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Published: Sun, 20 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 20 Aug 2017 04:09:12 -0400


African Americans Are Eight Times More Likely to Be Victims of Homicide Than Whites, Says CDC

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 15:40:00 -0400

Black Americans are eight times more likely than white Americans to be the victims of a homicide. That's just one of the less-than-cheery bit of news the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reveals in "Age-Adjusted Rates for Homicides by Race/Ethnicity—United States, 1999-2015," where it notes: During 1999–2014, a general decline in homicide trends for non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic populations occurred, followed by a significant increase in the rates for all three groups between 2014 and 2015. In 2015, homicide rates were 5.7 deaths per 100,000 for the total population, 20.9 for non-Hispanic blacks, 4.9 for Hispanics, and 2.6 for non-Hispanic whites. The good news is that U.S. homicide rates declined steeply over the past three decades. As the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports, the homicide rate increased from 4.6 per 100,000 U.S. residents in 1962 to 10.2 per 100,000 in 1980. The rate then fell to 7.9 per 100,000 in 1984, rose again to another peak in 1991 at 9.8 per 100,000, and then started plunging back down. It reached a nadir of 4.5 per 100,000 in 2014 before rising back to 5.7. How does the U.S. fare in comparison with other countries? Our Southern neighbors are for the most part doing much worse than we are. The homicide rate in Venezuela is now estimated at 90 per 100,000 citizens; the rate in El Salvador fell from 103.1 in 2015 to 80.9 per 100,000 last year; the rate in Honduras has dropped from 86.5 in 2011 to 60 per 100,000 in 2015. Mexico's 2016 murder rate, at 16 per 100,000, is comparatively low, but murders there surged to over 2,000 in May, the highest for any month in the last two decades. On the other hand, Canada's 2015 homicide rate was just 1.7 per 100,000 residents. The average in the European Union hovers around 1 per 100,000 residents. The World Bank calculates that the global murder rate is about 5.3 per 100,000 Earthlings. While homicide victimization rates fell among blacks and Hispanics fell during the past three decades, they have remained persistently higher than the rate for whites. At the 1991 peak, black Americans were murdered at a rate of 39.3 per 100,000; the Hispanic toll stood at 6 per 100,000; the white rate was 5.5 per 100,000. As the CDC data show, the murder rates for both black and white residents have essentially been cut in half, whereas the Hispanic rate is only about 20 percent lower. As a result of the differential in dropping murder rates, the gap between black and white homicide victimization rates fell more than 50 percent. Why are homicide victimization rates so much higher in the African-American community? The University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist Richard Rosenfeld addressed the question in a 2016 study of murder rates in several big cities. He considered three possible explanations, which are not mutually exclusive: an expansion of urban drug markets fueled by the heroin trade; a greater number of prisoners being released into the nation's cities; and a "Ferguson effect" in which the police respond to protests by de-policing. Rosenfeld concluded that the data that might underpin any of these hypotheses were inconclusive. How can we get back on the track toward falling murder rates? One good first step would be to end the drug war, as my colleague Eric Boehm has suggested. That would eliminate at least some of the violence associated with the black market for drugs, which may account for as much as 25 percent of all homicides.[...]

New York City to Dismiss Hundreds of Thousands of Old Warrants for Minor Crimes

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 12:20:00 -0400

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio may continue to defend "broken windows policing," but prosecutors in his town are increasingly ill at ease with the long-term consequences when police constantly cite citizens for low-level, nonviolent crimes. This week, prosecutors from Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens announced they were moving to dismiss nearly 650,000 old warrants for unpaid citations from things like public drinking to violating park rules. According to The New York Times, prosecutors have been hammering out this plan for three years. Surprisingly, de Blasio supports the district attorneys' decision, even though he continues to defend the police practice of issuing citations no matter how small the infraction. But that may be explained by the fact that all of these warrants are at least a decade old. Either the people involved aren't around anymore, or they aren't going to pay the money anyway, or 450 or so reckless spitters have failed to induce apocalyptic anarchy in the Big Apple. Even though there's no push to go back and track these thousands of people down, there are still potential consequences of having an active warrant out when a citizen ends up interacting with police. Brooklyn D.A. Eric Gonzalez worried about people getting dragged into a jail and booked for an old citation worth $25. While this has been in the works for years, the officials are also clearly concerned about President Donald Trump's efforts to increase immigration enforcement and push out illegal immigrants. These citations are used as justifications to round up and deport people here illegally if they get they get detained for these warrants. Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance Jr. noted the consequences of these warrants remaining active, the Times reports: "New Yorkers with 10-year-old summons warrants face unnecessary unemployment risk, housing and immigration consequences," Mr. Vance told Criminal Court Judge Tamiko A. Amaker in Manhattan. "And because they fear they will be arrested for the old infraction, they often don't collaborate with law enforcement." New York can't run afoul of Trump's war on sanctuary cities if they don't go around citing and arresting immigrants, can they? Criminal justice reform advocates have been pushing cities to reconsider low-level enforcement practices for this very reason. Every encounter between a police officer and an immigrant now includes additional risks. In June Vance announced a concerted effort to reduce low-level criminal prosecutions of minor crimes in Manhattan by 20,000 a year, declining to prosecute subway turnstile jumpers (unless they present some other public safety threat) and focusing on early diversion programs for first-time arrestees for low-level crimes. It's a shame, though, that nobody seems to be interested in considering whether they should wipe some of these laws themselves off the books. I should note that Staten Island's district attorney declined to join the effort. Offering amnesty for these citations, even though they're a decade old, "sends the wrong message about the importance of respecting our community and our laws," he said in a statement. If you once walked around with an unleashed dog, you'll get no mercy from him.[...]

