Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Crazy Like the Heat

ACLU Sues Over Handcuffing Boy, 8, Girl 9:

The American Civil Liberties Union, seeking to spotlight the use of handcuffs to restrain young children who act out in school, filed a federal lawsuit in Covington, Ky., on Monday alleging that a school resource officer there shackled an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, both with disabilities, causing the children “pain, fear and emotional trauma.”

The A.C.L.U. released what it called a “disturbing video” showing the boy, who it said weighs about 52 pounds, crying as the resource officer handcuffed his arms at the biceps behind his back. In the video, the officer tells the boy, “You don’t get to swing at me like that.”

The boy has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; the girl has the disorder and other “special needs,” according to the lawsuit. It says both children are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, and alleges that the school resource officer, who it says shackled the boy once and the girl twice in 2014, violated both the disabilities act and the children’s constitutional rights.
Forget the disabilities, shouldn't they be sued (and the officer relieved of his post, if not arrested for child abuse) because, y'know, handcuffing children is wrong?

Watch the video, which is gag-inducing (particularly Officer Friendly's "you ain't got no right to swing at me like that"). Like if the kid had connected, what, he collapses on the fainting couch?

Speaking of crazy like the heat (and the prolonged effects of solitary confinement):
In 1993, Craig Haney, a social psychologist, interviewed a group of inmates in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, California’s toughest penal institution.

He was studying the psychological effects of isolation on prisoners, and Pelican Bay was among the first of a new breed of super-maximum-security prisons that states around the country were beginning to build.

Twenty years later, he returned to the prison for another set of interviews. He was startled to find himself facing some of the same prisoners he had met before, inmates who now had spent more than two decades alone in windowless cells.

“It was shocking, frankly,” Dr. Haney said.
Sidebar: Haney was part of Zimbardo's Prison Experiment mentioned in yesterday's post.
The interviews, conducted over the last two years as part of a lawsuit over prolonged solitary confinement at Pelican Bay, have not yet been written up as a formal study or reviewed by other researchers. But Dr. Haney’s work provides a vivid portrait of men so severely isolated that, to use Dr. Haney’s term, they have undergone a “social death.”

Sealed for years in a hermetic environment — one inmate likened the prison’s solitary confinement unit to “a weapons lab or a place for human experiments” — prisoners recounted struggling daily to maintain their sanity. They spoke of longing to catch sight of a tree or a bird. Many responded to their isolation by shutting down their emotions and withdrawing even further, shunning even the meager human conversation and company they were afforded.
I'm not sure "social death" is really Haney's term. We use it in penology to refer to other invisible punishments (such as disenfranchisement, lack of public assistance, the inability to get a job, etc.) that haunt inmates once they've paid their theoretical debt and return to society.
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, citing the continuing litigation, declined to comment on the lawsuit or on the reports of Dr. Haney or other expert witnesses for the plaintiffs. But since the lawsuit was filed, the department has moved many inmates who had been in isolation at Pelican Bay for more than a decade to other settings. All but two of the 10 inmates originally named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are now in other facilities, according to Jeffrey Callison, a department spokesman.
In an interview, Dr. Haney said that he was especially struck by the profound sadness that many of the inmates he interviewed seemed to carry with them.

“The weight of what they had been through was apparent on them and in them,” he said.
“They were grieving for their lost lives, for their loss of connectedness to the social world and their families outside, and also for their lost selves,” he said. “Most of them really did understand that they had lost who they were, and weren’t sure of who they had become.”
Kind of like Officer Friendly above. Or the weird cast of characters I wrote about yesterday.

I need a vacay.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Light Beach Reading

Better to be on vacation and zoning out on your ipod than reading these articles, but if you need a few things to raise you out of beach-reading stupor and get your blood flowing, check these out.

First, a lurid tale of a wackadoodle judge and the abuse of probation

In Maryland, many first-time drunken-driving defendants are released on their own recognizance, particularly if no one was hurt. But Mrs. Hall’s bail was set by a court commissioner at $25,000.
A bail bondsman charged Mr. Hall $2,000, payable in monthly installments, to post bond, and Mrs. Hall was released in less than 24 hours. Everyone assured her the case was minor.

