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Not So Funny: Project Turn Around

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So Al Sharpton, Andrew Young, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, and Fulton Superior Judge Marvin Arrington walk into a courtroom. . .

There is no punchline.  They walked into a courtroom to hold yet another courthouse special event for yet another group of criminal defendants who were having their crimes excused, who then failed to avail themselves of all the special tutoring and counseling and mentoring provided to them in lieu of sentencing, all paid for by us, the taxpayers.  What is going on in the courts?  Here is the press release from Paul Howard’s office:

On May 22, 2008, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office joined by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Marvin Arrington unveiled a pilot program designed to clean our streets of rampant, unchecked illegal drug activity. With its innovative programming, this endeavor entitled Project Turn Around . . . [will] provide an opportunity for young drug dealers, with limited criminal histories, a chance to remove themselves from illegal drug activity . . . Project Turn Around is an intensive 12-month program that will provide these young men with drug counseling, G.E.D. classes, job training, family counseling, enrichment courses, life skills training and other social services. . . Fourteen young men, between the ages of 17-25 years old, were officially entered into the program on May 22 with an additional six more program participants enrolling within that same week.

To say that they did not change the landscape of Fulton County is apparently an understatement, according to this comment by a community member who volunteered to mentor the youths assigned to Project Turn Around.  In fact, the post by this person, who goes by “Nich,” challenges pretty much everything the D.A. said about the Project.  The comment appeared in an interesting Atlanta Journal Constitution discussion about crime:

I joined a group called “Project Turnaround” as a council member. (volunteer PO, basically.) This was a program to help these participants/offenders get back on track monitored by the DA’s office. Most every offender was recommended by the council members to be exempted from the program/put back in jail, for repeat offenses. Nothing was done. My participant, for example, never went to the classes, continued to sell drugs and was shot in during a drug deal gone bad. Why was he not thrown out of the program and into jail? The DA’s office eventually just walked away from the program, but the kicker…NONE, NADA, 0% of the participants were put into jail. They basically were given “get out of jail free cards!” They are roaming the streets worse off today, because they don’t believe they will ever receive consequences. Sadly, all evidence supports that theory.

So the D.A. failed to prosecute — how many?  20 repeat offenders?  “Nich” also reports an extremely troubling exchange with another D.A.:

The courts are a very big problem, especially with regard to minors. A lot of the offenders are young. Evidently, there is a 12-step program (you get 12 strikes before you are out) that applies to all minors, per Zone 3 DA. So if a 16 year old boy walks into my home, slays my husband and robs us, is that strike 7?

The public deserves some answers from Paul Howard (not to mention Arrington):

  • How many of the 20 enrolled youths failed to complete Project Turn Around?
  • How many were then prosecuted for the crimes that brought them to your attention in the first place, as you pledged to do?  As is your job, for that matter?
  • How many of these youths were arrested for additional crimes while “enrolled” in Project Turn Around?
  • How many of those crimes have been prosecuted?
  • What were the actual arrest records for the 20 participants prior to their enrollment in Project Turn Around: what constitutes a “limited criminal history”?
  • Is it true that your office has a policy of giving minors multiple passes — 2 or 5 or 12 “get out of jail free” cards — before you actually bother to prosecute them?

And don’t forget these easily-overlooked questions:

  • Who got paid for this?  Where did the money come from?
  • Is this failed attempt at rehabilitation going to be evaluated and dutifully entered into the academic literature on the efficacy of alternative sentencing programs, or is the whole mess just going to be swept under the rug?

~~~

It isn’t just the Fulton County D.A. who stands accused of failing to bother to prosecute serious crimes: over at the blog Dekalb Officers, cops and others are weighing in about multiple failures to prosecute violent offenders in DeKalb County, too.  The pattern of complaints about Dekalb D.A. Gwen Keyes resembles the complaints about Paul Howard, and both are extremely troubling.  Here are just a few:

Thank Gwen for taking years to indict!! When you don’t even get an indictment within a year or two of the crime, what chance does the state have at trial?? Remember, it is the STATE who was to bring in all of the witnesses and evidence. Try finding reports, evidence, and witnesses years after a crime took place. The more time that passes, the easier it is to get a not guilty verdict. Why do you think defense attorneys in DeKalb rarely demand a speedy trial?? It only happens if their client is unable to make bond. If their client is out, they know every day that goes by is to the defense’s advantage. But our DA’s and Judges don’t care.  The dirtbag who dumped his baby son in the sewer committed an armed robbery and kidnapping at a business over a year ago. He STILL hasn’t been indicted!! Defense attorneys like to say, “Indictments don’t mean anything. You can get an indictment against a sandwich.” Apparently, not with our DA’s office!! They can’t be bothered to bring violent criminals up for indictment within a reasonable amount of time!

And:

Most cases are pending for years. They usually get NOLLE PROSCESS.

And:

Take a look at the recent arrest in DeKalb County of a worthless coward who killed three people, including a three year old child. The perp has 5 different felony arrests in his past. Some have multiple felony charges. Guess how many indictments he has? ZERO!! Way to go Gwen!! Maybe if you indicted him on ONE or TWO cases, that three year old child might be alive today!

And this comment, which makes the important point that police officers’ lives are particularly endangered when offenders face no consequences in the courts:

Detectives have a good phrase for the D.A. Office and the Judges…..they plead guilty and guess what ……..TIME SERVE AND PROBATION. They get a second chance to steal again or rob you with a gun.

~~~

There are many reasons why programs like Project Turn Around fail. One of them, surely, is the confidence offenders must feel in knowing that they won’t face real consequences if they don’t bother to follow the rules.  Every young man who entered that program apparently failed to complete it.  Did anything get accomplished, other than reinforcing the participants’ sense of invulnerability?

In the current courtroom culture, any program like Project Turn Around is just one more free ride.

But this particular initiative is even more troubling.  It appears to have encouraged offenders to view themselves as victims of the justice system:

During the unveiling of the program, Judge Arrington told the young men, “I want to make sure before I send somebody to jail for an extended period of time that I’ve done everything I can do to make them a better person.” In addition to hearing from the judge, the young men were addressed by the Honorable Andrew Young, former Atlanta mayor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton.

First of all, it’s not Arrington’s job to “make people into better people.”  That’s a nice sentiment, one we can all agree with, but Marvin Arrington’s job is to enforce the law.

Second, what, precisely, was Al Sharpton doing there?  He has committed anti-Semitic and unapologetically racist acts, and his followers, encouraged by his rhetoric, have burned down businesses, threatened witnesses, rioted, and committed murders.  He is anti-cop, and his appearance at the side of Fulton County’s District Attorney sends a disturbing message to every police officer on Atlanta’s streets.

What’s the matter with Howard, in his position, agreeing to associate with the likes of Sharpton?

More mundanely, Al Sharpton has repeatedly demonstrated contempt for the justice system in cases filed against him.  After being found guilty of slander and defamatory statements in his false accusations of rape against a Dutchess County prosecutor, Sharpton disgracefully refused to pay the damages the court ordered him to pay.  The Federal Elections Commission found that he broke election finance laws — apparently with few consequences for him.

Most recently, he shockingly advocated for the release of four men who raped, sodomized and beat a Haitian immigrant in Miami, forced the woman to perform sex acts on her 12-year old son, and then doused them both with household cleansers and tried to set them on fire.

He went from that performance to Marvin Arrington’s courtroom a few months later, ostensibly to encourage young offenders to become better people.  What message did that appearance really send?  Something like this:

Don’t worry about following the law, because if you don’t, nothing will happen to you.  Look at me: I have no respect for the law and I’m rich and famous and on TV.  I hang out with your judge and your prosecutor, who admire me, even though I side with violent rapists and murderers and against the innocent people they torment.  You are the victims of an unjust system and deserve to be set free.

Is it any wonder that the young defendants did not bother to take Project Turn Around seriously?  No courtroom program featuring Al Sharpton should be taken seriously.  Of course everyone wants young offenders to be rehabilitated.  But the public deserves safety, and this is just craziness.

Marvin Arrington and Paul Howard are up for re-election in 2010.

Judicial Outrage in Burke County(GA), and a Judicial “Oversight” Problem

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I received the following e-mail last week from a woman named Jessica Brantley.  This is yet another outrageous story of judicial leniency — involving Jack Bailey, the man who killed Jessica’s father while high on drugs.  Judge Carl Overstreet gave the killer probation for vehicular homicide despite his previous record of DUIs.  Then he let him go on an out-of-state hunting trip (!) before the probation started.  Then he let him out of the probation early.  Then Bailey got nailed for DUI again.

What can we do to hold judges responsible when they act in this manner?

Well, the governing body overseeing judges in Georgia is the Council of Superior Court Judges.  Maybe we could contact them and ask them to look into Judge Carl Overstreet’s actions in and after 2002.

There’s just one problem.  In 2002, Judge Carl Overstreet was the president of the Georgia Council of Superior Court Judges.

So we’d have to ask him to investigate himself.

I’m really at a loss.  Does anybody have any suggestions to help Jessica and her family?  Are there people in Augusta who could attend Jack Bailey’s next hearing and send a message that the community is watching?  I wish the judge would explain his motives.  I hope the media picks up this story, and I’ll have more on this later.  Here is Jessica’s letter:

Folks say that I should contact you with this information regarding a DUI arrest that was made on William Jack Bailey. I’ll try to make a long story short, but about [seven years] ago Jack Bailey killed my father in a motor vehicle accident. Some background: We all live in Burke County… On the date of the wreck, Oct. 5th 2002, Jack Bailey had MDMA & crystal meth in his system and was speeding around 80-90 mph when he hit my dad. He says my dad ran a stop sign, but I don’t really believe that. Anyway, we found out that Jack Bailey has been arrested twice before for DUI, but pled guilty to reckless driving w/o consequence. When his trial came up in Burke County, Judge Carl Overstreet let him plead guilty to a felony vehicular homicide. Knowing Jack’s record, Overstreet gave Jack 10 years probation…. BUT Jack didn’t have to start it until he got back from his HUNTING TRIP IN NEVADA. He violated his probation repeatedly & we reported it, but nothing happened. In Feb. ’08 he asked to be released from his probation (btw he retained his license and he shouldn’t have). At this hearing, my family showed up and testified how we & friends witnessed Jack violate probation. He said he would take the matter under advisement & let us know if anything changed (this was only 2 years into his probation). Sometime around May “09 Overstreet filed a change that terminated Jack’s probation… w/o notifying us. July 3rd “09 Jack Bailey was again arrested for a DUI. He had a truckload of passengers, some minors. All but one girl had been drinking & Jack was driving. He spent the night in jail… bailed out the next morning. Now, Captain Paquette has had to fight w/ Jack’s fancy attorney b/c he wants to plead reckless driving again (like the two of the 4 he has).
To make things even more stinky…. when the arresting officer looked up Jack’s driving record, it was clean…. which obviously it shouldn’t be. He had to do a criminal investigation to uncover everything I just told you.

**This case reeks of judicial corruption. Captain Patrick Paquette is really fired up about it, and for the first time I feel like someone actually cares besides my family. I would really like for you to investigate this, b/c now I hear Jack Bailey has been telling all his friends that his lawyer is going to get him out of this one too. That scares me, but I’m trying to keep faith that this time he will be put in prison.

Please consider reporting on this. If you want to see how this case has charged our community, you should friend my brother on Facebook. Read his note “Bad Judges, Bad People.” We’ve had to erase a lot of posts that reference Mr. Bailey’s children, but it shows how tired Burke County is of the Good Ole Boy System.

http://forum.gon.com/showthread.php?p=3971756

I have documents also, if this is something you’re interested in investigating let me know and I’ll get them to you.

Thank you,
Jessica Brantley

What can we do to help?  This family deserves justice!

The Genesis of a Lie: How Brutal Killers Become Victims, Part 4

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On September 4, the jury in the Denise Lee murder trial returned a verdict of death for the man who kidnapped, raped, and murdered her, Michael King.  The next day the Sarasota Herald Tribune ran a story detailing the travails King would face on death row, such as limited access to exercise and no air conditioning:

Air conditioning is forbidden on death row, so inmates mostly keep still.  “It’s awful,” said the Rev. Larry Reimer, who has visited for 27 years to minister to a death row inmate. “It is hotter there than you permit animals to be kept.”

Yes, and how was Denise Lee treated?

What on earth would inspire the Tribune to run such a story?  It is advocacy, not news.  It insults the victim’s family to run a puff piece about their daughter’s killer just one day after they endured an horrific trial.  The Tribune waxes poetic about the plight of killers, gawkingly calling death row “still life with concrete.”

King should take note: he would do well to start writing poetry himself, as so many of these thugs do, and thus attract audiences of journalist-groupies, leftist nuns, college presidents, and minister-types who derive self-importance by chattering about the special insights they gain while peering into the souls of men who destroy other people’s lives:

[Rev. Larry] Reimer also has seen the recently arrived death row inmates. He may not know their names, but he knows the look.  “The young men who’ve just come there, they look like they don’t know how they’re going to cope with this.”

In my opinion, if these ministers were really tending to killers’ souls, they wouldn’t grandstand about it.  Wouldn’t the desired ethical response to killing be humility and shame?  This sort of talk isn’t really about killer’s souls, though — or their coping skills.  It is about the speaker positioning himself as morally superior: it is about judging and condemning the rest of us for not seeing the special spark he imagines he sees when he peers into Michael King’s eyes.

The same applies to journalists.  When reporters write about death row, there is often a tone of titillation — porn or fetish — about it.  You sense thrill and self-righteousness, and frissons of identification with powerfully bad men, in all the painstaking descriptions of the walls, the floors, the food, the recounted last meals.  Conditions are pretty crummy for non-violent offenders in prison too — more crummy, because they are targeted by the violent ones — but small-time offenders are small potatoes.  Who wants to identify with a pickpocket?

I remember one particularly disturbing article from some years back, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, in which an activist defense lawyer carried on about how he treasured this little scale-model death row cell one of his clients had crocheted for him — with a little bunk and little slippers, and so on — no mention, of course, of the little lives the man had taken to end up there, or the danger he posed to other inmates and guards.

Sure enough, it doesn’t take long for the Tribune reporter to solemnly invoke Michael King’s dietary restrictions.  It’s intoxicating, a real safari through environs that would doubtlessly improve if inmates were not actually murderous sociopaths:

Their meals are delivered to them, along with the plastic sporks that are the only cutlery they can use.

And this, bizarre, detail:

The ingredients for an inmate’s last meal must cost no more than $40 and be available locally.

~~~

Then the reporter turns to Juan Melendez, who was released from death row, to describe his experience on death row.  The message is clear: not only is death row terrible, but the people on it are probably innocent.  To do this in the wake of King’s trial is repugnant.

Nobody thinks Michael King is innocent: it isn’t even an issue.  So why didn’t the reporter interview somebody who is on death row for a crime he did commit?  What happened to Melendez is a tragedy, even if he helped bring it on himself, as most of these men do, by committing other crimes and choosing bad criminal running buddies.  In any case, there is no justification for aggressively bringing Melendez’ activism into a story about this vicious murderer, except that the reporter clearly feels that everyone on death row is a victim of injustice:

Juan Melendez, who was exonerated and released in January 2002 after 17 years, 8 months and one day on death row, remembers the hopelessness and the roaches and rats. He also remembers the camaraderie with other inmates. He got to know them in the exercise yard, and by chatting cell-to-cell.

They taught Melendez how to speak English. They also taught him how to get a plastic trash bag from a trusty and hang yourself with it from the towel rack that is one of a handful of furnishings in a death row cell.

“I had to wet the floor and sleep on the floor. That’s how hot it was,” Melendez said.

At 5 a.m., Melendez said, the trusties put the breakfast trays into metal slots in each cell.

“If you wait five seconds to get the tray, you ran out of luck,” he said. “The roaches beat you to it. They were waiting for breakfast, too.”

How touching: they’re English teachers.  And bathetic references to hanging: one can only presume that these earnest “teachers of English, etc.” were better at killing other people than hanging themselves, because they aren’t dead, right?  I’m sure I will receive angry mail accusing me of lacking empathy for these men.  But why are we hearing about camaraderie among a group of men who have committed heinous crimes, in the wake of what Denise Lee suffered, without also being told about the crimes they committed?

Who cares if they are depressed?  This is sentimentality predicated on disappearing victims from the story.  How could the Tribune publish this one day after King’s conviction?

~~~

Well, there is “how,” and there is “why.” The “why ” comes next, with another anecdote about another killer, weirdly cobbled onto an article about Michael King:

After 14 years of legal arguments, attorneys in the south region succeeded in getting a prisoner off of death row last week.

David Lee Thomas, 43, convicted of murder and attempted robbery in Lee County in 1991, is mentally retarded — a “mitigating” fact that his defense attorneys did not raise at his trial. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled it unconstitutional to execute people who are mentally retarded.

The lead defense attorney in the Thomas case, Rachel Day, negotiated a settlement with prosecutors that will move Thomas off death row and into general population. He will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

“He knows that serving a life sentence, the conditions will be considerably better for him than they were on death row,” Day said. “He’ll have a lot more freedom to work, to study, to walk, to exercise, than he would on death row, which is extremely confined.”

The implication is clear: merely one day after the people of Sarasota sentenced Michael King to death for his crimes, the Sarasota Herald Tribune began its campaign to oppose the will of the people and “rescue” King from death row.

Expect more stories linking King to other allegedly retarded offenders, allegedly innocent offenders, and offenders who were allegedly insufficiently represented.  Expect King to join other killers who are promoted as innocent victims of a brutal American system by activists in Canada and Europe — see here for David Lee Thomas’ fan club, which makes no mention of his crime, just as the Tribune avoided all but the briefest mention of it.  He was a repeat felon, of course, released from prison just prior to committing murder.  His victim’s name cannot be found anywhere, but he appears as a victim in several places.