Brickbat: JusTice Is SerVed

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Former Merseyside, England, police sergeant Colin Hughes has been sentenced to 40 months in prison after pleding guilty to perverting the course of justice and forgery. Hughes forged documents from other officers and sent in false tips to Crimestoppers that a man was a drug dealer. He was caught because he is dyslexic and the documents he produced had a noticeable pattern of misspellings and grammatical errors, including placing capital letters in the middle of words.

Plunge in Pretrial Jail Detention Follows Bail Reforms in New Jersey

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 13:45:00 -0400

Curious to see how criminal justice plays out when people aren't stuck in cells simply because they can't afford to get out? Keep an eye on New Jersey. At the start of 2017, that state essentially eliminated cash bail. This month the authorities there looked over their numbers and determined that New Jersey's pre-trial jail population has dropped a full 20 percent. Nearly 1,500 fewer people are stuck in jail cells waiting to be tried for criminal charges. Instead of the old bail system, New Jersey now has a non-monetary risk assessment approach aimed at determining who actually represents a threat to the community; it includes various reporting requirements for defendants, assuming they're considered low enough risk to be released. Whether a person can front money to cover a bail bond is no longer a factor when determining if he or she will remain in jail until trial. Criminal reform activists are working to bring this system to other states, such as California and Connecticut. And Sens. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Kamala Harris (D-California) have teamed up to introduce federal legislation that will encourage changes to how bail systems operate. Jake Tapper interviewed them recently for CNN about the push: Proud of the bipartisan work Sen @KamalaHarris and I are doing. We joined @JakeTapper recently to discuss some much needed justice reforms.— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) July 27, 2017 The Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act would give states $10 million to spend reforming or eliminating monetary bail systems and another $5 million to help fund a national pretrial reporting program to analyze the outcomes. It may still be too early in New Jersey to start calling trends, but it's worth noting that there has not been a spike in crime there this year. The state appears to be continuing its trend of declining crime, and its crime levels are well below the national average. But changes in bail systems aren't without its challenges. Newark police reported a 44 percent increase in the number of people who have been arrested more than once during the first six months of 2017. That sounds dramatic when presented as a percentage, but the actual numbers are pretty low: It's a jump from 105 people to 151. Police in Newark arrest 250 people a week, and the jump does not appear to have affected crime stats there. Also, 40 of the arrests involved people initially arrested for drug crimes being arrested again for drug crimes. Only three arrests involved people charged with violent crimes committing additional violent crimes on release. In May, New Jersey's attorney general introduced stricter guidelines to try to make sure people the state thinks are likely to reoffend are not granted bail. He told prosecutors to try to deny bail to anybody charged with serious gun crimes, has a history as a sex offender, or is on parole or has a pretrial release for another crime. There may yet be some necessary adjustments as the authorities try to hammer out any flaws in the system. But absent the complete abandonment of the war on drugs, we can at least hope for a criminal justice system that doesn't lock away people charged with nonviolent vice crimes simply because they cannot afford bail.[...]

How Much More Vicious Will the War on Painkillers Get?

