Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hoosegow For Teachers

Atlanta Teachers Convicted of Erasure Tampering Sentenced to Long Prison Terms:

In an unexpectedly harsh sentence after a polarizing six-year ordeal, eight of the 10 educators convicted of racketeering in one of the nation’s largest public school cheating scandals were sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years Tuesday after they refused to take sentencing deals that were predicated on their acceptance of responsibility and a waiver of their right to appeal.

Many here, amid widespread calls for leniency before the sentencing, were shocked at the severity of the sentences handed down by Judge Jerry W. Baxter, who had seemed to indicate on Monday that he wanted to avoid prison terms. But after the deals fell through, and while declaring the cheating scandal “the sickest thing that’s ever happened in this town,” he imposed sentences that appeared to be more harsh than those in similar cheating scandals elsewhere and that exceeded what criminals sometimes receive for violent crimes.
Well, it is a violent crime when you violate a scantron form by changing the bubbles without the scantron's consent. Erasure tampering involves violent, back and forth, heavy erasure movements. No scantron can survive that.

And yes, that kind of crime is definitely the "sickest thing that's ever happened" in Atlanta, worse than any murder, gang rape, robbery or anything else. Far worse. Ever.
Among those declining deals were three higher-level administrators: Sharon Davis-Williams, Michael Pitts and Tamara Cotman, all regional directors at Atlanta Public Schools. Judge Baxter sentenced each of them to seven years in prison.

These sentences exceeded prosecutors’ recommendations. Also sentenced after refusing a deal were Angela Williamson, an elementary teacher, and Tabeeka Jordan, an assistant principal, who each received two years in prison. Three other defendants received one year in prison each: Dana Evans, a principal; Diane Buckner-Webb, a teacher; and Theresia Copeland, a testing coordinator.

Judge Baxter, who presided over the complex six-month trial, was angry that some of the defendants would not stand before the court and take responsibility for what they had done.

“She didn’t need to apologize to me; she needed to apologize to this community and these children,” the judge said to lawyers for Ms. Buckner-Webb, who had questioned the prosecutors’ demand that she make such a statement. “I want the community to have the apology, and I want these children who were shortchanged and cheated to have the apology.”
Of course, maybe they didn't feel they should apologize because, y'know, they're teachers, not common criminals, who did nothing but operate within a flawed and obsessive educational system of standardized testing that your "community" instituted. Maybe the apology should come from every brain-dead politician and school board member who ever supported and instituted standardized testing, "teacher accountability," and incentivized performance based on test scores.

But what do I know. Meanwhile, what I'm really upset about is this:
But the judge also ordered all of the educators released on bond from county jail, where they had been held since their April 1 conviction. Lawyers said that those ordered to prison would probably remain free unless their convictions were upheld in the appeals process, which could take months or years.
Outrageous and unforgivable. The community is clearly not safe with these treacherous thugs in bow ties and pant suits roaming the streets while their durn appeals tie up the court for years and waste even more of our tax payer dollars. These criminals belong in prison. Or maybe even the death penalty.

No punishment is too harsh for cretins who think they can dare challenge or beat the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex.

Monday, April 13, 2015

"Should Colleges Be Judging Rape?"

The short answer, of course, is no. But this lengthy expose by the Chronicle of Higher Ed illustrates the uniquely extra-legal, no-win situation colleges and universities are in with these absurd federal guidelines regarding sexual assault.

Four years after the U.S. Education Department admonished colleges to take their role in responding to sexual assault more seriously, a consensus is emerging among some campus officials and legal experts that the government's guidance is not only unrealistic but exceeds its legal authority. The amount of money and effort colleges are devoting to try to meet the mandates for adjudicating sexual misconduct, they say, is unsustainable.

Even as colleges attempt to follow the government's recommended procedures for judging allegations of sexual assault, under threat of losing federal funds, they're facing more scrutiny from lawmakers, plus a torrent of lawsuits and complaints from students. More than 100 institutions are under federal investigation for purportedly botching cases. To deal with students' complaints, some of which are taking years to resolve, the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has asked Congress for money to hire 200 more investigators

While few deny that sexual assault is a problem on campuses, no one seems satisfied with colleges' response so far. Victims and their advocates fault officials for missteps and callous disregard, while accused students who were suspended or expelled are increasingly suing their institutions, charging that they were denied due process. "Right now, the process … on college campuses serves no one," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, a cosponsor of a new bipartisan bill meant to tackle the "scourge of campus sexual assaults head on." As she puts it: "It's a broken system."

