Five Ugly Pieces, Part 2: Hiding In Plain Sight

The MySpace Page (thanks, to Grayson) of the “30 Deep Gang” is, according to the creator, “all about money.”  There are images of dice, diamonds, blocks of gold, rap stars, and twenty dollar bills.  There is a photograph of a young man pointing a gun at the camera, and another photo labeled “Lil’ Wayne . . . Prostitute Flange” showing a smiling woman towering over the rap star.  In the “friends” section, there is a picture of a young man with the caption, “Zone 3 shawty money men da longway.”  Zone 3 is where bartender John Henderson was murdered, and the police are looking for “30 Deep Gang” members in Henderson’s death.

Zone 3 is also where I used to live, and the sound of gunfire was a regular thing there.  In order to get by you had to ration your response to it, or you would spend every day responding to it, which is an impossibility.  This is what the mayor and the chief of police are denying whenever they announce that residents are being hysterical about crime.  Residents police themselves, even more than criminals are policed.   Innocent people are held captive by the threat of violent crime, but, still, there are people who believe it is distasteful to demand to be freed. ... 

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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No Harm, No Foul? Why Aren’t More People Charged With Attempted Murder?

Several recent crimes involving recidivists who had fired guns at people during previous assaults got me thinking about the charge of attempted murder.  Why is it that we almost never hear about an attempted murder case?  

Turns out I didn’t need to look far for an answer.  When I typed in the question, I found the most user-friendly prosecutor’s website I’ve seen.  District Attorney Kelly R. Burke, of Houston County, Georgia, posts articles about case outcomes in his district, funding issues, and explanations of Georgia law.  This level of transparency by a prosecutor’s office (or anyone else in the courts) is practically unheard-of. Burke clearly believes that the public has the right to know what is going on in their criminal justice system.  How odd of him.  ... 

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What Is Your Personal “Aggregate Burden of Crime”?

On Tuesday, I wrote about the debate that’s raging over incarcerating convicts or releasing them to “community sentencing” programs of one type or another.  Proponents of community or alternative sentencing argue that we save tax dollars when people convicted of crimes get to stay at home for therapeutic or rehabilitative interventions instead of being removed from the community and sentenced to prison terms.  ... 

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

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. ... 

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Burglary is Not a Non-Violent Crime, #2: A Lesson on DNA and Recidivism

In today’s St. Petersburg Times, on a double murder in Masaryktown, Florida:

The feet belonged to Patrick DePalma Sr., 84. He lay on his stomach, head and torso halfway into the den, a mess of blood by his head. He wore a blue sweat suit; his slippers were astray nearby. ... 

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Why Crime Victims Media Report? [Updated below, 3/11/09]

Because of this.  Why does the media report so obsessively on the last meals of convicted murderers?  This man sexually attacked a woman, stabbed her, slit her throat, and then left her to die, which took 20 hours. 22 years later, he is scheduled to die, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports — on his last meal.  

Does the reporter also tell us anything so personal about the victim?  No, he defines her, briefly, as a “former amateur diving champion,” then gets to the real point of the article: fomenting sympathy for rapist/killer Robert Newland by recounting the pathos of his prison diet.  Seasoned collard greens?  Bread pudding?   ... 

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How Many Gold Mercedes Are There Out There?

THE average citizen hardly needs to be persuaded that crimes will be committed more frequently if, other things being equal, crime becomes more profitable than other ways of spending one’s time.

–James Q. Wilson, “Thinking About CrimeAtlantic Monthly, September, 1983 ... 

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