Drunken-driving penalties vary widely depending on the judge, but Mr. Stamm said a typical sentence for a first offense might be a year of unsupervised probation. Most judges will offer what in Maryland is called “probation before judgment,” or P.B.J., in which a defendant’s guilty plea is set aside. If the defendant violates probation, the judge may reimpose the conviction and sentence the person under the original offense — in Mrs. Hall’s case, up to 60 days in jail. If the defendant is successful, she avoids a criminal conviction.

As expected, the prosecutor offered Mrs. Hall probation before judgment in exchange for a guilty plea. But Judge Joan Bossmann Gordon of Maryland District Court in Baltimore balked over what she viewed as Mrs. Hall’s lack of cooperation with the police. After taking a recess to consider the matter, she agreed to the plea deal “against my better judgment.”
Typically, drunken-driving defendants get a professional assessment to determine what kind of treatment they need: a 26-hour class for “problem drinkers” or a 12-hour class for “social drinkers.” Mrs. Hall denies having a drinking problem, and there is nothing in her record to suggest otherwise.

But Judge Gordon did not wait for an assessment. She sentenced Mrs. Hall to 18 months supervised probation, costing her $105 a month in fees for probation and drunken-driving monitoring. She also ordered Mrs. Hall to attend 26 weeks of alcohol education at $70 a week and three Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a week.

All told, Mrs. Hall was looking at fees of $385 a month, her lawyer’s fee of $1,500, fines and court costs totaling $252.50 and the $2,000 bail bond.

Still, her financial situation was about to get worse — in April, the Motor Vehicle Administration suspended Mrs. Hall’s driver’s license for 14 days. The suspension contributed, Mrs. Hall said, to the loss of her job at a rehabilitation center 20 miles away.
Read the whole article. I had to read it twice to believe it wasn't out of Texas somewhere. And how this "judge" or whatever she is hasn't been removed from the bench and disbarred for abuse of office beggars insanity.

 

Speaking of insanity, there's this guy who makes a living providing "pseudoscience" to juries who exonerate cops who kill.

Training Officers to Shoot First, He'll Answer Questions Later:
When police officers shoot people under questionable circumstances, Dr. Lewinski is often there to defend their actions. Among the most influential voices on the subject, he has testified in or consulted in nearly 200 cases over the last decade or so and has helped justify countless shootings around the country.

His conclusions are consistent: The officer acted appropriately, even when shooting an unarmed person. Even when shooting someone in the back. Even when witness testimony, forensic evidence or video footage contradicts the officer’s story.

He has appeared as an expert witness in criminal trials, civil cases and disciplinary hearings, and before grand juries, where such testimony is given in secret and goes unchallenged. In addition, his company, the Force Science Institute, has trained tens of thousands of police officers on how to think differently about police shootings that might appear excessive.

A former Minnesota State professor, he says his testimony and training are based on hard science, but his research has been roundly criticized by experts. An editor for The American Journal of Psychology called his work “pseudoscience.” The Justice Department denounced his findings as “lacking in both foundation and reliability.” Civil rights lawyers say he is selling dangerous ideas.

“People die because of this stuff,” said John Burton, a California lawyer who specializes in police misconduct cases. “When they give these cops a pass, it just ripples through the system.”
It also shows the inherent subjectivity of psychology in general. The fact that you can find an "expert" in the field who produces diametric conclusions to settled research illustrates its inherent arbitrariness. 

But I guess if you paid me enough, I could provide you with all kinds of junk science showing that Leprechauns and Unicorns are real too. Just write the check.
 
Speaking of shrinks, this article illuminates Cook County's newest chief jailer...a clinical psychologist.
Instead, she became fascinated by psychology and earned a doctorate. She began working at Cook County Jail in 2006, and this spring became its unlikely warden when she was promoted to executive director — one of the first clinical psychologists to run a jail, underscoring how much the country’s prisons have become holding centers for the mentally ill.

“It’s a national disgrace how we deal with this,” said Sheriff Thomas Dart, who appointed Dr. Jones Tapia to the post and who refers to the jail, a place notorious for its history of violence and overcrowding, as the largest mental institution in the country. He said that as many as one-third of the jail’s 8,600 inmates were mentally ill.

