Prison News

Some Legislators, Justices Rethink Teen Life Without Parole
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Michigan has 352 prisoners serving mandatory life
sentences for crimes committed while they were
juveniles  the second-highest number in the world,
behind Pennsylvania at 444, says the Detroit Free
Press. Legislators and the U.S. Supreme Court are
rethinking the idea of sending teens away to prison
forever. Michigan is among 12 states where
legislation has been introduced that would ban the
practice, or at least give judges some discretion.
Texas and Colorado have banned mandatory life for
juveniles.

Oakland County, Mi., Prosecutor Jessica Cooper,
whose office tried two of them, Dontez Tillman and
Thomas, McCloud, said the boys are exactly where
they belong. These are gut-wrenching, soul-
searching determinations, she said. Tillman and
McCloud are among Michigan’s 45,000 inmates. Their
days are spent doing chores, watching television or
walking in the exercise yard. They will likely never walk
free. Their story paints a terrible irony, some defense
experts argue. They are boys old enough to be
charged as adults under Michigan’s stringent get-
tough-on-juveniles laws. Yet they deferred to their
mothers for the most important decision in their young
lives — a decision that put them behind bars for life.

Detroit Free Press –

Four States Cut Prison Populations Without Crime Increases
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Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York
reduced prison populations between 5 and 20
percent  since 1999 without any increases in crime,
says a new report from Justice Strategies and The
Sentencing Project. That happened during a period
when the national prison population increased by 12
percent.  The reductions were achieved through a mix
of legislative reforms and changes in practice by
corrections and parole agencies.

The Sentencing Project says that last year was a
recent high mark for such reforms.  A report describes
reforms in at least 19 states that the group says hold
the potential of further prison population reductions.
Key among  changes identified were scaled-back
mandatory sentencing laws for some drug offenses in
Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island; seven
states’ increasing the proportion of “good time” credits
to be earned in prison to expedite parole eligibility;
and Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska, and New Jersey
establishing committees to examine sentencing
policies, prison overcrowding and reentry services.

The Sentencing Project -Pennsylvania Prisons Chief Urges Cost-Saving Measures
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Pennsylvania’s corrections secretary has outlined
steps that could be taken at little or no cost to free up
as many as 2,000 prison beds statewide and save the
state $200 million, the cost of a new prison, reports
the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Current law prevents the
state from sending newly jailed inmates — even those
with less than a year to serve — to community
correctional facilities or halfway houses, Corrections
Secretary Jeffrey Beard told the Senate Appropriations
Committee. Because all new inmates must go to
state prison for the first nine months of their sentence,
the 3,500 inmates with short sentences who enter the
prison system each year are a major driver of the
state’s prison-overcrowding problem.

“In many ways, it makes little sense to tie up our
valuable and costly prison beds for what, in large part,
are less-serious offenders,” Beard said. Halfway
houses can be used for inmates convicted of lesser,
nonviolent crimes; they sleep there but can leave
during the day for jobs or schooling. The state’s 27
prisons house 51,000 inmates, up from 45,000 just
five years ago. The overcrowding situation is forcing
the state to send 2,000 inmates this month to prisons
in Michigan and Virginia, and also forcing the state
build three new prisons. The ever-growing inmate
population is causing the annual corrections budget
to approach $2 billion, the third highest amount in the
state budget after education and public welfare.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -High Court Expected To Strike Down Local Handgun Bans
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It’s about to get easier to shoot people in Chicago,
says Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank.
Actually, it’s about to get easier to shoot — and be shot
by — people in the rest of the country, too. The
Supreme Court left no doubt about that yesterday, the
majority making clear that they will strike down the 28-
year-old ban on handguns in Al Capone’s town. The
only questions are: Which legal theory will the pro-gun
majority use to arrive at the outcome it desires, and
which class of arms will it allow Americans to bear
next?