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 13:40:00 -0400

More searches. More prosecutions. More punishment. More jail. The way governments—federal, state, and local—are responding to the opioid crisis continue to demonstrate the dangers of a "somebody, do something" mentality. Weekend news coverage of how police and prosecutors are choosing to address opioid deaths revolves around the nasty inertia of increasing control. Officials want more power and the ability to inflict more punishment, regardless of prohibition's lengthy history of failure. In New York, prosecutors are looking to try to charge dealers with manslaughter when the people they sell heroin or opioids to end up dying from overdoses. The New York Times reported on this push over the weekend, and officials' attitudes can be summed up by this perfectly awful quote from narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan: "We're not winning. We've got to do more." Brennan's only tool is a very nasty hammer, and as the Times notes, she previously used it to send a doctor to prison for at least 10 years for recklessly handing out opioid prescriptions. Two of his patients died of overdoses, and he was convicted of manslaughter (among other crimes). Prosecutors may have the power to put people behind bars, but they're not the ones who can "win" this battle. We know from decades of the drug war that what prosecutors often end up doing is ripping apart low-income, marginalized families and tossing addicts in prison for long mandatory minimum sentences. Culturally, there's still an image that "drug dealers" are sinister men (often black) on street corners looking to prey on vulnerable citizens. The reality is that is often not the case. And in fact, the way the law defines dealers is designed to sweep up all sorts of people with just tangential connections to the idea of distributing drugs. Stephen Cummings, the alleged drug dealer charged with manslaughter at the center of the Times weekend report, bragged about how powerful the fentanyl-laced heroin was to a wired undercover police officer, according to authorities. He reportedly acknowledged that the heroin was powerful enough to kill a friend's father, thus the manslaughter charges. But according to his brother, Cummings is also an addict and needs rehab. Cummings' only prior conviction is for possession. Others arrested in this sting also said that they're addicts, and they think prosecutors are trying to use them as a "test case." They should count their blessings that they don't live in Florida, where they could potentially be charged with first-degree murder. Meanwhile in New Jersey, lawmakers are considering a bill to allow police to access a prescription drug–monitoring database without having to get a court order. Republican state Sen. Robert Singer, the legislation's sponsor, acknowledges in a Washington Post story that he's doing the bidding of a county prosecutor who wants to try to go after doctors. Civil libertarians are understandably upset at the idea that police should be able to just demand access to our personal medical information. But Singer insists that such privacy concerns are overblown: The opioid crisis is severe, and therefore, he argues, Americans should be willing to make an exception. He also, remarkably, used the fact that Americans' phones are being tracked as an example of how we should be willing to give up our privacy, even though civil liberties groups heavily oppose phone tracking as well. Gov. Chris Christie opposes the legislation, so it may not get far. It's nevertheless worth noting as part of a trend. Other states—most recently Rhode Island—have passed laws providing similar access. Also getting weekend coverage, we also have attorneys attempting to convince states to sue opioid manufacturers the way they sued tobacco manufacturers, accusing them of misrepresenting the benefits of painkillers. To embrace an idea like that, you have to ignore the impact on people who suffer from chronic pain and are not addicts. This isn't anyt[...]

Brickbat: Need to Know

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A Palm Beach County, Florida, sheriff's deputy has pleaded guilty to using information he got from law enforcement databases to steal the identities of dozens of people. Frantz Felisma used the databases to look up personal information on people who drove expensive cars.

GOP Pushes Bad, Punitive Anti-Federalist Immigration Bills Through the House

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 14:20:00 -0400

House Republicans overwhelmingly voted in favor of two bad immigration-focused bills yesterday that potentially punish those in the United States illegally with new harsh prison sentences and attempts to push cities into helping federal authorities deport people. The first bill, popularly known as "Kate's Law," adds new criminal penalties and federal prison sentences to any immigrant who returns to the United States after being deported for criminal behavior. But it also threatens up to 10 years in federal prison for illegal immigrants who repeatedly return to the United States after being deported, even if they've committed no other crimes. It also forbids the immigrant from challenging the legitimacy of any prior removal orders. The second bill, the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act," attempts to push cities, particularly so-called "sanctuary cities," into cooperating with federal immigration officials to detain and eject those in the country illegally. President Donald Trump (and many, many other Republicans) made a big deal about fighting sanctuary cities—which generally don't ask residents or people who interact with government officials about their citizenship status—on the campaign trail. But after Trump took office, his Department of Justice was faced with an awkward truth: Most sanctuary cities are not defying federal laws at all, and there's not much the government can currently do about them. Federal laws do not require that cities and local law enforcement assist immigration officials by detaining people the feds want to deport. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can ask cities to hold illegal immigrants for in "detainer orders." But they're requests. Cities have their own rules about when they'll comply with such orders (often requiring court orders or a warrant for cooperation). Ultimately after the Department of Justice started threatening federal grant money to sanctuary cities, they ended up discovering that really only a handful of governments (eight cities and one county) are behaving in a way that was even remotely in defiance of federal authority. What the "No Sanctuary for Criminals Act" does is forbid municipalities from stopping local law enforcement officials from helping federal immigration officials by complying with detainer orders. In areas of immigration enforcement, it overrules the ability of cities to control the behavior of their own law enforcement officers. The act also classifies specifically which grants the federal government would withhold from sanctuary cities that defy them. Previously the administration through executive order threaten to withhold all sorts of federal grants, but the courts have previously ruled such behavior unconstitutional. The grants have to be connected to enforcing the laws themselves. This act specifically defines which grants could be denied sanctuary cities. The votes fell mostly across party lines—Republicans in favor of the two bills and Democrats against them. More Democrats were willing to cross the aisle to vote in favor of harsher criminal sentences for illegal immigrants than to cut federal grants from sanctuary cities, so make of that what you will. Only one Republican voted against both bills, libertarian Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan. Amash tweeted his reasons why. He found both bills to significantly violate the Constitution and the concept of federalism: I voted no today on two bills that together violate the 1st, 4th, 5th, 10th, and 11th Amendments. I will always defend our Constitution. — Justin Amash (@justinamash) June 29, 2017 A spokesperson for Amash's office told Reason, "Rep. Amash supports securing our borders and has voted to defund sanctuary cities, but these bills go far beyond that and are unconstitutional." Though the legislation passed the House, it has a challenge getting through a Senate where Republicans hold just a slim majority. As it stands, Rep[...]