Before becoming warden, Dr. Jones Tapia oversaw mental health care at the jail, and under her guidance, Cook County began offering services that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. All inmates upon arrival now see a clinician who collects a mental health history to ensure that anyone who is mentally ill gets a proper diagnosis and receives medication. The jail then forwards that information to judges in time for arraignments in the hope of convincing them that in certain cases, mental health care may be more appropriate than jail.
The jail also enrolls arriving inmates in health insurance plans, then helps arrange basic case management upon their release.



“We’ve started to focus on the entirety of the system, from the point of arrest through discharge, and really forcing the whole system to take a look at the people that we’re incarcerating,” Dr. Jones Tapia said.
While I applaud Dr. Jones Tapia's efforts, it's sad that it took a psychologist becoming a warden to somehow give voice to what others have been saying for decades: that our jails and prisons have become the new asylums; that these people need help and treatment, not punishment and incarceration; that isolation invariably makes mental illness even worse; and that a lack of follow-up care virtually guarantees the turnstile will spin again with said mentally ill individuals' incarceration (see also: this blog and its posts for the past 8 years as well).

It's also, I confess, a bit troubling, "the first clinical psychologist to run a jail" in the U.S. Actually she'd be the second. The first was Zimbardo and his colleagues 40+ years ago, and we all know how that turned out.

And given that psychology and its main organization the APA is still under fire for their role in punishment and torture during the War on Terror, putting a psychologist in charge of an incarceration facility should give everyone pause.

You may now return to sand and surf (and Leprechauns).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Push Back, Pell Grants and Puppies

Push to Scale Back Minimum Sentences Gains Momentum:

Even in a Congress riven by partisanship, the priorities of libertarian-leaning Republicans and left-leaning Democrats have come together, led by the example of several states that have adopted similar policies to reduce their prison costs.

As senators work to meld several proposals into one bill, one important change would be to expand the so-called safety-valve provisions that give judges discretion to sentence low-level drug offenders to less time in prison than the required mandatory minimum term if they meet certain requirements.

Proponents of changes to sentencing laws are now staring at what they say is the first real open window in decades to make meaningful change, and they are fearful that lawmakers may tinker around the edges of a prison overhaul — allowing people to leave jail early for good behavior and increasing services for juveniles — while leaving the thorny sentencing issue to fester.
Good idea to address it head on too. Especially after John Oliver did a blistering segment last week on the absurdity of mandatory minimum sentencing.


Favorite takeaway line: “Prison sentences are a lot like penises. If they’re used correctly, even a short one can do the trick.”  

LOL. The article also addresses the issue of recidivism. 
Another would allow lower-risk prisoners to participate in recidivism programs to earn up to a 25 percent reduction of their sentence. Lawmakers would also like to create more alternatives for low-level drug offenders. Nearly half of all current federal prisoners are serving sentences for drug crimes.
I was stunned to read in the WSJ yesterday that the Obama administration is restoring the availability of Pell Grants to prisoners.
The Obama administration plans to restore federal funding for prison inmates to take college courses, a potentially controversial move that comes amid a broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system.

The plan, set to be unveiled Friday by the secretary of education and the attorney general, would allow potentially thousands of inmates in the U.S. to gain access to Pell grants, the main form of federal aid for low-income college students. The grants cover up to $5,775 a year in tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.

Prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993, according to figures the Department of Education provided to Congress at the time. But a year later, Congress prohibited state and federal prison inmates from getting Pell grants as part of broad anticrime legislation, leading to a sharp drop in the number of in-prison college programs. Supporters of the ban contended federal aid should only go to law-abiding citizens.
Funny, the article doesn't mention that the Senator who led the charge on banning Pell grants for inmates was the Vice President himself, Joe Biden. Read the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (aka "The Biden Bill") again.

The reason this is so important is that a college degree in prison is the only known recidivism program to work at a rate of 95% or greater. Meaning, less than 5% of inmates who get a degree in prison will recidivate and end up back in prison...the other 95% will never come back.

But during the myopia and hysteria of the mid-90's, Pell grants and higher education were whacked, even by so-called liberals like Biden and Clinton.

I get the middle class push back. "I can't afford to send my own kid to college, why should we pay for a bunch of rapists or molesters to get bachelors or masters degrees?" Fair enough. But that's more of an issue for free higher education for everyone, and not so much about denying prisoners the opportunity.

