Better racial representation in our police forces is important, but a would-be officer’s residence can also have a major impact on making on improving a department’s legitimacy in a community, argue two researchers.
Racial representation that reflects the diversity of a community is a key ingredient in improving relations between police and the communities they serve. This was one of the key recommendations in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, released in 2015.
The rationale is simple: Officers whose demographic characteristics reflect the communities in which they serve are more likely to have an interest in promoting equity, and to understand the racial perspectives and dynamics, within those communities. But does a racially representative force actually lead to better policing outcomes?
In a review of James Forman Jr.’s “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” Devon Carbado and L. Song Richardson highlight a surprising finding: Over-policing in black neighborhoods implicates not only white officers, but black officers as well. Due to racial anxiety induced by their white peers, black officers “may experience stronger incentives” than their white counterparts to over-police and employ violence in order to avoid looking “soft” on crime.
Thus, while diversifying the racial makeup of our police forces is a critical dimension of reform, it is not the only step we need to take. In addition to creating departments that are more racially reflective of the communities they serve, we need to properly conceptualize what a truly “reflective” police force should look like.
It may be the case that, when it comes to policing outcomes, fair geographic representation is just as important as fair racial representation.
It is no secret that police forces across the nation are predominantly white. Using Department of Justice survey data, one study found that this is the case even in majority black jurisdictions. Given this reality, some departments have doubled down on efforts to reform their recruitment practices so that their officers are more racially representative of the communities they serve.
While improving racial representation in our police forces is an important goal, we must also consider whether problems will persist if we designate race as the only necessary consideration when creating a force that reflects community demographics.
One element frequently neglected by departments that hire minority officers is residency.
Officers from outside jurisdictions — regardless of whether their race matches that of those they are sworn to protect — may not have a vested interest in policing equitably. On the other hand, recruits of any race who live inside the jurisdiction of a given department have an immediate connection in the communities they serve, which may help offset the pressure to over-police that some black officers experience.
Racial and geographic disparities in officer hiring are inextricably linked, meaning that solving one disparity could exacerbate the other. For instance, it may be the case that trying to recruit from a wider pool of racially underrepresented populations could result in the hiring of more recruits from areas outside a given department’s jurisdiction.
Departments thus need to be cognizant of both elements simultaneously. In other words, if the goal is to create not only a more representative police force, but a more effective one, departments need to consider race along with place of residence when recruiting new officers.
We should ensure that the individuals joining the police force have a stake in promoting equity and understand the communities within which they work, something that is not necessarily the case if race is the only factor considered.
The locales from which officers are hired represent a critical dimension that departments need to consider in the recruitment reform process. Otherwise, we may see “racially reflective” police forces that continue or exacerbate the problems we already have.
Abdul Rad is an associate fellow with the R Street Institute. Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and Department of Justice prosecutor, and a retired U.S. Army officer, is the Director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at R Street. They welcome comments from readers.
Increasing family and community engagement with probation authorities, and addressing the system’s racial disparities are critical to keeping young people from becoming repeat offenders, according to an Urban Institute study of reforms in Ohio and Washington State.
Courts must address racial disparities in juvenile probation practices and the alienation of many families and communities from the “system,” in order to achieve a transformation of U.S. juvenile probation practices, according to an Urban Institute study.
The disproportional treatment of minority youth is a significant barrier to efforts aimed at keeping young people from becoming repeat offenders, researchers concluded in a three-year study of reforms instituted in Ohio’s Lucas County and Washington’s Pierce County.
The reforms, supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Probation Transformation Initiative, resulted in noteworthy reductions in the number of young people who re-offended. But researchers said that even in the two counties they studied, authorities were hamstrung by deep-seated resentment and distrust on the part of young people, their parents, and community leaders—many of whom felt the system treated minority youth differently.
“Neighborhood isolation and residential racism makes (things) difficult,” said one community representative quoted in the study. “There’s no outlet or jobs for these kids and there’s no hope…I think we need to look at our neighborhood investment and what’s happening [there].”
The authors of the study concurred.
“Developing ways to build trust can be hard, since families impacted by the juvenile justice system often see probation staff as representing ‘the system,’ which can inhibit progress on designing case plans for youth,” they wrote, noting that judges, probation officers and other stakeholders “must be prepared to have difficult conversations about race and equity.”
They added: “Even in Lucas and Pierce Counties, both of which have sizably reduced their placement populations, these successful reform efforts have not automatically resulted in reduced (racial) disparities.”
Nevertheless, the study also concluded that in the short time the programs had been implemented, key lessons learned about how to transform the juvenile probation system could help to inform other jurisdictions around the country.
Pierce County, for example, developed an approach called Opportunity-Based Probation (OBP), which offered incentives for youth to get off probation early. It reported that the first cohort of youth completing OBP had low re-offense rates.
Another program called Pathways to Success, described as a “family, team-based approach including a care coordinator, a probation officer, a mentoring component, and parent support,” was adapted by county authorities to improve outcomes for African-American youth.
“We try to get them as early in our system as possible, so they need to have at least one other contact with our system,” one probation supervisor told researchers.
Lucas County created a “misdemeanor services unit” that was used to divert juveniles who committed minor offenses from probation.
Both counties’ efforts emphasized greater engagement with families, and collaborative partnerships with community groups as crucial steps to help young people avoid further entanglement with the justice system.
“We can work with the youth all day, but then the youth has to go home,” said a Lucas County probation officer. “If they’re not supported there, or the family doesn’t know about the work, it’s not effective …. I’ve learned that the families love it—they love to be involved, feel included, see the changes.”
A Pierce County officer added: “We can’t sustain long-term change with these kids without the support of parents… they need to carry on the work with the kids once we step away.”
