George Floyd Trial: Judge Postpones Jury Selection As Murder-Charge Question Looms

Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill postponed the start of Derek Chauvin’s trial in the killing of George Floyd on Monday, after an appeals court ordered him to reconsider his original decision to dismiss a third-degree murder charge against the former Minneapolis police officer. The decision came as a pool of potential jurors waited to start the selection process.

The delay comes as Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, said he is finalizing an appeal asking the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the question of whether Cahill should consider reinstating the murder charge.

“We’re prepared to try this case. It is not our intent to cause delay,” Nelson said. As he spoke in court, Chauvin took notes at a desk nearby, wearing a blue coat and tie and a black face mask.Cahill had initially wanted to move ahead with the jury selection process as scheduled, despite lingering uncertainty over what charges Chauvin will face. But with prosecutors saying they would file an appeal of their own to halt the selection process until the charges are set, the judge opted to send the jury pool home for the day.

“Realistically, we’re not going to get to any jury selection” on Monday, Cahill said. “We won’t have an answer [on the prosecution’s appeal] until at least tomorrow. So unless any of the parties object, I’m going to kick our jurors loose and start everything tomorrow with jury selection.”

On Friday, an appeals court ordered Cahill to reconsider his original decision to dismiss a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin. Cahill issued Monday’s ruling after he, state prosecutors and Chauvin’s defense team discussed whether the appeals court’s ruling should bring a delay.

Prosecutors warned the judge that moving ahead with jury selection now could create problems in the trial that could lead to an appeal after it ends. They also noted the importance of seating a jury as close as possible to the start of the trial. But Cahill noted that in homicide cases, there is precedent for adding or omitting a charge after a jury is selected.

With the selection process on hold, Cahill said the court would spend the day hearing the legal teams’ preliminary motions, which will set the scope of evidence and testimony for the trial.

The proceedings took place in a Hennepin County courthouse that is heavily guard and barricaded against potential disruptions in Minneapolis, where Floyd’s death last year triggered massive protests. Several hundred people gathered at the court building Monday, in the latest demonstration against police violence and mistreatment of Black people.

Even before the issue of reinstating a third-degree murder charge against Chauvin arose, the trial was expected to last through much of April. Jury selection is expected to last several weeks, as the judge, prosecutors and defense attorneys work to select 12 jurors and up to four alternates. Opening arguments aren’t expected in the case until around March 30.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is leading the state’s case against Chauvin. The former police officer’s defense team is led by Nelson.

Floyd died in police custody last Memorial Day – a tragic incident that was captured on video, inflaming nationwide protests against police brutality and racial inequality that quickly spread around the world. Chauvin held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes. During that time, Floyd was pinned to the asphalt.

Chauvin was arrested four days after Floyd’s death. He and the other three officers who were at the scene — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas K. Lane — were fired one day after Floyd was killed.

Thao, Kueng and Lane face charges of aiding and abetting murder.

(Image credit: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images)

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March 8, 2021 at 11:06AM

Mental Health Courts Come Under Fire From Advocates, Judges

In January, Nebraska became the 46th state to establish a mental health court which offers justice-involved individuals an alternative to incarceration. But as the number of mental health courts in the U.S. has steadily grown over the last 20 years to about 450, judges and advocates say that states shouldn’t solely rely on these courts to prevent the incarceration of people with mental illnesses, reports Law360. A universal model for these courts doesn’t exist and some models implemented by states are better than others. Data shows that mental health courts do reduce recidivism, meaning those participants with mental illness aren’t repeatedly imprisoned and cycled in and out of jails and prisons. According to a 2017 meta-analysis of 17 studies published by Psychiatric Services in Advance, mental health courts reduce recidivism by 20 percent.