And lost in all the chatter about who's paying for what, is the simple fact that you are going to pay for it one way or the other anyway. The question is: do you want to pay for it in terms of a college education, practically guaranteeing that they'll never come back to prison? Or do you want to pay for more prison cells, three hots and a cot, free healthcare, and a revolving turnstile of imprisonment, release, imprisonment, ad nauseum? Your choice.

Meanwhile, another recidivism program that works...puppies!
Mr. Perry says he is tremendously proud of the Auburn partnership, crediting it with improving inmates’ morale and behavior. “The incident rate in that unit is almost nonexistent,” he said. “That dog program just kind of calms everyone.”

Not every inmate is eligible. To apply, inmates must have a high school diploma or its equivalent and be free of disciplinary reports for a year — a considerable challenge, Mr. Perry said.

“These aren’t heinous individuals,” he said. “They’re men who’ve made mistakes, serious ones, and they deserve to be forgiven. And the sooner they can forgive themselves, the sooner we can.”
Working with the dogs, he said, speeds that process. “A lot of these guys have never been given a lot of responsibility, and this is their chance not only to be a responsible adult but a responsible citizen,” he said.
It's a win win...the dogs are being trained for search and rescue, IEDs and drugs, guide responsibilities, etc., the inmates are being changed by the responsibility.

My goodness. Puppies, Pell grants, and bipartisan push back to the mandatory minimum madness of the 1990's. Are we really turning a corner here in crime and punishment in 2015? Is the correctional-industrial complex an endangered species?

UPDATE: This Chronicle of Higher Ed piece predicts pushback against the Pell grant pilot program (can I get any more alliterative?):
Rep. Christopher C. Collins, a New York Republican whose district includes the Attica prison, has already introduced legislation that would bar the department from doing so. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee who is chairman of the Senate education committee, has said the administration does not have the authority to run the pilot program.

Cornell’s Mr. Scott wondered whether the topic could become an issue in the 2016 presidential race. "Americans are really divided on this," he said. But, he said, the program could also spark action from states that could introduce their own tuition-assistance programs before the broader federal debate winds down.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Brave New World

How Brain Implants Could Make the Death Penalty Obsolete:

The death penalty is one of America’s most contentious issues. Critics complain that capital punishment is inhumane, pointing out how some executions have failed to quickly kill criminals (and instead tortured them). Supporters of the death penalty fire back saying capital punishment deters violent crime in society and serves justice to wronged victims. Complicating the matter is that political, ethnic, and religious lines don’t easily distinguish death penalty advocates from its critics.
In fact, only 31 states even allow capital punishment, so America is largely divided on the issue.

Regardless of the debate—which shows no signs of easing as we head into the 2016 elections—I think technology will change the entire conversation in the next 10 to 20 years, rendering many of the most potent issues obsolete.

For example, it’s likely we will have cranial implants in two decades time that will be able to send signals to our brains that manipulate our behaviors. Those implants will be able to control out-of-control tempers and violent actions—and maybe even unsavory thoughts. This type of tech raises the obvious question: Instead of killing someone who has committed a terrible crime, should we instead alter their brain and the way it functions to make them a better person?
Obvious? I thought this was an Onion article at first when I read about it on Twitter, but scarily enough, it isn't. There are people who really believe in this sh!t.
Some people may complain that implants are too invasive and extreme. But similar outcomes—especially in altering criminal’s minds to better fit society’s goals—may be accomplished by genetic engineering, nanotechnology, or even super drugs. In fact, many criminals are already given powerful drugs, which make them quite different that they might be without them. After all, some people—including myself—believe much violent crime is a version of mental disease.

With so much scientific possibility on the near-term horizon of changing someone’s criminal behavior and attitudes, the real debate society may end up having soon is not whether to execute people, but whether society should advocate for cerebral reconditioning of criminals—in other words, a lobotomy.
LOL. We used to do that kind of stuff back in the bad old days, which led to a series of laws forbidding such gruesome and barbaric treatment. The difference between shoving ice picks through your eyes to scramble your brains, and what this author is proposing, is negligible. There is, in fact, no difference.

