More Post-Secondary Education for Inmates Would ‘Cut Recidivism, Reduce Poverty’

Restoring access to Pell Grants for post-secondary education in prison would also increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated people across the United States by nearly 10 percent, says a new study.

Restoring access to Pell Grants for post-secondary education in prison would also increase employment rates among formerly incarcerated people across the United States by nearly 10 percent, says a new study.

Providing opportunities for post-secondary education for prisoners is also likely to reduce recidivism rates and save an estimated $365.5 million a year in incarceration costs for states, concluded a study released jointly Wednesday by the Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.

The so-called Pell grants to post-secondary education programs in prison were sharply scaled back by Congress in 1994 in a reflection of  “tough-on-crime” attitudes that perceived such grants as coddling of criminals.

But the study says that research shows that giving inmates access to post-secondary education is critical to reducing mass incarceration, lowering recidivism rates and ensuring public safety.

“This relic of the ‘tough-on-crime’ era has resulted in long-term negative consequences for all of us…as well as lost economic potential for individuals, families, and communities,” said Vera Institute president Nick Turner,, and Georgetown Center director Peter Edelman in their introduction to the study.

“It’s time we repeal the ban and create a more restorative justice system that increases safety and produces better and more cost-effective outcomes for everyone d break the cycle of poverty that comes with it. “

The study found that 64 percent of incarcerees in federal and state prisons had achieved a GED or high school diploma, making them academically eligible to enroll in a postsecondary education program.

Some limited post-secondary education is available through the the federal Second Chance Pell program, but  only 9 percent of incarcerated people completed a postsecondary program while beind bars in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.

The study estimated that if the congressional ban were lifted, about 463,000 incarcerated people would be eligible for Pell Grants.

The study was prepared by Patrick Oakford, Cara Brumfield, Casey Goldvale, and Laura Tatum of the  Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality; and Margaret diZerega and Fred Patrick of the Vera Institute of Justice.

The full study is available here.


Barr: Feds Won’t Interfere With State Pot Legalization

During his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, A-G nominee William Barr indicated he would return to the Obama-era policy of not enforcing federal law prohibiting the possession and sale of marijuana in states that had legalized it. Meanwhile, Massachussetts pot entrepreneurs are rising to the challenge of finding catchy but legally accepted names for their product..

In what may be encouraging news to the marijuana legalization movement, Attorney General nominee William P. Barr has pledged not to interfere with the District of Columbia’s decriminalization of marijuana.

During his Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Barr suggested that he would return to the Obama-era policy of not enforcing federal law prohibiting the possession and sale of marijuana in states that had legalized it, reports the Washington Post.Former attorney general Jeff Sessions had reversed that guidance last year.

At the hearing, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) asked Barr whether he would enforce federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized marijuana — as well as the District.

“To the extent people are complying with the state laws in distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that,” Barr replied.

In other news from the marijuana front, The Boston Globe reports on the struggle of entrepreneurs in the now-legal recreational pot industry in Massachussetts to gain leverage in an expending marketplace.  New sellers need to balance the need to stand out with catchy brand names,  while staying within state regulators’ limits on referring, directly or colloquially, to the main product.

From 2014 through November, most marijuana firms in the state were medical dispensaries that, in picking their appellations, sought to avoid stoner stereotypes and evoke professionalism and health, leading to such names as Alternative Therapies Group, New England Treatment Access, and Theory Wellness. But now that recreational sales are flowing, the market is changing. More creative names have emerged, such as The Green Lady and The Verb Is Herb

So far, lots of companies have tapped into Boston’s healthy hometown pride with names such as Baked Bean, Mayflower Medicinals, and Patriot Care — a localized version of national parent company Columbia Care. Beantown Greentown is also growing local strains called Boston Skunk, 617 Haze, and Wicked Pissa.

The local angle works because people want to support Massachusetts businesses over big marijuana companies from out of state, said Hillary King, a Boston-based consultant with 5 Point Management Group, who has worked on cannabis store branding.