Probation is the most commonly used disposition in U.S. juvenile courts. Nearly 63 percent of delinquency cases in 2014 resulted in probation, and the number of such dispositions has been rising steadily. Between 1984 and 2014, the use of probation for young people adjudicated delinquent increased by over 5 percent.
And that has only sharpened racial disparities.
In Lucas County, for example, 37 percent of black youth with felony cases received “out-of-home placement,” such as detention facilities or group homes, compared with 7 percent of white youth.
Experts in adolescent development have found that many youth fall afoul of the rules imposed by probation because the neural networks responsible for “self-regulation and reward motivation” aren’t fully developed until age 24.
The Annie E. Casey Probation Transformation Initiative was developed in response to these findings, with the aim of finding “developmentally appropriate” means of working with troubled juveniles.
The Initiative’s twin goals were to “divert at least 60 percent of referrals including all youth with low-level offenses and lower-risk levels,” and to “use probation only as a purposeful intervention to support behavior change and long-term success for youth with serious and repeat offenses.”
The government’s 2017 decision to shut down the National Commission on Forensic Science has slowed the movement to reform how courts treat forensic evidence, according to a UCLA Law study.
Recent efforts to reform the use of forensic science in the courtroom don’t go far enough to meet widespread criticisms of its validity and reliability, according to a University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) Law School study.
UCLA Law Professor Jennifer L. Mnookin examined the state of forensic science reform. Photo courtesy UCLA
In the last two decades, often-used forms of pattern evidence, such as fingerprint, tool mark, and bite mark identification, have faced significant criticism, wrote study author Jennifer L. Mnookin, a law professor at UCLA, in a research paper posted in Daedalus, a journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The Department of Justice’s decision in April 2017 not to renew the charter of the National Commission on Forensic Science reduces the likelihood of real reform, which Mnookin said puts forensic science at a “crossroads.”
“Our best hope for sustained, substantial changes necessary for improving forensic science evidence within our system of justice requires the creation of another national commission or other institutional body, made up of both research scientists and other institutional stakeholders,” she wrote.
Mnookin uses a mistaken bite mark identification case to further her point.
Alfred Swinton, was released from prison after serving 18 years of a 60-year sentence for murder, after an expert admitted ruled the bite mark identification evidence used to convict him no longer seemed persuasive or valid.
The bite mark expert “no longer believed with reasonable medical certainty–or with any degree of certainty –that the marks on [the victim] were created by Mr. Swinton’s teeth, because of the recent developments in the scientific understanding of bite-mark analysis,” odontologist Constantine Karazulas told the Hartford Courant, as quoted by Mnookin.
Is Forensic Science ‘Junk Science’?
Karazulas even called his earlier testimony “junk science” and said he “no longer believes that Mr. Swinton’s detention was uniquely capable of producing the bite marks I observed.”
Mnookin suggested the case indicated a potential sea change for the use of bite mark evidence, and noted there is a growing consensus among judges that the forensic science community should scale back exaggerated and overconfident assertions of knowledge and authority by forensic scientists.
Mnookin concluded that future reform required an institutional structure adversarial advocates, and practitioners themselves, staffed by accomplished research scientists to pave new ways for credible forensic science evidence to be used in courtrooms.
“We are simply not likely to see continued forward motion unless there is some institutional body to prompt reform, a commission or working group with both convening power and a claim to legitimacy, in which academic researchers and forensic science stakeholders can jointly assess the state of forensic science and continue to push for, and argue about, improvements,” she wrote.
If it can happen, she said, the future of forensic science will almost certainly be far brighter, and the substance of what is used in investigations and offered in courtrooms throughout our nation will be more reliable, more trustworthy, and more scientifically valid.
Experts estimate that criminal-justice debt owed by poor defendants totals tens of billions of dollars, and that number is likely to grow.
Financial penalties assessed by civil and criminal courts on poor defendants are now a leading source of revenue for municipalities around the country and are “perpetuating poverty,” according to an expert with Harvard’s National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative, reports the New York Times Magazine.
Experts estimate that criminal-justice debt owed by poor defendants totals tens of billions of dollars, and that number is likely to grow. National Public Radio, in a survey with the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts, found that 48 states increased civil and criminal court fees from 2010 to 2014.
“The courts are actually aggravating and perpetuating poverty,” said Mitali Nagrecha of the Harvard group.
Why they do so is a matter of economic reality: In areas hit by recession or falling tax revenue, fines and fees help pay the bills. Many counties engage in civil forfeiture, the seizure of vehicles and cash from people suspected (but not necessarily proved in court) of having broken the law.
Joanna Weiss of the Fines and Fees Justice Center says counties “use the justice system to wring revenue out of the poorest Americans — the people who can afford it the least.”
Aside from taxes, she says, “criminal-justice debt is now a de facto way of funding a lot of American cities.”
The jailing of poor defendants who cannot pay fines has been ruled unconstitutional in Supreme Court cases spanning the 1970s and early 1980s. Decades after those cases were decided, the practice of jailing people who cannot pay persists.
In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union detailed evidence of “modern-day ‘debtors’ prisons’ ” in Georgia, Michigan, Louisiana, Ohio and Washington State.
Last August, an American Bar Association (ABA) working group recommended a set of 10 guidelines aimed at reducing court fines and fees with the aim of “building trust in the criminal justice system.”
Cops, EMT workers and court officials are no longer waiting to be told how to fix system flaws. In cities across the country, pioneering efforts at collaboration across once-solid silos resemble the skillful improvisations of a jazz score, writes a Boston defense attorney.
Turn on your local nightly news. Pick up the Metro section of your local paper. Several times each week, you’ll see cops and EMTs standing over a body.
Sometimes it will be a shooting victim; sometimes it will be a drug overdose fatality. Sometimes it will be a mental patient who, in a psychotic state, was driven to “suicide-by-cop.”
Cops and EMTs are tired of meeting that way.