The author is apparently a self-described "futurist".
Because I want to believe in the good of human beings, and I also think all human existence has some value, I’m on the lookout for ways to preserve life and maximize its usefulness in society.
And so why not have Big Brother come in with implants in our brains to monitor our every move...and every thought. Funny how the author tags the 8th amendment in his article, but neglects the 4th amendment. Wouldn't the government forcibly implanting technology into your cranium be a violation of the 4th? Is that really a way to "preserve life and maximize its usefulness in society"?
Inevitably, the future of crime will change because of technology. Therefore, we should also consider changing our views on the death penalty. The rehabilitation of criminals via coming radical technology, as well as my optimism for finding the good in people, has swayed me to gently come out publicly against the death penalty.

Whatever happens, we shouldn’t continue to spend billions of dollars of tax payer money to keep so many criminals in jail. The US prison system costs four times the entire public education system in America. To me, this financial fact is one of the greatest ongoing tragedies of American economics and society. We should use science and technology to rehabilitate and make criminals contribute positively to American life—then they may not be criminals anymore, but citizens adding to a brighter future for all of us.
[crickets chirping]

I really have nothing else, other than while the anti-death penalty crowd is always happy to have new members, I'm rather sure lobotomizing criminals via microchip isn't exactly the kind of "solution" to violent crime and punishment that most are looking for.

Or anyone, really.

Friday, July 17, 2015

POTUS Goes To Prison

No, not some Nixon-era headline.

Obama First Sitting President to Visit U.S. Prison:

EL RENO, Okla. — They opened the door to Cell 123, and President Obama stared inside. In the space of 9 feet by 10 feet, he saw three bunks, a toilet with no seat, a night table with books, a small sink, prison clothes on a hook, some metal cabinets and the life he might have had.

In becoming the first occupant of his high office to visit a federal correctional facility, Mr. Obama could not help reflecting on what might have been. After all, as a young man, he smoked marijuana and tried cocaine. But he did not end up with a prison term lasting decades like some of the men who have occupied Cell 123.

As it turns out, Mr. Obama noted, there is a fine line between president and prisoner. “There but for the grace of God,” he said somberly after his tour. “And that, I think, is something that we all have to think about.”
Frankly, as a pre-requisite to holding elected office, ANY elected office at ANY level of government (local, state or federal), politicians should be required to tour a correctional facility, write a paper about the experience, and pass a quiz before they can write one word of legislation related to crime and punishment. If that had been on the books 35 years ago, we would not have had an imprisonment binge in the 80's and 90's. 
In visiting the El Reno prison, Mr. Obama went where no president ever had before, both literally and perhaps even figuratively, hoping to build support for a bipartisan overhaul of America’s criminal justice system. While his predecessors worked to toughen life for criminals, Mr. Obama wants to make their conditions better.

What was once politically unthinkable has become a bipartisan venture. Mr. Obama is making common cause with Republicans and Democrats who have come to the conclusion that the United States has given excessive sentences to many nonviolent offenders at an enormous moral and financial cost. This week, Mr. Obama commuted the sentences of 46 such prisoners and gave a speech calling for legislation revamping sentencing rules by the end of the year.
He got a lot of mileage out of the commutations earlier in the week, but let's be realistic: 46 inmates out of 1.4 million in prison (+ 800,000 in jails = 2.2 million total) is not even statistically significant. Yes, it represents a step in the right direction for what is supposedly being attempted here (the reaction to his pardons by the get tough dopes was largely muted), but it's not even a proverbial drop in the bucket.

Still, Obama deserves credit not just for touring the place, but sitting down with a group of inmates and a group of staff to discuss their concerns.
The president was brought to Cell Block B, which had been emptied for the occasion, its usual occupants moved to other buildings. The only inmates Mr. Obama saw during his visit were six nonviolent drug offenders who were selected to have a 45-minute conversation with him at a round table. It was recorded for a Vice documentary on criminal justice to be shown on HBO in the fall.

The six seemed to make an impression. “When they describe their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,” Mr. Obama said afterward. “The difference is they did not have the kinds of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.”
He added that “we have a tendency sometimes to almost take for granted or think it’s normal” that so many young people have been locked up. “It’s not normal,” he said. “It’s not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people making mistakes.”

Advocates said no president had ever highlighted the conditions of prisoners so personally. “They’re out of sight and out of mind,” Cornell William Brooks, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., said in an interview. “To have a president say by his actions, by his speech, by his example, ‘You’re in sight and in mind of the American public and of this democracy,’ it’s critically important.”
Of course, some are worried about what it all means.
Despite the growing consensus, others seem worried. “Victims’ rights must be at the core of all reforms, and the conversation needs to move beyond de-incarceration,” said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. 