Teen Found Guilty of Manslaughter for Texting Suicidal Boyfriend

Fri, 16 Jun 2017 18:15:00 -0400

On the night of July 12, 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy III killed himself by inhaling carbon monoxide in a Kmart parking lot in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. His 17-year-old girlfriend, Michelle Carter, was miles away in Plainville. (*) Yet today Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for Roy's death. She faces up to 20 years in prison. Why? Because Carter had repeatedly texted Roy prior to his death, "you just need to do it." Bristol County Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz declared this illegal, even though there is no law in Massachusetts against encouraging suicide. This was a bench trial, so the judge rather than a jury determined the verdict. His ruling threatens the very core of how our legal system approaches speech. The law has traditionally treated some sorts of speech, such as defamation, as a type of nonviolent harm. And in some crimes, such as incitement or conspiracy, the law says speech can be a proximate cause of violence. But this ruling treats speech itself as a form of literal violence—as the immediate cause of death. As the American Civil Liberties Union put it in a statement, the prosecution's theory is that Carter "literally killed Mr. Roy with her words. This conviction exceeds the limits of our criminal laws and violates free speech protections guaranteed by the Massachusetts and U.S. Constitutions." A month before Roy took his life in June of 2014, Carter had attempted to talk her depressive boyfriend out of killing himself. Roy had already attempted suicide before; when he considered another attempt, Carter texted, "I'm trying my best to dig you out." But by July Carter's texts had taken a turn for the perverse. She told him repeatedly that suicide was the only way out. On July 12th, when Roy got sick from carbon monoxide and stepped out of his car, Carter texted him to "get back in." What motivated Carter to do this? The prosecution painted a picture of a teenager who wanted attention for her recently deceased boyfriend. The defense maintained Carter struggled from an eating disorder and depression and, at the time of Roy's death, was "involuntarily intoxicated" with antidepressants. Neither scenario matters. Whatever her motives or her poor choices, the important legal question is whether her words actually caused Roy's death. And it was carbon monoxide poisoning that killed Conrad Roy, not Michelle Carter's messages. Carter's punishment does not fit the crime. Involuntary manslaughter is a conviction for a negligent surgeon, for an abusive husband who unintentionally kills his spouse, for a drunk driver who accidentally runs someone down. A reckless text is not a reckless, swerving car. Words are not literal weapons, and the moral turpitude of Carter's comments does not change that. Some legal experts have speculated that the judge's ruling was an attempt to convince lawmakers to pass legislation making people liable for their online speech. But even if such a bill were a good idea, you shouldn't convict someone for committing a crime that doesn't exist in the hope that lawmakers will someday pass a law to fit the crime. This isn't how our judicial system works. Let's hope an appeals court strikes it down. As Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown asked when the charges were first brought, "Do we really want to charge teens as killers for reacting imperfectly to loved ones' pain and mental illness?" (* Correction: This post originally stated that that Roy killed himself in Fairhaven, Kansas; in fact it was Fairhaven, Massachusetts.)[...]

