the part of politicians.  We cannot relax in our targeting of individuals who present a real threat to community safety, or who refuse to disengage from criminal activity.

Traditional, data-driven enforcement strategies focused on prolific and violent offenders, their activities, and crime hot spots, are crucial.

But there should be room for developing alternatives to incarceration. Juveniles, low-level, and non-violent offenders can be diverted to community supervision and services.  Current concerns about crime increases should not derail reform efforts now underway, such as the proposals currently pending in Congress for overhauling our federal sentencing and corrections system, such as the Senate’s Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.

“Smart” criminal justice reform must be based on the effective integration of “hard” and “soft power” in ways that are mutually reinforcing. 

Police reform should follow a similar course of action.

Police chiefs, with the support of elected officials, must develop and implement policies, programs and training that take into account the dangers of the world in which they operate. Officers must be trained and equipped to protect their communities, as well as themselves, from those who seek to commit acts of violence and terrorism.

At the same time, “the country’s 18,000 police departments need to rethink their strategies for responding to situations that do not involve guns … If officers are properly trained and equipped, they and the people they encounter can walk away unharmed from many situations that now end in police shootings.”

This argument, made by Camden (NJ) Police Chief Scott Thomson, president of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), and Chuck Wexler, PERF’s executive director, in a recent New York Times Op-ed  makes sense.

The police must be strong guardians of the communities they serve. But they must also be innovative. And that means using their “hard power” to protect their communities and themselves from harm, while using their “soft” power to prevent crime, restore trust and build legitimacy.

Frank Straub, a Senior Law Enforcement Project Manager 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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The Danger of TV Crime Shows

By Robin L. Barton

I was watching a rerun of the police procedural Castle in which two cops fake hearing a woman calling for help as an excuse to kick down the door to her apartment. These cops were the “good” guys and they were trying to rescue the main character. So, of course, I was cheering for them. 

But after I chuckled at one cop pretending to call for help in an old lady’s voice, I had an uncomfortable realization: I was enjoying watching police officers engage in misconduct.

True, no one’s rights were actually violated because 1) it’s a TV show and 2) the woman whose apartment it was lay dead inside.

Still, it made me wonder if similar scenes in TV shows of fake cops conducting searches without warrants, using excessive force in making arrests, threatening or roughing up criminals to get confessions, etc. have desensitized us to similar violations by actual police officers in real life.

We already know that entertainment may impact perceptions of the criminal justice system.

For example, you may have heard of the so-called “CSI effect,” which suggests that the TV show CSI (original version and various spin-offs) have raised unrealistic expectations in jurors of the forensic evidence they expect to see in a criminal trial.

Various studies have looked at how TV shows may also influence how members of the general public expect police officers, prosecutors and other members of the criminal justice system to act.

For instance, a study by researchers from Purdue University found that people who watch forensic and crime dramas on TV are more likely than non-viewers to have a distorted perception of our criminal justice system, including overestimating the frequency of serious crimes, misperceiving important facts about crime and misjudging the number of workers in the judicial system.

Another study that focused on the Law & Order franchise noted that because most Americans have little contact with the justice system, they learn much about the way the system operates from fictional TV shows. Based on this miseducation, they may conclude that certain police or investigative tactics, such as threats and “mild” physical abuse, are “useful, successful and perhaps even necessary.”

A more recent study specifically looked at the role of entertainment media on perceptions of police use of force. The researchers noted that while fictional officials in crime dramas are both highly successful and accurate, they also frequently use force. Moreover, these instances of police use of force tend to be portrayed as necessary and justified.

The results of the study’s survey of viewers and non-viewers of crime dramas found that these groups held significantly different attitudes toward the police. In particular, viewers were more likely than non-viewers to believe that misconduct generally doesn’t lead to false confessions and that force, when used, is typically necessary for an arrest rather than a form of street justice.

The fact is, most police procedurals either don’t show cops engaging in civil rights violations or misconduct, or they do so in a way that minimizes or excuses this bad behavior. Their motives are presented as pure—after all, they’re just trying to catch the bad guy.