Emergency room staffs are tired of greeting the ambulances that bring in the “likely to die” cases whom their frantic medical efforts can’t save.
Burlington Vt Police Chief Brandon del Pozo (far right) makes a point during a recent John Jay College conference. Photo by The Crime Report.
A pair of recent meetings indicates that the frontline practitioners who confront these grisly scenes are making themselves felt in their professional organizations—that they are taking things into their own hands.
The program at the recent Orlando, Fl., meeting of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), for example, bulged with panels and presentations reflecting the perception of Burlington, Vermont, police chief Brandon del Pozo that “the job here is to keep people alive.”
IACP provides a collaborative platform that serves not just NYPD-size behemoths but also smaller departments from across a diverse range of jurisdictions: urban, suburban, and rural.
Representatives from those departments, often joined by the mental health providers, addiction specialists and social science researchers with whom they had worked on their home ground, presented accounts of their successes, their failures, and the challenges they still faced.
Later in the same month, the Fourth Annual Conference on Law Enforcement and Public Health (LEPH) was held in Toronto. International panels filled several days with lessons learned by police when they reached out to their health care counterparts and took a public health approach to opioid deaths, violence reduction, mental health interventions, and homelessness.
Again and again at the two conferences, pioneering police, driven by harsh experience to try something new, described glimmers of hope that their collaborative initiatives had revealed.
Innovators are attracting early adopters, and news of the relative advantages of their innovations is spreading in peer-to-peer conversations through peer networks.
There are elements of these particular diffusions that might herald a paradigm shift in criminal justice: a shift from a preoccupation with control (of crime on the one hand, of law enforcement intrusions on the other) to a focus on safety.
Or, maybe I mean Safety—everyone’s Safety: the community’s, the individual’s, and the cop’s too.
In this vision Safety means being safe from crime and criminals, but also being safe from iatrogenic (“from the treatment”) harms caused by excessive force, oppressive patrol practices, and massive levels of disruptive detention and incarceration.
The first thing to notice about the momentum behind this movement is that it is being generated from the bottom up: its origin lies in the traumatic lived experience of the people on the frontlines, not in the policy journals.
But it is also important to recognize the extent to which this frontline impulse is reinforced by the data.
When the careful Camden, N.J., effort to integrate health care and criminal justice numbers finds that 67 per cent of Camden’s arrestees also cycle through its hospitals, it makes it clear that the IACP’s and LEPH’s presenters are not reacting to idiosyncratic events; they are simply confronting reality.
The law enforcement and public health collaborations on display at IACP and LEPH have fostered an impressive array of local re-arrangements: new “best practices” and policies that are showing concrete results on the ground. These are unalloyed “Good Things.”
Still, if we apply the new Safety lens to these developments and to the environment that spawned them, we might be able to push further—and faster— and for a sustained period.
The Orlando IACP and Toronto LEPH gatherings both broke down the walls between neighboring territories—between professional silos that are often in contact, but within which the practitioners were used to going their own separate ways. Their new linkages will help all of the practitioners to be more effective in working together towards their common goals.
Safety experts argue that the horrific disasters and corrosive day-to-day harms these cops and healthcare workers are trying to avoid are never really single-cause events, produced by a lone sloppy practitioner or one defective practice or component; they are system errors.
Harms happen when small choices (none of which is enough to cause the outcome independently) combine with each other and with latent system weaknesses and conditions.
In other words, Safety writers would challenge us to ask ourselves whether “Silo + Silo = System.”
They would say that the answer depends on whether we believe the criminal justice system we are entangled in is a “complicated” system or a “complex” system.
As Sidney Dekker explains this distinction, a jet airplane is “complicated”—an intricate mechanical system where the failure of a part can be seen as a “cause” because it has an inevitable and predictable result.
Fix the part, and the plane is fixed. If criminal justice is just “complicated,” and the part is in your silo, then you can fix the problem yourself.
But jet air transit in operation is “complex”: when you add the humans there are no longer inevitable Newtonian causes and effects; there are “influences.” They don’t dictate outcomes, but they do affect the probabilities.
A bad outcome doesn’t arrive via a simple, one-way, linear sequence; it emerges from a combination of influences: from workers trying to make sense of situations derived from the small decisions, acts and omissions of other workers, and from conditions dictated by budget-makers, legislators and policy-makers so far over the horizon that they often become invisible.
There are things in criminal justice that can be treated as “complicated,” and they can be remedied with a quick “best practice” fix. (“Don’t spill your coffee on the crime scene”) or a checklist (“remember to ask about allergies”).
But more often criminal justice encounters are complex. Neither the cops nor the doctors are “upstream” or “downstream” in the life course of the “frequent flyers” among the homeless, the battered, the addicted, and the mentally ill they encounter. The police and the medical staffs are always simultaneously upstream and downstream of each other.
And, since most of the civilians whom medicine and law enforcement encounter are court-involved, the cops and doctors are joined in their web of mutually reciprocal influences by prosecutors, defenders, courts, sheriffs, corrections officers, and probation and parole workers—even by families and communities.
A mentally ill misdemeanor defendant who de-compensated and had to be violently subdued (even killed) by the cops has been in contact with the hospital, the defenders, the clinic, the jail, and the re-entry program. Treatment opportunities were missed, or misjudged, or treatment was interrupted.
All of the frontline operators involved had Safety as their ultimate goal—although they may approach it from different orientations and with different tools, or express it in different terms—and all of them are simultaneously buffeted by an encompassing environment constructed by others.
As Safety commentator Ivan Pupulidy points out, the daily lives of these players aren’t like those of orchestral musicians trying to follow a score.
At 2:00 a.m. on the street, or in the emergency room, or late in the afternoon, when managing the 14th case on their 60-case misdemeanor arraignment lists, the practitioners are more like jazz musicians, improvising in a world of swirling inputs. Everyone’s work is affecting everyone else’s work.