The outcome was preordained since the Heller
decision in 2008 struck down a similar ban in
Washington, D.C. Chief Justice John Roberts told
James Feldman, Chicago’s attorney, that the five-
member conservative majority in that case knew just
what the Founding Fathers had in mind more than
200 years ago. “I don’t see how you can read Heller
and not take away from it the notion that the Second
Amendment, whether you want to label it fundamental
or not, was extremely important to the framers in their
view of what liberty meant,” Roberts said. A majority of
the court is preparing to take the issue away from
state legislators and put it in the hands of unelected
judges — the very definition of judicial activism,
Milbank says.

Washington Post -U.S. To Offer Suspicious Activity Report Training Nationwide
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The federal program to standardize “suspicious
activity reports” (SAR) is being taken nationwide. The
Justice Department announced last week in New
Orleans at the National Fusion Center annual
conference that the program would be expanded to all
72 fusion centers, involving federal, state, and local
law enforcement, by the end of fiscal year 2012.
Previously, the program had been tested a few
locations. The program’s director will be Thomas
O’Reilly of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, who has
been overseeing the test phase. A fusion center
program office is being established in the Department
of Homeland Security under Bart Johnson, Deputy
Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis in DHS.

The decision means that training will be offered to all
law enforcement agencies in the U.S. on how police
officers should recogize the signs of possible terrorist
activity and report them correctly to a national
database. O’Reilly said that better reporting has been
instrumental in responding to terror threats in New
York, Florida, California, and Virginia. Details remain
confidential. As previously reported by Crime & Justice
News, current SAR test sites of Florida, New York, and
Virginia and a few major cities, including Los Angeles,
is due to expand soon to Alabama, Indiana, New
Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and
Wisconsin, along with Dallas, Kansas City, and
Savannah, Ga. O’Reilly called the program a low-cost
one, involving $35,000 at each site.

Crime & Justice NewsWhen Do “Sexting” Laws And Prosecutions Go Too Far?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
How tough should prosecutors be in “sexting” cases,
asks Emily Bazelon on Slate.com. Anthony Stancl, a
Wisconsin teenager, last week was sentenced to 15
years in prison for luring on Facebook, where he had
posed as a girl,  30 of the boys he went to high school
with to send him nude pictures or videos of
themselves. At the other end of the spectrum are a
boy, 12, and a girl, 13, in Valparaiso, In., who
reportedly exchanged nude photos of themselves.
They were in school when they were caught in this
new form of “You show me yours, I’ll show you mine.”
How can states draft laws that protect against a Stancl
without sweeping in more innocent behavior, like that
of the Indiana students?

While there’s no consensus about the right legislative
response, the wrong one is becominge clear.
Increasingly, district attorneys agree with children’s
advocacy groups that hard-charging laws and
prosecutions can do real damage. They can land
teens on sex offender lists for decades. And they can
harm kids instead of protecting them. A sexting
crackdown could give a guy who talked his girlfriend
into texting him a nude photo a means of threatening
herhe’ll go to the police with the photo she sent
unless she has sex with him. The harder question is
whether law enforcement has any role at all to play
when sexting doesn’t lead to a worse crime like the
one committed by Anthony Stancl.

Slate.comNew Survey Finds Pot, Alcohol Use By Teens Increasing
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
After a decade of consistent declines in teen drug
abuse, a new study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free
America and MetLife Foundation points to marked
upswings in use of drugs that teens are likely to
encounter at parties and in other social situations.
The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study said  grade 9-
12 students using alcohol in the past month has risen
by 11 percent (from 35 percent in 2008 to 39 percent
in 2009), past year Ecstasy use shows a 67 percent
increase (from 6 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in
2009) and past year marijuana use rose 19 percent
increase (from 32 percent in 2008 to 38 percent in
2009).

The data mark a reverse in the remarkable, sustained
declines in several drugs of abuse among teens:
methamphetamine was down by over 60 percent and
past month alcohol and marijuana use had
decreased a full 30 percent over the past decade from
1998-2008. The survey sponsors said that underlying
the increases are shifts in teen attitudes, particularly a
growing belief in the benefits and acceptability of drug
use and drinking. The percent of teens agreeing
that “being high feels good” increased from 45 in
2008 to 51 in 2009, while those saying “friends
usually get high at parties” increased from 69 percent
to 75 percent.