But some judges and advocates say that people who commit low-level offenses and have mental health problems should be identified and directed to mental health services without being arrested and filtered through the court system at all. According to studies, the majority of arrests of people who have a mental illness are for nonviolent misdemeanors such as trespassing, loitering or public disturbance. Without specialized training, officers often don’t know how to de-escalate situations that can lead to individuals resisting arrest or unintentionally assaulting officers, which are felonies that come with harsh penalties than nonviolent misdemeanors. In the worst-case scenarios, people who are mentally ill can be injured or killed in these law enforcement encounters.

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March 8, 2021 at 11:11AM

New Cyber Attacks Hit Law Firm Used by Trump, in Rising Threat From State-Sponsored Hackers

Nimble, highly skilled criminal hackers believed to operate out of Eastern Europe hacked dozens of companies and government agencies on at least four continents by breaking into a single product they all used, reports the Associated Press. The two-stage mega-hack in December and January of a popular file-transfer program from the Silicon Valley company Accellion highlights a threat that security experts fear may be getting out of hand: intrusions by top-flight criminal and state-backed hackers into software supply chains and third-party services. The victims include New Zealand’s central bank, Harvard Business School, Australia’s securities regulator, the high-powered U.S. law firm Jones Day — whose clients include former President Donald Trump — the rail freight company CSX, and the Kroger supermarket and pharmacy chain.

The Accellion casualties have kept piling up, meanwhile, with many being extorted by the Russian-speaking Clop cybercriminal gang, which threat researchers believe may have bought pilfered data from the hackers. Their threat: Pay up or we leak your sensitive data online, be it proprietary documents from Canadian aircraft maker Bombardier or lawyer-client communications from Jones Day. Despite claims from countries and backs that Acellion failed to report the breach, the company says it alerted all 320 potentially affected customers with multiple emails beginning on Dec. 22 — and followed up with emails and phone calls. Cybersecurity threat analysts hope the snowballing of supply-chain hacks stuns the software industry into prioritizing security. Otherwise, vendors risk the fate that has befallen SolarWinds.

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March 8, 2021 at 11:26AM

Cheeto dust on teeth leads to burglary arrest in Oklahoma

A burglary suspect was arrested after police said Cheeto dust implicated her in a residential break-in on Friday, Feb. 26.

Tulsa Police responded to a report of a burglary in progress at about 8 p.m. Friday from a residence near 67th Street and South Sheridan Road.

The caller said she was at home with two small children in the house, and said a woman was breaking through a window.

Arriving officers said a screen had been pried off a window, and the suspect had gotten inside before leaving without stealing anything.

Officers said the suspect dropped a bag of Cheetos and a bottle of water near the open window when she fled.

Officers apprehended Sharon Carr in the area, and said the victim identified Carr as the suspect after getting a look at her.

Officers said Carr “was further linked to the crime by Cheeto residue on her teeth.”

Car was arrested for first-degree burglary. No injuries were reported.

MORE:

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March 1, 2021 at 04:39PM

Researchers Link 8% Increase in U.S. Domestic Violence to Pandemic

Stay-at-home orders imposed as a result of the Coronavirus contributed to an increase in cases of domestic violence in the United States, according to a new report by the Council on Criminal Justice.

“Lockdowns and pandemic-related economic impacts may have exacerbated factors typically associated with domestic violence, such as increased unemployment, stress associated with childcare and homeschooling, and increased financial insecurity,” the authors of the report said in their summary.

The link between stay-at-home orders and domestic violence was discovered through a “meta-analysis” of 18 different studies concerning domestic violence cases before and after the rise of the pandemic.

The studies drew data from police crime reports, health records, domestic abuse hotlines, and calls-for-service data. Twelve studies were conducted in the U.S. and the other six were conducted in other countries.

A review of all 18 reports found that domestic violence increased by 7.9 percent after stay-at-home orders were implemented. A review of only the reports from the U.S. found an 8.1 percent increase.

The report also included that the overall mean effect size, or number representing the strength between two claims, was .66, considered a “medium effect.”  Comparatively, the data drawn from U.S. studies had an effect size of .87.

