Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Should We Re-Consider Giving Juvenile Offenders Gentler Treatment?

The arrest of three runaway boys for a horrific rape shines light on New York City’s latest program for troubled youth.

From Pacific Standard

In 2013, New York City began an experiment in how to more safely and effectively deal with children with minor criminal records: house them in small group homes close to their own neighborhoods; provide 24-hour supervision; and create two levels of oversight, involving both city and state officials.

Problems surfaced quickly. That first year, children ran off from the “non-secure” homes some 740 times. One child wound up stabbing someone to death in Queens. In 2014, the number of arrests of young residents of the homes totaled 177.

And then last week, three boys left a home in Brooklyn, made their way to Chinatown in Manhattan, and allegedly robbed and raped a 33-year-old woman in the staircase of an apartment building on Eldridge Street. The woman was hospitalized and the boys were arraigned in Manhattan Superior Court on Wednesday. The home, run by the Nebraska-based non-profit Boys Town, has been temporarily closed pending further investigation.

The alleged crime will doubtless draw attention to the city’s experiment, a program called Close to Home that is directly overseen by the Administration for Children’s Services. The idea was born of disaster: the secure upstate facilities that long housed juveniles convicted of crimes had for years been rampant with violence and sexual abuse, eventually becoming the target of federal investigators. But Close to Home was also born with a model in mind: an alternative-to-incarceration program for troubled youth in Missouri that has significantly reduced the number of repeat offenders in that state....

...Read the rest here.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Solving Crimes With Pollen, One Grain Of Evidence At A Time

From NPR

Some murder cases are harder to solve than others. The investigation into the killing of Mellory Manning — a 27-year-old woman who was assaulted and murdered in 2008 while working as a prostitute in Christchurch, New Zealand — confounded police.

They conducted an investigation and interviewed hundreds of people, but months later, they still had no solid leads.

To crack the case, the police required the expertise of an unusual specialist. Dallas Mildenhall, a white-haired scientist in his 70s, is a forensic palynologist – a pollen and spores expert who helps solve crimes. One of only a handful of such experts in the world, he has helped solve cases of murder, arson and art forgery all over the globe. He once traced counterfeit malaria drugs to the border of China and Vietnam by identifying pollen in the capsules....

...Read and Listen to the rest here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A New Era for Victims of Crime

From The Crime Report

With federal crime victim funding expected to nearly quadruple in the next fiscal year, states have begun to plan how to spend what amounts to an unexpected windfall.

Under the 1984 Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), all fines paid in federal criminal cases are set aside to help crime victims, but access to the funds every year was tightly limited until last December— when, as part of the federal budget deal, Congress approved a nearly fourfold increase from the most recent spending cap of $745 million to $2.36 billion.

That was good news for advocates, who have been fighting for years to get the full amount of available funds permissible under VOCA to help severely strapped crime victim organizations, such as domestic violence shelters, child abuse centers, as well as court-appointed sexual advocates, and organizations that assist homeless youth.

About $3.5 billion was paid into the VOCA fund in the last year, but victims could benefit from only a small fraction of that because of the cap....

...Read the rest here.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Partisan Politics Could Mean Jail Time for Innocent People

Research shows that Republican-leaning states are less likely to pass laws to protect against wrongful convictions.

From Pacific Standard

Wrongful convictions are a serious problem in the United States. There are approximately two million convicted felons behind bars. By some estimates, as many as 100,000 of them could be innocent.

The rise of DNA technology in the 1980s led to the exoneration of hundreds of wrongly imprisoned individuals, according to the Innocence Project, a public policy organization working to absolve wrongfully convicted people. In response, many states have adopted laws that would allow inmates to access and re-test their DNA evidence. But, as Cleveland State University sociologist Stephanie Kent noticed, far fewer states mandated that DNA evidence be saved after a conviction.

“It's kind of a nasty way for these inmates to find out that even though they have the ability to test [the DNA evidence], it’s not there when they go to do it,” says Kent, who started digging into other legislative safeguards against wrongful convictions and found that few were universally adopted....

...Read the rest here.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The dirty secret of our criminal justice system

From The Age

...So what is it about our society, and so many others, that it should have turned a blind eye to the systematic misuse of power in the Catholic Church and the brutal abuse of children by the Ridsdales and Westons of the world? Where were the elders of the Church, those preaching against the inhumanity of communism and atheism and the immorality of sex outside marriage, when these disciples of god were indulging themselves? Addressing the injustice, even a lifetime after the damage has been done, is important, but we can hardly be proud that it has taken so long or that no one acted when it mattered.

And we should not forget this: while the abuse of children within the Church was being hidden away, violence against women too was also being ignored or covered-up. Imagine if the hundreds of women raped in the 1960s and '70s came forward and told their stories. Imagine if we opened up the court records from that era and gave an honest appraisal of why so many "wife killers" walked from the Supreme Court of Victoria with manslaughter verdicts....

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Questionability of Forensic Science

A recent study on the reliability of hair analysis is only the latest to shake public confidence.

From Pacific Standard

With the introduction of DNA analysis three decades ago, criminal investigations and prosecutions gained a powerful tool to link suspects to crimes through biological evidence. This field has also exposed scores of wrongful convictions, and raised serious questions about the forensic science used in building cases.