Partnership For A Drug-Free America -A Look At How Gangs Disrupt Learning In Tennessee Schools
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A 2009 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report,
released only to law enforcement, found gang activity
in schoolyards across the state, reports The
Tennessean in the second in a series. Local gang
recruitment efforts are part of a national problem on
the rise this decade, says the 2009 National Gang
Threat Assessment. The gangs instigate fights,
frighten and intimidate students, and disrupt normal
activities. In some schools, classroom instruction has
been lost to the threat of violence and resulting grief
when violence occurs. In other schools, gangs are not
on the radar until something happens.

In one county, an elementary school teacher
discovered a third-grader etching gang signs in his
notebook. Gangs, regardless of their size, hinder
learning in many ways. In Nashville middle schools,
students are taught a formalized Gang Resistance
Education and Training program by police officers
stationed in the schools. There’s no similar program
in high schools, which have safe school summits and
bring experts and former gang members in to talk to
students.

The Tennessean -Mexican Cartels Have “Supersized” Pot Trade In The U.S.
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Not far from the waterfalls in California’s Yosemite
National Park, Mexican drug gangs are
commandeering U.S. public land to grow millions of
marijuana plants and using smuggled immigrants to
cultivate them, reports the Associated Press. Pot has
been grown on public lands for decades, but Mexican
traffickers have taken it to a new level: using armed
guards and trip wires to safeguard sprawling plots
that in can contain tens of thousands of plants offering
a potential yield of more than 30 tons of pot a year.

One California official said Mexican traffickers
have “supersized” the marijuana trade. AP interviews
Press with law enforcement officials across the U.S.
showed that Mexican gangs are largely responsible
for a spike in large-scale marijuana farms over the
last several years. Local, state and federal agents
found about a million more pot plants each year
between 2004 and 2008; authorities estimate 75
percent to 90 percent of the new marijuana farms can
be linked to Mexican gangs. In 2008 alone, says the
Drug Enforcement Administration, police confiscated
or destroyed 7.6 million plants from about 20,000
outdoor plots. Growing marijuana in the U.S. saves
traffickers the risk and expense of smuggling their
product across the border and allows gangs to
produce their crops closer to local markets.

Associated Press/Los Angeles Times -Starbucks, Brady Campaign Duel Over Open Gun Carrying
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Small groups of armed Californians have been
turning up at cafes and coffee shops with handguns
holstered to their belts to raise awareness about gun
rights and what they call unfair limits on concealed
weapon permits, reports the Christian Science
Monitor. Starbucks has been a favorite spot for open
carry groups, prompting the anti-gun violence group
the Brady Campaign to launch a petition to convince
the coffee chain to ban guns from its shops.

Some Bay Area police departments have expressed
concern about the growing open carry movement.
Sunnyvale, Ca., Deputy Police Chief Mark Stivers
wrote, To be very frank, I do not like the fact people
can carry an unloaded gun in a holster in plain view in
public. However the law says they can and we uphold
the law. Nathan Wolanyk, an open-carry advocate
from San Diego, says the movement is as much
about informing the public as it is about educating
police departments who, he says, are often unaware
of the unloaded open carry law.

Christian Science Monitor -TV Anchor On Crime: If We Report Only Good News, No One Watches
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Leon Harris, former CNN anchor now at WJLA-TV, the
ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., was asked in an
online chat on WashingtonPost.com why local
television news covers crime so much.  Said the
poster of the first question asked of Harris: “It reeks of
sensationalism. I know it’s a story, but it’s not THAT
much of a story (the crime rate has been falling for
years, a fact hardly ever mentioned by TV newscasts).”