This means that there was at least a medium correlation between the implementation of lockdowns and the rise of domestic violence, and that same correlation became stronger when looking at the U.S. data alone in comparison to the other countries included in the report.

Although not explicitly stated, the report suggests that the increase in cases of domestic violence was likely due to factors heightened from the pandemic, such as financial instability, loss of jobs, problems with childcare and more stress. The pandemic also separated victims from friends, extended family, and others who could have identified an issue and helped survivors get the help that they need.

While the report shows an increase in cases since the lockdown, the authors note that selection bias within police and the healthcare system indicate that a large number of cases still go unreported.

Simply speaking, selection bias refers to the fact that the data collected largely exists for survivors of domestic abuse that volunteered to reach out for help. This neglects the population of victims of sexual assault who aren’t able to safely get help, or have other complicating factors like children involved.

According to the report another necessary step is an investigation into how the increase of domestic violence impacts the lives of children, and to identify short-term and long-term effects that the lockdown has caused in this area.

“Without ongoing data collection and surveillance, it will not be possible to estimate the total burden of domestic violence both during and after the pandemic,” said the report.

The connection between domestic violence and the pandemic has been noted in several other studies this year.

‘Hidden Crisis’

In April, a letter was released by the World Health Organization and over a dozen other organizations calling increased violence against children a “hidden crisis” of the pandemic.

“We must plan ahead together, so that once the immediate health crisis is over, we can get back on track towards the goal of ending all forms of violence, abuse and neglect of children,” said the April letter.

In August, two researchers from the Howard University Department of Economics found a six percent increase in domestic violence cases, signaling to “more than 24,000 individual cases in the U.S. over just seven weeks.”

Then, later in the month, a new report signaled a 7.5 percent increase in cases of domestic violence reported to the police.

Now, months later with an increase of over eight percent in the United States and little end in sight to the coronavirus, the increase in domestic violence cases is unlikely to stop increasing due to continued stress, hardship and close quarters as a result of the pandemic.

In order to slow the increase of situations of domestic violence, more research needs to be done as well as directing “resources to historically marginalized groups and those likely to be disproportionately isolated during the pandemic, including older adults, women, and children with past experiences with violence and abuse, as well as those with ongoing mental illness and chronic health conditions,” said the report.

The report was prepared by Alex R. Piquero, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of the Department of Sociology and Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar at the University of Miami and Professor of Criminology at Monash University in Melbourne Australia;  Wesley G. Jennings, Ph.D., Gillespie Distinguished Scholar, Chair, and Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice & Legal Studies at the University of Mississippi; Erin Jemison, manager at the Crime and Justice Institute; Catherine Kaukinen, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida; and Felicia Marie Knaul, Ph.D., Professor at the Miller School of Medicine and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas at the University of Miami.

The Council on Criminal Justice is nonpartisan criminal justice think tank which works to help understand policy choices and possible solutions to existing criminal justice issues.

Those in a situation of domestic abuse are encouraged to call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Read the full report here.

Emily Riley is a TCR justice reporting intern.

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March 1, 2021 at 08:35AM

“Prisons are getting Whiter. That’s one way mass incarceration might end.”

The title of this post is the headline of this provocative Washington Post commentary authored by Keith Humphreys and Ekow N. Yankah. Here are excerpts:

Research shows that many White Americans see incarceration as a “Black problem,” and the more they see it that way, the less willing they are to do anything about it.  Biden and others might surmount this resistance, however, by highlighting a surprising trend: White Americans have been filling jails and prisons at increasing rates in the 21st century. Reducing incarceration, reformers can credibly argue, will benefit Whites as much as Blacks….