Shifting Toward Safety
No single operator can produce Safety any more than a single molecule of H2O can produce wetness. The whole culture has to shift toward Safety.
The recognition that frontline life is dynamic and adaptive, not scripted, is at the heart of projects like the National Institute of Justice/Bureau of Justice Assistance “Sentinel Event Initiative.” The goal of the Sentinel Event demonstration projects (for which sites are currently being recruited) is to explore whether jurisdictions can develop the capacity for an all-stakeholders approach to these problems that improves on a “silo + silo” orientation by bringing everyone to the table to review not the performances of individuals but the system-based generation of events.
In the aftermath of tragedies there may be particular individuals who have to be held accountable for their performances, but everyone (and every organization) has to be held accountable for learning the all lessons of the entire complex event teaches and avoiding repetition.
There are tantalizing signs that the people on the frontlines are ready for this—in fact, are thirsty for it.
If you review, say, a random month of The Crime Report, you will see news of an individual criminal justice practice community that has re-oriented itself towards preventing avoidable harms every day.
To take one example, you will see organizations of prosecutors, of defenders, and of police each taking steps to cut the subset of unnecessary pretrial detentions that produce no impact on crime reduction and community safety.
The crucial question in our immediate future is whether they can all be convinced to pursue their goal together, not one silo—or even two silos—at a time.
James M. Doyle is a Boston defense lawyer and author, and a frequent contributor to The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Not everyone welcomed the election of reform-minded prosecutors around the country last fall. The case of new Suffolk County. Ma., DA Rachael Rollins is an example of pushback from tough-on-crime advocates, warns a reform advocate.
A month before Suffolk County (Ma.) District Attorney Rachael Rollins was elected to become Boston’s District Attorney—and the first woman to hold that post—she announced that she would not prosecute 15 petty offenses.
They range from charges such as “minor in possession of alcohol,” which needlessly suck normal teenagers and young adults into the criminal justice system, to “disorderly conduct,” a statute so broad that it criminalizes whatever a prosecutor feels like it does.
Now, the National Police Association (NPA), a little-known nonprofit formed in 2017, has filed a bar complaint with the Office of the Bar Counsel in Massachusetts in a presumed attempt to strip Rollins’ law license.
The complaint itself is unlikely to succeed, as it fails to clearly state how she violated the Massachusetts Bar’s ethics rules. But it is worth highlighting as a significant attempt to close the main “safety valve” against American mass incarceration: reform-minded elected prosecutors.
We also lack a culture of restraint when it comes to criminalization and punishment. Unlike most European countries that leave the drafting of penal codes to scholarly experts, our laws are an inconsistent patchwork created by state legislators who generally know nothing about criminology and do not care to know. (Criminal law is a mere fraction of their work.)
However, head county prosecutors, often called District Attorneys, are interested enough in the dynamics of crime and public safety to make criminal justice their entire jobs. While they may be unfamiliar with the academic literature on sound crime control and public safety tactics, they take a more macroscopic and systemic view of potential crimes than the average police officer.
The reason is baked into their job descriptions.
Ultimately, a beat patrol officer in Chelsea, Mass.,—a town with a population of approximately 37,000 people—has one main directive. When there is probable cause a criminal law has been broken, the officer is to arrest a person, drive him or her to the jail, and give a report to prosecutors about what was observed.
In contrast, the District Attorney of Suffolk County (population approximately 800,000) must decide whether the crime is probable beyond a reasonable doubt, and whether it is in the best interest of the public to use limited resources on that case.
That is not to say that policing cannot or should not be more strategic or preventative. David M. Kennedy, now a professor of justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, developed a group violence intervention strategy dubbed the “Boston Miracle,” that was considered responsible for the plummeting of Boston’s homicide rate in the 1990s.
However, the implementation of such strategies by police departments is not bottom-up but top-down—a result of partnerships with police chiefs and other law enforcement leaders.
The U.S. is not about to move to the European model, in which advisory boards of academic experts essentially write state criminal codes in lieu of popularly elected legislators.
As such, the closest thing we will get to employing crime expertise to informing criminal justice policy on a day-to-day basis is through our District Attorneys, to whom state legislatures grant nearly unfettered discretion.
This is more or less the conclusion that University of North Carolina Law Professor Carissa Byrne Hessick arrived at in a blog post about Rollins’ petty offense declination policy in September.
In a world of limited resources, District Attorneys cannot prosecute every single crime and petty offense that occurs within their jurisdiction. Instead, they must make decisions on how to use their resources, within the permissive borders of deliberately broad and plentiful criminal laws.
Bill Otis, the Georgetown University law professor whom President Donald Trump nominated to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and who has been sharply criticized for his pro-mass incarceration views—Slate called him “obsessed with black-on-black crime”—has joined the chorus of Rollins critics.
“If I wanted to make a living being a small time thief, would I not be well-advised to move to Suffolk County?” he said, in response to Prof. Hessick.
But Otis ignored the fact that there are many other statutes Rollins could use to crack down on this sort of behavior, one of them being “organized retail crime,” which can fetch up to ten years in state prison.
It is unfair to suggest that Rollins’ plans amount to ineffective crime control measures or will hurt the interests of crime victims. Instead, she is trying to give people a chance to grow from their relatively harmless mistakes without getting clawed into by the criminal justice system.
The same point needs to be emphasized as other reform prosecutors across the country face criticism from those who want to reverse the nationwide movement for justice reform.
It is often said in reform circles that people are more than their worst moments.
If a person’s worst moment is shoplifting a shirt, making a mean comment on an internet video game, or shooting up heroin while chemically dependent, perhaps desistance from the behavior should be good enough for all of us.