These depictions are typically very black and white. That is, the cops are good—even the anti-hero archetypes—and the criminals are bad. So if the cops engage in any misconduct at all on the screen, viewers tend to see it as justified by the criminal’s own misconduct or rationalized as the ends justifying the means.

(A handful of TV shows, including The Wire, Southland and The Shield, contain more grey. They have more nuanced, and likely more accurate, portrayals of cops whose motivations aren’t always so pure and are often simply selfish.)

Intellectually, viewers know all of these shows are fictional and that certain liberties have been taken for dramatic purposes, such as speeding up the time it takes to get DNA or ballistics test results or for a case to go from arrest to trial.

But in the back of their minds, I’m sure many people believe these shows are essentially grounded in the truth—i.e., they’re “ripped from the headlines”—and so assume that the way in which the shows depict cops behaving is at least fairly accurate.

As a result, watching crime dramas may normalize civil rights violations, the use of force and other kinds of police misconduct in the eyes of the public, who may believe that these shows honestly reflect what cops need to do to succeed in the real world.

Thus, if you see law enforcement engage in bad behavior on TV and “forgive” them, you may be more likely to feel the same toward real cops when they engage in similar behavior. After all, who wouldn’t want a police officer to use any means possible to obtain the location of a bomb or a kidnapped child? 

In this context, if the media reports that, say, police officers searched a homicide suspect’s house without a warrant but did find the murder weapon, the general public may not be outraged by their conduct because fictional shows have conditioned us to believe that such behavior is sometimes necessary to catch the perpetrator and close cases.

So unless you take police procedurals with a grain of salt and consciously separate them from reality, it’s easy to walk away from these shows believing that roughing up a suspect to get him to talk or cutting corners to seize evidence isn’t that big of a deal.

Why are such misperceptions of police misconduct troubling?

First, the assumption on TV is that although certain police tactics are questionable, they’re nonetheless necessary, and result in honest confessions and the arrest and conviction of guilty parties.

In reality, however, not only are such tactics unnecessary to close cases successfully but also studies have found that police misconduct leads to false confessions and, in some cases, wrongful convictions.

Second, public outrage may be necessary to drive changes in how police officers operate. If TV shows desensitize us to police misconduct, we won’t protest when they behave badly—except perhaps in extreme cases—and thus nothing will change and the system won’t evolve.

Bottom line: Crime dramas are some of the most popular shows on TV. And there’s nothing wrong with watching and enjoying them.

But it’s important to remember that they’re fiction and the actions of the characters have no real consequences. Because the actions of actual police officers do have very real and often serious consequences, we must hold them to a much higher standard than their fictional counterparts.

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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Curbing Street Violence: What Works, What Doesn’t

By Thomas Abt and Christopher Winship

What kinds of interventions are most effective in reducing community violence, the every-day street violence that rarely makes headlines—but often accounts for more homicides than other forms of violence?

In what may be a first-of-its kind study, we conducted a systematic meta-review, synthesizing evidence from 43 reviews covering over 1,400 individual studies, visited over 20 sites, and conducted over 50 semi-structured interviews to answer the question, at the request of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The motivating factor for the USAID study was Latin America, which has the unfortunate distinction of being the most murderously violent region in the world, accounting for nine percent of the world’s population but 33 percent of its homicides. Of particular concern to the study sponsors were El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras –the countries of the so-called Northern Triangle—which statistics suggest are the deadliest centers of violence.

With an average homicide rate of 51 per 100,000 inhabits per year, the Northern Triangle is in the midst of what, by international standards, can only be deemed a violence epidemic.

Violence in the Northern Triangle region remains relatively poorly understood. The problem is not simply a lack of knowledge, although significant gaps remain. Current knowledge, especially from the most reliable experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations, is often inaccessible to policymakers in readily usable formats.

Our conclusions, based on the report we produced last month, suggest effective approaches that Latin American policymakers could take. But we believe they also have wider implications.