Meanwhile, the first medical marijuana sales in Ohio are expected to begin Wednesday, reports Dispensary owners prepared for large crowds on what is essentially the program’s opening day. They set up heated tents for waiting customers and planned to serve coffee and hot chocolate.

Initial prices were expected to be high and three dispensaries planned to set limits on how much dried marijuana flower – the only product available at first – could be bought to ensure there is enough to go around.


‘Disrespect’ by Cops Reduces Civilian Reporting of Crime: Study

The frequency and tone of police stops are critical factors in whether individuals will contact police in the future to report crimes, according to a new study.

Individuals who are stopped and questioned by police are less likely to report crimes, according to a study published in the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency,

Drawing on data collected by the Vera Institute of Justice in 2012 as part of a study that focused on areas of New York City marked by high rates of crime and police stops and arrests (Harlem, South Bronx, Jackson-Heights, Jamaica and East New York/Bedford-Stuyvesant), the researchers found that a greater number of lifetime stops correlates with a lower likelihood of police notification, and with lower ratings of both police legitimacy and effectiveness.

“Willingness to report crime is …one of several mechanisms that enable the mobilization of law as an immediate antecedent of citizen behavior, and is the lifeblood of police work,” said the study.

Researchers also noted that those who felt disrespected by the police were less willing to report crimes, regardless of whether they were satisfied with how the police handled the encounter.

“The more individuals see the police as aligned with their own values and dispositions, the more they should be willing to support them, to engage them, and to abide by these shared expectations,” the study said.

Significantly, individuals who perceived the police as legitimate and effective were 37 percent more likely to report crimes.

They also found that reporting intentions are relatively higher among women, employed persons, and those who perceived a greater likelihood of future victimization.

Data revealed no pattern related to  race and ethnicity, which they claimed was “perhaps due to the specific nature of our sample or the use of alternative markers of stratification such as employment or foreign-born status.”

However, researchers said that during involuntary encounters with police, tensions are higher, which can make encounter-based evaluations of the police less relevant for general assessments of law enforcement legitimacy and effectiveness, as well as for reporting intentions.

“It is also important for research because more detailed information on the appraisal process of personal experience can inform theory development on the mechanisms of citizen compliance and cooperation,”  they wrote.

The study was prepared by Andres F. Rengifo, Lee Ann Slocum and Vijay Chillar.

A full copy the report can downloaded here.

This summary was prepared by TCR staff reporter Megan Hadley.


Barr Tells Senators He Backs Sentencing Reforms

William Barr, who was known as a hard-liner on crime during his previous stint as Attorney General in the President George H. W. Bush administration, said he had “no problem with reforming the sentencing structure” as outlined in the First Step Act, which was passed by Congress and signed by Trump in late December.

William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, will support the new First Step Act that reforms federal sentencing practices and prison rehabilitation programs, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

Barr, who was known as a hard-liner on crime during his previous stint as Attorney General in the administration of President George H. W. Bush, said he had “no problem with the approach of reforming the sentencing structure” as outlined in the law passed by Congress and signed by Trump in late December.

Barr argued that it was unfair to compare the Justice Department’s approach to criminal justice in the early 1990s to the situation today, the Washington Post reports.

“In 1992, when I was attorney general, the violent crime rates were the worst in American history, the sentences were extremely short,” Barr said, noting average sentences for rape were three years, and murder, just five to seven. “The system had broken down, and through a series of administrations, the laws were changed.”

“I understand that things have changed since 1992,” Barr told Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), a leading supporter of the First Step Act.

Barr also said it would be an “abuse of power” for Trump to intervene in an investigation he “has a stake in,” the Associated Press reports. Barr told senators he believes such an action would be a breach of the president’s constitutional duties and could violate federal law depending upon the circumstances. 

Barr was responding to questions from California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in light of a memo he wrote criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction-of-justice investigation.

Barr has said the memo was intended to be narrowly focused on one of Mueller’s reported interpretations of obstruction. Barr also says his memo was based solely on public reporting and not any confidential information.