Rory Fleming is the founder of Foglight Strategies, a campaign research services firm for forward-thinking prosecutors nationwide. He previously worked for the Fair Punishment Project, which was founded as a joint project of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute and its Criminal Justice Institute. Rory is a licensed Minnesota attorney and he tweets at @RoryFleming8A. Readers’ comments are welcome.
The California governor, whose final term ends in January, changed from a tough-on-crime advocate in the 1970s to a reform advocate who concluded much of the old thinking on crime and punishment had been wrong. Former state corrections secretary Jeanne Woodford said his “refreshing” transformation was guided by criminologists’ evidence-based research.
When California Gov. Jerry Brown’s final term ends next week, he will leave behind a state criminal justice system infused with a new commitment to second chances, a shift away from an era in which tens of thousands were imprisoned with little opportunity to turn their lives around, the Los Angeles Times reports.
“It’s called hope,” Brown told the newspaper. “One hundred fifty thousand young men with zero hope bolsters the gangs, leads to despair, leads to violence and makes the prisons very dangerous.
Many of them, the majority, will get out anyway. And they’ll get out as very wounded human beings.” The governor’s attempt to unwind the old approach contrasts with his legacy from the 1970s. No governor did more to launch the tough-on-crime era, including a seminal law four decades ago that paved the way for strict sentences, even for nonviolent crimes.
Brown’s decision to change course was driven by legal mandates as much as morality. A key was his reliance on research and data that concluded much of the old thinking on crime and punishment had been wrong.
“He’s really followed the science of criminal justice,” said Jeanne Woodford, a former state corrections secretary. “That’s very refreshing, as opposed to people making decisions based on their worst fears.” Brown supported legislation or ballot measures that downgraded drug crimes, offered some inmates new opportunities for parole and prevented or limited the detention of children and teenagers.
He helped craft a sweeping plan to grant judges greater discretion over California’s bail system. He appointed hundreds of jurists who share his vision of considering options other than lengthy incarceration.
To some, the four-term governor made things worse when taking office in 2011. Critics cite an uptick in violent and property crimes in some communities as evidence that leniency won’t work.
New York Democrats say 2019 could be the year the state legislature approves reforms to the cash bail system, rules on discovery and laws to guarantee a speedy trial for criminal defendants. Democrats flipped the State Senate from the hands of Republicans, who have been in control for most of the last decade.
New York Democrats say 2019 could be the year the state legislature approves reforms to the state’s cash bail system, rules on discovery and laws to guarantee a speedy trial for criminal defendants, the New York Law Journal reports. That’s due mostly to a wave of Democrats flipping the State Senate from the hands of Republicans, who have been in control for most of the last decade. The Assembly was already controlled by Democrats. State Sen. Jamaal Bailey is the new chair of the Senate Codes Committee, which handles changes to the state’s criminal procedure laws, like bail reform. He supports changing the state’s bail laws in an effort to make the criminal justice system fairer for low-income defendants. He wants to “put a stop to people’s detention based on their income limitations. You should not be in jail based on your inability to pay to get out.”
That position is shared by many Democrats, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo and new Attorney General Letitia James. Cuomo, who has called for ending cash bail, said in his inauguration speech Tuesday, “A judge should determine an individual’s risk of release, not an individual’s access to wealth.” Republicans have argued that a blanket reform of the cash bail system might pose a risk from some defendants judges might prefer to keep in custody, based on criminal history or other characteristics. Michelle Esquenazi of the New York State Bail Bondsman Association said, “Once you do it, you can’t dial it back. The answer is to put the whole issue to a one-year blue ribbon commission study.” One option would be to require risk assessment tools to provide an algorithm for judges to decide if defendants should be held in custody or released based on several characteristics.
The crisis in U.S. policing often begins at the recruitment stage. A TCR special report examines how police departments are trying to change the way they hire new officers, beginning with locating candidates who care about the communities they’ll serve.
Officer-involved shootings continue to be a major problem for police departments across the country. According to the Fatal Force database compiled by the Washington Post, 3,743 people have been shot and killed by police since 2015, with 746 of those deaths occurring in 2018 alone.
While a number of these incidents may be the result of officers responding to legitimate threats to their safety, and the safety of others, many still point to a pattern of violent and irresponsible reactions to situations that should have ended differently for everyone.
One solution has been to train officers in de-escalation and conflict resolution techniques, an option tried in major departments such as New York and Seattle. But increasingly, members of the criminal justice community say police need to take a much closer look at who they’re hiring, and how those men and women are being selected for a job that puts people’s lives in their hands.
“The traditional police hiring process really tends to eliminate people; it’s not designed to hire the best,” said Tom Wilson, director of the Police Educational Research Forum’s Center for Applied Research and Management, in an interview with The Crime Report.
According to GoLawEnforcement.com, an online employment resource for nationwide law enforcement, the standard hiring process consists of a written exam—usually multiple choice—an oral board interview, a physical agility test, a polygraph, a psychological exam, a background investigation, and a medical exam. Each candidate completes each exam and then moves on to the next.
Wilson, a 25-year veteran of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, compares it to a “funnel.”
“You start at the top end of a funnel, and you get all these people to apply and then maybe by the time you actually hire somebody you whittle it down to one out of ten, twenty, thirty, forty.”
The “funnel” only serves to weed out those who don’t make it to the next step. Most departments then rely on their training academies to further identify who has the desired and necessary skills they are looking for, and who doesn’t.
“If you don’t pass mustard in the academy, if you’re not able to pass certain requirements and tests, then you will be eliminated from the process,” said Wilson.
But police academies aren’t always reliable filters. With police departments around the country facing high demands for new officers, some cities’ academies are graduating people who are both ill-prepared and ill-suited for the job ahead.
Cities like Chicago and Baltimore, for example, who are under pressure to hire thousands of new officers, have been criticized for the quality of their new hires. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Police Department’s academy graduated more than 97 percent of its recruits over a four year period. According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, a third of Baltimore police recruits set to graduate lack even a basic understanding of the laws governing constitutional policing.