To our knowledge, no study on community violence has combined quantitative and qualitative approaches to provide recommendations based on both rigorous evidence and practical realities.

The results of our examinations of violence-reduction strategies, most of them in the U.S., were intriguing. We found that a few programmatic interventions, such as focused deterrence and cognitive behavioral therapy, exhibited moderate to strong effects on violence and were supported by substantial evidence.

A few others, such as “scared straight” and gun buyback programs, clearly demonstrated no or even negative effects. The vast majority of interventions, however, exhibited weak or modest effects.

Focusing on the most successful approaches, we identified the following six shared “elements of effectiveness:

  • Specificity: maintaining a specific focus on those most at risk for violence;
  • Proactivity: being proactive to prevent violence before it occurs;
  • Legitimacy: increasing the perceived and actual legitimacy of institutions and strategies;
  • Capacity: careful attention to program implementation;
  • Theory: having and following a well-defined theory of change; and
  • Partnership: active engagement and partnership with critical stakeholders.

 We also learned that a defining characteristic of violence is “stickiness,” meaning it clusters tightly in and around a small number of places, people, and behaviors.

For instance, in Boston, one percent of youth aged 15-24 were responsible for over 50 percent of city-wide shootings, and 70 percent of total shootings over a three-decade period were concentrated in just five percent  of the city.

Similarly, in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, 80 percent of the homicides in one community—Sucre—came from just six percent of its street blocks.

Not surprisingly, programmatic interventions that target these clusters are generally more effective than those that do not. This is true across the policy spectrum, from policing to prevention. In public health terms, interventions that work with indicated and selected populations are usually more effective than universal ones, with tertiary and secondary prevention strategies more successful than primary ones.

Focusing attention on high-risk places, people and behaviors will fail if violence is displaced or simply “moves around the corner.” Fortunately, a robust body of evidence clearly establishes that when crime and violence are targeted, displacement is minimal and the impact to surrounding areas is likely to be positive.

 (That said, it’s equally clear that organized crime is more capable of relocating or otherwise responding to targeted interventions.)

Given the modest effects of most interventions, that violence generally clusters around a small number of places, people and behaviors, and that violence is not displaced from those clusters when they are targeted, we reached the simple yet powerful conclusion that it is advisable to concentrate and coordinate anti-violence efforts where they matter most.

Concentrating efforts is intuitive, backed by strong evidence, and perhaps most importantly, feasible as a matter of politics and budgets. Public and private institutions that respond to violence lack the capacity to be everywhere; but they can be where it matters most. 

It’s important to openly acknowledge a limitation of our work: The reviews and studies we examined came overwhelmingly from high-income countries, especially the U.S. Our fieldwork suggests that these findings still have relevance to the Northern Triangle and Latin America generally. But we must be mindful that there are limits to the validity of evidence generated in one setting and then applied in another.

Based on our meta-review and fieldwork, we offered four recommendations to governmental and non-governmental funders seeking to reduce community violence:

  1. Recognize the centrality of reducing violence to poverty reduction and development by creating space within portfolios where violence is the exclusive, or at least primary, concern.
  2. Within that space, align activities and investments with the evidence in an incremental but purposeful manner. Before adoption, evidence-informed strategies should be filtered through a deliberate process of customization in consultation with local stakeholders.
  3. Build internal and external expertise for evidence-informed violence reduction, with an emphasis on research and analysis.
  4. Launch coordinated regional research efforts that emphasize coordinated approaches, consistent methodologies, and the cumulative development of knowledge. 

High rates of violence are not inevitable in the Northern Triangle, nor anywhere else for that matter. With careful attention to the evidence, hard work, and a collaborative mindset, peace is possible.

Thomas Abt, a Senior Research Fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, has served as Deputy Secretary for Public Safety for the State of New York and as Chief of Staff to the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs. Christopher Winship is the Diker-Tishman Professor of Sociology and a senior faculty member at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. They welcome comments from readers.


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