Barr said he doesn’t believe special counsel Robert Mueller “would be involved in a witch hunt.” Trump has repeatedly used that term to criticize the special counsel’s investigation and has suggested he is being targeted by the Justice Department. Mueller is investigating potential ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign.

Barr told senators he would look into how an FBI counterintelligence investigation was opened into whether Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia’s interests. Barr said he never had heard of the FBI opening such an investigation on an U.S. president.


TX Court Stops Execution Over Bite Mark Evidence

Blaine Milam, who was convicted of killing a 13-month-old girl in a brutally botched exorcism, was granted a last-minute stay Monday over concerns about the bite mark evidence used to convict him and the possibility he might be too intellectually disabled to execute. It would have been Texas’ first execution of 2019.

Blaine Milam, the East Texas man convicted of killing a 13-month-old in a brutally botched exorcism, was granted a last-minute stay Monday over concerns about the bite mark evidence used to convict him and the possibility he might be too intellectually disabled to execute, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Milam, 29, who was scheduled to die Tuesday, would have been Texas’ first execution of 2019. Defense attorney Jennae Swiergula argued that the conviction rested on “junk science.” Milam was sent to death row for killing Amora Bain Carson, whose body was found in his trailer, covered in bites and bruises.

The trial was moved more than two hours away after intense media coverage of the sordid allegations including everything from drugs to demonic possession.

In a late appeal, Milam’s lawyers argued against the state’s reliance on bite-mark testimony, which was a key part of his trial, reports the Texas Tribune. His lawyers also claimed he was intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for execution.

In December 2008, Milam called 911 and police in Rusk County arrived to find the body of Amora Carson, according to court opinions. The medical examiner counted 24 human bite marks on the baby’s body and found evidence of blunt force trauma and sexual assault.

Milam told investigators he had no idea what had happened, and that he and his girlfriend had returned home to find the child dead. In the end, he was sentenced to death and the child’s mother – Jessica Carson – was given a life without parole sentence.

The mother first thought Milam was possessed by the devil. Then, the couple decided that baby Amora was possessed instead. In 2008, they beat the child with a hammer, bit her and sexually assaulted her in an attempt to cast out the demon.

Carson later admitted to the Texas Rangers that her daughter had died during the ill-fated exorcism.

In appeals, Milam alleged that the state withheld exculpatory evidence at trial, that he was denied the right to present a defense, that he was intellectually disabled under the current definition and that the bite mark evidence underlying his conviction isn’t reliable science.

Last month, the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in another case that the conviction had relied heavily on testimony regarding bite mark science no longer considered reliable.

Despite the court’s decision, Texas is still set to host the nation’s first execution of the year. Robert Jennings is scheduled to die on Jan. 30, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Five other executions are scheduled in the state through May.

See Also: Forensic Science Reform at ‘Crossroads’


Odds of Dying from Opioid Overdose Now Greater Than Auto Crash: Study

A study by the National Safety Council concludes the worsening opioid crisis now tops the list of the causes of “preventable deaths” for Americans.

An American is more likely to die from an accidental opioid overdose than from a motor vehicle crash, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).

The odds─one in 96─surpass the one-in-103 odds of dying in a car crash for the first time in history, the NSC said in its analysis  of “unintentional, preventable injuries” released Monday.

“The nation’s opioid crisis is fueling the Council’s grim probabilities, and that crisis is worsening with an influx of illicit fentanyl,” the NSC said in a statement accompanying the data.

Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the National Safety Council, added that the opioid figures underlined the rise in accidental deaths from all causes, averaging 466 lives lost every day.

Americans are dying from accidents “at rates we haven’t seen in half a century,” despite the general increase in U.S. longevity, he said. “This new analysis reinforces that we must consistently prioritize safety at work, at home and on the road to prevent these dire outcomes.”

NSC analysis of data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows that falls – the third leading cause of preventable death behind drug overdose and motor vehicle crashes – are more likely to kill someone than ever before.

The lifetime odds of dying from an accidental fall are one in 114 – a change from one in 119 just a year ago.