Racial codings of social problems influence public attitudes through two basic processes.  The first is in-group favoritism, which is greater appreciation of and empathy for people we perceive as similar to ourselves.  Such favoritism increases willingness to help a stranger in distress, leave a big tip at a restaurant or grant a promotion at work, among many other kindnesses. In-group favoritism is not limited to race (we can be favorably disposed to someone over something as trivial as sharing a first name or a birthday), and people of all races are prone to it.  But race is clearly one of the many dimensions by which we judge similarity, so that as more White Americans understand that more Whites are behind bars, they may feel increased compassion toward prisoners and voice more support for policies to reduce incarceration.

The other process in play is more disturbing, because it implies an active attempt to harm others.  Sociologists Rachel Wetts and Robb Willer documented that, when told the income gap between White Americans and Black and Latino Americans was shrinking, Whites favored social welfare programs that they believed particularly helped other Whites. But they became less supportive of programs that they thought particularly helped minorities.  Wetts and Willer concluded that perceived threats to the racial hierarchy drive White opposition to helping Black Americans.  The same Whites who recoiled at a Black man rising to the presidency, for example, might oppose prison reforms (shorter sentences, better health care, early release for the sick and elderly) precisely because they believe that the beneficiaries will mainly be Black. Informing such people that prisoners are increasingly White could soften their hostility.

Persuading people to join the fight against mass incarceration because Whites stand to benefit is bound to repulse those already committed to the cause.  But because each state runs its own prison system and sets most criminal penalties, building a nationwide coalition is essential.  That can happen only by shifting the opinion of people who are not moved by — or indeed are even comforted by — the thought of prison populations being mostly Black. And exploding the idea that mass incarceration is only a “Black problem” may allow us to reimagine a broad range of other issues, such as the policing that helps feed it….

In the effort to control Black and Brown people through the criminal justice system, White Americans have shown a stunning willingness to tolerate a huge number of White prisoners as collateral damage.  And once such systems are built, they have a remarkable capacity for self-preservation; jail populations, for instance, have stayed constant even as crime has plummeted.  So we cannot say how well a strategy drawing attention to the Whitening trend will work. In his book “Dying of Whiteness,” physician Jonathan Metzl argues that White people’s racial resentment can lead them to cut off their nose to spite their face — opposing policies that would help them because they would help Black citizens, too. Indeed, numerous economists have concluded that America’s long history of hostility toward Black people has left it the sole advanced economy without some form of universal health care.  If some White Americans are willing to give up health care to keep their place in the racial hierarchy, perhaps they are willing to risk imprisonment as well.  Yet the reversal in rhetoric during the opioid crisis shows that entrenched policies can be changed.

What’s more, in a remarkable moment of convergence, libertarians, religious leaders and racial-justice advocates oppose mass incarceration for separate but overlapping reasons.  Were our country more just and less dismissive of Black pain, growing White incarceration would have no special weight in assessing the moral value of locking up more than 2 million of our fellow citizens.  Opponents of mass incarceration — including Biden — should continue to denounce racism within the criminal justice system.  But the president can also remind Americans that our racial fates are joined: All of us would benefit from the end of mass incarceration.

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February 28, 2021 at 11:33PM

Privacy Experts: Sensor Devices Threaten ‘New Age of Excessive Police Surveillance’

The increased use of Ring doorbell cameras and similar devices in criminal investigations threatens to  “usher in a new age of excessive police surveillance” say privacy advocates.

And they could also be dangerous for law enforcement.

Last month a suspect fired on FBI agents who were approaching his door to serve a search warrant, reports The Washington Post.

The use of a camera – although not specified as a Ring camera, likely gave the suspect a warning that the officers were arriving.

Devices like Ring,  along with many competitors, are cheap, motion-activated cameras that alert residents of a home when someone is on or near their doorstep,

Although traditionally created to give residents of a home a sense of security, the cameras have become a staple in criminal investigations, garnering more than 20,000 police requests for footage last year alone from Ring cameras.

According to the Washington Post, over 2,000 police departments have partnerships with Ring, allowing for officers to request footage from any residence that occurs within a half square mile radius of a crime.