“As long as you have (hiring) quotas, you have targets, and when you have targets you’re eliminating good people,” said Stan Mason, host of the radio program Behind the Blue Curtain, in an interview with TCR.
A 25-year veteran of the Waco, Tx., Police Department, Mason was part of the selection process in his agency for 15 years. He points out that for most departments, and especially those in major municipalities, lowering standards to meet numbers begins at the hiring level.
As a result, even positive efforts like diversification can yield poor candidates when selection comes down to just filling required slots as soon as possible.
“When you have to meet numbers and you get down to the last two black guys, neither of them might be worth a thing,” said Mason. “But, one of them is going to get in there because you gotta fill those books.”
Mason recommends that cities and their departments focus instead on better understanding the demographics of their communities, stressing a need for departments that strive for a cultural diversity that mirrors the demographics of the cities or towns they police and, as a result, are better equipped to provide the kind of officers those communities really need.
It’s a necessity that Wilson agrees is long overdue for recognition.
“It’s time we start recognizing that different people bring different skills to this job, and we need that diverse background,” said Wilson, who adds that even just changing where and how departments hire those people is a step in the right direction.
In the wake of low unemployment rates, negative public scrutiny, and a shift in what younger generations want in a career, developing new and innovative hiring practices to fill the ranks of police departments is critical.
A 2017 national survey by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence found that governments are having more trouble hiring police than any other category of personnel. According to Wilson, this may be due, in part, to an outdated hiring strategy.
“It’s not the old standby that we go to the local colleges, or state colleges, or military bases,” said Wilson. “We need to start branching out a little bit.”
Some departments are.
In 2017, the Michigan State Police put full-time recruiters in the field, made community partnerships with the Black Caucus Foundation and America Corps, visited churches that recommended candidates, and launched an aggressive social media campaign with videos posted on Facebook and YouTube. Their most recent academy class, set to graduate in 2019, is the most diverse they’ve had in 20 years.
In Dallas, Chief U. Renee Hall launched a program that seeks to hire recent high school graduates as supplemental public service officers who will receive college tuition reimbursement and, upon program completion and reaching hiring age, become eligible to attend the police academy.
Its goals include attracting a new pool of recruits from different areas in the communities that the police serve and thereby strengthening trust.
However, Mason insists that innovative hiring campaigns like these, while positive efforts, are only successful if the departments know the people they’re serving and choose the right officer for the right community.
“You have to understand your city,” said Mason.
“You can’t hire two Blacks, 17 whites, and one Hispanic and say, ‘wow, look at us: we got more people.’ You just have more resources. If the resources can’t be applied effectively, what good is it?”
And for officers like Mason, making sure that departments are hiring people who know the communities they are policing is essential to ensuring everyone’s safety and understanding.
A 2017 report by the Pew Research Center found that in a national survey of nearly 8,000 police officers, 72 percent considered knowledge of the people, places, and culture of the areas they work extremely important to doing the job effectively.
However, many departments today find a lot of their officers live outside the communities they serve.
Does Location Matter?
According to The New York Times, in cities like Baton Rouge, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, a majority of officers don’t live within the city limits. In fact, data journalism outlet FiveThirtyEight reports that only 15 of the nation’s largest police forces even require residency for their officers at all. As a result, the number of officers policing communities they actually know is rapidly dwindling, creating greater risk for potentially deadly mistakes.
“If you have a white officer, who has never been around black people, is this guy going to fit in Detroit, Chicago, or Baltimore?” asked Mason.
“This guy can’t handle it; it’s culture shock.”
Faced with this reality, finding the best officers can’t just be about finding the people that culturally or ethnically best suit a specific community.
For David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a leading national authority on racial profiling, it must also be about finding the people who are able to make a connection with, and adapt to, any community’s culture.
The first step begins with paying attention to how a candidate behaves at home.
“If I’m recruiting people, I want to know what they do in their own community,” said Harris, a criminal justice author who has also worked as a professional trainer for law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
According to Harris, finding men and women who demonstrate a concrete commitment to the community in which they live, even if it’s not the one they’re applying to serve, is essential to finding out what kind of police officer they will be in the future.
“Do they coach Little League? Do they work at a soup kitchen? Volunteer for meals on wheels? Anything,” said Harris.
“Show me that they are people who care about that sort of thing.”
By finding such community-involved and adaptable individuals, Harris believes that departments can move closer to the more empathetic and conscientious officers that people want. And the departments that will have the best luck in finding these kind of men and women are the ones who reach out to those very same communities and ask, “what do you want.”
“They went to the community and asked them what kind of police department and officers they wanted,” said Harris.
“The people didn’t come up with physically strong, willing to run into a burning building. What they came up with was good communicator, honest, having integrity, being able to talk to people. Those were the things that the community was interested in. What any community would be interested in.”
For Harris, this kind of cooperation and communication should be the norm, especially during the hiring process. For example, by including civilians and members of the community in police department’s review boards, which interview candidates on their qualifications and character, departments may have a better chance of improving the whole process and veering away from hiring the kind of command and control police officers traditionally sought after in the past by boards comprised mainly of a department’s sworn officers.
In fact, according to the Report on 21st Century Policing, released under the Obama administration, civilian involvement with local law enforcement agencies is essential to improving the state of policing in this country. And while police popularity may be low, a 2017 study by the Urban Institute found that large percentages of people living in the most challenging areas of cities like Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Birmingham, also professed a desire to work with police to solve neighborhood issues.
Community Involvement in Hiring
“A civilian group, or the community more broadly, can and should certainly be helping an agency determine what its priorities are,” agreed Seth Stoughton, an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and a former Tallahassee, Fl., police officer, in an interview with TCR.