Expect Denise Amber Lee to fade from memory, as Michael King takes her place.

They’ll show us.

This Week, I am in Sunday Paper

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See my article on leniency in Atlanta’s courts here.

The Genesis of a Lie: How Brutal Killers Become Victims, Part 2

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With so many opportunities to exclude evidence, and so few ways to get it admitted, it is only the most unlucky offenders who ever see the inside of a courtroom.  This terrible reality is what many journalists and defense attorneys call the genius of our system, though, of course, it doesn’t feel that way when it is your daughter or wife begging for her life.

~~~

Michael King was on the road to being lucky until his victim, Denise Lee, set out to prove that he was committing a terrible crime.  Lee, a twenty-one year old who had been kidnapped in front of her two infant boys, then brutalized, raped, and informed that she was going to be murdered by King, somehow possessed the composure to hide her ring in his car so that police would find it there.  She also opened King’s cell phone and called 911 while trying to engage him in a conversation that would lead police to his car.

Denise Lee’s father was a police officer, so she probably knew how difficult it would be to get evidence of her own impending murder admitted into a courtroom.  In essence, she spent the last hours of her life trying to overcome the games defense attorneys would later play with her death.

Thanks to Denise Lee’s bravery, Michael King entered the courtroom with virtually no chance of being acquitted.  But in our warped system of criminal justice, the defense attorneys still had games to play and tax dollars to burn — something they seize with impunity whenever a conviction is not really in doubt.  So what should have been a brief and straightforward trial threatened to become a costly spectacle, just as the Brian Nichols trial was a spectacle: an opportunity for defense attorneys to manipulate the system while shrilly claiming to be defending higher principles.

Defense attorneys get away with this behavior largely because they get a free pass from their fans in the press box, who do not even feign objectivity.

During the King trial, a reporter for the Sarasota Herald Tribune stooped to posting mash notes about courthouse “sightings” of his favorite defense attorney on the trial blog, as if he were attending a rock concert, rather than the trial for the rape and murder of a young mother.  That’s simply grotesque.  That undermines the credibility of the newspaper.

But it isn’t unusual.  Defense bias is pervasive in some newsrooms, the Sarasota Herald Tribune being one.  While other local papers stuck to reporting the details of the King trial, the Tribune busied itself manufacturing an ornate case for the defense, presenting their tactics and arguments thinly disguised as news stories.

Thus, jury selection was covered via a series of articles questioning when, or if, jurors can ever possibly be objective.  Before the trial even started, the Trib’s favorite defense experts were already using the paper to paint a picture of King as the victim of an unfair system.

“Attorneys to Look for Internet Bias in Lee Case,” one headline blared:

Community outrage over the abduction, rape and murder of North Port mother Denise Lee simmered for months on online bulletin boards and chatrooms.

Now, attorneys for the man charged with Lee’s murder are going to ask potential jurors if they used the Internet to discuss the crime. . .

“They need to ask if the guy has a Facebook page, if he Twitters, if he has a Web name he uses,” said Art Patterson, a jury consultant and social psychologist based in Sarasota. “We sure want to know, because people say things in there they’d never admit in court.”

The answers could help decide who sits on the jury, and whether the case remains in Sarasota County. . .

In court papers filed this week, King’s attorneys argue that media coverage and strong reaction to the crime online have added to an atmosphere that makes it impossible for him to get a fair trial here.

Well, of course jury consultants for the defense want to know these things.  Their job is to put as many people as possible on the jury who are biased towards the defense.  That type of juror bias is not included in the article.  The reporter only worries about jurors who express pro-conviction sentiments.  He quotes not one, but two experts echoing his worry.

One of the “experts” is the subject of the mash note mentioned above.

The reporter is the mash note’s author.

In another Herald Tribune article about jury selection in the King trial, another defense attorney is given front-page license to scold the public for their presumed inability to be as fair as — say — defense attorneys:

[J]urors already have a hard time with the idea that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, defense attorney Betsy Young said.  “They’re required to walk in saying, there’s an innocent man sitting there,” Young said.

Actually, that is not true.  Jurors are not required to walk into the courtroom believing a defendant is innocent.  Jurors are required to suspend their judgment of the defendant’s innocence or guilt, listen to the evidence, then draw conclusions based only on that evidence.  To allege that jurors must know nothing in order to be fair is to imply that no defendant could possibly get a fair trial. 

The Tribune let this wild misrepresentation stand as “reporting.”

~~~

After the trial was over, and the jury took all of half of an afternoon to find Michael King guilty of the crime for which he was obviously guilty, the Trib mounted its soapbox for the defense again.  This time, their goal was to help create the impression that Michael King was incompetent.  They did so with long, drawn-out articles detailing every aspect of the defense’s case for incompetence but barely mentioning the prosecution’s challenges to these claims.

This “evidence” supporting King’s alleged incompetence is bizarre:

Defense attorneys will stress a different side of King that jurors heard all this week during the penalty phase: a man whose childhood sledding injury at age 6 set up a lifetime of diminished mental capacity.  King was described as a good father of a 13-year-old son, a good boyfriend and a good plumber, whose buzzing headaches and “zoning out” increased along with the stress of losing his girlfriend and house. . .

Rodney King said he attributed virtually all of his brother’s problems, including seeing things that were not there, going into a trance-like state, getting lost while driving and hearing buzzing in his head, to a head injury Michael King suffered during a sledding accident as a child. . .

James King said his son had learning problems, especially with spelling and math. He recalled one time when Michael King asked for help in writing out numbers on a check and had to ask his then 11-year-old son for help.

And here:

[M]uch of Tuesday’s testimony came from Dr. Joseph Wu, an expert brought in by the defense who said King’s suffered a brain injury as a child that left him less able to follow society’s rules. People with similar injuries to their frontal lobes have trouble separating fantasy from reality, Wu said, and tend to be paranoid and act out under stress.  King was 6 years old when he was injured. Riding a sled being pulled by a snowmobile, his head slammed into a big wooden beam. His brothers said the snowmobile was going between 40 mph and 80 mph.  In court, Wu suggested a link between the head blow and statements from his brothers about King’s odd behavior.  King once acted out a scene from a Bugs Bunny cartoon with a real bow and arrow, Wu said.  As a teenager, he acted out a scene from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” with a real chainsaw, coming within five feet of family members with it.

To summarize: Michael King had ringing in his ears.  He had a weird disorder that enabled him to function well enough to finish school and marry and buy a house and run a business and be “a good father” but also made him snap and rape and torture and kill a total stranger one day, 30 years after falling off a sled.

Curiously, this is the only aspect of the case that the Sarasota Herald Tribune allowed to stand without contradictory input from “experts.”

During the jury selection process, the paper solicited outside defense experts and jury consultants to weigh in on every aspect of the (read: poor) job the court was doing in selecting the jury.  During the trial, reporters let defense experts pose questions regarding the viability of the evidence (prosecution evidence, that is).  During sentencing, they solicited ministers and academicians to weigh in solemnly on everything from the psychological impact of choosing a death sentence to the metaphysical implications of turning one’s back on the religiously ordained quality of mercy (more on that charming theme tomorrow).

All other parts of the trial were subjected to subversive, outsider debate in the news part of the newspaper’s pages, but some sleazy defense witness waving meaningless brain-wave pictures at a disbelieving jury was above reproach?

They couldn’t find a single doctor or shrink or press-hungry tenured faculty member or trial-expert-for-pay-in-the-yellow-pages to similarly question the judgment of Doctor Wu?

~~~

Of course, merely reporting defense arguments is reporting, and the articles detailing Michael King’s incompetence defense also include details of what Denise Lee suffered.  But what they exclude is telling: the reporters carefully and selectively skirt the prosecution’s direct refutation of King’s incompetence claim.

Why does this matter?  By choosing to do this, the paper creates an impression of two victims — Lee and King — rather than one victim and one inhumane predator who is entirely responsible for gratuitously destroying her.

It’s a simulacrum of the defense strategy: if you cannot possibly deny that there is one victim in the room, pretend there are two.  It has no place anywhere in a newspaper, except perhaps on the opinion page, where the writer must at least own up to promoting such views.

Tomorrow: The Perils of Being a Sarasota Juror

Empathy for Murderers, Contempt for Their Victims

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One day after the on-duty murder of Tampa Police Cpl. Mike Roberts, the St. Petersburg Times actually published a story bemoaning the killer’s hard life.

We learn that Humberto Delgado Jr. had insomnia, was good at fixing things, was a dad just like Roberts — well, not exactly, because he didn’t support his children and he murdered a police officer, but the Times is nothing if not relentless in its efforts to assert that offenders are as much the victims of the crimes they commit as the people they choose to victimize:

Delgado wore dreadlocks. He spoke of peace, and God, and looking at the bright side. A neighbor said he limped on a cane.

His family said his medications didn’t alleviate his pain. He would work jobs for a week or two, but said his injuries didn’t allow him to stay.

He used to live with his girlfriend and son in North Carolina, but left because he was unable to provide for them, [Omairie] Hurst [his cousin] said. He felt powerless. He moved to Florida and lived with his uncle in Oldsmar for a while.

He felt so powerless he abandoned a third child and acquired a bagful of guns.

In recent weeks, Delgado told a friend that his uncle was pressuring him to leave. He told his cousins that his uncle didn’t want Delgado’s pet pit bulls in his yard and disapproved of his long hair. His father and stepmother said he left because he wanted independence.

He wanted independence.  People were keeping him down.  They didn’t like his hair.  They wouldn’t give his pit bulls a place to live and were tired of paying his rent.  He couldn’t hold a job, but he could design a Facebook page and fill it with self-aggrandizing claptrap.  He was mad at the VA because he didn’t like the type of housing they were offering him.  He didn’t have a car and had to use public transportation.

Delgado’s family certainly wasted no time going public with their claim that this crime was society’s fault, not his fault, because society didn’t do enough to help him.  The St. Pete Times mirrors this view with a long feature story detailing every boy scout badge Delgado earned despite the great odds against him:

A guy so smart, he could take anything apart and rebuild it.

Well, almost anything.

He needed help rebuilding his life, [his family] said. He never got it.

~~~

The Tampa Tribune also ran a story about Delgado’s background that includes quotes from people who knew him, but it doesn’t paint the killer as a misunderstood victim.

Instead, the Trib offered this insightful editorial about the lessons we might learn from Cpl. Robert’s death.  It deserves wide circulation:

A Hero’s Death and Painful Reminder

The Tampa Tribune August 21, 2009

Think of Cpl. Mike Roberts the next time you hear someone bicker about police being too quick to use deadly force.

The Tampa Police officer was shot to death Wednesday night as he tried to apprehend a man pushing a shopping cart along Nebraska Avenue and behaving suspiciously in Sulphur Springs.

The tragedy reveals the kind of life-and-death snap judgments officers often must make and why those familiar complaints about officers being trigger-happy are usually bunk.

This seemed a typical vagrant encounter at first. But the man pushing the cart was not some harmless transient. He was a former Virgin Islands policeman and Army veteran carrying a bag full of guns and apparently a heart full of rage.

The man attacked the officer. The 38-year-old Roberts did everything possible to subdue the man – even attempting to Taser him – without shooting.

The man managed to pull free and grabbed a handgun from the cart. He beat Roberts on the head with it and then shot him just outside his bullet-proof vest.

Now the father of a 3-year-old is dead. His family and fellow officers are in mourning and a community is in shock.

The term hero is used loosely these days. But Roberts truly was a hero. There is no telling what the assailant might ultimately have done with his arsenal, which included an assault rifle. . .

[T]here are evil, unpredictable people in our midst. Everyone must be alert, and when questioned by police, answer with respect and in a nonthreatening manner.

The challenges faced by Mike Roberts and all other officers merit greater public appreciation. Without warning, a routine call can demand a split-second decision that determines who lives and who dies.

What they said.

The New York Times Manufactures a DNA Scare

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Do they have no shame, or just no standards?

DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated, Scientists Show

Published: August 17, 2009

Scientists in Israel have demonstrated that it is possible to fabricate DNA evidence, undermining the credibility of what has been considered the gold standard of proof in criminal cases.

Oh no, that sounds really scary.  The credibility of DNA evidence has been undermined!

It gets far less scary if you bother to read to the bottom of the article:

The scientists fabricated DNA samples two ways. One required a real, if tiny, DNA sample, perhaps from a strand of hair or drinking cup. They amplified the tiny sample into a large quantity of DNA using a standard technique called whole genome amplification.

OK, so here’s how it would work.  The real killer would steal a piece of hair from the person he wanted to frame.  The he would go to his evil lair and “amplify” the one hair into a whole mess of DNA.  Then he would take the DNA to the murder scene and smear it all over the . . .

Wait a minute.  What would he put it in, sperm?  What about the sperm’s DNA?  Where does that go, Einstein?  And wouldn’t a lab tech notice that the sperm had been altered, or that there was just this big mess of manufactured DNA that didn’t come from any body fluid lying around?  Surely there are easier ways to frame somebody, like just leaving the hair you’ve stolen from them at the scene of the crime, instead of doing a science project with the piece of hair, and then leaving the science project at the scene of the crime.  The reporter acknowledges:

Of course, a drinking cup or piece of hair might itself be left at a crime scene to frame someone. . .

But that wouldn’t be fabricating DNA, right?  That would just be planting evidence.

Now, in all fairness, the next example of fabricating DNA does address the “where do you put the stuff after you make it?” conundrum:

The authors of the paper took blood from a woman and centrifuged it to remove the white cells, which contain DNA. To the remaining red cells they added DNA that had been amplified from a man’s hair.  Since red cells do not contain DNA, all of the genetic material in the blood sample was from the man.

OK, so you get a hair from the guy you want to frame, and you amplify the DNA, then you take somebody else’s blood, and centrifuge it and remove the white blood cells (which nobody is going to notice?), and stick the DNA into that blood, and then smear the blood around at the crime scene (making sure you haven’t left your DNA anywhere), and then, according to the Times reporter, lab technicians cannot tell the blood has been centrifuged and the DNA has been replaced with somebody else’s amplified DNA.

Oh, wait, scratch that.  The researchers have invented a test that can show whether DNA has been amplified.  They’re trying to sell this test to labs.  Funny, the first step for doing that would be to claim that forensics technicians would not notice if blood and saliva had been altered, and the second step would be to create a false panic about evil machinators armed with centrifuges and enemy hair preparing to undermine the credibility of DNA:

Tania Simoncelli, science adviser to the American Civil Liberties Union, said the findings were worrisome.  “DNA is a lot easier to plant at a crime scene than fingerprints,” she said.

Yes, Tania, it is.  And it’s a lot easier to plant hair at a crime scene than to do all that centrifuging and injecting, which now won’t actually work anyway because it can be detected by a test.

Which means the credibility of DNA evidence has not actually been undermined.

Of course, the idea that anybody who isn’t an international spy would do this is absurd.  And now, with this new test, even the international league of centrifuge-and-tweezer-armed mystery men are fresh out of luck.

The only case I’ve come across where somebody tried to alter a DNA sample to deflect responsibility for a crime was convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer.  LaGuer admitted to mixing another inmate’s saliva with his own with his own in an effort to befuddle investigators.  The only people who were the least bit fooled were his personal brain trust, rapist apologists John Silber (president emeritus, Boston University) and Noam Chomsky (academic raconteur), who managed to convince themselves that this easily detected ploy somehow cast doubt on LaGuer’s guilt.  Sometimes, it’s not the DNA in the lab that matters: it’s the DNA of the mindset.

Similarly, the Times has a shameful history of trying to whip up doubts and hysteria about DNA evidence when it is used to implicate offenders and investigate crimes.  When it is used to exculpate convicts, however, it is always 100% unquestionably accurate.

This article is just the latest in a long line of such bedtime stories for the A.C.L.U./David E. Kelley crowd.

The headline should actually read: “Credibility of DNA Reinforced.”

Risible Poppycock from the Criminology/Journalism Complex: The Sentencing Project and The Delaware News-Journal

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It ought to take more than 25 seconds and two mouse clicks to find evidence that the media and The Sentencing Project are making stuff up.  It ought to, but it does not.

The Sentencing Project is a well-funded, powerful, anti-incarceration advocacy organization.  They pose as a think tank that publishes objective academic research on crime and punishment.

They are people on a mission.  Their mission is to empty the prisons and get murderers and rapists back onto the streets.

They get a lot of help from certain members of the media.  From the Delaware News Journal:

Report questions use of life sentences
Study’s push to abolish terms without parole likely to meet strong resistance in Delaware
BY JAMES MERRIWEATHER • THE NEWS JOURNAL • AUGUST 3, 2009

When researchers for The Sentencing Project started gathering figures for a national study last year, they found that 318 people were ordered to spend the rest of their lives in Delaware prisons.

That’s 8.3 percent of the total prison population, a proportion big enough to give Delaware a fourth-place ranking among the states.

Because of those findings, the organization recommended in its report that the 50 states and federal government abolish life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Not true.  Not even a little bit true.

If 318 people made up 8.3% of Delaware’s prison population, then the total prison population would be 3,831.  According to the Delaware Bureau of Prisons, the adult prison population in Delaware is 5,685.

318 is 5.5% of the current state prison population.

But wait, we’re just getting started!

The total number of offenders currently under some form of state control in Delaware, not counting those in pre-trial and thus not yet convicted, is 24,733.  This number includes convicts on home confinement, restitution-only, probation violation, psychiatric incarceration, prison, probation, parole, and supervised custody.

318 is 1.2% of the total prison population currently under state control.

If you want to compare life sentences to other sentencing outcomes, you have to count all sentencing outcomes, not only the ones that resulted in prison terms that are being served right now.  That is so glaringly obvious, I cannot believe the editors at the Delaware News Journal could overlook it.