Law professors, meanwhile, oppose new policies they say tip the scales against those who are accused, and question the legality of the federal guidelines. Faculty members at two law schools — Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania — wrote open letters in the last six months objecting to new systems for dealing with sexual assault on their campuses. "Although we appreciate the efforts by Penn and other universities to implement fair procedures, particularly in light of the financial sanctions threatened by OCR," wrote the Penn professors, "we believe that OCR's approach exerts improper pressure upon universities to adopt procedures that do not afford fundamental fairness."
Read this if you have a few minutes. It illustrates what this blog and others have been saying for years now: it's time to get colleges and universities, who are completely ill-equipped, out of the business of investigating or adjudicating cases sexual assault and rape on campus; and return these cases where they belong: the criminal justice system.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Saturday Morning Reads

First, an update on my post yesterday regarding Walter Scott's slaying in South Carolina. The Marshall Project adds another layer to the tragedy, suggesting Scott was purportedly running because he had been arrested several times for not paying child support. One in eight people languishing in South Carolina jails is in for contempt/non-payment of child support.

Debtor's prisons, in other words.

For Scott, the fear that he could end up in jail for owing child support may have been more real, in those few seconds, than the abstract possibility of another police-involved shooting. He had been arrested multiple times in the past on contempt-of-court charges stemming from child-support obligations he had missed, and he knew all too well the criminal repercussions he was facing: arrest; a few rushed minutes in court, at best, WITHOUT A LAWYER1 and without the presumption of innocence (because it would be a civil proceeding); jail time; and another mark against him on his permanent record.
In South Carolina, at least one in eight people in jail are there on contempt-of-court charges related to late or unpaid child-support orders. Nationally, as many as 50,000 parents may be in jail on those charges, though the exact number is uncertain, mainly because "contempt of court" is a general charge that does not only apply to child support cases. The best available data suggest that a majority of these jailed parents are black fathers.
And the stupidity behind arresting people (mostly poor men) for non-payment goes without saying. How is a person supposed to work and earn money to make said payments if he's in jail? He isn't. The jail system becomes another defacto form of social sanitation by which we scrub society clean of its undesirables. At least back in Dickens' day, debtors could work while in the hoosegow and pay off their debts.

In this Quartz article (via Atlantic), the desperate attempt by states to keep executions alive, by authorizing new and fun alternative methods to lethal injection, is documented, as well as in-depth history regarding how technology has allowed executions to become increasingly hidden from the public (something we spend weeks discussing in 3150).

From Utah's bringing back the firing squad (which it just scrapped a few years ago as an alternative method), to Tennessee and electric chair, states are getting desperate and planning what to do when lethal injection drugs either run out or it's declared unconstitutional by SCOTUS. 
Since the 19th century, American elites have searched for a mode of execution that was professional in appearance and humane in practice, one that would display the state’s sober-minded restraint while taking life as quickly and painlessly as possible.

As early as the 1830s, states began searching for ways to take the condemned out of this world with as little fanfare and medieval ritual as possible. Worried about jeering execution day crowds, elites moved executions behind walls and eventually into the bowels of prisons where sober decorum would prevail.

A complex division of tasks within the execution chamber, moreover, cleansed the punishment of vengeful overtones.

The “law” was no longer a local sheriff publicly carrying out a hanging on behalf of an aggrieved community, but multiple bureaucrats, each responsible for performing a small step in a highly-choreographed procedure. One tied the hands, another bound the feet, another secured the noose, and another pulled the lever to release the trap door. No single person embodied the state. And since the 1890s, a persistent dark optimism has produced revolutions in killing technologies every few decades.

From shooting and hanging to electrocuting to gassing to injecting, Americans have continuously introduced new killing technologies that have promised to minimize the discomfort, for witnesses and the condemned, caused by the state’s exercise of its sovereign power over life and death.
Shooting people kills them more quickly and reliably than electrocuting, gassing, or poisoning them. But it’s harder to watch or read about than lethal injection.

The raw violence of the act puts it at odds with the aesthetic values that have historically shaped the development of capital punishment in the United States. Guns uncomfortably blur the line between the righteous violence of the state and the lawless violence of the criminal. The gun is, historically speaking, the only instrument of execution that is also commonly used by criminals. Its use in executions reminds us of a past in which there was less of a distinction between the state that carried out the law and those it punished.

Indeed, in its jarring loudness, its bloodiness, and its mutilating effects on the body, execution by firing squad comes much closer to expressing the “eye for an eye” logic that has long stoked Americans’ demand for the death penalty, but that has, since the nineteenth century, been carefully excised from its actual administration.

Of course, to the pro-dp types, blood lust ain't a big's just a thang. Guilty as Hell, etc.

And finally, revisiting mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles, three years after Miller v. Alabama:
At 14, in 1990, he was out with two gang members when they robbed a rival drug house and shot the occupants, leaving two dead. Now 38, he has spent the last 24 years in prison on a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

But his future will be reconsidered in a new sentencing hearing here on Monday. It is one of the first such proceedings in Illinois to result from the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Miller v. Alabama that juvenile murderers should not be subject to mandatory life without parole.
In the 2012 ruling, the Supreme Court did not say life terms were never appropriate. But, building on earlier rulings that “children are different,” and citing research on brain development, the court said sentencing must take account of mitigating factors like the offender’s background and age, and consider the potential for change.