A member of the Columbia, S.C., Police Department’s civilian advisory council, Stoughton explained that, as part of the department’s inclusive selection process, a member of his council always attends both police applicant interviews and officer disciplinary hearings.
Enjoying an equal voice and vote alongside the police chiefs and commanders in the room, these men and women can ask questions and provide feedback on a candidate that helps to better decide if they are the best choice for the job.
Another example of this kind of successful cohesion is Washington D.C. where, according to PBS.org, the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) has won praise for an effectiveness that is based on community outreach, independence, and authority to approve policy and training recommendations to the department.
But while the OPC may be an example of a best-case scenario when it comes to organizing civilian involvement and cohesion with police in the hiring process, Stoughton warns that no two departments are alike. Things like independence and authority are hard to come by, he said.
“The devil is in the details,” Stoughton observed. “How do you pick which civilian or set of civilians is going to be involved in this? How much say does the civilian have?”
In a country with roughly 18,000 different law enforcement agencies, finding the right answer to these questions is no easy task. A report by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) states that the largest impediment to establishing approaches to civilian oversight are the wildly different practices of any two jurisdictions, which can depend on a variety of political, cultural, and social influences.
Inconsistency of this kind can lead to board members being selected by the chief of police or a political official, a biased situation that some would consider no different than having the chief select an officer.
In addition, further damage can be done by the civilian members themselves, who, according to a study by the ColumbiaJournal on Law and Social Problems, can not only display bias towards the department that hired them, but could also be overly deferential to the police because of a lack of experience.
Shortcomings like these are exemplified by cities like Seattle and Albuquerque where, despite having established civilian oversight and apparent transparency in the past, they find themselves facing an uphill battle to improve their police departments.
In Chicago, a debate continues over whether civilian groups should oversee police at all. While it may be a small step in the right direction, civilian involvement is far from the only solution to finding today’s best, brightest and most empathetic police candidates.
“I think civilian involvement in the hiring process is an easy thing for most agencies and jurisdictions to do,” said Stoughton.
But he added, “I don’t think it entirely or substantially solves some of the problems that various agencies in various communities have experienced.”
When it comes to proper hiring, one of the largest of those problems are known as “gypsy cops.”
Recently, communities in Cleveland were outraged to find out that Timothy Loehman, the Cleveland officer who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice, had been hired by the nearby Belair, Ohio police department on a part-time basis.
Despite losing his job in Cleveland for failing to disclose that the Independence, Ohio police department had previously found him unfit to be a member of their own department, Loehman was also permitted to apply at departments in Euclid and RTA. Though he has recently quit amid public pressure, he was still hired in Belair despite his very public and questionable reputation.
“Most would assume that if police departments knew what happened with an officer at a prior department you wouldn’t hire them,” said Roger Goldman, a Callis Family Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law, to TCR.
“That is absolutely not the case.”
Instead, police departments around the country have been rehiring officers with terrible records for years. And while some departments may look into a former officers past before hiring, they are too often either not digging deep enough or are willing to ignore prior misconduct and hire people who are a risk in the face of both state laws and department budgetary issues.
“State law can get in the way of screening officers who come from prior service,” said Stoughton.
According to the Washington Post, some states shield police personnel records, including firings, from public records, while state laws passed in the 1960s and 1970s allow police some form of collective bargaining rights. Thus, police unions are able to appeal any discipline taken against an officer and, more often than not, have them reinstated.
The process is lengthy, complicated and costly and, as a result, many departments prefer to avoid liability altogether and only provide a former employee’s start and end date.
“One agency might not want to tell another agency exactly why an officer no longer works there, because they might be afraid of a defamation lawsuit,” added Stoughton.
On the other end, Goldman said that police departments, especially smaller departments, will often choose to roll the dice on a former officer with a poor record just to save money, rather than spend what they may not have in order to train a completely new hire.
It’s a decision that can cost lives.
“What got me started in all of this was a cop at a St. Louis, Mo., department who was playing Russian roulette with suspects, and despite that was hired knowingly by another department that couldn’t afford a better cop,” said Goldman, who adds that the officer later ended up fatally shooting an unarmed suspect in the back.
‘Desperate for Bodies’
“Some departments are so desperate for bodies that they’re willing to hire anyone.”
But Goldman explains that this pattern can be broken by taking sole authority for hiring out of the hands of local departments and sharing it with the state.
For the last 40 years he has successfully crusaded for state laws that allow for decertification of police in instances of misconduct. Noting that state licensing boards already exist for occupations such as lawyers, teachers, doctors, and even plumbers, he argues that the policing field needs this same type of oversight.
Since New Mexico became the first state to get the authority to revoke licenses in 1960, 46 states have followed suit and established commissions with the power to decertify officers and a total of 30,000 officers have been decertified, according to an article from The Guardian.
However, four states—California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—still lack these kinds of regulatory bodies. Twenty of those states that do have the power can only decertify if the officer has been convicted of a crime, according to The Atlantic. Even some states that have the power to decertify often fail to utilize it, such as Louisiana, which The Advocatereports has only decertified six officers in the last 12 years.
While the issue of decertification is currently only an individual state concern, when plagued with these kinds of inconsistencies Goldman states that it may not be able to succeed without federal involvement.
“These are local matters, but you need federal oversight to make sure that individual departments come up to standards,” said Goldman.
Federal involvement of the Department of Justice (DOJ), in a fashion similar to the consent decrees issued after Ferguson in Missouri, Seattle, and Chicago, could help to motivate state efforts by denying funding to departments that fail to comply with set guidelines. In addition, where there is currently no national database for recording decertified officers, activity by the DOJ could require one.
“Just how we now have the National Practitioner Databank for healthcare professionals, that has any disciplinary action that has been taken against the practitioner run out of Health and Human Services; so too if a police officer goes across state lines a licensing board would be able to access a federal databank,” said Goldman.
But, so far, the feds have done very little.