But wait, there’s more!

That 24,733 may not even count offenders serving their sentences in local jails, or those convicted of crime but sentenced only to community control of some sort, or convicted but granted suspended sentences.  I don’t know how the state prison/local jail population breaks down in Delaware, but if it is like other states, large percentages of people convicted of crimes don’t ever get sent up to the state system, particularly if they are given one year or less.  On the other hand, Delaware is a very small state, and they may be more centralized.  Maybe, maybe not.

In any case, if you want to compare life sentences to other sentencing outcomes, you have to count all sentencing outcomes, not only the ones that result in state prison terms, right?

But wait, there’s more!

The Sentencing Project number (I can’t bring myself to call it a statistic) does not include juvenile convicts in the system.  If your goal is to show how many convicts receive life sentences for their crimes, there is no justification for leaving out crimes committed by juveniles.

But wait, there’s much more!

The Sentencing Project number only counts the current prison population.  But these 318 people serving life sentences were sentenced over a period of several decades.  So if you want to figure out the real percentage of convictions that resulted in life sentences in Delaware, or anywhere else, you cannot limit your count to people currently in the system.  You have to go back to the date when the first of these lifers was sentenced, and then add up all convictions for all crimes that occurred between that date and now, a number that would be very, very, very high.

How high?  Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the oldest life sentence among Delaware’s 318 was doled out 30 years ago.  Let’s throw the activists another big bone and say that the tidal wave of crime between 1989 – 1993 never happened, and the conviction rate has remained steady.  The Delaware Department of Corrections reports approximately 20,000 “admissions” into their system last year.  If that number held steady, it would add up, very roughly, to 600,000 state-level incarcerations since 1979, 30 years ago.

Plus unknown numbers more if you actually counted the early 90’s crime wave, and counted the defendants who received sentences that did not place them in the state system at all, and counted the juvenile convictions over that time.

318 is .053% of 600,000.  We all know the real number of convictions is actually much higher.

In fairness to the Sentencing Project, you would have to add in the people who received life sentences during that time and died in prison, so the raw number of lifers would rise above 318.  But that would not really matter: we’re talking about comparing a handful of life sentences to hundreds of thousands — actually millions — of lesser sentences.

Now, let’s get back to the point of the exercise.  From the Delaware News-Journal:

When researchers for The Sentencing Project started gathering figures for a national study last year, they found that 318 people were ordered to spend the rest of their lives in Delaware prisons.  That’s 8.3 percent [not] of the total prison population, a proportion big enough to give Delaware a fourth-place ranking among the states.  Because of those findings, the organization recommended in its report that the 50 states and federal government abolish life sentences without the possibility of parole.

To paraphrase: because of fake findings, we should release first degree murderers by the thousands.  Apparently, the underlying justification is that we are insensitive to them.  According to the authors of the Sentencing Project’s “study,” life-without-parole

“discount[s] the capacity for personal growth and rehabilitation.”

Their proof?  There’s too many of them, based on cooked numbers, not just in Delaware, but everywhere:

Nationally, the organization counted 140,610 inmates — one in every 11 people in prison — serving life sentences. Some 41,095 of those lifers, or 29 percent, were serving sentences of life without parole.

Crunch the national numbers the way I did for Delaware, and that “one in every 11” would be shown up for what it really is: a lie of extraordinary proportions.

But the real issue is this: why would it matter whether 9%, or .05%, or .002% of the current prison population is serving life sentences?  It is a meaningless number.  The only thing that matters is the records of the inmates they are agitating to release.  The Project’s “researchers” do not want to talk about actual crime: for them, crime disappears the moment the offender crosses the prison threshold, leaving only an innocent, oppressed, and misunderstood prisoner in its wake.

Hopefully, legislators in Delaware and elsewhere will call The Sentencing Project on their shameless misrepresentation of the facts.

They obviously can’t count on the media to get it straight.

Crime Denial at the New York Times, Part 1: Regarding the Torture of (Some) Others

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The New York Times is the most important newspaper in America, and that is unfortunate, for in their pages, ordinary criminals are frequently treated with extreme deference and sympathy, even respect.  Some types of criminals are excluded from this kid-glove treatment, but that is a subject for another day.  For the most part, ordinary (property, drug, violent, sexual) criminals comprise a protected class in the Times.  Even when it must be acknowledged that someone has, in fact, committed a crime, the newsroom’s mission merely shifts to minimizing the culpability of the offender by other means.

There are various ways of doing this.  Some have to do with selectively criticizing the justice system: for example, the Times reports criminal appeals in detail without bothering to acknowledge congruent facts that support the prosecution and conviction.  They misrepresent the circumstances that lead to (sometimes, sometimes not) wrongful convictions while showing no curiosity about the exponentially higher rate of non-prosecution of crimes.

Then there is their intense personal interest in — advocacy for — offenders.  They pen long profiles of criminals, detailing their difficult childhoods, their self-reported rehabilitation, their suffering in prison, and the social conditions that allegedly “drove them” to victimize others.  These stories rarely include more than passing mention of offenders’ crimes, if they even do that.

Here is the crux of the problem arising from their pro-offender biases: you cannot easily empathize with both a rapist and his victim, so the victim must be erased, or maligned, and the crime erased, or minimized, in order to enhance the reporter’s fictional vision of the criminal.

It is as if these people labor in irony-poor air beneath a giant, pulsating edition of Camus’ The Stranger.

In addition to sloppy ethics, this allegiance to one side of the story leads to sloppy reporting.  Sloppy reporting is hardly the worst sin, but it is one that might embarrass them more deeply than the act of reducing victims to one-dimensional, inhuman flotsam.

That part, after all, is entirely intentional.

Last Thursday, the Times ran a typical crime-denying story about the travails of sex offenders who have been released from prison and now live in a homeless settlement under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami.  The sex offenders’ advocates say that they are living in tents under the causeway because local laws restrict convicted sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of zones where children gather, and they can find no other place where they may reside legally.

The Times reporter spoke with two of the approximately seventy sex offenders who live under the bridge.  He did not bother to note that there are hundreds of registered sex offenders who actually live in apartments near the bridge and throughout the city.  You can see the location of registered sex offenders living either on or near the Julia Tuttle Causeway at the Florida Sexual Offenders and Predators website.  Go to “neighborhood search”; enter “3400 Biscayne Blvd., 33137″ (an address near the bridge), and choose “five mile radius” and “map” to view the entire downtown.  The men dwelling under the bridge appear on the left shore of the causeway.

Some of the men living in apartments have been registered quite recently, so I don’t know why it is that they have housing while others are “forced to” reside under the bridge.  Is it a question of money and not just the living restrictions law?  Are they addicts who would be homeless anyway, and that is the only place where they can live while homeless?  Is it simply getting harder for offenders to find housing because they have to register their addresses now, and landlords are understandably hesitant to accept them as tenants because then their other tenants and neighbors have access to their criminal records?  Is the housing problem caused by sex offender registration laws, as much as by sex offender living restriction laws?  What are the additional circumstances, not reported by the media, that end in an offender moving under the bridge?  Such questions are not addressed in the many news stories about the poor-sex-offenders-living-under-the-bridge.

There are thousands of homeless people in Miami: the ones who are not sex offenders, however, are not currently a pet cause in the national press.

The sight of so many sex offenders in one place is startling: it is no solution for them to live there, of course.  But then, when you expand the search area on the sex offenders website to see the sex offenders living throughout the city, something else becomes startling, as well.  Some streets seem filled with offenders.  There are seven hundred registered sex offenders in downtown Miami alone.  When you look at that map, at flag upon flag until the city disappears beneath them, you can understand why people said: “Enough. We don’t want any more of them near us.”

That is another thing you will not read in the New York Times.

The A.C.L.U. is using this sex offender encampment to challenge living restriction laws, and so “Julia Tuttle Causeway” has become a sort of national rallying cry for activists who oppose placing restrictions on where convicted sex offenders may live.  These activists unabashedly include reporters who have done an especially poor job of covering the living restrictions issue from all sides.

For example, one reporter writes that there is “no proof” that living restrictions prevent crime, and then another reporter repeats that as fact, yet they do not bother to write about instances of convicted offenders being picked up and returned to prison for refusing to stay away from restricted zones.  They never discuss cases where family members tried, and failed, to have a threatening offender returned to prison but could not because, prior to these laws, the bar was often too high to do so.  Parole officers were hesitant to act without adequate power, or they were sympathetic to the offender, or apathetic, their apathy aided by vague laws.  For one tragic example, see the Silver Comet Trail killer, here and here.

Now, large numbers of convicted sex offenders who would have flown under the radar before the registration laws and living restriction laws went into effect have instead been removed from the streets for violating the terms of their release.  Of course, there is no way to count the number of potential sexual assaults that are headed off by enforcing this part of offenders’ sentences.  But that is part of the story, if you actually report the story objectively.

Enforcement of living restrictions is complicated.  At what point do restrictions become too onerous?  Too cost-inefficient?  How many men are returning to prison for violating them?  How many of these men attacked additional victims while they were breaking the laws?  Are strict registration rules, without living restrictions, perhaps the better choice?

Or do living restriction laws offer poor communities the only chance to avoid becoming dumping grounds for huge numbers of sex offenders, even if it is a piecemeal, inefficient approach?

The Times doesn’t care to answer such questions. Faced with a complex subject, they retreat to their preferred narrative, that the men living under the Julia Tuttle Bridge are victims of government oppression:

Under the bridge on Thursday, tents and plywood shacks competed for space with rusty bicycles, a skinny cat, and a beige lawn chair. In a sign of the camp’s bereft permanence, a yellow electrical cord attached to a generator snaked through the camp flat against the ground, pounded by countless footsteps.

Bereft permanence.  And make that completely innocent victims: otherwise, the narrative grows muddy.  But how do you make the case that these seventy convicted sexual offenders are innocents deserving of sympathy?   Shockingly, rather than reporting their official records, the reporter does this by allowing the offenders he interviews to describe their own crimes:

Patrick Wiese, 48 . . . said he served time in prison after having his stepdaughter touch him inappropriately. . .

Look at how carefully the reporter crafts this phrase: “after having his stepdaughter touch him inappropriately.”  Having her . . . touch . . . inappropriately.  A whisper of a crime.  A transitory moment, a merely “inappropriate” gesture, and now he lives under a bridge, poor man, poor Humbert Humbert, three solid years of the countless pounding footsteps and extension cords and relentless sun.

Of course, that is not what really happened.

Here are the crimes for which Patrick Wiese was convicted: three counts of molesting a child under the age of 12 over a period of nine months.  The disposition is available on-line.  Why would a reporter fail to check the record?

Or rather, which is worse: failing to check the official record, or checking it and then intentionally misrepresenting it?

I have a hard time believing that the Times wouldn’t bother to do a simple, on-line fact check, so I think the reporter looked at Patrick Wiese’s record and tried to figure out how to make Wiese sound as “innocent” as possible, even though the only way of doing so would be to collude in obfuscating — denying — his repeated sexual assault of a young child.

The Times, after all, wanted its readers to see only one thing: a bridge, with broken men huddled beneath it, abused by the world, not abusers.  And so the reporter, doing his job, denied through careful omission repeated instances of sexual torture in the interest of advancing this agenda.

You know, like Rumsfeld did with Abu Ghraib.

Only when Abu Ghraib happened, the Times howled to the heavens.  Then, they took a stand in favor of total transparency.  They rejected arguments about the safety of the troops in wartime, calling them a smokescreen for a political agenda.  They published an “important,” line-in-the-sand essay in which Susan Sontag raged over the horror of subjecting male prisoners to sexual abuse, titled “Regarding the Torture of Others.”  They published scores of other articles exploring every aspect of those violations, slowly, graphically, outragedly.

Add to that, ironically.  For when this Times reporter was required by routine standards of journalistic accuracy to note the repeated sexual assault — the repeated sexual torture — of a child, “under twelve,” the Times allowed that crime to be swept under the carpet in the interest of advancing their agenda.

Some victims of repeated sexual abuse are just more important than others, I suppose.

It would have taken one sentence to present a correct record of Patrick Wiese’s crimes.  Not only should the Times have done that, but given the subject of the article, they should have noted his denial of the serious nature of his crime alongside the official record documenting it.  The article, after all, was supposed to be about measures taken to address recidivism by sexual offenders.

How do you justify talking about recidivism policy while denying the recidivist nature of the crimes committed by the very person you are using to illustrate the subject?

Consider the particular horror of this instance of child sexual abuse.  The victim was a child, under twelve; she was forced to live with her rapist.  He had access to her all of the time; she was also forced, for months, or years, to behave as if the rape was not happening.  She had to go to sleep at night with him in the house.  She was told by him that she was the one who was guilty of touching him.  She was told that “touching” him (one must assume sexually manipulating him) was a minor thing, nothing to take seriously or tell.  And then, after enduring the horror of repeated assault, then police interviews, and frightening exams, and a terribly frightening trial, a reporter comes along and says to the world precisely what the rapist said to her: “She touched him.”  “Yeah, it was inappropriate.  Touching.”

I know several victims of childhood sexual assault, and this type of denial on the part of others is every bit as soul-corroding as the assaults themselves.

Consider this, too: anyone who works with childhood sexual abuse victims will tell you that prosecuting abusers is incredibly difficult because circumstances make it very easy to avoid leaving the types of physical evidence that can hold up in court.  After all, offenders live with their victims; they often dress them and undress them and bathe them and lie down next to them in their beds, so unless a child-victim is so severely injured that he or she is brought to the hospital directly following an assault in which semen was left behind, or the victim is infected with a traceable venereal disease, there is little chance of proving forcible rape.  Oral sodomy is even more difficult to prove.

So when I see an offender with a record of one or three instances of “inappropriate touching,” I suspect that’s the tip of the iceberg.  I suspect the conviction is the result of a plea bargain agreed to just to get the sick bastard away from the child and onto a registry, which is the most victims can reasonably hope for in the courts these days, as jurors increasingly demand DNA evidence or actual photographs of the crime.

One would think the amount of denial of crime that is built into our criminal justice system would be enough: enough of a burden to place on victims; more than enough of a burden to place on a child who has been forced to live with her abuser until somebody finally forced him to live somewhere else.  Like under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami.

But in the newsroom of the New York Times, there is never enough crime denial, never enough opportunities to bury what has been done to victims in order to make the offenders the only real victims in sight.

The New Normal: Detroit

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Seven teens were shot last week outside a school offering summer classes in Detroit.  Three were in critical condition.  A week earlier, another girl was shot in the chest outside another school.

Now the police are having trouble getting anyone to cooperate with them.  “The taboo against snitching is worse than the taboo against shooting,” the Detroit Free Press reported yesterday.

In response to the shootings, ministers in Detroit have invented another “community outreach” initiative.  It has an unfortunate name: MADE Men (Men Affirming Discipline and Education), and it probably has a fund-raising initiative up and running.  Such are the economics of outreach.  An identical effort started a few years ago after another round of school shootings folded not long after it was announced.

I’m sure the ministers mean well, and it is hard to imagine what else they could do under the circumstances, but I wish, for once, the adults would forgo the whole clever naming thing and just start doing what they say they’re going to do: get more involved in the schools.  When you create an organization and hold a press conference, that’s just time you’re not spending actually working with kids.  That’s making it all about you, and your organization, and your leadership.  And, frankly, there have been decades and decades of such failed efforts.  People are weary of the rigmarole: crisis — press conference — fund raising — then nothing.

Just start volunteering for the P.T.A. already.

It’s worth noting that, as I wrote about here, the AAAC (Academic/Activist/Advocacy Complex) has invented a formula mathematically proving that crime is not all that bad in Detroit because Detroit has the type of population that actually ought to be committing even more crime.  I’m sure that’s a comfort.

Is Detroit a terminal case of the logical consequences of the academic anti-incarceration ethic (AAIE!!!) that is currently sweeping the federal government?  On the backs of the seven youngsters shot outside school last week, and in the face of the many people who must know something about the crime but refuse to “snitch” to the police, yes, it is.

“National Network for Safe Communities” or More of the Same Old Song?

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The newest hot thing in crime reduction is actually an old idea that has been tried again and again, at staggering cost, with little objective evaluation of the results.  It is now being re-packaged as an initiative called National Network for Safe Communities, and several large cities are already signing on.  The idea is to “reach out” to the most prolific criminals, the ones who control drug dealing and gang activities, and try to engage them in dialogue to get them to stop dealing, robbing, and shooting — before threatening them with prison.

To put it another way, cities overwhelmed by crime will hand over yet another get-out-of-jail-free card to offenders who already, in reality, have fistfuls of them.  Cities will reinforce the status and egos of the worst offenders by engaging them in “dialogue”  (predictably, some of these offenders will simply use their new status to grow their criminal enterprise, like this M-13 gang member/executive director of Homies Unidos, a “nationally recognized anti-gang group”).  Cities will create and subsidize larger numbers of expensive, redundant, slush-fund “job outreach programs” and “youth intervention initiatives” and “community summits” and “lock-downs service provision weekends” — more, that is, than even exist now.

This is an act of desperation. Every decade or so, this idea gets the green light, or at least a new name.  Then a whole lot of money gets pumped into completely unaccountable non-profits.  Next, unsurprisingly, the politically-connected activists who draw their salaries from said non-profits declare success; newspaper reporters pen feel-good stories (before, occasionally, moving on to exposés); politicians declare victory; then academicians with ties to the politicians and activists go in and create positive “evaluations” of the programs they have been asked to evaluate positively (nobody ever reports failure: it simply is not done).

I used to (unwillingly) play this racket, so I know how it works.