Mr. Davis was one of about 2,500 prisoners across the country at the time who were serving life without parole for juvenile murders, most of them as a result of mandatory sentences that gave judges no leeway, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, an advocacy group.

The 2012 decision did not say whether the new rules should apply retroactively, to cases long closed. Since then, state and lower federal courts have disagreed, creating drastic differences for prisoners depending on where they live.

Ten states, including Illinois, are applying the standard to pre-2012 cases and have started the process of resentencing. Four states — Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania, with about 1,130 prisoners who could be affected — have declined to make the ruling retroactive.

The Supreme Court is expected to clarify the issue next fall, when it hears the appeal of a convict in Louisiana.
With some states applying it retroactively and some states not, you create a situation where retroactivity in sentencing, an issue the court generally shies away from, becomes an bone of contention they nonetheless have to revisit. And good on them for doing so.

Enjoy your spring Saturday.

Friday, April 10, 2015

DWB Is Not A "Crime Strategy"

South Carolina Police Shooting Seen as Crime Strategy Gone Awry:

The aggressive tactics by North Charleston’s mostly white police force, including frequent stops of drivers and pedestrians for minor violations and an increased police presence in high-crime, mostly black areas, have led to a decrease in violent crime.
First, the premise of that statement is wrong. Violent crime is down everywhere in the U.S. from 2007 until 2013, including those departments where aggressive "zero-tolerance" policing is not used. There is no correlation whatsoever between N. Charleston's crime drop and the aggressive police tactics.

That said...
But to many here, the strategy came at a high cost and provides a disturbing context to the police shooting here last weekend that has set off outrage throughout South Carolina and across the country. A white police officer was shown on a bystander’s video shooting and killing an unarmed black man after he fled from a traffic stop for a broken taillight on Saturday. The man, Walter L. Scott, 50, was shot in the back by the officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, who has been charged with murder and whose dismissal was announced by city officials on Wednesday.

Aside from the furor over Mr. Scott’s death, North Charleston has been something of a window onto many of the policing issues playing out nationally.
You can watch the "dash cam" video of the initial traffic stop here, but I'll leave it to you decide whether Scott's "tail light being out" was the primary motivation for the stop, or whether a black man driving a Mercedes (read: "it must be stolen") was.

Regardless, what transpired next is truly horrific. I've watched a lot of grotesque things on the internet over the years (from beheadings to Lana Del Rey videos), but am not sure I've ever seen anything so grisly and grotesque and Walter Scott's execution

And that's what it was...a gangland execution, shot eight times in the back as he tried to flee. 

Yes, fleeing or evading the police is a crime, but no one deserves to be gunned down over a broken tail light, or worse, for DWB (driving while black).

Funny, on the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, how little has changed in this county on the issues of race.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Breaking: Teachers Going to Prison as Trial of Century Concludes

Teachers found guilty of changing scantron bubbles will go to prison:

In a major victory for prosecutors, a number of Atlanta educators were found guilty on Wednesday for their roles in public schools cheating scandal, bringing a close to a half-decade drama that tarnished a major school district’s reputation and raised questions nationwide about the wisdom of pushing educators to improve students’ standardized test scores.

Eleven of the former educators were convicted of racketeering charges, in a decision announced in a Georgia courtroom. Only one of the 12 educators on trial was acquitted of the racketeering charge; verdicts on the theft and false statements charges were mixed.
I guess "school as a pipeline to prison" doesn't apply just to students anymore.

Breathless (Live!) coverage from the Weekly Reader:
Several defense attorneys said they were surprised Baxter ordered their clients immediately taken into custody. Dramatic images of prison transport bus being escorted by police from courthouse w/ convicted educators in tow.

"I don’t like to send nobody to jail, but they have made their bed and they have to lie in it, and it starts today.” - Judge Baxter.
Ha ha ha...damn straight.

One small step for justice, one giant leap in readership for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I don't know about you, but I'm certainly going to sleep better tonight knowing these vicious predators are off the streets, away from our scantron forms and testing machines, and behind bars.