Bail Reformers Seek to Keep the Poor from Being Stuck Behind Bars

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 14:40:00 -0400

Should poverty keep a citizen in jail after an arrest but before conviction, even if the defendant poses no further risk of harm or flight? There is a push on to change the way bail works so that it's less punishing to the poor. The Connecticut legislature passed a bill (at the governor's urging) last week to make bail less oppressive. A measure in California is temporarily stalled while opposing sides hammer out details. The conflict pits civil rights and criminal justice reform advocates against law-and-order politicians who campaign on tough stances and the bail industry which is financially dependent on the revenue generated by the bail process. After some compromise with the bail industry in Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has ushered in modest reforms. Connecticut's bill bars judges from setting cash-only bail and restricts judges from setting bail in many misdemeanor cases, though they can do so for those with a history of not showing up in court or who are flight risks. The law also attempts to hasten the timeframe for bail review hearings, attempting to cut the deadline from 30 to 14 days, so indigent defendants are not stuck in jail as long. Malloy has noted that when poor people are stuck in jail cells solely for having been arrested, it can have huge impacts on their livelihoods, even before they've been convicted or even tried for any crimes: "The fact is that being incarcerated for as few as a couple of days can have a dramatic effect on that person's ability to maintain housing, employment, and contact with their family – all of which are keys to ensuring people lead productive lives and that the cycle of crime and poverty does not perpetuate. This legislation builds upon our dramatic successes in leading the nation towards creating a fairer and more just criminal justice system." Even broader bail reform legislation passed California's Senate but has been held up in the state's Assembly after significant resistance from some legislators and heavy lobbying from the prison industry. The California bill would introduce a county-level pretrial service that would evaluate and help courts determine which criminal defendants are actual flight risks and attempt to create a system through which people are not stuck in jail awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail. The goal: Get nonviolent offenders back home and reduce chances they lose their jobs, housing or face other negative consequences simply because they are merely accused of crimes. Such a change necessarily means an industry dependent on people seeking out financial assistance to make bail is going to take a hit. And they're not remaining quiet about it. According to KQED, insurance companies for the bail industry have spent more than $170,000 lobbying lawmakers over the past few months. While debating the bill, Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) warned that people would lose their jobs, and reducing bail demands would "decimate an industry dominated by women and minority owners, and it will cost the state millions of dollars annually in lost taxes." Stone's complaint that defendants should be forced to seek out bail or rot in prison cells in order to keep people in the bail industry employed may not be a particularly compelling argument to many, but California lawmakers do seem concerned about costs. The California Assembly's analysis of the legislation notes that it's going to impose hundreds of millions in costs to create these new county-level pretrial services that the state will be obligated to fund. Yet the analysts don't seem to be able to put any sort of price tag on how much counties will save by having fewer people in their jail cells, labeling the prospect as "unknown but significant." Connecticut is calculating its more modest bail reform will save the state $30 million over two fiscal years. In Californi[...]

Cops Have Lost Control of Their Sex-Trafficking Panic, and It's Beautiful

Mon, 12 Jun 2017 12:36:00 -0400

Be still my little libertarian heart, there's just something beautiful about a cop-created moral panic slipping beyond their control. For years, U.S. police have been using tall tales about an American "sex trafficking epidemic" to scare citizens into giving up civil liberties (or at least offering up the rights of sex workers and their clients) and go about the government's typical types of thuggery. But now the narrative is getting away from them. So sure are Americans (despite all evidence) that sophisticated criminals are waiting to snatch up our girls and women at every opportunity that people are now inventing sex-trafficking rings of their own...and berating police for not taking action. The latest example comes from Glendale, WI, where local police had to fend off rumors that "girls as young as 12 are being snatched up from two local malls and sold into prostitution rings." Someone who said they had attended a banquet where "a Detective from [the Milwaukee Police Department] spoke" and told them "Mayfair Mall and Bayshore Town Center are very popular spots for human trafficking" posted the story on Facebook. After the bit about girls being snatched up, they warned neighbors to "be careful letting your girls go out alone" and asked that "if you shop in or frequent these areas keep your eyes open, you could make a huge difference." So what's going on here—someone with an activist or attention-seeking agenda? A well-meaning poster who garbled the story? A detective doing the usual hype with some local flair? Whatever the case, there's no truth to reports of trafficking-related abductions at the Bayshore Towne Center, according to local police. While "you should always remain aware of your surroundings, we have had no reports of this at Bayshore nor are we currently investigating anything related," the Glendale Police Department posted to Facebook. src="" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0"> The Town Center also denied any such activity. And "per review of the Wauwatosa Police crime reporting software now available, there is no data supporting human trafficking concerns at Mayfair Mall," according to the Historic East Tosa Community Association. But rather than relief, commenters on the police post expressed skepticism. Some saw the whole thing as confirming what could take place, even if it hadn't yet. "Could happen here. Scary," one woman posted. "While I agree that scaring the public is never a good thing," wrote another, "human trafficking is very real and keeping an eye out in public spaces like this that are potential areas of activity is never a bad idea." "Just because there have been no reports of this sort of thing at Bayshore, does not mean it is not happening," suggested yet another, asking police to "please investigate this as a possibility because it IS happening, and turning a blind eye does not save these young women." Other commenters quibbled about the specifics of the imaginary story ("in fact, as young as 12, should read, 'of any age.' Don't know specifics about these locations, but children of both sexes-and all ages-are vulnerable. That is a fact"). Any posters who sided with the police (and reality) on this one were upbraided by the others for being obtuse. "I frequent Bay Shore Mall and have not seen anything of that order when I was there ... I always feel safe and am treated with care," said one cheerful commenter. She was greeted with an admonition that "the problem [is] already there, ignoring it won't change that." "Did anyone read the article? 'There have been no reports,'" noted someone on the local Fox story about it. Response: "You all should know it's all over and at any given time... Protect your kids and b[...]