How do you justify shelling out millions of dollars to essentially non-existent “jobs programs”?  First and foremost, you set your “program goals” ridiculously low.  Here is an example from yesterday’s news: according to the Boston Globe, the Boston Foundation recently set out to fund-raise 26 million dollars to institute a safe communities gang intervention program.  26 million dollars, yet their “goal” was to have “13 new street workers in targeted neighborhoods by March” and eventually 25, as well as paying existing non-profits to provide vague and redundant services like “job training” and “family support.”

Wow.  Those are some good-paying community outreach jobs.

Of course, months and millions of dollars later, they have not even succeeded in the paltry goal of getting 13 workers on the ground.  Instead, the “coalition” of community groups, all expecting fat handouts, has dissolved into predictable warfare over who gets what.  Rather than reducing gang conflict, it might be said that the program has succeeded in fomenting more of it.  Nonetheless, at the end of five years, so long as they manage to produce 25 people who will claim to have been doing “gang outreach,” then they will meet their “program goals.”

In my painfully vast experience of performing community outreach, I have learned a couple of hard and fast rules:

  • The most effective community workers are the ones who get paid the least and have the lowest profile in “coalition” boondoggles — because they choose to spend their time actually helping people, not lining their pockets.
  • Beware all expenditures on laptops, Blackberries, cell phones, computer software, car rentals, print materials and tee-shirts with logos: these materials are inevitably “provided” at ten or twenty times the actual cost through “vendors” who often turn out the be married to politicians or just friends of the mayor.  The electronics will inevitably disappear.
  • With the exception of Job Corps, which addresses the needs of late-adolescent foster care children in residential settings, and Goodwill, which is an amazing organization, “job training” is largely a mythical creature.  I have never seen a job training program (besides Job Corps and Goodwill) in Atlanta that was not essentially fake.  You get a bunch of computers (see vendors, above), stick them in a church basement (paying the politically-connected minister for “rent”), and then pay a couple of kids or homeless guys to put on a show for the academician who shows up to evaluate the program (who also gets paid).
  • A very substantial proportion of any outreach grant gets spent on pricey conferences where activists (who are getting paid to attend) meet with other activists (who are getting paid to attend) in nice hotels and eat nice meals (that are paid for) while pretending to exchange ideas and information.  Sometimes, these banquets and hotel events don’t have any purpose beyond celebrating or congratulating the program participants and the providers.  In both cases, expensive silk-screened tee-shirts and caps and bags and other gimmies must be manufactured to commemorate the event (at ten to twenty times the actual cost, see above).
  • The less likely the idea, the more likely it is to be endorsed by someone.  The less successful the outcome, the more successful the next grant application cycle will be, because the “demonstrable need” will have risen.  Funding for failure is the formula; funding for fantastical failure, the gold standard.  Success in Boston is being measured by the fact that someone managed to get a handful of ex-con “outreach” workers onto the streets with a mere 8.8 million dollars.  They did decide against spending $50,000 to play laser tag with gun felons.  I think.

Underlying this latest round of “gang leader outreach” programs is a solid criminological insight: small numbers of youths are responsible for the majority of urban crime.  David Kennedy, a professor at John Jay, designed the “persuasion-based” policies of Safe Communities after his research detailed these concentrations of crime.

So why not move into high-crime areas and build strong, comprehensive cases against these prolific offenders, instead of “reaching out” to them and essentially excusing their latest crimes?  When I look at a program like Safe Communities, I see failure in the courts.  It has simply become too difficult to put even the worst, most violent criminals away.  Community leaders, negotiating with their hands tied behind their backs, are forced to try to break bread with offenders instead, especially in the current anti-incarceration regime.

Then there’s the care and feeding of the “outreach machine,” which can derail even the most promising and well-intentioned intervention program.  Every city has one, a slick, politically-connected, vocal, and corrupt cabal that makes their living off a steady flow of block grants and foundation money and community development funds.  Cut off their money, and you will find yourself on the receiving end of protests staged by people who figured out a long time ago that paying a few homeless guys to hold up signs and chant slogans for the 5:00 news is a great way to make a fast dime.

It takes considerable political courage to stand up to this racket.  Nevertheless, reality eventually intrudes.  A couple of years, a bunch of scandals, millions of dollars, and a few avoidable deaths later, expect cities to quietly abandon these programs again.

An Important Law Georgia Still Does Not Have: Arrestee DNA Databasing

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Back in the 1990’s, Georgia Lt. Governor Mark Taylor made it a priority to build the state’s DNA crime database.  He did this long before other states got on board, and for many years Georgia was rightly viewed as a leader in using DNA to solve violent crimes.  Taylor was driven by his strong commitment to victims of rape and child molestation who had been denied justice.  He did not heed the civil rights and convict rights lobbies who tried to stir up hysteria over using DNA to solve crimes (ironically, these same activists are howling over the Supreme Court’s utterly reasonable decision last week not to enshrine post-conviction DNA as a blanket, federal right, when 46 states already guarantee it, as even Barry Scheck admits: don’t believe virtually anything you read about this case on the editorial pages).

Taylor’s leadership on DNA databasing yielded an extraordinary number of database “hits” long before other states got their databases up and running.  In 1998, only convicted and incarcerated sex offenders were required to submit DNA samples in Georgia, yet 13 repeat-offender rapists were immediately linked to other sexual assaults, and scores of “unidentified offender” profiles were readied to be used if those offenders were finally caught and tested.

The convicted-and-imprisoned-sex-offenders-only database also revealed a chilling reality: many of the prolific rapists whose DNA matched other sex assaults had only ever been convicted of non-sex crimes such as drug crimes, burglary, and robbery.

Any prosecutor of a certain age will tell you that, before DNA evidence, it was so difficult to prosecute rapists that prosecutors often made the choice to allow rapists to plead to non-sex offenses such as burglary just to (temporarily) get them off the streets.  This strategy was directed at serial, stranger sex offenders who were known to the cops but managed to avoid conviction because the public was so resistant to finding anyone guilty of rape.  Taylor’s database made this injustice to victims visible.

Unfortunately, the types of injustice (to victims) and justice (against offenders) the database revealed was of little interest to the media.

Nevertheless, for several years, Georgia’s DNA database quietly withstood efforts by “civil rights” activists to shut it down.  In 2000, the legislature expanded DNA testing to all incarcerated felons: 70 crimes were immediately solved, including serial rapes committed by convicts who had no prior rape convictions.

In 2007, the legislature expanded the database again, adding felony probationers — that weird category, the existence of which should splash some cold water on heartfelt feelings that we are far too harsh in sentencing and imprisoning criminals.  In the real world, even violent felons still routinely walk away with nothing more than probation for their crimes.

As of a year ago, thanks to the expansion of the database, 12 of these “felony probationers” were linked to serious crimes through DNA.  That’s 12 fewer violent offenders on the streets.

Still, no paper.  Few headlines.  Fewer editorials.  And, eventually, Georgia began to fall behind other states in DNA databasing.

As I write this, Florida Governor Charlie Crist has briefly emerged from his offender-kumbaya-fervor to sign a bill requiring all people arrested for felonies to submit DNA samples for analysis — just like they submit photographs and fingerprints.  Florida now joins 20 other states that are using DNA to investigate and solve crimes (Denver D.A. Mitchell R. Morrissey has a good website explaining the use of DNA in the courts).

But Georgia still languishes on the list of states that do not require DNA samples to be drawn upon arrest for a felony.  Here is a chart comparing state laws from the DNA Resource Report.

In 2008, the Georgia Legislature did pass Senate Bill 430, which started out as a felony arrestee DNA database bill but got watered down through the legislative process.  It emerged as little more than a statement affirming that prosecutors may ask the GBI to check a suspect’s DNA sample against the existing database so long as “the sample was obtained through a search warrant, consent of the suspect, court order, or other lawful means.”  Then it concludes: “The bureau [GBI] shall not add a DNA profile of any such suspect to any DNA data bank except upon conviction.”

In other words, a bill that started out attempting to add felony arrestees to the state database morphed into a bill specifically restricting arrestee DNA from being added to the state database.  I’d like to know the story behind this watering-down, particularly as it occurred at the same time when other states were successfully expanding their DNA databases to include felony arrestee samples under certain conditions.

Why did Georgia fold?  Is there another bill in the works?

If you still aren’t convinced that arrestee DNA databasing is an urgent need, take a look at the website for DNA Saves, the organization Dave and Jayann Sepich started after their daughter Katie was raped, strangled and set on fire in New Mexico in 2003.  Her offender was arrested and convicted of several other crimes, but his DNA had never been databased, so her murder went unsolved and he went free to continue attacking women for three years after Katie’s death.

How many victims of murder and rape in Georgia would have been protected by such a law?

Meanwhile, here is a statement from FDLE commissioner Gerald Bailey to the St. Petersburg Times correcting some of its inaccurate and fear-mongering press on the issue of arrestee DNA:

A valuable tool in fighting crime

Your editorial regarding the new Florida Department of Law Enforcement DNA database legislation failed to provide the public with a full picture.

This initiative, once funded, will expand Florida’s DNA database to include samples from persons arrested for felonies. The process is no different from the way Florida already stores and handles fingerprints from arrests. Like the current law on fingerprints, the DNA legislation has provisions for removal of the file when a person arrested for a felony meets certain requirements.

The database in its current form has been a great investment for our citizens; every month it generates an astounding 230 hits. These hits match an unknown DNA sample left at a crime scene to a known felon whose DNA is already on file, or links two or more unsolved crimes. It’s an invaluable investigative tool.

Including felony arrests means more samples in the DNA database and more crimes solved. It also means crimes will be solved faster and, most important, crimes will be prevented. Taking DNA at the first felony arrest ensures that DNA is taken from those offenders who evade felony conviction time and time again. It ensures that DNA from the first felony will be matched to that offender’s next crime, halting further victimization and saving lives.

Florida becomes the 21st state to take samples from felony arrestees. There is no other tool that can prevent violent crimes as efficiently and effectively as this. The Legislature got it right. Our citizens expect this level of protection. I think they deserve it.

Gerald Bailey, commissioner, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Tallahassee

I certainly deserved it: too bad it wasn’t there to help me in Florida when I needed it.  Worse, too bad it still doesn’t exist to protect victims in Georgia.

That Perception of Crime Thing

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I stop by the convenience store near my house a few times a week. It is the only store for a few miles in either direction, on a rural stretch of highway.  There’s a stop light, the divided highway, a single train track, the convenience store, and then 55+ trailer parks, tomato fields, and cow pastures leading out to the bay.  If you drive south on the highway, you hit the county line.

In other words, it is a perfect target for crime.  Easy-in, easy-out, with little traffic and a good view of the people coming and going.  The women who work as cashiers there are world-weary.  They are bitter and fatalistic about the fact that they keep getting robbed.  When I spoke with one of them a few weeks ago, she seemed a little embarrassed that she was even upset about the latest armed robbery.  She looks like somebody who has had few breaks in life and has learned not to complain.  She stands less than five feet tall and might weigh 100 pounds soaking wet, as they say.  Like most of the store’s employees, including the security guard they have hired, she is a senior citizen.  Once you get to be in your sixties, it’s hard enough to find work.

Frustration was visible in her eyes as she described the robbery-before-the-last-one.  She gets up and goes to work every day, and then she has to deal with constant worry when she gets there.

The store is part of a chain, and the owners have spent significant amounts of money on security, which, of course, gets passed on to all of us.  They installed cameras and hired a security guard.  Now there are signs in English and Spanish telling customers that the cashiers will not change large bills and that cash is deposited into a locked safe during business hours.  The next step, I suppose, is bulletproof glass, but the employees will still have to come out from behind the glass to stock shelves.  It is no way to live, sitting behind bulletproof glass.  And (shades of Florida, and the generational divide) what will happen when the cashiers need to go outside to smoke their cigarettes?

Apparently, the robbers never get much cash, but this does not stop them from coming back.  The cashier looked jumpy as she told me this.  She is angry that these men would rob working people.  She is angry that her life is being put on the line for a handful of twenties and a few rolls of change.  “They took quarters,” she said, disgusted.

Meanwhile, last Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke before the National Institute for Justice about ways the Justice Department is working to reduce the stigma of having a criminal record.  “Prisoner re-entry” is the feel-good buzzword of the year.  The feds are gearing up to spend massive amounts of taxpayer dollars on programs to help criminals “re-enter” society (I worked for a man who got a grant from the City of Atlanta to do this: he was supposed to teach repeat offenders how to produce rap videos as “job-training.”  I suppose it is a silver lining that he did not really bother to do the work).

Now the Justice Department is sponsoring research that looks to me to be laying the groundwork to conceal criminal records from prospective employers — on the unsurprising grounds that employers tend to choose non-criminal over criminal applicants for any given job.  The idea that people who do not have criminal records actually merit a leg-up over people who have committed crimes is not the type of idea that gets bandied around in research circles, of course.

Attorney General Holder feels the problem lies not with the character of people who commit crimes but with the way the public perceives people with criminal records.  He said:

Most employers perform criminal background checks on everyone they consider hiring and have varying levels of concern about the criminal records of prospective employees. That means that people with criminal records are always vulnerable to being turned down for a job. In many cases, employers may want to hire an otherwise qualified person, but they feel that his or her criminal record suggests a future risk of criminal conduct. Without some ability to assess whether a person with a criminal record presents a greater risk than someone else, they prefer to err on the side of caution and pass him or her over.

This new research – which is preliminary and ongoing – has found that there may well be a point at which someone who has committed a crime is no longer at any greater risk of committing a future crime than someone who has never committed a crime before.

Why not let employers decide whether or not an ex-felon seems to have reformed himself enough to merit being trusted with a job?  Is it now out of bounds to suggest that acknowledging one’s criminal past is part of rehabilitation?  Holder apparently feels it is within the mission of the Justice Department to reform (conceal?) the reputation of people with criminal records, even at considerable cost to the rest of us — the employer who is liable if someone they hire robs them or harms someone else while on the job; the safety of employees who are not made aware that their co-workers are ex-felons.

What Attorney General Holder did not say is more telling than what he did say.  He did not mention punishing criminals as deterrence, of course (such talk is strictly taboo).  He did not address the needs of people who have been victimized.  What he chose to speak about was the needs of ex-cons and his desire to change the way other people perceive them.

How exactly, one might ask, would researchers determine the “point at which someone who has committed a crime is no longer at any greater risk of committing a future crime than someone who has never committed a crime before”?  This sort of stuff smacks of manufacturing desired results.  Can anyone imagine criminologists announcing, at this stage of the game, that their “preliminary and ongoing” research has actually revealed that employers are taking unacceptable risks when they hire people with criminal records?  No, the point of funding this research is to support the Attorney General’s stated goal of “prisoner reentry.”  The table is set in advance.  Statistical justifications will doubtlessly follow.

To put it another way, the head of the law enforcement branch of our government has nothing to say to the hard-working convenience store clerk down the road from me who keeps getting robbed at her job because he has chosen, instead, to offer job assistance to the men who keep robbing her.

Five Ugly Pieces, Part 5: Around Atlanta

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Some mop-up for the week:

The Silver Comet Trail murder case is moving along despite efforts by the defense to derail it.  Tragically, Michael Ledford’s mother had tried to get her son put back in jail before Jennifer Ewing was killed:

The mother said her son should already have been locked up and his probation revoked on July 25, 2006, the day Jennifer Ewing was beaten to death just off the popular Silver Comet Trail in Paulding County.

She said she pleaded with authorities in early July to get her son off the streets but the probation officers only told him to “behave.”

“It they got him off the streets … that lady would be alive. They let this happen,” Mihlaek testified in her son’s death penalty trial.

“They promised to do something legally. They didn’t and now it’s too late,” she said.”

Ledford’s brother also asked authorities to do something about his brother:

Mark Ledford testified family members had called his brother’s probation officers several times to report his drinking and his penchant for staring at women. Drinking would have been grounds for revoking his probation. But he was never arrested.

He spent 10 years incarcerated for a 1991 rape and was serving 10 years on probation when Ewing was attacked.

Ledford’s mother and brother did everything they could do to keep women safe.  And when their warnings went unheeded, and Ledford came home covered in blood, they called the police and turned him in.

Not so with the mother of Jonathan Redding, the teen charged in the killing of bartender John Henderson.  Redding’s family released a statement this week:

[Jonathan Redding] is not the monster that he has been portrayed to be but was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jonathan has strong family values and ties, and we feel he is currently a victim of the judicial system.

The wrong place at the wrong time.

Now defense lawyers in the Silver Comet Trail trial are trying to argue that Ledford is a victim of gender discrimination:

Sixteen people — 12 jurors and four alternates —were seated Friday to hear the Paulding County death penalty case against Michael Ledford, charged with murdering a Sandy Springs woman biking the popular Silver Comet Trail. . . .

The jury is dominated by men — only four women were among the 16 chosen as jurors or alternates — so Ledford’s attorneys filed a motion accusing prosecutors of gender bias because they struck so many women.

This type of thing would be laughable if it were not so costly.  Our trial system has become a joke, with the courts tilted so far towards the defense that every trial is a chilling reminder of how easy it is for murderers and rapists to walk free.

* * *

Meanwhile, in DeKalb County, a story that fell off the radar deserves a second look.  WSB-TV was the only news source that looked into this case:

Officer Accused of Exchanging Threatening E-Mails With Teen

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Officials with the DeKalb Police Department said a 15-year veteran of their department and an 18-year-old girl were exchanging e-mails that threatened her family.

Channel 2 Action News reporter Amanda Rosseter spent the day digging through the officer’s personnel file and she found two offenses of conduct unbecoming – both within the past four months, and both over contact and e-mails with teenage girls.

DeKalb County police confirmed Kevin Sowell resigned two weeks ago after the department said it would fire him for two offenses – including a string of e-mails that threatened a young girl’s family.