[sidebar: the irony of this verdict arriving on April Fools Day is not lost, trust me]

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sensible Criminal Justice Reform

I'm a big fan of journalist/screenwriter David Simon (and like so many others, a big fan of "The Wire" as well). I was very pleased to see the president interview Simon in this clip at the White House and the ensuing conversation about criminal justice reform. This is worth 12 minutes of your time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Law Professor Will See You Now

Oklahoma Law Professor Suggests Alternative to Lethal Injection:

Michael Copeland has a unique resume: former Assistant Attorney General of the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau, professor of criminal justice at East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma—and now, the proponent of a new execution method he claims would be more humane than lethal injection. 
Copeland is one of the brains behind House Bill 1879 proposed by Oklahoma State Representative Mike Christian. The bill, passed by the Oklahoma House last week, would make “nitrogen hypoxia” a secondary method to lethal injection. Oklahoma State Senator Anthony Sykes will be introducing it to the senate shortly. 
Copeland explained the execution method last September to the Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee at Christian’s invitation. Copeland says that Christian had been suggesting the firing squad, but Copeland thought there might be a better way. Along with two other professors from East Central University, Christine C. Pappas and Thomas M. Parr, he is drafting a white paper about the benefits of nitrogen-induced hypoxia over lethal injection. 
This isn’t Oklahoma’s first time engineering new execution methods. The modern lethal-injection protocol was first proposed by an Oklahoma state medical examiner named Jay Chapman in 1977. But Copeland, who spends most of his time teaching criminal justice policy, procedure, and research methods, has no background in medicine. This is his first foray into execution technologies.
LOL. This would be like me, who spends most of my time teaching criminology, penology and research methods, "making a foray into execution technologies" by passing myself off as an expert on medicine, chemistry and the human body.

Frankly, since our qualifications are pretty much the same (and we both, apparently, know how to use Wikipedia), let me share with you my own recommendation (and no doubt the source of this guy's "ingenious idea"): suicide bags and helium tanks from Party City:

"A suicide bag, also known as an exit bag, is a device consisting of a large plastic bag with a drawcord used to commit suicide. It is usually used in conjunction with an inert gas like helium or nitrogen, which prevents the panic, sense of suffocation and struggling during unconsciousness (the hypercapnic alarm response) usually caused by the deprivation of oxygen in the presence of carbon dioxide. This method also makes the direct cause of death difficult to trace if the bag and gas canister are removed before the death is reported.[1][2][3] Right-to-die groups recommend this form of suicide as certain, fast, and painless, according to a 2007 study.[4]The suicide bag was first widely mentioned in Derek Humphry's book Final Exit in 1992,[5][6] and its use with inert gases mentioned in a Supplement to Final Exit published in 2000.[7]"

That's right, folks. This professor and Oklahoma's new big idea is actually ripping a page from the Final Exit Suicide Network and applying it to executions. I wonder if that means corrections officers who work on the execution team now have to be referred to as "exit guides"?

More specifically, it seems as if they just Googled "how to kill people other than lethal injection" and got a all kinds of neat stuff off the interwebs. Basically, the Oklahoma secondary method of execution was built off Wikipedia entries.
From its first use in the execution of Gee Jon in Nevada in 1924 to its link to Nazi gas chambers, lethal gas as method of execution has a problematic history. American lethal-gas executions typically used hydrogen cyanide as the mechanism of death. Inmates were strapped to chairs in gas chambers and the ensuing chemical reaction would cause visible signs of pain and discomfort: skin discoloration, drooling, and writhing.
But nitrogen hypoxia would likely not produce the gruesome deaths that resulted from cyanide gas executions. Copeland says that “you don’t have to worry about someone reacting differently.” The condemned person would feel slightly intoxicated before losing consciousness and ultimately dying.
It's all good, bruh!
Copeland thinks that it is death penalty abolitionists who have made executions inhumane by restricting access to drugs. It will only get worse. Some corrections officials at the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections agree. On February 18, they submitted a report to the state House of Representatives proposing the use of nitrogen-induced hypoxia and cited Copeland’s forthcoming paper. 
Copeland says that it’s a logical and humane next step. “Nitrogen is ubiquitous. The process is humane, it doesn’t require expertise, and it’s cheap,” he explained. “I think of it as a harm-reduction thing—like you’d rather people not use heroin, but if they do, you want them to use clean needles.
Ha ha ha...whatever that means. I'll leave it to the Oklahoma ACLU ED to sum it up.
“What’s missing is the question of whether or not we should be executing people at all,” said Ryan Kiesel, the executive director of the Oklahoma ACLU and a former three-term member of the state House of Representatives. He argues that the state legislature is missing the big picture. “Instead, we’re having this bizarre academic exercise with professors playing doctors dressed up as executioners. Behind all of those masks, there’s no legitimate expertise to help legislators consider this method.”  
Precisely. The fact that a law professor with absolutely no medical credential whatsoever could recommend such a switch in alternative execution methods for Oklahoma, and be taken seriously and actually have it pass, shows you the desperate, junkie-like behavior states are resorting to in order to score their drugs for killing. 

But desperate times call for desperate measures. Excuse me now while I go and try to corner the market on turkey basting bags, because remember: if basting bags, the preferred method of helium delivery in assisted suicide, are good enough Final Exit, they're good enough for  Oklahoma.