Congress Wants to Let Cops Wiretap Sex Workers, the CDC Study Them, and Homeland Security Screen Them

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 15:30:00 -0400

So far this year, federal lawmakers have introduced more than 30 bills related to "sex trafficking," which many in government now define to mean all prostitution. This week alone brought three new efforts. And following the familiar pattern of the drug war, these measures mostly focus on giving federal law enforcement more "tools" to find, prosecute, and punish people for actions only tangentially, if at all, connected to causing harm. One such measure would expand state and local government authority "to seek wiretap warrants in sexual exploitation and prostitution cases" (emphasis mine) and mandate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Justice conduct a "study on the long-term physical and psychological effects of the commercial sex trade." It would also give the Department of Homeland Security a mandate to develop protocols "for implementation across federal, state, and local law enforcement" on how to screen people "suspected of engaging in commercial sex acts" for the possibility that they have been trafficked. The screening process would also be applied to people suspected of working in violation of any labor regulations, including occupational licensing rules. Homeland Security would also train crimefighters nationwide on how to investigate prostitution customers for their alleged "roles in severe trafficking in persons." And Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be required to instruct law enforcement across the land that their efforts to fight human trafficking must "include a demand reduction component"—i.e., must target prostitution customers. Sessions would also have to declare "that commercial sexual exploitation is a form of gender-based violence," opening the way for possible hate-crime enhancements for anyone who tries to pay for sex. This bill, known as the Abolish Human Trafficking Act (S. 1311), was introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R–Texas) on June 7 and already has 12 co-sponsors, including such prominent politicians as Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). In a statement, Rep. Klobuchar invoked a rise in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Hotline—a government-funded telephone service that fields everything from unfounded anonymous tips about suspected streetwalking to general requests for information, with a vast number of calls coming from government officials—as evidence that the supposed sex trafficking epidemic is growing. A companion bill (H.R. 2803), sponsored by Republican Reps. Ted Poe of Texas and Ann Wagner of Missouri, was introduced in the House on Wednesday. A statement from Rep. Poe said his bill would stop "modern slavery" by giving law enforcement the tools to stop "dastardly criminals from exploiting others, whether they be the buyer or seller." The official soundbites from almost all of these bills' co-sponsors mention the benefits for cops and prosecutors, showcasing our government's lopsided approach to sexual exploitation. While lip service is paid to the "victims," it's law enforcement agencies that get all the consideration and tools—tools that help them conduct ever more intrusive investigations in the service of less and less deserving targets, wring whatever money and assets they can from defendants, and collect laurels as they ship convicts off to fill federal-prison beds. Here are a few more key things that S. 1311 and H.R. 2803 would do: Add sexual abuse, human trafficking, and "transportation for prostitution or any illegal sexual activity" to the crimes which could establish someone as part of a "criminal street gang." Enhance maximum penalties—not for folks who actually force others into sex or other work, mind you, but for those who transport people for "immoral p[...]

Brickbat: The Cover-Up

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) The Sarasota County, Florida, sheriff's office has fired a deputy who has been charged with obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence. Carson Lee Plank was one of the first officers to arrive after a woman called to report another deputy tried to kill her. But she did not report the woman's detailed account of the crime, nor her injuries or other evidence of a crime. She later texted the other deputy "I got you."

