Vengeance or Injustice: Which Problem is Real?

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. ... 

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A Personal Look At Drug Court and Community Sentencing

This week, I have been writing about alternative sentencing and drug court. My perspective is shaped by experiences as a “community outreach” worker, witnessing the gaming that takes place when non-profits and private companies are granted fat government contracts with little oversight to monitor and provide therapy to offenders in the community. We are playing with fire whenever we turn over important government duties, like protecting the public, to private individuals – especially when there is no oversight.

Community control supervised by private companies and non -profits have become the status quo, however – and now community monitoring has become one of those things, in our twisted judicial system, that is increasingly viewed as a defendant’s right. ... 

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

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. ... 

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Rehabilitating Adam and Eve, But Not Adam and Steve (Or Eve, Actually)

Sorry for the absence of a blog post yesterday. I went into Tampa to attend a hearing to appeal a judge’s inexplicable and unheard-of release of a convicted sex offender as the offender waits out the appeals process. Appallingly, the hearing judge yesterday decided that it was more important to honor the feelings of a fellow judge than to consider the safety of the victim and the community, and he refused to overturn the prior judge’s strange and inappropriate decision to release the convicted sex offender. Richard Chotiner remains free as he appeals his 15-year sentence for sexually assaulting a mentally handicapped man. I plan to write about this awful case next week.

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Breaking out the Bubbly: National Drug Court Month

National Drug Court Month is just around the corner, so I am going to spend this week taking a closer look at some of the claims being made about the effectiveness of drug courts. By next week, the canned press releases will be seeping out all over the news in the form of stories lifted directly from the press kits provided by advocacy groups such as the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Rather astonishingly, the NADCP press kit asserts that “for twenty years, drug courts have saved millions of lives.” Millions? Really? In New York State, which has one of the larger state drug court systems, only 20,400 people have graduated from drug court since the program began, and nobody can say how many of those people stayed sober for more than a few years after they left the scrutiny of the courts. No man is an island, but really — millions of lives? ... 

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Jean Valjean, Selling Crack to Pay Child Support?

The economy may be declining, but the marketplace of improbable claims is doing just fine. In this story from the ew 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. ... 

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Justice Delayed + Tax Dollars Wasted = Justice System Starved

Apparently, while it may be hard to be a pimp, as the popular song goes, it isn’t particularly hard to be a defendant in a child molestation case:

DragonCon founder’s health might keep him from standing trial

Edward Kramer was charged in 2000 with molestation children

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ... 

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Just Killing your Girlfriend With an Icepick, Nothing “Heinous”: How Defense Attorneys Starve The Courts

Last week, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that jury selection in the Silver Comet Trail murder trial might be delayed because defense attorneys were complaining that they are owed 60K. This week, the judge in that case reached a sealed agreement with the defense council, and jury selection is — slowly– going forward.

The funding pool for capitol defense attorneys in Georgia was depleted earlier this year by the fees charged by the team of lawyers who defended courthouse killer Brian Nichols. ... 

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Don’t Believe Everything You Read

So it turns out that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold weren’t bullied, just psychotic. Now we can gather up all the blame that’s been spread out among the victims and society at large and deposit it firmly where it belongs: on the killers.

Will the well-funded anti-bullying industry, which has been profiting from Harris and Klebold’s murders for a decade now, edit their workbooks and return the money now? ... 

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Lavelle McNutt: Another Serial Rapist Allowed to Walk the Streets of Atlanta

Last week, I wrote about Lavelle McNutt, a serial rapist given many second chances. His Georgia Department of Corrections record is a record of something else, as well: our failure to imprison repeat offenders, even after the 1994 sentencing reform law was passed.

As the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported a few weeks ago, McNutt’s first adult rape conviction, for two separate rapes in New York State, occurred in 1976, just after he turned 18. When you see an 18-year old convicted of a serious offense, you have to wonder about the contents of his sealed juvenile record: 18-year olds don’t wake up one day, break into the first house they see, and rape the occupant. They usually start experimenting with sexual abuse early in adolescence, victimizing their siblings, peers, and other easy targets. How many children and young women had already been sexually assaulted by McNutt by the time he aged out of the juvenile system? ... 

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

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. ... 