Sowell was allowed to resign instead of being fired, and, according to WSB, as of April 24, no other action had been taken regarding his possibly criminal conduct:

The first offense allegedly took place in January. Sowell was suspended after he “developed a friendly relationship with a 16-year-old child,” according to officials. According to his file, after the girl’s parents requested that he discontinue contact, he continued with the child in person, by e-mail, and by a cell phone he purchased for her.

Just two months later, the second offense allegedly occurred. The internal affairs memo said, “The content of the messages was threatening in nature and spoke of violent acts towards the female’s parents” and said he “admitted to sending the correspondence.”

And another report noted, “They were both planning to harm her parents and sister-in-law. Instead of discouraging her, he responded in a manner that encouraged further thoughts on the act to harm.”

* * *

The Village Voice’s True Crime Report has some interesting commentary about George Zinkhan, the UGA marketing professor who murdered his wife and two others before killing himself.  According to True Crime, Zinkhan had a troubling history at University of Houston, serially harassing female students and junior faculty.  At the time Zinkhan came to UGA, he was the subject of a federal lawsuit at UH for “persistent sexual harassment.”  Apparently, this did not negatively affect UGA’s decision to hire him.  What a surprise.

* * *

Finally, yesterday, I received a copy of the full transcript from the indictment of Joshua Norris, the Morehouse student who emptied a gun into another Morehouse student and walked away with probation, apparently because the prosecutor got caught up in Judge Marvin Arrington’s otherwise admirable campaign to address the problem of crime among minority youth.

The transcript is in yesterday’s comments thread.  What is striking to me is the utter lack of attention to the crime itself — it seems that Arrington, and everyone else in the courtroom, have entirely forgotten that Norris is standing before them because he tried to commit murder, firing a gun six times outside a nightclub and striking the victim three times.

Judge Arrington and the prosecutor seem far more interested in debating the relative merits of different community service positions for Norris than addressing the law, or the crime.  The prosecutor, who is supposed to be representing the public, and the victim, apparently feels that it would be inappropriate for Norris to demean himself by picking up garbage with other probationers, because his is a special case:

Prosecutor Thompson: HE NEEDS TO BE IN SOME TYPE OF A PROGRAM WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE.

Judge Arrington (?): WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT, CATHY, COMMUNITY SERVICE?

Staff Attorney: BIG SISTER AND BIG BROTHER?

Prosecutor Thompson: THERE’S 240 HOURS OF COMMUNITY SERVICE, AS PART OF THE PLEA, YOUR HONOR.

Judge Arrington:  NOW, MIZELL, I WANT YOU TO FIND A CONSTRUCTIVE PROGRAM FOR THIS YOUNG MAN. I DON’T WANT NO –

Mr. Mizell: THAT WON’T BE POSSIBLE WITH THE GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, YOUR HONOR.

Judge Arrington:  WHY?

Mr. Mizell: HE HAS TO DO THE COMMUNITY SERVICE THAT’S DIRECTED BY THE
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS. I HAD -— THEY HAVE SOME ISSUES WITH PEOPLE DOING OTHER THINGS, OTHER THEN WHAT THE DEPARTMENT MANDATES.

Judge Arrington:  WHAT DO THEY MANDATE IN THIS PARTICULAR INSTANCE?

Mr. Mizell: HE WOULD DO IT, ACCORDING TO THE -— WHAT WE HAVE SET UP, NOW. AND THAT’S THEY PICK UP PAPER, THEY WORK IN SALVAGE PLACES, BASICALLY. ALTHOUGH, THERE HAVE BEEN INSTANCES –

Prosecutor Thompson: I WOULD LIKE FOR YOU TO REQUEST AND HIS LAWYER SEE IF WE CAN GET HIM OUT TO THE CAREY STEEL PITTS HOME THAT IS WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE WHO DO NOT HAVE PARENTS. IT’S A FACILITY WHERE THEY CAN LIVE ON SITE AND THEY EAT THREE SQUARES A DAY. NINETY-EIGHT PERCENT OF THEM GO ON TO COLLEGE. . . . IT’S A GREAT PROGRAM.

Judge Arrington (?): I DON’T NEED NOBODY OUT THERE PICKING UP SOME PAPER. MIZELL, YOU AND I CAN DO THAT ON SATURDAYS, PICK UP SOME PAPER. BUT I’D LIKE TO — WHO IS THE DIRECTOR OF YOUR PROGRAM, YOUR YOUTH PROGRAM?

Mr. Mizell: I BELIEVE THE PROGRAM, THE REGIONAL CIRCUIT TEAM, IS S.G.

Judge Arrington: WHERE IS SHE LOCATED?

Mr. Mizell: SHE IS LOCATED IN THIS BUILDING. . . .

Judge Arrington: YOU THINK IT’S POSSIBLE I CAN GET HER UP HERE? YOU ACT LIKE YOU’RE SCARED?

Mr. Mizell: NOT LIKELY, SIR.

Prosecutor Thompson: YEAH.

Mr. Mizell: NOT LIKELY.

Judge Arrington: WHY NOT?

Mr. Mizell: I CAN PASS THAT MESSAGE ON TO HER.

Prosecutor Thompson: HE NEEDS TO BE IN A PROGRAM THAT HAS SOME SUBSTANCE, SOME MEAT.

There is so much that is wrong with this, it is difficult to know where to begin.  But setting aside the appalling spectacle of a prosecutor buddying up with a murder defendant, talking about how ordinary community service is simply below his dignity, and the judge buddying up with a murder defendant, playing the “stay in school, son” game, and the absolute erasure of the victim from this entire process, there is a little matter of the law.

The victim stated that he was not informed of this deal and not permitted to make a statement in court.  Statements made by the defense attorney in this hearing support the victim’s claim, because the defense attorney himself seems surprised that Prosecutor Thompson has offered only community service, and not prison time, for the attempted murder:

Defense Attorney Brian Steel: ON BEHALF OF MR. NORRIS. FIRST, I WOULD LIKE TO THANK THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY. WHEN WE CAME HERE TODAY, IT WAS A PRISON OFFER. I HEARD WHAT HE SAID, AND I WANT TO THANK HIM. I, ALSO, WANT THE COURT TO KNOW THAT MR. NORRIS IS AN EXTREMELY BRIGHT YOUNG MAN.

And the crown goes to: Mr. Georgia, Joshua Norris.

So what happened in the courtroom is the prosecutor broke the law.  And then Judge Arrington seconded the breaking of the law.  And nobody in that room spoke up and reminded these people that the (absurdly low) minimum mandatory sentence for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is one year in prison, which Arrington mentioned in the reading of the charges, then ignored.  This is why legislatures have to pass minimum mandatory sentences.  But what good is the law if the judge ignores it?

What a joke.  What a travesty.

Georgia also has a victim’s rights law.  This law provides the following rights, clearly denied to Joshua Norris’ victim:

  • To be notified of each stage in the judicial process to include pretrial hearings, bond, arraignment, motions hearings, pleas of guilty, trial, sentencing and appeals
  • To be notified of any arrest, release, possibility of release, or escape of the accused or any change in custodial status
  • To give opinions regarding release from custody or bond issues
  • To have access to a private waiting area during court proceedings
  • To offer input on plea negotiations or sentence hearings or conditions

What on earth is happening in the Fulton County Superior Court?  Can crime victims sue the state for denying them their legal rights?  This victim ought to try.

The Right Rat: Groundless Accusations Towards Victims of Crime

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Yesterday, I wrote about the hysteria that arises when crime victims seek modest rights, such as the right to know when their offender will be cut loose from prison (a shifting proposition — never shifting further ahead, either), or the right to offer a victim-impact statement at the same time the convicted offender is permitted to parade his supporters before the sentencing judge.

It is a measure of society’s disdain for the rights of victims that, even when such laws are on the books, they are spottily enforced and treated like an afterthought, not a rule of law. Our courts are in far worse shape than most people realize, as evinced by my earlier post today. The first causalities of this chaos, inevitably, are crime victims.

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Justice released a study showing just how rarely victims’ rights laws were being enforced. A large majority of victims — 63% in states with strong victims’ rights laws, 74% in states with weak laws — were not being informed when convicted offenders were released on bail. Half of the victims in “strong law” states were not informed of plea agreement negotiations, even though prosecutors were required by law to notify them. 25% of victims in “strong law” states were being denied their legal right to present a victim impact statement at sentencing.

These actions were violations of the law, perpetrated by the justice system against people who had already been victimized. But they aroused no protest from the types of people who normally scorch the earth to find reasons to accuse authorities of not abiding by the law. Such silence gives the lie to organizations like the A.C.L.U., and others, who claim to defend individual rights. It really is true that they only care about the rights of some people — namely, criminals.

The rest of us, and especially crime victims, can lose every right on the books, and they could not care less.

This irrational hatred of people victimized by crime is likewise a powerful force in academia. It is tossed off casually, the hallmark of any hegemonic prejudice. If one levies wild, virulent claims and there is no response at all to them, then those around you are also in very deep.

In 2007, David P. Barash, a psychology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, castigated faceless, nameless crime victims in a feature story he published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (October 5, 2007, by subscription only)  Titled “The Targets of Aggression, ” the article was ostensibly about something he names “redirected aggression” (actually a much older and less novel concept — vengeance), which Barash loosely defines as any reaction whatsoever to harm, other than no reaction at all:

Jesus urged us to love our enemies, and, if slapped, to turn the other cheek. But for millennia — before Jesus and after — human beings and their animal brethren have been far more likely to respond to pain and injury with a retaliating barrage of the same sort, generating yet more injury, more pain.

True enough, I suppose, if viewed with a wide angle lens, a very wide one indeed. Such is the vague pudding of evolutionary psychology.

Barash wanders widely in his piece, from the Illiad to Bosnia (perhaps not so far at all), but he returns repeatedly to intimate violence — the calculus of crime and justice. And whenever he arrives at the matter of crime, he joins the vast army of academicians who now refuse to include within their calculations any consideration of the idea that crime victims might be motivated by some emotion other than pure, murderous vengeance.

This world-view is both sentimental and cold-blooded. It posits that there is no difference between a sociopath preying on a weaker individual and a victim seeking protection and justice. “Are all victimizers themselves previous victims?” Barash asks, failing to ask if there is some social space — say, civilization — where all people do not behave like rats in a cage, and thus the distinctions between victims and victimizers are more nuanced than not.

But what is particularly jarring about Barash’s methodology — and is a typical flaw of most evolutionary psychology arguments — is his obvious preference for some of the caged rats he summons. When considering criminals, he muses vaguely about their possible traumas, affording the most benign, empathetic view of their motives for preying on innocents:

If people who seek to hurt others are doing so because they have themselves been hurt, does that diminish their responsibility or guilt? Should we pity the poor perpetrator? Are all victimizers themselves previous victims? And what if they are? Does that let them off the hook? When does passing the pain become passing the buck?

When considering crime victims, however, he can barely contain a pointed contempt:

We might also want to reconsider “justice” and ask what is really going on when victims demand punishment, nearly always claiming, of course, that they are not out for revenge. But, in fact, aren’t they insisting — although not in so many words — that their pain be offloaded onto someone else? Once the wheels of pain have begun to spin, what really seems to matter is that someone — anyone — must suffer, must be made to “pay.”

Wow, we are suddenly a long way from scholarly musings, Dorothy. No hazy gates of Troy anymore, either. These victim-people sound like real bad seeds. Better get out of town before sunset.

Barash continues:

By the same token, consider the fact that crime victims typically resent the presence of exculpatory evidence, which is likely to lead to an acquittal: If their interest were simply in seeing justice done, shouldn’t they applaud any information that makes it less likely that an innocent person might be punished, and thus more likely that the criminal justice system will instead spend its energy on finding the real culprit?

I would love to see the lab experiment that demonstrates “the fact that crime victims typically resent the presence of exculpatory evidence.” What did they do, show the rats Twelve Angry Men on tiny little screens? Seriously, how can Barash make such an allegation — that victims want innocent men to suffer and don’t care about justice? Where is the evidence? This is a serious, and historically pointed, and — oh, the irony, the return of the repressed — false accusation.

More extremely complicated rat experiments:

It appears that the accumulated burden of physiology, evolution, and cultural expectation is so great that redirected aggression typically feels better than no response at all. Revealingly, there is a deep insistence on the part of victims and their families that — by virtue of their suffering — they are entitled to a defendant’s punishment almost without regard to the matter of guilt.

There is, is there? Says who?

This isn’t just bad thinking, or bad writing, or bad science: it is bad faith. Really, what is the Chronicle doing, publishing this type of insupportable slur, directed at an entire population?

David Barash is not the first evolutionary psychologist to collapse into existentialism-with-a-dollop-of- Discover magazine, and he certainly is not the first to end up hobbled by the same infantile romanticizing of bad guys that hobbled existentialism in all of its previous incantations.

But it still remains shocking that somebody can make light intellectual work of slaughters throughout history, tripping good-naturedly across battlefields, then pull up short in righteous indignation at the perfect boogeyman his fantasy has created — the entirely imaginary psychotically vengeful victim of crime.

The “Benjy Brigade”, Part 1: Boston’s Finest Mount an Attack on an Elderly Victim of Rape

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The theme this week is punitive attitudes towards victims of crime. At the most primal level, the mere existence of victims threatens to spoil all the fun that can be had as you lift your glass from the tray, turn to Professor Ponytail (who could dress better at these things), and say: “When I was mentoring at the federal pen last weekend I met the most inspirational young author — wrongly convicted, of course — we must do something about getting his poetry published. We must!”

Oh, the headiness. That Seventies Susan Sarandon vibe, edgy alchemy of righteousness and rebellion — what a shame if it were all interrupted by flashing on the pensioner in her wheelchair in ugly tan compression stockings, rope scars on her wrists from where the young poet had bound her so tightly the paramedics had to peel the phone cord out from under layers of swollen skin.

No, that will not do. Better not to think about it.

Better still, picture the pensioner as a malevolent hag, somebody deserving of the torture she got (for there is no way to stretch the truth around the fact that she got it) — a racist, of course, accusing the ethereal and handsome young poet out of pure malice.

This is what the city leaders of Boston did throughout the 1990’s to the victim of Benjamin LaGuer, a sadistic rapist who become the toast of the city’s elite, from Boston University President John Silber, to noted pseudo-intellectual Noam Chomsky, to now-governor Deval Patrick, and, sadly, human rights activist Elie Weisel, as well as scores of law professors, judges, lawyers, journalists (including Barbara Walters), celebrities, and authors.

Although the victim identified LaGuer, her neighbor, as the attacker, and other evidence linked him to the crime, Boston’s elite was quick to rush to judgment of the victim after the rapist reached out to them. The story that the victim was a racist and that LaGuer was framed “without evidence” became the only story that mattered in the pages of the Boston Globe, the classrooms of Harvard Law School, and the courtrooms of the Massachusetts appeals courts, where supporters of LaGuer, who adolescently named themselves the “Benjy Brigade,” wielded their considerable social power to push for his release.

LaGuer was showered with literary prizes and honorary degrees, including a magna cum laude degree from Boston University and a PEN award for his barely-literate “memoir,” A Man Who Loves His Mother Loves Women. He became pen pals with dozens of journalists and authors. Although, in reality, LaGuer is no writer, his supporters spoke volubly of his literary talents and personal presence. “My masculinity was like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar on acid,” LaGuer said of himself. John Silber said that LaGuer was “a highly talented young writer who can express himself with remarkable ability.”

LaGuer also said, repeatedly, that he was a victim of prejudice on the part of the rape victim and even suggested that she had not actually been raped. His followers lapped it up.

Only a few spoke for the victim. Dean Mazzarella, a rookie cop at the time of the rape who went on to become the mayor of Leominster, Mass., was the officer who found the woman in her apartment. “The thing I’ll never forget is the smell,” he said years later, “[t]here’s still nothing I’ve come in contact with that’s been that bad.” The rape lasted eight hours: LaGuer broke bones in his victim’s face and left her, naked and bound, to die on her apartment floor. She nearly did die in the hospital, from a heart attack brought on by the assault.

None of this, however, fit the story the Benjy Brigade longed to see fulfilled. Consciously or unconsciously, journalists supporting LaGuer excised the story of the rape and prosecution evidence and details about the victim from their extensive, years-long coverage of LaGuer’s appeals. The Boston Globe went so far as to report that the victim had died not long after the attack, though she was still alive sixteen years later. This wishful thinking, amounting to an excruciating desire that nothing interrupt the rescue fantasy being painted by LaGuer and his supporters, would verge on funny, if it were not horrifying.

The victim’s life story was also distorted by the press. Reporters, reprinting defense arguments as fact, claimed that the woman was both too mentally unstable and physically incapable to identify a suspect after the attack. Family members disputed these allegations, but over the years their statements were rarely included in the long feature stories that focused on LaGuer’s celebrity supporters and legal battles.

The victim’s military service during World War II and her career as a nurse were never mentioned in print: in contrast, LaGuer’s military service was approvingly cited, though his brief stint in the army actually ended when he was caught selling drugs.

Even the wounds inflicted on the victim by LaGuer were used against her. Returning to the case files years later, reporters cherry-picked details in an effort to strengthen LaGuer’s claims. The victim was merely “white,” or “a schizophrenic,” or “a diagnosed schizophrenic who was heavily medicated for pain when she identified LaGuer in a photo line-up.” Few articles failed to mention her race, implying that she made a questionable cross-racial identification from her hospital bed. Most failed to mention that she knew LaGuer because he was the son of her next-door neighbor and no stranger to her.