'Immigrants Are Responsible for Substantial Economic Growth'

Wed, 07 Jun 2017 09:50:00 -0400

President Donald Trump may be resolutely anti-immigrant, but he is also studiously wrong about the positive impact that immigrants have on the U.S. economy. Far from taking "our" jobs, causing crime, and slurping up government handouts, immigrants are more likely than natives to create billion-dollar companies, work in the high-tech industry, and help create a bigger, better American future. That's the inescapable conclusion of "The Economic Impact of Immigration in the U.S., a massive (and massively documented) study from the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC), a trade nonprofit, that grew out of the group's efforts to blunt Trump's immigration bans. As of January 1, 2016, "[i]mmigrants have started more than half (44 of 87) of America's startup companies valued at $1 billion dollars or more and are key members of management or product development teams in over 70 percent (62 of 87) of these companies." More than half of Silicon Valley's corporate founders are immigrants. The integral role that immigrants play in the technology industry is one of job creation, innovation, and leadership. Far from taking jobs, immigrants are creating jobs for the native-born population and helping meet the needs of an industry constrained by a lack of skilled workers. By 2020, for example, projections indicate that 1.4 million computer specialist positions will be open in the United States, but domestic universities will only produce enough graduates to fill 29 percent of those jobs. In Massachusetts today, there are seventeen technology jobs for every person who graduates with a college degree in computer science or information technology. Immigrants are responsible for substantial economic growth. This is true of the U.S. economy where, in 2015, immigrants contributed $2 trillion to the U.S. GDP, representing 11 percent of the country's total GDP. It is also true of the Massachusetts economy, where one study found that if half of Massachusetts' 3,608 advanced level graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields, studying on temporary visas, remained in Massachusetts upon graduation, then 4,726 new jobs would be created for U.S.-born workers by 2021. Research indicates that immigrant students are disproportionately more likely to get their degrees in a STEM field – an area of critical domestic talent shortages – and that international students make up over 30 percent of the post-baccalaureate degrees in STEM fields. Furthermore, individuals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – the six countries subject to the President's revised Executive Order – are more likely to have a bachelor's degree, approximately twice as likely to have a graduate degree, and four times as likely to have a doctoral degree relative to the native-born population. In addition to this population being disproportionately educated and skilled, they are also part of a population making immediate impacts on the U.S economy. During the 2015-16 academic year alone, international students contributed $32.8 billion to the U.S. economy and supported more than 400,000 jobs. The study notes that according to national surveys by Pew, Gallup, and others, majorities of Americans believe that immigrants (particularly illegal immigrants) increase crime rates. The actual correlation runs in the other direction: As the immigrant share of the population has risen, crime has gone down: While immigrants are more likely to be the victim of a hate crime, they are no more likely than native-born Americans to be radicalized, according to the database Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS). It's notoriously difficult to have a fact-based, rational argument over immigra[...]

This Florida Prosecutor Campaigned on Reform and Fairness. Now She’s Ratcheting Up the Drug War.

Wed, 24 May 2017 14:30:00 -0400

When Melissa Nelson was elected as a state attorney in Florida last fall, unseating the controversial prosecutor Angela Corey, she spoke of bringing fairer outcomes to the justice system, developing diversion programs to keep juveniles out of jail, and creating a unit to go through old cases to look for wrongful convictions. (Read Reason's interview with Nelson here.) But now it's 2017, everybody's in a panic about increases in opioid fatalities, and Nelson's office is bragging about charging an alleged drug dealer with first degree murder over a young woman's overdose death. Both the sheriff's department and the state's attorney's office for Clay County, Florida, are making a big deal out the indictment, with press releases and press conferences. The sheriff's office says this is the first time it's ever charged someone with murder for a drug overdose. One slight problem: It's not entirely clear under what legal authority they've brought this charge. On Tuesday, Clay County officials announced that Trumaine Devone Muller, 32, had been indicted by a grand jury for murder in the overdose death of Ariell Jade Brundige, 18. Brundige died last November after trying what she apparently believed to be heroin but was actually the opioid fentanyl, according to Nelson's office. Florida's laws allow for drug traffickers to be charged with first degree murder when one of their customers dies of an overdose, but only when certain drugs are involved. Heroin is on the list, but fentanyl and some similar opioids are not. Florida lawmakers have, in fact, passed a bill to add fentanyl to this list (and to impose mandatory minimum sentences on fentanyl traffickers), but it's not law yet and it does not appear to apply to Muller. Muller's indictment does not mention fentanyl, claiming that he killed Brundige by distributing "opium or any synthetic or natural salt, compound, derivative, or preparation of opium." Fentanyl mimics opium's effects, but it is not a synthetic derivative or preparation of opium. Officials also announced manslaughter charges against Brundige's friends Tyler Hamilton, 26, and Christopher Williams, 32, for their role in procuring the drugs for her. The arrest report for Williams notes that he was the one who actually called 911 when Hamilton found Brundige unresponsive. Williams told police he attempted CPR on her but was unsuccessful. To be clear here: Police and prosecutors are charging the guy who called 911 to report the overdose with manslaughter. That would seem to violate the spirit of so-called Good Samaritan laws, which are intended to protect citizens from drug-related arrests when they report overdoses. These laws exist so that people feel safe calling 911 in a situation exactly like Brundige's: If they fear they'll get locked up, they're less likely to call an ambulance and overdose victims are more likely to die. Florida, remarkably, already has a Good Samaritan law, but it only protects against prosecution for basic possession. Prosecutors accuse Hamilton and Williams of buying the drug from Muller and supplying it for Brundige. Drug policy reformers have warned for years about the consequences of harsh criminalization measures. Now the panic over opioid overdoses is fueling a return to the same "lock them all up" rhetoric that utterly failed to make lives better. Reporting about the case for the Florida Times-Union, Dan Scanlan contacted drug policy experts to remind folks that this behavior does not help: Leo Beletsky, a Northeastern University professor researching the use of murder charges for drug overdoses, said prosecution like this can actually hurt. "These kinds of prosecutions, I believe, run counter to efforts to encourage people to seek help [...]