Preventable injuries are the third leading cause of death, claiming an unprecedented 169,936 lives in 2017 and trailing only heart disease and cancer, the NSC said.

The full report can be downloaded here.


The Groveland Four: Racism, ‘Miscarriage of Justice’ and the Press

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pardon of four young black men wrongly accused in 1949 of raping a white woman recalls the insidious role played by the media at the time.

Belated mea culpas were issued last week to the Groveland Four, young black men subjected to racist vigilantism following a dubious rape allegation 70 years ago in Florida.

On Friday, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency pardoned the men, two years after their descendants received an official apology from the state legislature.

“I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied,”  said Florida Gov. DeSantis.

“Indeed, they were perverted time and time again, and I think the way this was carried out was a miscarriage of justice.”

The Orlando Sentinel, whose vitriolic owner was the spearhead of inciteful press coverage, weighed in with an apology of its own:

“We’re sorry for the Orlando Sentinel’s role in this injustice. We’re sorry that the newspaper at the time did between little and nothing to seek the truth. We’re sorry that our coverage of the event and its aftermath lent credibility to the cover-up and the official, racist narrative.”

The pardon came after a dramatic, hour-long meeting  during which the families of the men accused of the assault told DeSantis and his three-member Cabinet – meeting as the clemency board – that there is overwhelming evidence the men were innocent and there was no rape, reported USA Today.

The woman, who was 17 when she said she was raped, sat in a wheelchair and later told Gov. DeSantis and the Cabinet the rape did indeed happen, saying she was dragged from a car, had a gun put to her head and was told not to scream or they would “blow your brains out.”

At one point, the two sides briefly clashed. Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the Groveland Four, was speaking to the governor and the Cabinet when she turned to the woman and her sons.

“It never happened. You all are liars,” Robinson said.

“That’s enough out of you,” the woman said.

“I know it’s enough out of me. It’s always enough when you’re telling the truth,” Robinson replied.

Five years ago, TCR’s David J. Krajicek looked into journalism’s role in the case—both the rabid local coverage and the crucial attention from northern newspapers that shed light on the scandal.

His report, part of a series of case studies commissioned by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice, examining “how ‘mob journalism’ and media ‘tunnel vision’ turn journalists into tools of the prosecution,” was published in February 2014.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded here.


SC Prison Report Warned of Staff Shortages Before Riot: Paper

A report commissioned by the state found half of South Carolina’s prisons had fewer than 50 percent of the recommended staff. A month after the report was issued, a riot at the Lee Correctional Facility in Bishopville, S.C., left seven dead and 22 injured.

One month before the violence in South Carolina’s Lee Correctional facility left seven dead and 22 injured, a report commissioned by the state Department of Corrections warned that the state’s prison system was operating with half the staff required to keep it safe, reports the Charleston Post and Courier.  Columnist Steve Bailey said the 320-page report warned the state would have to double the current staff to more than 4,000 to meet industry standards.

The report written by Tom Roth, a former Illinois warden, was issued a month before the facility in Bishopville, SC exploded in what Bailey said was “America’s deadliest riot in a quarter century.” Roth visited 13 men’s and women’s state prisons, including Lee Correctional. Half the prisons had fewer than 50 percent of the recommended staff — one just 38 percent. Not a single prison had more than 62 percent of the needed manpower, said Bailey, who obtained the report after a Freedom of Information request. He noted that about 178 pages of the document were redacted — “including staffing levels for every prison and who knows what else?”


2018 Called ‘High Point’ in Restoring Rights to Individuals with Criminal Records

Some 30 states and the District of Columbia passed laws or enacted statutes aimed at helping people with criminal records overcome barriers to reintegrating with civilian society last year, according to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center. The most promising legislative development focused on ending restrictions on occupational licensing.

Some 30 states and the District of Columbia passed laws or enacted statutes aimed at helping returning incarcerees adjust to life in civilian society, representing a “high point” in national efforts to restore rights and status to people with a criminal record, according to the Collateral Consequences Resource Center (CCRC).