“Victims’ rights must be at the core of all reforms, and the conversation needs to move beyond de-incarceration,” Ms. Fernandez said.
Absolutely, but only in crimes where there are victims. The vast majority (2/3 of those behind bars in the U.S. today) are in for non-violent crimes, almost 40% of which are drug-related (use, possession, distribution) i.e. victimless.

Nonetheless, the spirit of bipartisanship would seem to indicate that at least some reform is possible given the "polarized" politics of the time. Even Bill Clinton, who along with Reagan imprisoned more people than any other president in history, is sounding contrite for "mistakes" made in the anti-crime efforts during his tenure (like he wasn't warned about what a colossal error it might turn into back then).

But let's hope they hurry. With some cities experiencing rising crime rates for the first time in decades (along with the requisite idiotic media coverage such as this...look at the headline "What's Sparking A Violent Crime Surge?"...answer: your ratings?), and mass shootings happening every other day, time is of the essence.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lock 'Em Up And Throw Away The Sense

For all the happy talk of criminal justice reform (some of it genuine, some of it just that: happy talk), the get tough, lock 'em up and throw away the key, hang 'em high crowd has been largely silent. No more...here are a couple of good articles indicating how the brain-dead myopia of zero-tolerance still lives in many quarters.

First, "the prosecutor who says Louisiana should kill more people:"

Dale Cox, 67, who is the acting district attorney and who secured more than a third of Louisiana’s death sentences over the last five years, has lately become one of the country’s bluntest spokesmen for the death penalty. He has readily accepted invitations from reporters to explain whether he really meant what he said to The Shreveport Times in March: that capital punishment is primarily and rightly about revenge and that the state needs to “kill more people.” Yes, he really meant it.

And he has been willing to recount his personal transformation from an opponent of capital punishment, a belief grounded in his Catholic faith, to one of the more prolific seekers of the death penalty in the nation.
 
“Retribution is a valid societal interest,” Mr. Cox said on a recent afternoon, in a manner as calm and considered as the hypothetical he would propose was macabre. “What kind of society would say that it’s O.K. to kill babies and eat them, and in fact we can have parties where we kill them and eat them, and you’re not going to forfeit your life for that? If you’ve gotten to that point, you’re no longer a society.”
Wait, what? Baby-eating is a thing in Louisiana? A little Cajun hot sauce, cold beer and infant jumbalaya?
“What you’ve ended up with,” [Robert J.] Smith, law professor at UNC said, “is a personality-driven death penalty."

Mr. Cox’s personality has been under scrutiny here since he returned to being a prosecutor after two decades in insurance law. Lawyers who knew him as a congenial and adroit trial lawyer said that in recent years he had become sullen and solitary. They also have described him as becoming increasingly aggressive in the courtroom, in some cases even threatening defense lawyers with criminal contempt for filing opposing motions.
   
Several said this was not so much Mr. Cox as the culture of the office. They point to a historical racial disparity in the application of the death penalty in Caddo. Or they cite an incident in 2012, when two senior assistant district attorneys, both of whom continue to prosecute capital cases elsewhere in the state, were forced to resign from the office after they obtained machine guns from a military surplus program through what an inspector general found to be falsified applications. The men had belonged to a group of prosecutors who participated in firearms exercises as part of a unit known as the Caddo Parish Zombie Response Team, sporting arm patches around the office and specialty license plates on their trucks.
So, baby-eatin' parties and Zombie response teams? Do they know the Walking Dead is fiction down there?
Mr. Cox, who rose from first assistant to acting district attorney after his boss died unexpectedly in April, was never part of that group and disapproved of it. But he did not dispute that the work he does had changed him and left him more withdrawn.

He describes this as a natural result of exposure to so many heinous crimes, saying that “the nature of the work is so serious that there’d be something wrong if it didn’t change you.” He went on to describe violent child abuse, murders and dismemberments in extended detail, pointing to a box on his desk that he said contained autopsy photographs of an infant who was beaten to death. He volunteered that he took medication for depression.