Similar competing brands of doorbell surveillance cameras often do not have the same agreements with police that Ring has.

While officers are free to request that footage, residents are not required to provide the video footage or even respond to an officer’s request.

In fact, officers in the article compared requesting Ring video footage to going door-knocking through a neighborhood where a crime was committed – if the person doesn’t want to comment, they just don’t answer their door.

This however doesn’t change the fact that Ring cameras can capture everything, whether it’s a violent crime happening right outside your door or your neighbor’s 10-year-old son riding by on their bike.

The cameras “highlight the growing way public authorities are capitalizing on privately run camera networks and databases,” said Matthew Guariglia, said an analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation .

“Homeowners probably would object if police officers installed a high-resolution camera aimed at their front door. But they may not object when their neighbors do the installing, even though the end result is the same; in fact, many people pay to do it themselves.”

In addition to capturing day-to-day life in a neighborhood, constant surveillance also means that people can be caught on camera while peacefully protesting without their consent.

While Ring doesn’t allow police requests for footage of peaceful or lawful protests, police departments can still find ways to work around it, as evident by the LAPD in the Washington Post piece, who requested footage of a peaceful protest to identify perpetrators of “physical injuries and property crimes.”

LAPD requested Ring footage during Black Lives Matter protests that occurred during May and June last year, said an EFF report. This brings up concerns of whether or not the existence of Ring cameras imposes on the First Amendment Right to peacefully protest.

“People are less likely to exercise their right to political speech, protest, and assembly if they know that police can get video of these actions with just an email to people with Ring cameras,” said Guariglia.

While providing officers with potential crime footage or help identifying a perpetrator, the cameras don’t always work in favor of the police.

Cases such as the individual who fired on officers he saw approaching his door, as well as those where officers are investigating possible domestic abuse, mental health issues and other sensitive situations can pose a threat to officers tending to the situation.

“Just the act of knocking on someone’s door can be dangerous. They’re trained how to do that. But this introduces another cautionary note for how that technology can have unintended consequences,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director for Police Executive Research Forum, told the Washington Post.

The Ring company also offers an app called “Neighbors,” which allows for Ring users in a neighborhood to share footage that they deem suspicious.

While this can be helpful for identifying lost pets or finding footage of a person stealing packages off your doorstep, it also runs the risk of racial profiling.

NextDoor, a social media platform that allows for residents in a neighborhood to report suspicious activity, has suffered claims of racial profiling from users who report “sketchy” or “suspicious” behavior.

The Neighbors feature of Ring has the same potential as NextDoor, but with the addition of actual footage taken of a person – without their consent – uploaded to a social platform.

Like other surveillance devices, Ring owners also face the risk of hacking, the company even facing claims of sharing data with third parties, said an article by the Guardian.

See also: Police and Fire Departments in 48 states Involved in Amazon’s Ring Program.

Emily Riley is a TCR justice reporting intern.

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March 2, 2021 at 11:04AM

Accused Capitol Rioter Who Wanted to ‘Participate in Anarchy’ Dared the Feds to Investigate ‘Deez Nuts.’ They Did.

As a mob of pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, one alleged rioter dared authorities on Facebook to investigate “deez nuts.” Nearly two months and multiple government informants later, federal prosecutors followed through on that with criminal charges against the man they say was behind that post.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Washington, D.C. federal court, closed circuit camera footage and several videos posted to Facebook show James Matthew Horning inside the Capitol Building during of the riot. Like many others arrested for their role in the melee, Horning showed no remorse, appearing to revel in his actions and providing authorities with self-incriminating evidence on social media.

In a Facebook post commenting on the events of Jan. 6, an account authorities believe belongs to Horning said he was “proud” to have taken part in the riots before defiantly calling for an investigation.