The fantasies of rescuing LaGuer from his evil captors, especially the recently deceased victim, and the undercurrent of rage directed at her took on a life of their own, mounting to a crescendo in 2001 when Dr. Edward T. Blake, a colleague of Barry Scheck’s, announced that advances in DNA testing had evolved to the point that the small sperm samples taken from the victim’s body could now be identified. John Silber led those preparing for the celebration of LaGuer’s presumed immanent release, but he also said that LaGuer should be released even in the case that he was found guilty. “He has been rehabilitated to any degree that rehabilitation can be measured,” a fawning Silber told the fawning press.

Tomorrow: Journalists Identify the Real Victim: Themselves

Vengeance or Injustice: Which Problem is Real?

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From Nicholas Kristof, in Friday’s New York Times:

[W]hile we have breakthrough DNA technologies to find culprits and exculpate innocent suspects, we aren’t using them properly — and those who work in this field believe the reason is an underlying doubt about the seriousness of some rape cases. In short, this isn’t justice; it’s indifference.

Solomon Moore, a colleague of mine at The Times, last year wrote about a 43-year-old legal secretary who was raped repeatedly in her home in Los Angeles as her son slept in another room. The attacker forced the woman to clean herself in an attempt to destroy the evidence.

Tim Marcia, the detective on the case, thought this meant that the perpetrator was a habitual offender who would strike again. Mr. Marcia rushed the rape kit to the crime lab but was told to expect a delay of more than one year.

Kristof’s column underscores a point I’m trying to make with this blog: while many journalists, politicians and activists endlessly complain that our criminal justice system is too harsh, too punitive, and too prone to incarcerate, the reality of crime in America is that the vast majority of criminals get away with virtually all of the crimes they commit and serve very little time for the rest of them. Our standards have become reflexively anti-punitive — the word “standards” hardly fits anymore.

Consequently, we don’t seem to have any problem telling victims that they will have to accept being denied justice. But the moment a victim speaks out — complains, criticizes, vents, or even observes that injustice has been visited upon them — suddenly, their words — mere language — constitute a severe threat to public safety.

Pundits who empathize with the most depraved offenders howl with outrage the moment a victim expresses even mild dissatisfaction with the outcome of a court case. Activists who eagerly search the faces of child killers for glimmers of goodness are the ones most likely to peer into the wounded eyes of a victim and feel a frisson of disgust that vengeance — vengeance — might lurk there. People who advocate lenience for the perpetrators of horrific crimes are the first ones to advocate vigilance in slapping down victims who get too uppity in their demands for recourse and legal rights.

If we policed the streets the way we police victims’ feelings, we wouldn’t have victims of crime in the first place.

I have experienced this troubling conundrum first-hand. Years after I encountered my rapist and learned his potential for sadism, I was astonished to learn that alumni from my college were still trying to get him released from his life sentence for another rape — not because they think he is innocent, and not because he raped me in particular, but just because he exists and is in prison, which automatically qualifies him for empathy. This man has no connection to the small college I attended; he merely lived nearby and brutalized elderly women in Sarasota, where the school is located, and so, in spasms of righteousness, he has become a cause.

Meanwhile, I cannot count the times I have been accused of:

  • wanting to kill or otherwise punish those accused of crime without a trial
  • wanting to put innocent men in prison
  • wanting to lock up children for life upon their first offense
  • subscribing to fascist ideology
  • lacking human feeling

merely because I am a crime victim, advocating for enforcing the law. My sins, as you can see, are many.

Tomorrow: The “Benjy Brigade”: Boston’s Finest Mount an Attack on an Elderly Victim of Rape

Mission Creep: Burglars With Drug Problems. And Drug Courts With Burglar Problems. And Reporters With Truthiness Problems.

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Atlanta is not the only city where recidivists with long records of serious crime are being permitted to avoid jail sentences because they are also drug addicts. From the Ithaca Journal, Ithaca, New York:

In a plea deal with prosecutors, a Groton woman charged with taking part in burglaries in three counties has been sentenced to time served, five years probation and ordered to attend drug court for local crimes.

Judge John Rowley sentenced Julianna Salerno, 30, on Friday after she pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary in Tompkins County Court. Salerno admitted that she waited in a vehicle and “acted as a lookout” for Daniel Samson, 25, of Groton, when he broke in and stole items from a building at Treman State Park.

Salerno and Samson were charged with six counts of third-degree burglary, four counts of third-degree criminal mischief, and petit larceny, a misdemeanor. . .

They were also linked to Cortland County burglaries at the Greek Peak Ski Resort and Hope Lake, and Cayuga County burglaries at Salmon Creek Sports, Grisamore Farms, Badman’s Bushel Baskets Produce, Ron’s Corner Store, Triangle Restaurant and Longpoint State Park, according to law-enforcement officials. [Ithaca Journal, “Groton Woman Receives Sentence,” 4/27/09, fee for viewing]

More than a dozen burglaries, and this woman is being offered probation and community-based treatment, instead of conviction and incarceration, because she has a drug problem. This type of story, which plays out every day, severely challenges the conventional wisdom that our prisons are stuffed with otherwise innocent drug addicts serving long sentences for merely possessing drugs. Claims that prison populations have expanded because states are locking up mere addicts are not true either, as this chart on inmates from the Department of Justice clearly shows:

The problem, again, is lenient judges, not to mention a system so steeped in anti-incarceration ideology that the mere idea that someone might expect to go to prison for committing a dozen burglaries can no longer even be taken for granted. The judge who sentenced Salerno apparently felt the need to say out loud that there was some possibility that she might go to jail despite her addiction:

While acknowledging Salerno’s actions may have been a “drug-related crime spree,” Rowley told her that she’ll be facing incarceration if she doesn’t adhere to her probation terms and treatment programs.

In other words, Salerno was permitted to get away with at least a dozen crimes against others, but if she messes up in rehab, a crime against herself, then the state might decide get serious with her. Is it any wonder that people have a hard time believing that the justice system is there to protect the rights of anyone except criminals?

Drug courts were never supposed to be used as a get-out-of-jail-free card for people with long offense records. They were supposed to be used to divert first-time offenders whose primary offense was drug-related. But even the term “drug-related” has been twisted: now, apparently, any crime committed by a drug addict is “drug-related,” as the judge in the case above above uses the term.

Another example of abusing both the concept of drug courts and the concept of “drug-related” crime, from the Baltimore Sun — note the reporter’s empathy for the criminal, and his disturbing efforts to downplay his crimes:

Break-In Artist Finally Gets Into Drug Program

Peter Hermann | Baltimore Crime Beat

Michael D. Sydnor Jr. is finally getting the help that he needs.

This is no small accomplishment, as District Judge George M. Lipman made cle[a]r when he learned that the drug-addicted defendant suspected of fueling a plague of car break-ins in downtown Baltimore had been accepted into an inpatient treatment program.

“Hallelujah,” the judge said, a pronouncement not often heard from the bench, and certainly not from this jurist, who apologized several times for being too preachy during Friday morning’s docket at the Hargrove District Court in South Baltimore. He told one man, upset that being sent off to jail meant his car would be towed, “I don’t wipe people’s noses.”

No, the judge doesn’t wipe people’s noses, but that probably needs to be put into the record, just to be clear, because he otherwise plays head cheerleader for repeat felons, as does the reporter. The victims? Well, never mind them: insurance will cover their losses.

Here is reporter Peter Herman’s heart-wrenching account of the court’s efforts to “help” Syndor. Note the way Syndor’s crimes become “petty,” “nonviolent,” and things that “drive people crazy” in the reporter’s hands, as if he is writing about some kid bouncing a basketball against a curb, not a repeat felon breaking into people’s cars, actually committing violent crimes, and betraying an utterly frightening disregard for the law:

I first wrote about Sydnor back in February, painting the 40-year-old as the face of a problem that drives residents crazy and tourists out of the city. Day after day, police reports of car break-ins pile up from Federal Hill, around the Inner Harbor and to the far edges of Canton.

Cell phones used to be the prized catch, but now navigational devices, iPods and iPhones are all the rage, usually stolen by addicts seeking electronics to hawk for a quick buck to score a quick high, a never-ending cycle of car-to-needle-to-car that ends up costing us thousands upon thousands of dollars in increased insurance premiums, car window repairs and replacements for stolen items.

Sydnor is charged with breaking into two cars in January at a garage at 218 N. Charles St., and authorities tell me he’s suspected in other break-ins at garages at The Baltimore Sun and Mercy Medical Center on North Calvert Street. He has been in jail for the past three months awaiting word on a coveted, hard-to-get drug treatment slot, and his cases will be put on hold until he gets through the program.

Police have arrested Sydnor more than 100 times in the past 15 years and he’s been convicted dozens of times, mostly of seemingly petty, nonviolent offenses.

“Mostly of seemingly petty” offenses? What about the other ones? This isn’t journalism: it’s a mutual admiration club with three members: judge, reporter, and predator.

And these admiration clubs so frequently get out of hand, which is why I question one of the main tenets of drug court: that the judge and the offender form a relationship in which the judge takes a personal interest in the offender’s progress. Do we really need to be encouraging judges to be even more enamored of their “patriarchial/matriarchial” roles vis-a-vis criminals? Haven’t enough innocent victims of crime paid, with their lives, for these special moments of bonding, Hallelujahs, slap on the backs, and all?

Shouldn’t people like this be getting their drug and alcohol counseling in prison, as they’re serving time for their crimes?

Given how he reacted while sentencing Sydnor, the judge in this case might as well have been openly berating the public for its failure to leap to Sydnor’s aid by providing him with a bed, on demand, in a drug rehab center. Yet even a brief perusal of Sydnor’s incredibly long record indicates serial neglect on the part of Baltimore’s judiciary to protect the public from this man’s violence. In 1996, Sydnor was found guilty of assault (neither petty nor non-violent). Even though he refused to acknowledge his guilt and was found guilty, he was given only a suspended, one-year sentence — in other words, no time at all. He quickly ended up back in jail again, this time for second-degree assault, and received one year again, another example of judicial carelessness.

The record grows worse as time goes by. Drug dealing, narcotics dealing, felony theft. There are 147 separate court appearances in his record. Assault, second degree, in 2005, some 97 cases in? One month in jail. And this is what reporter Peter Hermann calls a non-violent, minor record? Have they lost their minds, or do they just despise the law-abiding public?

What do you call a 100+ time offender, appearing before Judge Lipman (who is, unsurprisingly, a former defense attorney)?

You call him a good candidate for drug court.

Jean Valjean, Selling Crack to Pay Child Support?

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The economy may be declining, but the marketplace of improbable claims is doing just fine. In this story from the New York Times, a neighborhood advocate in Columbia, South Carolina, claims that the bad economy is driving men to sell drugs in order to meet their child support obligations:

“Why can’t we get a step up in patrol?” asked Mary Myers, president of the tenant association at the Gable Oaks apartment complex in the northern part of the city, condemning what she says is a marked increase in drug dealing and gang-related violence in recent weeks.

“It’s going to get worse,” Ms. Myers said. “You’ve got guys who have kids, who are on the hook for child support. If selling drugs is the only way they can get the money, they’re going to do it.”

Hmmm, is this even a little bit true? Did the reporter identify even one person in all of South Carolina who used to have some legitimate job but has turned to the crack trade to make child support payments on time? Or is this just another example of the shockingly sloppy, ideology-driven naivety that defines Times reporting on crime?

People have been permanently banished from journalism for less than this. But when it comes to justifying the actions of criminals, the Times is so shameless that a sort of glazed-eyed credulity takes over their stories.

Nobody is entering the drug trade in order to make child support payments. Street dealers sell drugs in order to sustain their lifestyles, or at least those parts of their lifestyles not entirely subsidized by taxpayers. We pay the rent, utilities, food and medical care for their female relatives, children and girlfriends — and they crash with relatives or women they hook up with, on our dime, a lifestyle amply documented in Times reporter Jason DeParle’s very well-researched book, American Dream. We give them free utilities and rent, fistfuls of free bus tokens, pocketfuls of W.I.C. vouchers and food stamp credit cards — that often get traded for cash on the black market. So long as drug dealers don’t marry any of the women they live with, and so long as those women become single mothers, we pay the bills.

When drug dealers get sick, they go to the emergency room, and we pay for their medical care. When they go to prison, we pay for everything. When they have to appear in court, we pay for their lawyers, for the court costs, for our lawyers, for the judge, for the policeman who brought them in.

What do they pay for? Drugs. Stupid stuff. Electronics, cars, pricey clothes. That is the domestic economy of the street drug trade, not getting laid off from Thom McAn and hitting the streets so you don’t fail to make your next child support payment on time.

In fact, there has been absolutely no reduction in aid for people dependent on the government since the economic crisis began. People who didn’t pay to feed their own kids in the first place aren’t stealing televisions or selling drugs to feed them now.

In fairness, the Times reporter does float a few believable thoughts about the effect of the economy on crime control:

With the punishing economic downturn, police officers in many American cities are confronting what they describe as a surge in property crime. At the same time, many are being forced to improvise and make do with less: The recession is shrinking the finances of local governments, limiting the resources of police departments.

Fewer cops, furloughed prosecutors, and shuttered courtrooms equals more crime. And it’s entirely believable that some types of economic crime would increase as ordinarily employed people lose their jobs:

“When people get desperate, they’re going to feed their family,” said Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County, whose jurisdiction includes parts of Columbia and its suburbs.

Sheriff Lott has noticed a pronounced increase in insurance fraud and credit card scams in recent months. “When you catch people and ask them why they did it, they’ll say: ‘I’m desperate. I can’t pay my bills.’ ”

Insurance fraud and credit card scams, I can believe. Selling crack to buy diapers (that your girlfriend is already getting free through W.I.C.)? Bunk.

Here is the real reason we can’t control crime, buried, oddly, in the article’s first paragraphs, before the familiar tune from Les Misérables begins to tinkle:

Sgt. E. M. Marsh peers into the darkness, through the rain-speckled windshield of his Chevy Impala police cruiser, and recognizes the sinewy man in the black stocking cap.

“I locked this guy up already,” he says, as his headlights flood the parking lot of an apartment complex north of downtown. “A year ago, he was breaking into every house in this neighborhood, stealing laptops, DVD players.”

Now he is back out in the world.

We can’t control crime because somebody can get caught “breaking into every house in the neighborhood” and still be out of jail within weeks, or months. Now why doesn’t the Times ever write about that?

Tea and Sympathy: How Recidivists Get Away With Multiple Crimes.

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Yesterday, I wrote about Russell Burton, who got away with violent sex crimes in two different states thanks to a sympathetic judge, an apathetic military command, and a psychopathic appeals system.

Burton is in good company. With sex offenders, in particular, there always seems to be somebody willing to step up and offer a helping hand. Such behavior is not limited to ladies who latch onto serial killers like frowsy pilot fish. Distinctively non-marginal people like college presidents and judges often assume the role of head cheerleader for some of the worst repeat offenders.

Cause, meet effect. When Miss Lonelyhearts licks her Enjoli-scented pink envelope and seals it with a kiss, she is merely swaying the boundaries of rationality. Respected public figures sway parole boards.

A recent string of rapes in Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood illustrates the point. There is something jarring about reading a narrative of serial rapist Lavelle McNutt’s past accomplishments, especially coming from people who obviously still admire him, but coverage like this offers real insight into the ways powerful people enabled certain serial offenders:

Early success a distant memory

List of trouble: Disgraced West Point cadet labeled a ‘sex fiend’ faces new criminal charges.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday, April 03, 2009

As a teenager, Lavel McNutt seemed branded for success.

He was a Maryland high school football star, made high marks in his classes and got into the prestigious U.S. Military Academy with the help of a nomination from the vice president of the United States.

“He was one of the best [high school] receivers back then, I think, in the state of Maryland,” said Scott Swope, who was the team’s quarterback and is now a strength-and-conditioning coach for University of Maryland athletic teams. “He was very fast. He had great hands.”

He was very fast and had great hands.

But McNutt’s life has been defined not by accomplishments, but by what he has done wrong. Public documents and decades-old news accounts depict McNutt as a disgraced West Point cadet whose successes were overshadowed by emotional problems that drove his sexual impulses.

Today, he sits in the Fulton County Jail awaiting a court hearing in two separate criminal cases, including an attempted rape at a Buckhead-area apartment complex. They’re the latest in a string of criminal charges —- many of them sex-related or involving women —- going back to his college days in the 1970s.

More charges are likely, Atlanta police said. They have identified McNutt as a suspect in at least four attacks on women since August, crimes that had sex-crime detectives suspecting that a multiple rapist was targeting women in the Buckhead area.

A tipster who led police to McNutt last month offered incriminating details about him. The caller reported that McNutt kept items in his car used in such assaults, including duct tape, wigs, lubricant and sex toys, court documents show.

The caller, whose identity has been withheld, also said McNutt blamed his wife for his misdeeds, claiming “she would not engage in sexual intercourse with him,” documents show. Yet McNutt’s sex crime convictions began long before their marriage in 2002.

When a sex offender blames his wife for his crimes, that’s a sex offender talking. But what happens when other men agree with him?

In 1975, he was appointed to the academy at West Point after then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller nominated him as a prospective cadet, according to newspaper accounts. McNutt became a starting defensive back on Army’s football team midway through his freshman season, newspaper accounts said.

But his West Point career ended abruptly the following spring, when he was charged with raping two women three weeks apart, a Smith College student who came to the West Point campus for a dance and a 30-year-old housewife from a nearby community. He was convicted of both attacks and became the first cadet ever to be court-martialed for rape, The New York Times reported at the time. McNutt, then 18, was kicked out of the Army and sentenced to five years in a military prison.

By 1979, he was attending Morehouse College.

1975: two rapes, five years, out in three or less, then admission to Morehouse. What was Morehouse College thinking, admitting a twice-convicted stranger rapist? Obviously they were not thinking of the young women attending nearby colleges.