“The courts always say, ‘Evolving standards of decency tell us we can’t do this or that,’ ” he said in an interview at his office, where he had been considering whether to seek death in one case and preparing to seek it in two others. “My empirical experience tells me it’s not evolving decently. We’ve become a jungle.”
[crickets chirping]

Happily, the voters have a chance to turn this man out of office (and perhaps get some psychological help) before any more people are sent unlawfully to the gurney in Louisiana.

But the larger issue remains: the kill 'em all types still exist out there. 

And nothing still brings 'em out of the woodwork like sex offenders. 

Teenager's Jailing Brings Call To Reform Sex Offender Registries:
That sexual encounter has landed Mr. Anderson in a Michigan jail, and he now faces a lifetime entanglement in the legal system. The girl, who by her own account told Mr. Anderson that she was 17 — a year over the age of consent in Michigan — was actually 14.

As an Indiana resident, Mr. Anderson will most likely be listed on a sex offender registry for life, a sanction that requires him to be in regular contact with the authorities, to allow searches of his home every 90 days and to live far from schools, parks and other public places. His probation will also require him to stay off the Internet, though he needs it to study computer science.

Some advocates and legal authorities are holding up Mr. Anderson’s case as the latest example of the overreach of sex offender registries, which gained favor in the 1990s as a tool for monitoring pedophiles and other people who committed sexual crimes. In the decades since, the registries have grown in number and scope; the nearly 800,000 people on registries in the United States go beyond adults who have sexually assaulted other adults or minors. Also listed are people found guilty of lesser offenses that run the gamut from urinating publicly to swapping lewd texts.

As Mr. Anderson’s defenders see it, his story is a parable of the digital age: the collision of the temporary relationships that young people develop on the Internet and the increasing criminalization of sexual activity through the expansion of online sex offender registries.
As we've noted here at TPE for some time now, the use and prevalence of sex offender registries is another holdover from the bad old days of the 90's when the git tuff craziness hit its zenith, and it was predicted that sex superpredators would fly through the air with capes, break into your house, and pillage your children. Or women. Or something. 

In addition to civil commitment, the registries are one of the more ignominious creations of the digital age, done under the guise of deterrence and public safety, but having no practical value in either, as has been shown in study after study for 20+ years now.

Nonetheless, they remain in effect (including stories of teenagers like this kid subsequently being pursued by other sex offenders who find his information online) because of moralist politicians and other c.j. practitioners who put their values before the evidence or the law.
The judge, Dennis M. Wiley of Berrien County District Court in Michigan, was apparently not swayed by their testimony. After Mr. Anderson pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree, the judge declined to grant him a special status intended for young offenders. The status, under the state’s Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, would have spared him inclusion on the sex offender registry and erased the conviction from his record if he did not violate probation.
During a sentencing hearing in April, Judge Wiley criticized online dating in general and berated Mr. Anderson for using the Internet to meet women.

“You went online, to use a fisherman’s expression, trolling for women, to meet and have sex with,” he said. “That seems to be part of our culture now. Meet, hook up, have sex, sayonara. Totally inappropriate behavior. There is no excuse for this whatsoever.”
Er, I'm pretty sure "trolling for women to meet and have sex with" is not a fisherman's expression. But more importantly, while the behavior (which thanks to apps like Tinder, etc. is damn near ubiquitous today) may offend your morals, your morals have nothing to do with the law and/or sentencing.
The prosecutor, Jerry Vigansky, did not oppose a Holmes Act sentence, but noted that it had not been applied to two similar cases in recent months.

For some reason, Mr. Vigansky told the judge in court, this generation seems to think it is “O.K. to go online to find somebody and then to quickly hook up for sexual gratification.”

“That’s not a good message to send into the community,” he said.
Again: morals and values are irrelevant to criminal procedure, which you would think a judge and prosecutor would understand.

A politician, however, you wouldn't expect to understand.
Rick Jones, a state senator in Michigan and one of the authors of the state’s sex offender registry laws, dismissed that defense. The law requires people to be responsible for determining the age of their sexual partners, he said, and in a case like Mr. Anderson’s, the punishment seems appropriate.

“A 19-year-old knows that you have to be very careful, and you certainly should not be having sex with a 14-year-old,” Mr. Jones said in an interview. “In my opinion, society, over several decades, has become looser. People are meeting online, and that creates all sorts of problems. Now, people have all these crazy apps where you can locate people in your vicinity where people want to have a relationship. You should be very careful.”