The most promising legislative development focused on ending restrictions on occupational licensing, said the CCRC, a nonprofit organization established in 2014 to promote public discussion of the collateral consequences of conviction.

“(Occupational licensing) showed the greatest uniformity of approach,”  said study authors Margaret Love and David Schlussel.

Of the 14 states that enacted laws regulating licensing in 2018, nine (added to 4 in 2017) adopted comprehensive frameworks to improve access to occupational licenses for people with a criminal record, limiting the kinds of records that may be considered, establishing clear criteria for administrative decisions, and making agency procedures more transparent and accountable.

During 2018, some 52 separate statutes (some addressing multiple restoration mechanisms),  three executive orders, and one ballot initiative aimed at enhancing the prospects for successful reentry and reintegration were enacted. In comparison, 23 states enacted 42 new restoration laws in 2017.

The CRCC said the “most consequential single new law” was the ballot initiative approved by Florida voters last fall to restore the franchise to 1.5 million people with a felony conviction.

See: Fla Ex-Felons Plan Mass Voter registration

Voting rights were also restored for parolees, by statute in Louisiana and by executive order in New York.

The largest number of new laws (27 statutes in 19 states) expanded access to sealing or expungement, by extending eligibility to additional categories of offenses and persons, by reducing waiting periods, or by simplifying procedures, the CCRC said.

The wide variety of approaches to restoration of rights seems to reflect the challenge of striking the appropriate balance between the public’s interest in having access to criminal records, the state’s public safety concerns, and the need to support individuals in their efforts to reintegrate into society,” the authors said.

“It may also reflect a degree of uncertainty about the efficacy of limiting public access to records as opposed to other more transparent forms of relief that involve limiting their use, in the workplace and elsewhere.”

Additional Reading: Ban the Box in Colleges, Too

The full CRCC report is available here.


Shutdown Squeezes Law Enforcement, Threatens US Security, Agents Say

The association representing agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned that a prolonged shutdown threatens to compromise national security

Federal law enforcement agencies that keep Americans safe are starting to feel the strain of the partial U.S. government shutdown, in its 21st day, with agents working for no pay and investigations delayed, according to law enforcement officials, Reuters reports.

Earlier, the association representing agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned that a prolonged shutdown was threatening to compromise national security.

The FBI Agents Association called for an end to the ongoing partial government shutdown, warning that the lapse in funds is unsustainable,  and urged Congress to pass appropriations for the Department of Justice as soon as possible, Politico reports.

FBI agents, along with more than half a million other federal employees, are set to miss their first paychecks on Friday because of the shutdown. The group sent a letter arguing that “financial security is a matter of national security.”

“As this moves forward, it’s only going to get worse,” Thomas O’Connor, president of the FBI Agents Association, told CBS. “People are nervous, they’re upset and they’re worried about when is the next paycheck going to come in.”

There are similar concerns within other federal law enforcement agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Sources tell CBS News morale is “horrible.” Commanders are having to weigh financial constraints before approving certain sensitive undercover operations.

“You know the old adage, ‘crime doesn’t pay’ … and neither does the federal government. That’s not right,” O’Connor said.

“We still have a responsibility for going after those who might be using this time to flood the streets” with drugs, a DEA field agent told Reuters, asking not to be identified by name.

The partial shutdown shows no signs of ending any time soon as negotiations between Democrats and the White House over the issue of funding for border security remain at an impasse.

While House Democrats aim to pass individual spending bills that would reopen more of the government, Republicans have largely stood with President Trump in opposition to a piecemeal approach without concessions from Democrats.

The letter from the FBI agent group undercuts Trump’s argument that large parts of the federal workforce support his push for border wall funds, even if it means the government shutdown persists.

The agents warn that resources for FBI investigations are running thin. Financial uncertainty caused by the possibility of future shutdowns could affect the agency in the long run by deterring prospective agents from joining or causing current agents to seek employment in the private sector.

See also: Shutdown Called Absolute Disaster for Federal Prisons