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Recidivist Chutes and Ladders: The Russell Burton Record

The children’s board game, Chutes and Ladders, offers a clearer template for understanding our criminal justice system than a hundred studies put forth by academicians and think tanks.  Here is one example:

Russell Burton, who has been called a “Ted Bundy in the making,” was born in 1967.  According to the Los Angeles Daily News, when Burton was 17, he was arrested in Lancaster, California and charged with “breaking into a woman’s apartment and fondling her in bed.”  “Fondling” is a troubling term here: you fondle your child, or a puppy.  When you break into a woman’s house and try to rape her, that isn’t “fondling.” (“81 Years for Sexual Predator,” L.A. Daily News, 4/27/05, fee for link) ... 

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

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: ... 

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Headline: “Series of Mistakes Helped Ex-Cop Escape” (Tools for Activists).

From today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A string of mishaps — including uncertainty about whom to call, voice mail messages left unanswered for hours and previous false alarms — combined to help double-murder suspect Derrick Yancey remove his ankle monitor and escape house arrest, according to a report issued Wednesday. . . ... 

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Criminologists Say the Craziest Things, Part 4: The Economy Made Me Kill, or, Don’t Believe Everything the Crazy Guy With The Gun Says.

I realize I beat this like a dead horse the other day, but the experts are beating it like two dead horses, as evinced by this article in the Washington Post: “Some Link Economy With Spate of Killings.”  The “some” mentioned here is the same “some” mentioned in the Christian Science Monitor, noted criminologist Jack Levin, along with fellow noted Northwestern criminologist James Alan Fox.  But being noted doesn’t mean that you can’t be wrong.  It’s utterly risible to lump together these 57 murders and attribute them to the economic crash.  In fairness, it’s the journalist here who makes this claim, but Levin and Fox eagerly embroider on it:

Comparative statistics are difficult to come by, but during the past month alone, at least eight mass homicides in this country have claimed the lives of 57 people. Just yesterday, four people were discovered shot to death in a modest wood-frame home in a remote Alabama town. ... 

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Academic Criminology, Pt. 3: How to Talk About Terrorists. (Hint: Call Them Professor)

(Many criminologists don’t have far to go if they want to study the habits of domestic terrorists and other convicted felons.  A quick stroll to the faculty lounge is all that’s needed.  Students with criminal records probably have a harder time gaining access to the university than professors with the same.)

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Children Killing Children

From the Atlanta Journal Constitution, on a triple shooting near Turner Stadium: “Boy Slain in Attack Near Turner Field was Just 15.”

Nick, whose last name is being withheld, was lying roughly 10 feet from his back door when paramedics arrived at his southwest Atlanta apartment. He died Monday night at Grady Memorial Hospital. His half-brother, Andre, remains in critical condition at Grady, though friends and family say he is expected to recover. They’ve asked that the two teenagers’ surnames not be published for fear of retribution. . . ... 

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Two Atlanta Stories. Detect A Pattern Yet?

Another doctor in the news for sexual offenses (thanks to Paul K).  And another predator free on bail before trial has disappeared– this time a DeKalb County cop accused of murdering his wife and a handyman:

A former DeKalb County Sheriff’s deputy, out on bond as he awaited trial in the deaths of his wife and a day laborer, has gone missing, authorities said Saturday. ... 

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Criminologists Say the Craziest Things, Part 2: Man Bites Dog. Dow Jones Implicated.

Yesterday, I wrote about some media reactions to the Binghamton mass killer.   Today, I want to take a closer look at the ways expert opinions play out in one article about recent mass killings from The Christian Science Monitor.  

In “Shootings, Murder-Suicide Raise Broader Question: Is Violence Linked to Recession?”, writer Patrik Jonsson posits the theory that the recent economic downturn may be responsible for the following crimes: ... 

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Columnist Rick Badie on Crime

A thoughtful column by Atlanta Journal Constitution writer Rick Badie on the ways people are changing their lives to deal with the threat of crime.  It raises a question: is crime really more prevalent because the economy has gone south?  The kids (and they are kids) and young adults running robbery rings and invading homes to steal televisions aren’t doing these things on their hours off from some legitimate work, and there has been absolutely no reduction in levels of support available from social services, so (unlike the rest of us) they aren’t being squeezed in their home lives.  

This is a criminal subculture.  If anything is making them seem more aggressive now, it is police furloughs and the collapse of the courts.  Backlogs in court hearings, ever more intense pressure to let people go on first, second, tenth offenses, cases simply being dropped because there aren’t the resources to try them — this is what puts more, and bolder, criminals on the streets.   ... 