Harris’ response: “This may be the question I am
asked the most. the sad facts are that those stories
actually happen, AND if we ignore them and only
report the GOOD stories, no one watches. The number
(s) don’t lie.”

WashingtonPost.com -DEA Marijuana Seizures Nearly Double In A Year
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Drug Enforcement Administration marijuana seizures
nearly doubled from 1,539 metric tons in fiscal 2008 to
2,980 metric tons last year, reports MainJustice.com.
The numbers are in the DEA budget request for fiscal
2011. Aaron Houston of the Marijuana Policy Project,
which advocates the legalization of marijuana,
suspects the increase was a result of drug seizures
from cartels.

Despite Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement
that targeting individual users of cannabis for medical
purposes was no longer a priority, the DEA budget
request spoke dismissively of the benefits of medical
marijuana, placing the word patients in quotation
marks. “DEA does not investigate or target
individual patients who use cannabis, but instead the
drug trafficking organizations involved in marijuana
trafficking,” the request stated. Houston applauded the
administration for hailting raids on  medical marijuana
facilities in states that allow the practice, but “on the
rest of their drug policy, theyre on Bush administration
auto-pilot,” he said.

MainJustice.com -Sheriff’s Offices Using Eye Scanners To Stop Release Mistakes
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A Baltimore inmate who bluffed his way out of prison
probably wouldn’t have tricked guards if they had eye-
scanners like those being installed at many jails, the
Associated Press reports. The federal government is
paying for the scanners to help build a nearly foolproof
identification system to stop to such escapes.
Raymond Taylor was serving three life sentences for
shooting his ex-girlfriend and her two teenage
daughters. He impersonated a cellmate last week
and was released. He was arrested the next day in
West Virginia.

The U.S. Justice Department has given a $500,000
grant to the National Sheriff’s Association, which is
giving $10,000 grants to about 45 agencies that will
create a national database that better identifies,
registers, and tracks inmates. “While this technology
has been around generally for 10 to 15 years, it just
hasn’t gotten into the mainstream yet,” said the sheriff
group’s Fred Wilson. “You have to remember that the
average law enforcement agency is very small and
they can’t afford this stuff.” The sheriff’s association
teamed with Plymouth, Mass.-based  Biometric
Intelligence and Identification Technologies and
picked agencies from more than 400 that applied. The
chosen agencies ranged from the Los Angeles
County sheriff’s department and Las Vegas police to
small departments like Story County, Ia., and Rutland
County, Vt.

Associated Press/Philadelphia Inquirer

Medical Costs Dropped After Ohio Prisons Banned Smoking
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A year after Ohio prisons instituted a smoking ban,
taxpayers can expect to shell out a little less for
medical care for inmates suffering from emphysema
and other respiratory diseases, reports the Columbus
Dispatch. Ohio was the 34th state to ban prison
smoking. The ban – which includes chewing tobacco
and snuff – also gave birth to a lucrative contraband
market in state prisons. Tobacco has become as
valuable as marijuana, with a single cigarette selling
for $10, a pack of cigarettes going for $200 and a can
of loose tobacco for $300. An indication of how hot a
commodity tobacco has become came last month
when officials uncovered a plan for a woman to drop
tobacco at the Governor’s residence. Inmates working
there planned to smuggle the tobacco back into the
Pickaway Correctional Institution. The drop was
scuttled by State Highway Patrol officials.

Prison medical personnel said one out of three
inmates with serious respiratory ailments, such as
emphysema, bronchitis and chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, have shown marked
improvement in the year since the ban took effect. That
led to lower use of inhalant drugs over a three-month
period – a savings of $90,000. Respiratory drugs
represent six of the top 40 drugs purchased by
prisons for inmates, costing about $4 million per year.
Ohio prisons chief Ernie Moore said the positive
health effect is “the reason we did this in the first
place.” There has been an uptick in contraband
problems in the 31 state prisons in the past year,
Moore said. He added, “In our profession, we are
always dealing with contraband. It’s just a different
contraband.”

Columbus Dispatch –

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