“To anyone on my list who has a problem with what happened in DC today…I am damn proud I was there. If you have a problem with that, hit the inbox if you want.. or use the unfriend feature if you ain’t bout it. Those of you calling for an investigation, why don’t you try investigating deez nuts with ya chin,” he wrote.

Horning’s account also posted five videos titled “Videos from DC” which depicting him and others at the Capitol that day, and appeared to have no problems publicly discussing his specific motivations for attending.

“I’m curious why you went to DC: just a show or actual intent to violently overthrow the election? Legit question,” a Facebook user asked Horning.

“3 reasons… to be there when history happens,” Horning replied. “To participate in anarchy. To smoke weed in government buildings…..The real reason was to intimidate congress…they have a 9% approval rating. We accomplished that. Maybe they will work on that because they know we could have got them and have mercy.”

One of the other videos posted to Horning’s account showed him smoking what the affidavit described as “an unknown substance.” In the footage, Horning says “Fuck it, smoking a joint on the Capitol steps right now.”

Responding to a meme someone posted on Facebook asserting that rioters would have been treated differently if they were Black, Horning said: “There were black people in the crowd. I was there. I let one of them hit the joint that I rolled and fired up in the chambers.”

Horning is facing charges of knowingly entering and remaining in a restricted building without legal authority, knowingly intending to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government, and knowingly engaging in conduct with the intent to disrupt a session of Congress.

Read the full criminal complaint below.

James Mathew Horning Charge by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via criminal complaint]

The post Accused Capitol Rioter Who Wanted to ‘Participate in Anarchy’ Dared the Feds to Investigate ‘Deez Nuts.’ They Did. first appeared on Law & Crime.

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March 1, 2021 at 03:43PM

Federal Prosecutors Oppose Dismissing Steve Bannon’s Indictment Despite Trump Pardon — Here’s Why

As the recipient of an eleventh hour pardon from Donald Trump, the 45th president’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon received no protest to closing the case against him, but federal prosecutors opposed dismissing his indictment as a matter of record in a surprise letter on Thursday.

“For the reasons set forth below, while the government does not object to administratively terminating Bannon from the case or exonerating his bail, the government does oppose Bannon’s request that the indictment itself be dismissed as to him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos wrote in a two-page motion.

Before Trump pardoned away fraud and money laundering charges against him—but not those against his accused accomplices—Bannon had been awaiting trial on allegations that he pocketed $1 million from a non-profit called We Build the Wall, which crowdfunded some $25 million and vowed that every penny would construct a barrier on the U.S. Mexico border.

The charity’s founder Brian Kolfage and other officers Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea received no clemency and continue to await trail.

“Similarly, the Government has no objection to the Court entering an order exonerating Bannon’s bail,” the government’s letter states. “However, the government respectfully submits that the pardon granted to Bannon is not a basis to dismiss the Indictment against him. A pardon “is ‘an executive action that mitigates or sets aside punishment for a crime.’”

Citing the case Nixon v. United States for that proposition, prosecutors italicized the punishment to emphasize that the pardon does not wash away the grand jury’s allegations.

“The fact that Bannon was pardoned does not extinguish the fact that a grand jury found probable cause to believe that he committed the offenses set forth in the Indictment, nor does it undercut the evidence of his involvement therein which the Government expects to elicit as part of its presentation at trial,” their letter states. “Were the Court to dismiss the Indictment against Bannon, it could have a broader effect than the pardon itself, among other things potentially relieving Bannon of certain consequences not covered by the pardon.”

Among the flurry of second-order effects, prosecutors itemized precedents finding that a pardon did not wipe out how an indictment would affect a broker application, attorneys’ fees and permits.

“Accordingly, because Bannon does not set forth any legal authority for the proposition that a court should dismiss an indictment following a pardon, and the only stated basis for his request is to “clarify” his status, the court should deny the request,” the letter states.

Prosecutors also asked that Bannon’s letter from Feb. 18, just one week ago, be filed on the public docket.