The desire to re-cast rapists as victims is a powerful American prejudice, but unlike many other prejudices, this one will get you far. Academia, law schools, bar associations — try sympathizing with rape victims in such settings. But spend weekends volunteering in a reading program for rapists? You’re draped in caché.

By 1979, he was attending Morehouse College when McNutt was convicted of aggravated sodomy of a Delta Airlines flight attendant at a hotel near the city’s airport, court documents show. On the day he was given a seven-year prison sentence, a minister who knew McNutt well testified that he had “grave emotional problems” that began in childhood.

Since then, McNutt has mostly been in prison, county jail or on probation, court records show. He has at least nine convictions in metro Atlanta, including two on Peeping Tom charges and two for loitering and prowling.

Nine convictions. Let’s see a list of the judges who continued to let this man go.

“It’s a shame,” his high school buddy Swope said. “What a tragedy to have a life like that.”

A correction: it is no “tragedy” to be a violent predator of women, hating and hunting them down. Tragedy implies undeserved suffering.

During a 1996 conviction for stalking and aggravated assault, court papers state that McNutt had been diagnosed with “sexual deviance,” but did not elaborate.

“Your honor, the defendant’s a sex fiend, obviously,” a county probation officer, Jeffery Kahn, told a Fulton County judge. “And I have some grave concerns in this case about the safety of this community with a man like this running around.”

But run around, McNutt did.

When not locked up, McNutt gravitated to jobs in Atlanta’s food services industry. He managed a cafeteria. He managed a Wendy’s restaurant. And, most recently, he was a manager at Fox Sports Grill in Atlantic Station. But McNutt struggled to support himself financially. When arrested last month, McNutt was living at his mother’s condo and driving his mother’s car.

Don’t these restaurants do background checks? My rapist was working in a fast food restaurant and stalking women customers. Here is a link to the National Crime Victim Bar Association. There’s nothing like the possibility of a civil suit to focus the mind when faced with the decision about whether to hire a serial rapist to manage your female employees and interact with your female customers.

Are we supposed to feel sorry for McNutt because he was driving his mother’s car? To be continued . . .

***

I am going to be in transit and not blogging over the next few days. On Monday, I will post more about McNutt’s criminal record.

Here’s Why I Loved Reading the St. Petersburg Times When I Was in College

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The St. Pete Times has recently begun running a “mugshot” feature, like the ones published in cheap tabloid form and sold in convenience stores.  It’s a sad day for that institution (the Times, not convenience stores).

Here is the type of reporting for which the Times used to be routinely known.  It offers real insight into a tragic crime and –unlike so much reflexively pro-criminal reporting, like this disturbing L.A. Times whitewash — explores the price innocent people pay for our collective failure to put criminals away:

Pasco County deputies: 89-year-old Port Richey woman beaten, sexually assaulted

By Erin Sullivan, Times Staff Writer 
In Print: Thursday, April 9, 2009


PORT RICHEY —

Three masked men broke into the home of an 89-year-old woman early Wednesday morning, beat her in her bed and sexually assaulted her. Before they left, they ransacked the house in the Palm Terrace Gardens subdivision.

The woman went to a neighbor’s home for help and was taken to a hospital.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office got a call from the hospital at 6 a.m.

Authorities say the woman was released later that day and is recovering. Her name and address are withheld because of the nature of the crime.

She couldn’t give detectives a good description of the men because they covered their faces. Detectives think there might be a link between this crime and another that happened to the woman.

On April 2, her house was broken into and her red Pontiac Sunfire was stolen. It was later recovered.

Wednesday afternoon, few people on the streets in Palm Terrace Gardens — just north of Ranch Road and east of Zimmerman Road — knew what had happened that morning.

“You have to be pretty low to do something like that,” said Beverly Mills, a petite 17-year-old with glasses and cornrows. She and four other teens stood at the edge of a parking lot on Areca Drive, across from the Palm Terrace Civic Association building. The doors were locked. The phone is disconnected.

“We hear sirens all the time,” Beverly said.

Suddenly, a black Pontiac swerved over to them, missing them by inches.

“Who is that?” said Shakira Merritt, 16.

The driver screeched to a halt, leaned out and screamed an expletive.

“What?” Shakira said.

He sped off.

“Who was that?” Shakira asked.

They didn’t know. The group paused for a moment and then continued their conversation.

It wasn’t yet 5 p.m., but the streets were full. Toddlers in diapers on Big Wheels cycled out on the street in front of cars. Dogs and cats roamed loose, as did ducks from a nearby lake. Kids and adults walked in the road, playing basketball. A woman in an electric wheelchair rode slowly down a street smoking a cigarette, with a toddler in her lap.

At a corner lot home, a 75-year-old woman worked in her yard. She does not want to be named because she fears her neighbors.

“Oh, mercy me,” she said, when asked how the area has changed in the 26 years she’s lived there. She walked to her front lawn, in her robin’s egg blue work gloves, her faded pink sweatshirt with tissues shoved in one cuff, her hair kept back in a kerchief.

“The lawns were beautiful,” she said. “And look at it now.”

Her second husband wanted to move here, so they did. He died 13 years ago. Now she lives alone with her cockatiel, who is 15.

She says she’s had bottles thrown at the house. People steal things, such as her water hose, plants, a frog statue, even her metal address sign with two doves of peace.

She has more than a dozen security lights on the house and driveway. Before she goes to sleep, she checks outside every window and opens the door to look in the courtyard. As soon as the economy gets better, she’s selling her house and moving.

“I’m afraid,” she said.

But when told of the attack on the 89-year-old woman earlier that day, her expression didn’t change. She was not shocked. She talked of 11 and 12 year-old kids who wander the streets at 1 a.m.

“Where are their parents?” she asked.

A few minutes later and a few streets over, a black SUV weaved the breadth of Foxbloom Drive, curb to curb, tires squealing. People got out of its way and watched it as it tore down the street and turned left in a cloud of smoke.

And then everyone went back to what they were doing, continuing their chats and walks and yard work, dogs barking, life as usual.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this story. 

***

UPDATE: Three teenage boys have been charged with the rape, beating and attempted murder of the 89-year old woman.  They are suspected of having burglarized her home in an earlier crime.  Anyone who believes we should reduce burglary to a misdemeanor crime — essentially eliminating penalties for it, given the realities of plea bargaining, should think about this: breaking into a person’s home is a troubling violation of another person’s privacy.  Once you have become immured to violating others that way, it’s not such a big step to breaking and entering somebody else’s body, especially when authorities start to officially treat burglary as a minor offense.    

Another (Wannabe) California Cop Killer, and Her Apologists: Sarah Jane Olson and Ruben Rosario

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As some in Berkley/Oakland and Austin, Texas celebrate the murders of four police officers by child-rapist Lovelle Mixon, the recent release of Sarah Jane Olson, fugitive, murderer, attempted cop killer and Weather Underground activist should remind us of the origins of the sentiment “kill the pigs.”

Well-off radicals like Olson descended on poor communities in Oakland in the late Sixties, when it was hip to do so, and fomented violence there in the name of “revolution.”  When the wretched stakes for real community members wore out their welcome, these itinerant revolutionaries trotted back to their to upper-class enclaves, leaving conditions in the impoverished, urban, minority neighborhoods much worse than they found them.

There is a direct path from the careless radicalism practiced by Olson to those who are celebrating the murder of four police officers today. When someone calling himself the “Prisoner of Conscience Coalition, Minister of Information” posts anonymous internet screeds threatening police sympathizers and mocking the murdered officers, he is mimicking “kill the pigs” rhetoric that should have died out when the last Weatherman traded his dashiki for a pair of Hush Puppies, reinstatement to the family trust fund, and the tenure track.  The Hush Puppy crowd has much to answer for in Oakland this week.  So, too, has the anonymous POCC Minister.  Everything old is new again, as evinced by the instantaneous, postmortem rehabilitation of Mixon himself.

***

Meanwhile, amazingly, a few journalists are still defending Olson.  Last week, Twin Cities Pioneer Press columnist Ruben Rosario fired off a “humorous” column complimenting the post-conviction conduct of both Sarah Jane Olson and Stanley Dean Baker, a confessed cannibal who murdered a social worker and was found with the woman’s hacked-off fingers in his pocket.

Rosario’s column, “Come On, Sarah Jane Olson is not Osama Bin Laden,” starts off as a jokey comparison between Olson and Baker (Which would you rather live next to, the cookie-baking mom or the cannibal?).  But in an apparent warm rush of good feelings about any convicted killer, Rosario abandons this modicum of judgment and spends the rest of the piece paying tribute to the good character of both.

Funny stuff, hacking a social worker to pieces. Rosario cracks a joke about Baker’s nickname (Fingers).  He slavishly praises one parole officer who calls Baker “brilliant,” and claims — as if it matters, or is true – that Baker never killed again. He doesn’t manage to get around to bothering to name Baker’s forgotten victim, but he does take the time to scold the public for not adequately appreciating a parole system that gives men like Baker a second chance. He also expresses outrage that Baker lost a job, once, after people learned of his grotesque crimes.  That “injustice” arouses his slumbering indignation.  Anything for a convict, you see.

Pretty appalling stuff.  But the most dishonest aspect of Rosario’s column is what he leaves out – the facts of Sarah Jane Olsen’s unfunny crimes. Olson participated in the murder of Myrna Opsahl, a mother of four.  She planted explosives under police cars that were parked in public places.  She kicked a pregnant woman in the stomach during a bank robbery, causing her to miscarriage.  Rosario doesn’t mention these facts.  He talks about her cookie-baking instead.

A week and four dead police officers later, Rosario’s whitewash of Sarah Jane Olson’s attempts to kill policemen is even less forgivable.  It’s rhetoric like this, and the unrepentant posture of Olson herself, that lives on, sadly, in neighborhoods in Oakland that can ill afford such self-destructive theatrics.

More On The Oakland Police Killings

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In an article purportedly about Lovelle Mixon’s criminal record (he has been linked to one rape through DNA and is being investigated in another), the San Francisco Chronicle inexplicably chose to give the deceased quadruple murderer several column inches to assert his innocence, good intentions, and career goals.  He apparently thought he was a pretty good guy, carjackings, attempted murders, and sundry crimes notwithstanding:

Mixon’s version

Mixon told authorities that in the attempted carjacking, “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and did not act responsible and allowed someone else to act just as bad,” according to the report. “Now I have to take responsibility for it all.”

Mixon also is quoted in the report as saying he planned to move away to “a better area, get a job, and hopefully in about two or three years get my own business, raise my kids in a responsible way.”

“I wish I could fix or make up for what happened,” Mixon was quoted as saying. “But I can’t, so I am going to attempt to make the best out of it and learn as much as possible to help me when I get out.”

At the time, Mixon had a 1-year-old son but was not paying child support because he was unemployed, the probation report said.

In 2000, he worked for six months as a grocery packer for Webvan in Oakland, making $10 an hour, the report said. The next year he spent three months as an inventory worker for another Oakland company and made $9 an hour.

How, precisely, do you call arming yourself and committing a violent carjacking “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”?  How do you “make the best” of the fact that you have beaten and could have killed an innocent victim?  How do you “take responsibility” for a crime by denying that you intended to commit it?

The real problem isn’t that Lovelle Mixon said these things.  The problem is that so many of the people who are entrusted to keep the Lovelle Mixons of the world from harming others say and believe the types of things Mixon said about himself.

A judge believes the lies of a recidivist burglar who claims he has stopped offending (with some exceptions, of course) and shouldn’t go to jail for his latest crime because he might lose his (probably imaginary) job. Naive activists buy (with your tax dollars) into the idea that violent recidivists will change their ways if only they get the chance to read a good book, and recidivists are set free to read books with them.   

And a publicly-funded radio station gives a cop killer his own show.  Did Lovelle Mixon listen to Mumia Abu Jabal’s taxpayer-subsidized cop-hating ravings on Bay Area radio before gunning down four police officers?

Pushing back against all of this pro-criminal, anti-victim sentiment is hard.  Being a cop-killer on death row gets you your own radio show and endless cachet with academicians and media types, the people who set the terms of debate about criminal justice in America.  Being a crime victim gets you silenced, first by the criminal, then by the opinion-makers.  But to the credit of the San Francisco Chronicle, they do preface Lovelle Mixon’s words with the words of the man he car-jacked.  They’re worth reading carefully:

Victim’s story

The victim, Francisco Cardenas, told police that Mixon was holding a gun as the three “got me out of my car, telling me to shut up,” court records show. As he tried to run, the assailants hit him.

“Then I saw one of them shooting his gun at me,” Cardenas said. “After that, I don’t remember any more.”

Cardenas required 16 stitches. The men drove off in a car without stealing the truck, and police arrested Mixon and the others a short distance away. He was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.

In a sentencing report, San Francisco probation officer Yvonne Williams wrote that Mixon’s juvenile record was that of a “cold-hearted individual who does not have any regard for human life.” She said state prison was the only way to “to rein in this man’s proclivity for violence.”

Somebody needs to promote Yvonne Williams and let the rest of us see what she saw in Mixon’s juvenile record.  If Williams’ words had been taken seriously, four men might be going home to their wives and children tonight.  

And somebody else needs to ask the question: why wasn’t Mixon charged with attempted murder?  Is bad aim a murder defense?

“What Went Wrong” in the Murder of Four Oakland, CA Police [Update #1, Below, 3/24]

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Yesterday morning, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story about “what went wrong” in the quadruple murder of police officers in Oakland, California.  The focus of that story was police procedure — an understandable line of inquiry with four policemen’s lives lost at two crime scenes.  Today, both the Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times ran stories covering the problems that arise when violent offenders like Lovelle Mixon, the man who killed the officers, are released on parole.

The Chronicle, however, starts every story by stressing how rare it is that parolees resort to violence.  And, of course, killing four officers is a thankfully rare tragedy.  But, as the Chronicle itself notes, fully two-thirds of California parolees are returned to prison for violating parole.  That’s two-thirds of the state’s 122,000 parolees.  Is violence really “rare” in this vast group of offenders?  Why do some newspapers reflexively minimize such horrific numbers, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the murder of four policemen?  There are more than 16,000 parolees in California currently wanted for parole violations.  12% of parolees in California abscond immediately upon leaving prison.  

There is nothing “rare” about these events.

When hashing out what went wrong in a violent crime, it’s also easy to lose sight of the most important thing that “went wrong”: a criminal chose, of his own free will, to violently victimize others.  No discussion of the details of the crime should distract from this fact.  Denial-laced justifications for Mixon’s choices and behavior — ‘parolees need more re-entry services,’ or ‘it’s prison that makes people more violent,’ or (my favorite) ‘he didn’t want to go back to jail,’ — are offensive yet predictable commentaries in the aftermath of violent crime.  Here are some factors other than Lovelle Mixon’s own choices that enabled Mixon to kill four innocent public servants over the weekend:        

Factor #1:  Lenience in sentencing.  In 2002, Mixon was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and armed robbery.  He was out on parole by 2007.  Assault with a deadly weapon + armed robbery = five years in prison?

Factor #2:  More Lenience in Sentencing, and Parole:  Mixon violated parole in 2008 and served nine more months in prison but was released to parole again.

Factor #3:  Lenience in Granting Parole.  In the Chronicle: “[t]he  California’s parole system has been thrust into the spotlight by the killings, but, in fact, experts say, it has been deteriorating ever since 1977, when the state’s determinate sentencing law went into effect.  Determinate sentencing means that when a prisoner is given a parole date, he must be released. Nuances about past offending behavior and whether someone is really suitable for parole go by the board.”      

Of course, the main factor remains this: Lovelle Mixon was a monster.  

To their credit, several in Lovelle Mixon’s family have reached out to the officers’ families with condolences.  But his sister is urging sympathy for Mixon.  “I don’t want people to think he’s a monster,” she said, “He’s just not. He’s just not.”    If murdering four people doesn’t make you a monster, what does?  Assault with a deadly weapon?  Rape?  (Mixon’s DNA was identified in a rape kit the day before he went on a killing spree).  Is it really too much to ask that the rehabilitation of Mixon be deferred to a later date?  

Of course, families say such things.  Mixon was hiding in this sister’s apartment: he murdered two of the officers in the room where her four-year-old slept.  

ABC News reported that a crowd of people “taunted police near the scene of the first shooting.”  The print media has not commented on this report.  Why not?

***

Update #1: Victor David Hanson writes about the “Therapeutic Impulse” of excusing criminals’ actions and the Oakland police killings in an article in Pajamas Media titled “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Part One.”

Outrage of the Week: Crayons and Gym Memberships, or Incarceration? Which Actually Costs Less?

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A really interesting article in U.S.A. Today on the national push to get prisoners out of jail and into community programs.  

In a hushed conference room overlooking the town’s main drag, eight convicted felons, including an aspiring amateur fighter, brandish bright Crayola markers.

Their goal is to match their personalities to one of four colors. Tim Witte, 27, on probation for evading arrest, eyes the task as if sizing up a fellow middle-weight on Kansas’ gritty cage-fighting circuit. Witte and two drug offenders settle on orange.

The color, indicative of a restless, risk-taking personality, is the hue of choice for most offenders, says Michelle Stephenson, the corrections officer leading the unusual exercise. . . .

The class is part of a state effort to save millions of dollars in prison costs by changing how criminals are treated. Kansas is closing some prisons, boosting support for offenders on probation and declining to return them to prison for every probation violation. . . .

Probation officers now help offenders find work, health care, housing, counseling, transportation and child care.

During the past several months, for example, the office spent $110 to cover an offender’s utility payments; $500 for a rent payment; $600 for six bikes the office loans to get to job interviews; $77 for a YMCA membership to help an offender improve his physical condition and $320 for eight anger-management counseling sessions.

All of the assistance is aimed at keeping offenders out of costly prison cells, although Kansas officials say they are only beginning to review whether the offenders who received the assistance have committed new offenses.