He said he was not bothered by the terms of Mr. Anderson’s probation, which require him to stop using the Internet for five years.

“There are lots of jobs that don’t involve computers,” he said. “There are all sorts of trades. Truck drivers, welding. There are other opportunities.”
LOL. Or go pick up garbage...ain't no need for any fancy interweb stuff in that.

Again, my larger point in these articles is to make the suggestion that criminal justice reform is largely just political rhetoric, and the comments quoted above are still red meat to voting electorate who are still living back in the 90's.

And these folks will continue to put up obstacles (as Sen. Chuck Grassley put it, to the "leniency-industrial complex") going forward.

UPDATE: An excellent analysis of the voodoo science of "sex predator screening" better known as the Abel Assessment. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Glossip Gossip

Supreme Court Allows Execution Drug in 5-4 Case:

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday against three death row inmates who had sought to bar the use of an execution drug they said risked causing excruciating pain.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the majority opinion in the 5-to-4 decision. He was joined by the court’s four more conservative justices.

The drug, the sedative midazolam, played a part in three long and apparently painful executions last year. It was used in an effort to render inmates unconscious before they were injected with other, severely painful drugs.

Four condemned inmates in Oklahoma challenged the use of the drug, saying it did not reliably render the person unconscious and so violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Lower courts disagreed.

The new case, Glossip v. Gross, No.14-7955, originally included a fourth inmate, Charles F. Warner. But he was executed on Jan. 15 after the Supreme Court denied his request for a stay by a 5-to-4 vote.
LOL. Well there's one way to cut down on the number of petitioners.

If you read Alito's opinion, it's pretty narrow and applies pretty much only to Oklahoma and only to this one particular narcotic. But it was on the larger issue, of whether the clock has run on the death penalty itself, that the justices squared up and came out fighting.

Alito's opinion begins the fight with an outright false premise: "Because capital punishment is constitutional, there must be a constitutional means of carrying it out."

There's nothing in the constitution whatsoever that addresses capital punishment in any form, fashion or words. They note that it was "acceptable" at the time of the Framers, etc. but the document itself is completely silent on it.

Later, Scalia hilariously acknowledges this but argues the Constitution "contemplates capital punishment" (which sounds awfully like a "living breathing document" doesn't it? I'm not aware of any inanimate objects that "contemplate" things.) That's because, of course, it does no such thing.

He and Thomas go off in concurrences with other various other straw men, lurid details of murdered infants, and completely ignore the issue of exoneration, which Breyer lays out in precise detail in his call for the eradication of the death penalty itself.

Apparently things got so heated, all the concurrences and dissents were read aloud from the bench this morning, something I'm pretty sure has never happened before. It shows the general vitriol over the issue that plagues the court.

Sotomayor's dissent was a brutal vivisection of the court's opinion, especially as she accuses the five conservatives of being down with torture.
“Petitioners contend that Oklahoma’s current protocol is a barbarous method of punishment — the chemical equivalent of being burned alive. But under the court’s new rule, it would not matter whether the state intended to use midazolam, or instead to have petitioners drawn and quartered, slowly tortured to death or actually burned at the stake.”
It's disappointing Kennedy didn't join the others, but Breyer's concurring dissent was a tour de force argument for abolishing capital punishment, and a helluva read. Filled with facts, figures, studies, data, the Trop decision (which sends Scalia into spasms: "that case has caused more mischief to our jurisprudence, to our federal system, and to our society than any other that comes to mind") and so on, there are more justices willing to toss the system of death onto the ash heap of history and be done with it than maybe we've had before.

Breyer also subtly writes to Kennedy regarding death row and solitary confinement as another possible venue to revisit the constitutionality of capital punishment.

As I've noted here dozens of times over the years, the system of capital punishment is quite literally gasping its last breaths these days. But though the indefensible is become increasingly indefensible, you have to grant the pro-dp side a victory nonetheless.

I'll borrow from Roberts in the Obergefell decision last week: celebrate executions resuming in Oklahoma, even celebrate the chance to exact a few more pounds of flesh and bone in joy and retribution. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

The case is Glossip v. Gross, et al (2015)