“Bannon’s counsel submitted the letter to the Court by email—and therefore effectively under seal—because, in his view, ‘Bannon should no longer be a defendant in the case,’” the letter continues. “However, until the defendant is administratively terminated, he remains a named defendant and more important, Bannon’s status in the case is not a basis to make his submission under seal.”

On Wednesday, CNN reported that a state criminal investigation against Bannon is heating up right across the street from the federal court.

Bannon’s counsel did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

This is a developing story…

Read the prosecutors’ letter below:

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The post Federal Prosecutors Oppose Dismissing Steve Bannon’s Indictment Despite Trump Pardon — Here’s Why first appeared on Law & Crime.

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February 25, 2021 at 09:10PM

What Happened When Life Sentences Got Out of Control

A new study shows that the number of Americans sentenced to life in prison has more than doubled since the early 1990s, even though violent crime declined for the bulk of that period. And before you try to argue that crime was declining because of those stiff sentences, examine the numbers: The drop in crime began well before sentence lengths started skyrocketing.

The report was authored by Ashley Nellis, a senior research analyst at the Sentencing Project. It found that one in seven U.S. prisoners—roughly 200,000 people—are currently serving a life sentence. This includes those sentenced to life without parole, life with parole, and virtual life (50-plus years). That is more than twice the number of people handed life sentences than when violent crime peaked in 1992.

“The unyielding expansion of life imprisonment in recent decades transpired because of changes in law, policy, and practice that lengthened sentences and limited parole,” writes Nellis. “The downward trend in violence in America that continues today was already underway when the country adopted its most punitive policies, including the rapid expansion of life sentences.”

One result of these policies is an aging prison population. A Pew Poll found that from 1996 to 2016, the number of people aged 55 or older in state and federal prisons increased by 280 percent, ballooning from 3 to 11 percent of the total prison population. This trend is even more exaggerated among those with life sentences. Currently, 30 percent of people serving life are 55 or older.

“The number and proportion of aging men and women behind bars began to increase in the mid-1990s, as a result of tough-on-crime laws—mandatory minimum sentences, ‘three strikes,’ and life sentences,” Human Rights Watch reports. “Parole was eliminated in many places, and even where it exists, the criteria for release are too narrow and officials are reluctant to use it fully.”

Nellis argues that elderly prisoners who are serving life sentences have often been incarcerated for decades and have aged past the point of threatening public safety.

“Analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data shows the peak age of arrest for robbery is 19, declining by more than half by the late twenties,” Nellis wrote. “Likewise, the peak age for murder is 20, a rate that is more than halved by one’s 30s and is less than one quarter of its peak by one’s 40s.”

Nellis pointed out that even among the small number of prisoners considered chronic offenders—that is, people who have committed multiple serious crimes—most no longer engage in criminal behavior after their late 30s.

Medical conditions associated with aging tend to develop sooner in prison, Nellis says. Imprisoned people are diagnosed with disproportionately high rates of cancer, arthritis, hypertension, dementia, and declines in mental health. Older prisoners are also vulnerable to violence and victimization from younger ones.

“The urgency of this crisis grows ever greater as the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately jeopardizes the lives of older Americans in prison,” Nellis argues. “Reoffending by persons released after serving long terms is rare, making the need for expediting releases for older lifers the only humane public health and public safety approach.”

In addition to the humanitarian issues, there is a fiscal cost to incarcerating the elderly. Federal facilities spend five times more on medical treatment for older people. At the state level, the median cost per prisoner is 37 percent higher in the 10 states with the highest share of inmates 55 and older.

Because more than half of those incarcerated are serving sentences for violent crimes, many sentence reform proposals fall short by focusing on low-level and nonviolent crimes, said Nellis. To address this, her report suggests capping sentences at 20 years “except in rare circumstances based on individualized determination”—with the determination based on the individual’s behavior in prison.

via Criminal Justice – Reason.com https://reason.com

February 25, 2021 at 03:47PM