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Criminologists Say The Craziest Things, Part 1: Spree Killings

The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, and other American papers with international readership frequently package stories about the horrors of America to feed the America-bashing appetites of their international audiences.  They are generously abetted in this mission by academic criminologists who stand at the ready to paint a dystopic picture of an America peopled with violent, bloated drones dragging their automatic weapons behind them as they traverse the soul-less space between their pickup cabs and the big box store.

Such stories are morality tales — the moral being that virtually everybody — except real criminals — are the real crime problem in America.  We are bad; gun-toting offenders are merely impulsive creatures channeling our rage. ... 

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What Do You Call A Sex Offender Free on the Streets of Tampa Bay? Doctor. Or Nurse. Or Fodder for St. Petersburg Times Columnist Daniel Ruth to Crack Sex Jokes.

Maybe I’m just touchy because this neck of the woods is not far from where my own rapist traipsed in and out of prison for twenty-plus years, but what precisely does it take to get sitting judges (not to mention certain journalists) in Tampa Bay to take the threat posed by sexual predators seriously?  

First there’s Dr. Rory P. Doyle, who fled the Tampa Bay area after a judge permitted him to go free on bail after being charged with two counts of child molestation.  Astonishingly, Doyle is being treated to similarly indulgent judicial scrutiny in Ireland, where he has again been released to the streets while awaiting extradition hearings.  Then there’s nurse Richard Chotiner, who was released on bail pending an appeal that could take months, or years, after being convicted of lewd and lascivious battery of a mentally-disabled 23-year old.  Chotiner was released without electronic monitoring by Hillsborough Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett.  Releasing Chiotiner without considering public safety is especially egregious when you consider the details of the crime for which the nurse was convicted: ... 

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Outrage of the Week: Just Not Putting the B******s Away

For years, I’ve kept a file inelegantly titled “Just Not Putting the B******s Away.”  Unfortunately, it is a thick file.  Here is the latest entry.

The St. Petersburg Times reported this morning that fugitive Tampa Bay area physician Rory P. Doyle has surfaced in Ireland, where he fled after being permitted to bail out on a double child-molestation charge in Florida in 2001.  Dr. Doyle somehow obtained permission to re-register to practice medicine in Ireland under his own name and then somehow received permission to change his name to Dr. David West.  In addition to the largesse demonstrated by these serial “benefits of the doubt,” an Irish judge now refuses to imprison him prior to his extradition to the United States.   ... 

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“Cops Matter. Police Count”

Crime is down in Los Angeles, despite the economy:

Police Chief William J. Bratton sounded his familiar refrain when asked to explain why crime has not increased. “Cops matter. Police count,” he said.
Bratton has long clashed with prominent criminologists who argue that police cannot counter larger societal forces — such as the economy and drug epidemics — that they contend drive crime rates.
Criminologists like to point to 1990 – 1991, when a recession coincided with the highest crime rates seen in decades, to justify predictions that economic hardship causes people to commit more crime.  But does it? The types of crime that peaked in the early 90’s were largely fueled by inner-city drug-and-gang behavior related to crack cocaine and inter-generational poverty.  The crime wave preceded the financial crisis and persisted after the recession faded.  Crime rates really began to drop when sentencing laws were toughened, starting in 1993 (now those laws are being rolled back).   The stock market doesn’t cause or prevent crime (except white-collar crime).  More cops, and tougher sentencing laws prevent crime; fewer cops and lenient sentencing increases crime.  L.A. is experiencing a terrible unemployment picture, but crime is down, thanks (virtually everyone agrees) to Bratton’s policing.  In other part of the country, the economy is not so bad, but crime is still up.  It’s simple, really: nobody in this country has to steal bread to feed their children.  Trust the cop, not the criminologists.   

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Tools for Activists: Just Say No (To Releasing Dangerous Inmates)

With a hat tip to Chris, from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Fulton Inmates to be Released Before Trial,” by Steve Visser.  It’s worth quoting extensively, to grasp precisely what is being done:

Fulton County court officials say they can save taxpayers $5.5 million a year by releasing suspected criminals from jail — inmates whom judges have balked at freeing because of the likelihood they would commit another crime before their trials. ... 

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Tools for Activists: Good News From The Courts, For A Change

I’m not a glass-half-full type of person.  But this story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution really must be categorized as a half-full glass: thanks to a lawsuit by the indomitable organization, Children’s Rights, headed by Ira Lustbader, children in foster care in Fulton County, Georgia are now one tiny step closer to being accorded the type of legal representation we routinely subsidize for murderers and rapists: 

Fulton County has made significant progress in reforming its troubled legal services for children in foster care, according to a report by a court-appointed monitor of the system. ... 

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