Note that very little of this long article actually addresses the “against community sentencing” side, compared to the well-funded and well-placed “pro-community sentencing” activists.  The outspoken Joshua Marquis, alone, is quoted speaking in favor of incarceration. 

Note, too, that in the article, the Pew Center Study is quoted uncritically — even though their analysis of “cost savings with alternative sentencing” leaves out the cost of additional crimes that are committed by probationers and parolees who could be in prison at the time.  

Anti-incarceration advocacy groups like The Sentencing Project have deep pockets to fund their efforts to reduce prison sentences, free offenders to the community, and roll back the clock on the fragile gains made by victim advocates against recidivists over the last two decades.  The Sentencing Project’s “research” is advocacy-based, not objectivity-based, yet it is often reported as fact.  No sooner did we get some teeth into sentencing laws that removed repeat offenders from the streets than push-back began to free even the most prolific criminals.  

As federal funding for law enforcement begins to trickle down to the states, expect much of it to be diverted into efforts that actually release larger numbers of offenders into communities.  Those who feel that their money should not be spent on “alternatives to incarceration” will need to stay on top of grants coming to their cities and stay vocal with their legislators.  It’s clear that the media — even U.S.A. Today, which usually features thoughtful crime coverage — is not doing a very good job of covering both sides of this debate.

The Pew Center Study, Repeat Offenders, and the Real Price of Crime

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From The Tennessean

Cons commit crimes after early release

Sentencing guidelines enable repeat offenders

A college student is kidnapped, brutalized and murdered. A mother looks up from changing her baby’s diaper to find a gun pointing in her face. A 62-year-old man is bludgeoned with a baseball bat in a mall parking lot.

The crimes share one trait, aside from their brutality. In each case, the person charged with the offense was an ex-convict, out on probation or parole — a situation Tennessee prosecutors and law enforcement leaders say is all too common because of how the state sentences its convicted criminals. . . .

Amanda Sue Kelley, 19, was arrested seven times last year on charges that ranged from drug possession to domestic assault and theft. In January, police say, she wrenched open the door of a parked car, pointed a gun at a woman changing her 13-month-old daughter’s diaper in the back seat, and demanded cash. . . .

It costs about $63.90 a day to keep someone behind bars in Tennessee. A day monitoring someone’s probation or parole costs $2.95.

“We really need to do a better job of sorting our offenders by risk,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States’ Public Safety Performance Project. “This is less and less an issue of being tough on crime or soft on crime and more an issue of giving the taxpayers a better return on their dollars.” 

The Pew Center study, “One in One Hundred,” has attracted a lot of attention — but less obvious is the Center’s ideological anti-incarceration bias.  The Center did not include what is known as the “Aggregate Burden of Crime” in its analysis of the price of incarceration versus the price of community sentencing.  The aggregate burden of crime, which measures the total economic effect of crime on victims, communities and the offender, offers a picture of the real cost of incarcerating convicts versus letting them go free — not a one-line argument comparing the day-to-day cost of probation to the day-to-day cost of incarceration.

There is no excuse for excluding the other costs that inevitably arise when people who should be in prison commit additional crimes — unless the study is simply designed to sway public opinion towards letting convicts back on the streets.  

In 1996, the Department of Justice issued a far more comprehensive, less ideological study called “Victim Costs and Consequences: A New Look”  which placed the cost of crime for victims at $450 billion dollars per year.  And in 1999, Professor David A. Anderson published another study, titled “The Aggregate Burden of Crime,” which placed the annual cost of crime at 1.7 trillion dollars a year.  Here is a description of his study:

Anderson takes into account all costs which would not exist in an ideal society totally free of crime. That includes the cost of private preventative measures such as locks, safety lighting, alarm systems, fencing and private security guards. In addition it calculates the cost of crime-related injuries and deaths, including medical care, lost workdays, pain, and fear, and the opportunity costs of time spent preventing, carrying out and serving prison terms for criminal activity. Finally, it mentions a $28 billion decrease in property values of real estate and buildings that are cheaper than similar facilities because they are located in high-crime areas. The costs associated with living in the suburbs to avoid crime in the city center are also discussed, since there are significant costs for activities such as commuting and parking. 

If the Pew Center had really intended to quantify the difference in cost between incarcerating offenders and releasing them to the community, they would have had to first figure out the number of crimes committed each year by offenders who could have been sentenced to prison, or kept there without parole, but who were instead released to commit more crime.  Then they would have had to plug in the price of this additional victimization.  Absent that, they are operating on the assumption that no parolees or probationers ever commit crimes.  

Victim and community expenses appear nowhere in the Pew Center report.  When you focus narrowly on the price differential between daily incarceration expenses and parole/community control expenses, you are intentionally excluding the bulk of expenses born by innocent people — victims, bystanders, and neighborhoods — who have been impacted by illegal activities.  That’s not just bad public policy: it’s dishonest public policy.

Semi-Open Thread Friday

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Following is a list of the books convicts might read in Boston’s “Changing Lives Through Literature” program to avoid incarceration for their crimes.    

I have a hard time imagining convicts settling down to read Anne Tyler, or Sylvia Plath, or Annie Proulx (maybe this is punishment), or Anna Quindlan, or Jane Hamilton, or Anita Shreve.  Yet the thought of car thieves settling in with Edith Wharton is weirdly . . . comforting.

On the other hand, how can people who have just skirted jail (and any responsibility for their crimes) in the warm, supportive bosom of “alternative sentencing” find anything of relevance to their condition in Animal Farm or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Aleksander Solzhenitsyn?  Many of these entries beg the question: what, precisely does this book teach other than contempt for the criminal justice system and society in general?

And Down and Out in Paris and London?  The autobiography of an Old Etonian who clocked time slumming in Paris between the Wars?  Are there many comp lit. students on probation?         

Comments welcome, though still moderated.

 

Novels Used in Changing Lives Through Literature

James Agee, A Death in the Family

Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina

Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace

Russell Banks, Affliction 

Russell Banks, Rule of the Bone

Russell Banks, The Sweet Hereafter

Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street 

Chris Crutcher, Ironman 

Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory

James Dickey, Deliverance

Janet Fitch, White Oleander 

Alexandra Flinn, Breathing Underwater

Jack Gantos, Hole in My Life

Jane Hamilton, Map of the World

Kent Haruf, Plainsong 

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea 

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God 

Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees 

Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird

Francess Lantz, Fade Far Away

Billie Letts, Where the Heart Is

Jack London, Seawolf

Jack London, The Call of the Wild 

Lois Lowry, The Giver

Bernard Malamud, The Assistant

Bobbie Ann Mason, In Country

Joyce McDonald, Swallowing Stones

Ben Mikaelsen, Touching Spirit Bear

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye 

Toni Morrison, Sula

Gloria Naylor, The Women of Brewster Place

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

Tillie Olsen, Tell me a Riddle

George Orwell, Animal Farm

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

Gordon Parks, The Learning Tree

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

Anna Quindlen, Black and Blue

Daniel Quinn, Ishmael

J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

Esmerelda Santiago, When I was a Puerto Rican

Anita Shreve, Strange Fits of Passion 

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Scott Smith, A Simple Plan 

John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men 

John Steinbeck, The Pearl

Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant 

Larry Watson, Montana, l948

Tobias Wolff, The Barracks Thief

Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

Richard Wright, Black Boy

Reading With Felons, Part II: A Blog is Worth a Thousand Words

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The people over at “Changing Lives Through Literature” in Boston want you to read their blog.  They feel it will offer insight into the significance of running book clubs for people who commit crimes and have had their prison sentences deferred or reduced by participating in a book club or other taxpayer-funded, higher-education initiatives.

I think it’s a great idea to take a hard look at their blog.  After all, your federal Education Department dollars and Justice Department dollars doubtlessly support this reading experiment, either directly or indirectly (never believe anybody who says that their prisoner outreach is “funded exclusively by private resources”: the Justice Department and the states pony up tax dollars to support every prisoner initiative in some way.  Many of these programs would not exist without funding from the Justice Department’s Weed and Seed grants — federal tax dollars that are spread among the states.  All of these programs require oversight from corrections departments.  And public universities are public entities, as are the courts — it’s all on your dime, one way or another).  

The blog is very informative: in fact, it’s a roadmap of romanticized ideas about “rescuing” prisoners while having meaningful personal experiences along the way.  It also makes my point, better than I could, about the denial of crime victimization practiced lockstep by such activists.  In post after post (and article after article on the organization’s main page), convicts are “citizens” and victims are nonexistent, untouchable, unmentionable — surgically excised.  If you step back from the professionally-designed pages and contemplate the absence of any mention of crime, there is a sort of horror in this systematic erasure of the victim’s experience.

The blog’s first entry neatly encapsulates both the doublespeak of prisoner “outreach” and the shameless fixation on “enriching” volunteers’ lives, while pretending crime itself is not part of the equation:

Much has been said about the difference that Changing Lives Through Literature makes in the lives of criminal offenders who attend the program. . . . What’s not so easily measurable, however, is the impact of CLTL on the lives of the facilitators, probation officers, judges, and other visitors who attend the sessions. In the absence of statistics, personal accounts of one’s experiences with the program are the only measure our organization has to analyze the powerful sway that extends beyond the probationers. . . . In one session, I could see the magic of the program at work through the insights and realizations offered by the participants. I was most astonished, however, to notice the two-hour discussion had changed me as well. I became more engaged in this discussion than in any of my past literature classes. . .

Jennie

And so on.  Comments continue in the breathless voice of personal discovery and ritualistic self-deprecation, spiced with a bit of braggadocio at the thought of close contact with convicts:    

Univ. of Illinois English Department has a program that sends books to prisons, but this sounds much more powerful. It puts us academics in our place!

Libbie

 

We had chosen 10 men with really long records. We had a room full of violent thiefs, with substance abuse problems. Unlike the characters in “Greasy Lake”, they were “bad guys”. . . . I had a lagitimate fear for my own safety. It was a roller coaster of emotion, as by the end, we left shaking hands, and we all knew we had stumbled on something special. 

Wayne

The blog is all about the outreach worker, or rather the quasi-religious (magic) expectations such people bring to the experience of interacting with convicts.  It takes an impressive degree of hubris to imagine that a program that arises from someone’s else’s experience of crime is actually about your own personal growth (even the prisoners slip away beneath the urgent prose of self-awareness).  

But this is hubris with a high social return: this is Boston environs, where prisoner chic never went out of style.

Outrage of the Week: Read A Book, Get Out of Jail

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An unholy alliance between politicians and bureaucrats who want to keep prison costs to a minimum, and liberal intellectuals who pretend to see in crime a natural and understandable response to social injustice — which it would be a further injustice to punish — has engendered a prolonged and so far unfinished experiment in leniency that has debased the quality of life of millions of people, especially the poor.

                                             Theodore Dalrymple, in Not With A Bang But A Whimper

THE NOTION that criminals are merely people who have been misunderstood, or mishandled by society, and therefore need only to be understood, not punished, is so predominant in the criminal justice system that it barely needs to be mentioned, let alone discussed. That discussion ended in the 1970’s, when “alternatives to incarceration” were presented as both a solution to prison crowding and to “the problem of incarceration” itself.

Today, community service, drug courts, half-way houses, Outward Bound programs, boot camps, and mental health diversionary programs are all part of the “treatment continuum” replacing incarceration. Also replacing incarceration are: plea bargains, parole, probation, electronic monitoring, early release, and cases where judges simply “dead docket” charges or otherwise decline to prosecute. There are so many venues for not incarcerating defendants that it is a wonder anyone goes to prison anymore, though prisons are overflowing. And talk of overflowing prisons leads seamlessly into talk of new ways to release prisoners early. Victimization – and crime itself – barely register as a bump in the road.

ALL THIS is bound to affect the perspective of the courts. Alternative sentencing is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can quickly become bad when judges forget that it is their job to protect the public, not merely address defendants’ needs.

In far too many recent courtroom decisions in Atlanta, it is hard to detect any cognizance of public safety on the part of judges. Victims and criminal acts seem to disappear from the record: narcissistic displays of bonding between judges and defendants take their place.

In some cases, the outcome is merely insulting, as when DeKalb State Court Judge Barbara Mobley permitted “N.Z.” (aka “MARTA Girl”) to read her poetry aloud in the courtroom before refusing to rule on the state’s case against her. Through dead docketing the case, Mobley silenced the public. She then turned the people’s courtroom into another platform for “N.Z.’s” artistic expressiveness.

Expression, not remorse, mind you. In the therapeutic courtroom, it is untoward to suggest that a defendant show remorse, and they generally do not. Is there any evident remorse in these lines performed in Mobley’s courtroom by “N.Z.”:

“Bipolar is up and down mood swings, and when it affects me I dance and sing”?

Was that what she was doing to that elderly woman on the train? Dancing and singing for her?

OTHER incidents of therapeutic jurisprudence have ended in tragedy, as when DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Cynthia J. Becker let soon-to-be murderer and serial con man Shamal Thompson walk free instead of imposing the mandatory ten-year sentence required for his burglary conviction. The judge was impressed by the “beautiful designs” on a bridal gown website Thompson claimed as his own. So she released him back onto the streets, apparently placing his artistic ambitions and self-esteem over the burglary victim’s experience or Thompson’s prior record or Georgia’s very clear sentencing law (there is no word yet on whether Becker will face consequences for refusing to assign the mandatory sentence in that case).

In an horrific irony, Becker’s inattention to Thompson’s criminal history enabled him to murder Emory cancer researcher and bride-to-be Eugenia Calle, in cold blood, in her apartment, when he should have been in prison.

Any survey of the criminal records of murderers would reveal multiple instances of therapeutic jurisprudence enabling an escalation of violence, and finally, the most violent crime.

THE TERM “therapeutic jurisprudence” is not merely descriptive of a mindset: it is an academic theory and social movement with its own website and academic journals. The definition of therapeutic jurisprudence (searchable on the website) in criminal law (other types are mentioned) makes for lengthy but illuminating reading — illuminating not so much for its clarity but for its studious avoidance of admitting what it is: the latest effort to justify replacing incarceration with community-based rehabilitation as often as possible. One of the cornerstones of therapeutic jurisprudence theory is that the special relationship between the judge and the defendant — the quality of the communication between the two — can positively affect the outcomes of probation and parole. Here is how it is supposed to work:

[T]he judge might say, “I’m going to consider you but I want you to come up with a type of preliminary plan that we will use as a basis of discussion. I want you to figure out why I should grant you probation and why I should be comfortable that you’re going to succeed. In order for me to feel comfortable, I need to know what you regard to be high risk situations and how you’re going to avoid them or cope with them.

If that approach is followed, courts will be promoting cognitive self-charge as part and parcel of the sentencing process itself. The process may operate this way: “I realize I mess up on Friday nights; therefore, I propose that I will stay home Friday nights.” Suddenly, it is not a judge imposing something on you. It’s something you are coming up with so you should think it is fair. You have a voice in it, and presumably your compliance with this condition will also be better. [footnotes excluded]                                                                      

                                 Professor David B. Wexler, “TJ, An Overview” 

Of course, it could be said that it was precisely “cognitive self-charge” that enabled Shamal Thompson to talk his way out of Cynthia Becker’s courtroom. Yet, apparently, it is still not enough that many defendants are able to bypass prison for therapeutic settings: their experience in the courtroom must be self-empowering as well.

WHICH brings us to the first Outrage of the Week, featuring an extreme form of community-based therapeutic jurisprudence and extremely unsettling over-valuing of the judge-offender bond. As the New York Times approvingly reports, some felons in Massachusetts may “choose between going to jail or joining a book club,” a choice, one would imagine, not so difficult to make (and made, one presumes, without input from the victim, who would surely choose differently). This is the landscape of fulsome judge-offender interaction:

In a scuffed-up college classroom in Dartmouth, Mass., 14 people page through a short story by T. C. Boyle.

Of the 14 people, a dozen are male. One is an English professor, one is a graduate student, two are judges and two are probation officers. The eight others are convicted criminals who have been granted probation in exchange for attending, and doing the homework for, six twice-monthly seminars on literature.

Professor Robert Waxler (Waxler this time, not Wexler), who founded the reading program, believes “[t]he stories serve as a mirror for everyone, not just the offenders — the professors, the probation officers, the judge.” On cue, the New York Times reporter raves: “[t]he average court official is more literate than the average convict, but not necessarily more literary: for the judge, too, classroom discussion can be a revelation.”

She cracks the following joke:

Led by literature professors, the program has brought thousands of convicts to college campuses even as the withdrawal of Pell grants from prisoners (who were ruled ineligible for federal college financing in 1994) drove a wedge between the two state-funded institutions where young adults do time.

Get it? Being in college is like being a felon. Especially if there are thousands of them on your college campus, I suppose.

She cracks another joke:

Picture “Remembrance of Things Past” as a literary ankle bracelet that keeps you chained to the desk for months.

Before admitting this:

It’s easy to dismiss the program as utopian, or worse. Waxler reports being berated by parents paying college tuition for the same classes that felons receive free. If the program works, its economic logic is unassailable: running it costs roughly $500 a head, Waxler says, as opposed to about $30,000 for a year of incarceration. But that’s a big if. The most conclusive study, which shows program participants achieving half the recidivism rate of a control group, involved fewer than 100 people. More important, the literacy level needed to participate makes its population a self-selecting one, and even among those students with the skills to participate, many never make it to the final session. On the day I attended, one man missed class because his halfway house had imposed lockdown, another because a new conviction had landed him back in jail.

“ON the day she attended.” The program has been running since 1991, bringing “thousands of convicts to college campuses,” and the best they can do is a limited study of 100 offenders.

I wonder why. Perhaps because it’s best not to look too closely at these things.

“When it’s working,” Waxler says, “this discussion has a kind of magic to it.”