HBO Ignores Madoff's Victims in Favor of Family Drama

Fri, 19 May 2017 15:00:00 -0400

The Wizard of Lies. HBO. Saturday, May 20, 8 p.m. Sorry, guys. Showtime has decided not to offer advance screenings of its reboot of the milestone of television weirdness, Twin Peaks, which premieres this weekend. This is either a canny make-'em-beg marketing strategy or a desperate effort to conceal an epic bomb. So instead of an incisive analysis of boogalooing and backwards-talking midgets, I can offer only the observation that every criminal breeds his own cult. Just as there are women who want to marry Charles Manson, there are people anxious to buy Bernie Madoff's underwear. And Madoffian salirophiliacs compose much of the audience for The Wizard of Lies, HBO's windy new docudrama on the decline and fall of the all-time Ponzi champ. The $65 billion collapse of Madoff's smoke-and-mirrors trading empire in 2008 would seem to offer great dramatic potential. Unlike the largely faceless, institutional banking collapse around the same time that triggered the Great Recession, the Madoff scandal had an easily identifiable villain driven by evil intention rather than carelessness. And his betrayal was breathtakingly personal; the thousands of victims included most of his friends and even his in-laws. There was even a potential hero: Harry Markopolis, an investment officer at a rival firm who for a decade fruitlessly warned that Madoff's returns were too good to be true. All these elements are present in Wizard, not to mention a marquee cast headed by Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, with frequent Oscar nominee Barry Levinson producing and directing. Yet it all comes together with much more fizzle than sizzle. Much of what's wrong with Wizard can be traced to Levinson's decision to go with a script by three relatively inexperienced writers (including his son Sam) that begins relatively late in the story—the day before Madoff's chicanery was exposed—and concentrates mainly on the damage he did to his own family. That precludes any real examination of any of the characters on their way to the top; all we see is their precipitous fall. Madoff's fraud is believed to have begun in the 1970s. His sons Mark and Andrew were both traders for the company, and his wife Ruth its bookkeeper in the early days. But they all denied any knowledge of his scheming, a claim grudgingly accepted by investigators (who never charged any of the three with anything), if not the public. Wizard follows Mark (Alessandro Nivola, American Hustle) and Andrew (Nathan Darrow, House of Cards) as they're bullied to the line of sanity and ultimately beyond it, alternately by their parents for disloyalty—the boys were the ones who revealed the fraud to federal authorities, then refused to help raise bail money for their father—and by friends who were wiped out. More fascinating, in a bug-under-the-magnifying-glass sort of way, is the case of Ruth (crisply played by Pfeiffer), cagey enough to give away a small fortune in jewelry before the cops can seize it, but utterly oblivious to the cracks in her cocoon of wealth and social standing until the mounting rage of her friends-turned-victims gets her kicked out of her regular beauty salon. Despite the mounting toll, she can't break away from her husband of more than five decades. As they lie in bed, awaiting for the effects of what will turn out to be a botched mutual attempt at a suicidal overdose of sleeping pills to take effect, Bernie murmurs a poignant goodbye: "We had a wonderful life." Without even a glance, she replies: "Yeah ... until you ruined it." This is all well and good, and might have made a good episode of Showtime's barbarous Wall Street drama Billions. But, having expressed every cogent thought in its head i[...]