Last week, the Washington Post reported the first results from a sweeping study of the FBI forensic hair comparison unit, finding that 26 of 28 examiners in the unit gave flawed testimony in more than 200 cases during the 1980s and '90s. Examiners overstated the accuracy of their analysis in ways that aided prosecutors. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Innocence Project are conducting the study with the cooperation of the United States Justice Department.

The development is only the latest to shake public faith in what police and prosecutors have often cited as scientific proof. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences published an exhaustive review of the forensic sciences, concluding that only nuclear DNA analysis has a foundation in research. "Although research has been done in some disciplines," the report states, "there is a notable dearth of peer-reviewed, published studies establishing the scientific bases and validity of many forensic methods."

Fields based on matching patterns in fingerprints and hair have unknown error rates. Other methods are believed to be even more dubious, most notably the analysis of bite-mark injuries on victims' bodies. Still, while the forensic sciences are under scrutiny, unproven practices, both old and new, continue to be used in courtrooms....

Read the rest here.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Both Parties Are Over the Death Penalty

Years of polling show that Democrats and Republicans are increasingly turning away from the death penalty.

From Pacific Standard

The conviction of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has renewed debate about the death penalty. Convicted on all 30 charges in one of the worst domestic terrorist attacks in American history, Tsarnaev would certainly meet the criteria for the death penalty. The question, then, is whether most Americans want Tsarnaev to die at the hands of the state.

"My heart goes out to the families here, but I don't support the death penalty," Senator Elizabeth Warren said last week, per the Boston Globe. "I think that he should spend his life in jail. No possibility for parole. He should die in prison."

While Warren may be a polarizing figure, on the death penalty, an increasing number of Americans—both Democratic and Republican—agree with her. Since 1994, Gallup finds that death penalty support among Democrats has tanked 26 points; just 49 percent of Democrats support the death penalty today, compared to 75 percent in 1994. Republican support has even dropped by nine points (76 percent support today vs. 85 percent in 1994)....

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In HIV-riddled town, addiction 'the lifestyle'

From The Courier Journal

AUSTIN, Ind. – Two miles from a new HIV testing clinic and needle exchange, a 26-year-old woman in dark sunglasses sat in a city park next to a neighborhood of dilapidated homes with peeling paint and boarded-up windows.

Long addicted to crushing and shooting up pain pills — and sometimes trading sex for drugs — she said last week that she'd recently been diagnosed with HIV, part of an epidemic in Scott County that has reached 142 cases.

But she doesn't plan to stop using drugs, she said, flicking a cigarette into the grass with pink-painted fingernails and climbing into an SUV. There, she mixed powdered heroin and water in the bottom of an energy drink can, drawing the brownish liquid into a well-used needle and injecting it into a hand pocked by drug use.

"Anything bad that can happen has already happened. So why stop now?" she said.

To spend time with drug users and those with HIV in this isolated, impoverished town of 4,200, including the 26-year-old who asked not to be named, is to understand the depth of the problem as Austin battles a drug-fueled HIV epidemic unprecedented in rural America in recent years....

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Social Worker in the Patrol Car

From The Crime Report

At the Houston Police Department, a licensed clinical social worker or caseworker rides along when police answer an emergency call regarding a person presumed to be mentally ill. Some 30 of those ride-along professionals now work out of that department’s relatively new Mental Health Division.

In Wisconsin, the Madison Police Department Mental Health Liaison Program has similar pairings of health clinicians and cops, otherwise known as crisis intervention response teams.

The teams in those two cities reflect an innovative approach to handling police encounters with mentally ill persons that is picking up traction around the country.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which supports the Houston and Madison initiatives, is also monitoring other BJA-supported “specialized police response” demonstration sites in Los Angeles; Portland, Maine; Salt Lake City, Utah; and the University of Florida. Together, the six pilot programs are expected to provide new law enforcement tools and techniques aimed at steering mentally ill persons suspected to be lawbreakers toward medical treatment whenever that’s deemed more appropriate than locking them up.

“It starts with … training police officers to better understand individuals who are suffering from mental disorders, (to develop) ways to approach them and to resolve calls to service … that population,” Gerard Murphy, deputy director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center National Initiatives division, told The Crime Report...

...Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Life After Prison: No Helping Hand

From The Crime Report

On June 10, 2014, Kevin Monteiro stepped onto a prison van at the Sterling Correctional Facility in northeast Colorado. He traveled south for a couple of hours to downtown Denver. He was let off at the Greyhound Bus station at 19th and Curtis.

It was the 56-year-old's first day of freedom since the 1980s—nearly three decades ago—and, to Monteiro, the world looked bizarre.

"Everything is out of place," Monteiro says. "I know where I’m at but everything is really, like, people had moved the furniture around."

Monteiro was convicted of 2nd degree murder in the 1980s for his part in a stabbing in Aurora, Colorado—what he says was a drug deal gone bad. He also says others were involved, but no one else was ever apprehended.

The downtown Greyhound station is one of several drop-off points for inmates after release. Along with the ride from prison, Monteiro had been given a prison-issued debit card; but, he says, that's about it.

“I had a hundred dollars in my pocket and a box of books," he says about that first day. "No family,  nobody.”

Monteiro's lonely journey on his first day of freedom is typical for Colorado inmates who leave prison without family or friends to turn to: a bus trip, a bit of money, and no one to turn to for guidance or support....

...Read the rest here.