Since 2003, states have been required to submit data on officer-involved killings of civilians to the DOJ, but many have repeatedly failed to cooperate, with little to no resulting penalties, reports NBC.com. The only existing resource for recording decertified officers is the National Decertification Index, an independent databank that 45 states submit to and which accounts for 25,000 of the total 30,000 recorded since 1960.
In addition, the current administration has stated that it considers policing a matter of exclusively local oversight, going so far as to suggest cutting funding for the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which provides information and funding to advance the practice of community policing in departments nationally, a major blow to a seemingly already faulty system.
Yet, step by step, state by state, there are pockets of improvement.
Colorado recently passed a law stating that former officers cannot be hired by another department unless they waive any nondisclosure agreements that they may have made. New York, through regulation, has had the power to decertify since 2016, and Hawaii has recently enacted a decertification bill. In the ongoing effort to find the best possible officers, decertification helps prevent departments from hiring anything less and holds them to the same standards as other professions that are not given a badge and a gun.
“Like we do with lawyers, we can do with cops: take away their license, probation, suspension, so forth,” said Goldman.
“Policing requires the same kind of oversight that all these other occupations have.”
Peter Sarna, a 40-year police veteran and former chief of the Oakland Police Department, thinks that ideas like this are sorely lacking in the policing field overall.
“In policing, thinking doesn’t go very deep and it doesn’t go very far. It doesn’t look out over the horizon to see what the long term effects might be,” said Sarna in an interview with TCR.
A nationally recognized expert in police training and use of force, Sarna believes that this absence of foresight has not only led to circumstances like the gypsy cops, but also trapped policing in an outdated and unrealistic performance model: one that expects all their officers to be able to perform a variety of different task specific skill sets, at any given time, and to be able to switch rapidly between those skill sets depending on the task.
In addition to the basic tenets of the job, and the everyday potential for danger, police officers today are now called upon to handle a variety of new situations that they were before rarely called upon to deal with. From policing the mentally ill to performing disciplinary actions at schools, all while dealing with an increasingly popularized negative image of policing in general, police today are wearing a lot more hats—perhaps even too many.
When it comes to hiring and selecting, expecting to find large amounts of people who can perform all these duties effectively might be a tall order.
“Maybe you have 1 percent of your cops that you can recruit who are stars,” said Sarna.
“They have the mindsets, they can move quickly among different types of calls, they can catch bad guys, solve family fights, they can do spectacular work. But they’re a small percentage of the workforce.”
Looking for the ‘Renaissance Cop’
According to Sarna, this model of a “renaissance cop” ignores a stark reality of the profession: it requires a multiplicity of tasks performed by a variety of officers to succeed. While the goals of having de-escalation skills, empathy, and conflict resolution abilities in every officer are important and necessary to pursue, he insisted that there will always be those officers who are better at one aspect of the job than the other.
Instead of wasting time searching for new hires based on an idealized model of the perfect cop, he believes that the whole policing profession needs to be restructured and that police officers should be selected for specific positions based on the strengths they develop and bring to the job before and after training.
It is an idea that mirrors the kind of division of labor found in most hospitals today.
“You go to a hospital and there’s a doctor for every part of the body,” said Sarna. “It’s extensive.”
This kind of division of labor is more than necessary in the policing field, where the types of calls for assistance vary widely. And a recognition that certain types of calls warrant specialization and demand certain skill sets has begun to grow, especially when concerning the handling of the mentally ill.
In cities like New York and Chicago, departments have started Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) programs and created teams of trained officers who respond to any call involving the mentally ill or those in distress.
Sarna, who served as a rank-and-file officer in Oakland before becoming chief, pointed out that this type of specialization was attributable to much of Oakland’s success at that time. And though the “warrior vs. guardian” debate continues to define how officers are chosen, he insists that understanding the need for both, and how to properly assign them, is the key to a more successful, and safer, style of policing.
But first, departments need to start asking themselves some tough questions.
“Do we need to specifically select a top tier of cops who are crime fighters and can do it well within the law?” asked Sarna.
“And do we also need ‘community service officers’ who can handle a lot of the tedious, mundane things that need to be done to work well?”
For Capt. Victor Davalos, Commanding Officer of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Recruitment and Employment Division, there are no easy answers to these questions. He argues that a department’s ability to implement this kind of overarching specialization depends on specific factors.
“It’s important to know the differences, limitations and environment that every department operates in,” said Davalos.
Though it may be an option for larger departments, he notes that specialization is a luxury that most smaller departments, and even medium-sized departments like the LAPD, can’t afford.
“Unlike, for example, New York, which has about 30,000 officers, we only have approximately 10,000,” Davalos told TCR.
“We have to do a lot more with a lot less.”
And while the LAPD does have a program similar to the CIT teams in New York, where their officers are partnered with mental health specialists and respond to mental health calls together, and can also utilize a SWAT team to respond to very dangerous and high risk situations, Davalos points out that, in any department, there are a lot of calls to service in between those two dimensions.
“We really need officers that are able to respond to all types of situations,” said Davalos.
In order to find them, he and the LAPD feel that, rather than trying to restructure the whole department, a lot of progress can be made by simply making adjustments to policies and procedures that would make hiring easier and better suited to the times. And, for some departments, one such adjustment that is currently up for discussion is the use of marijuana.
Should Past Marijuana Use Disqualify?
In the past, drug use of any kind was considered an automatic disqualifier for service. But as marijuana laws become more relaxed around the country, with Business Insider reporting recreational use legal in 10 states and medicinal consumption legal in 33, police departments are following suit. In places like Chicago, Denver, Portland, police departments are relaxing their policies on past marijuana use in an effort to attract candidates who would otherwise be passed over.
Davalos says the LAPD is following suit.
“As those laws continue to evolve, so must we, so we remain current and we’re not using outdated guidelines,” said Davalos.
In addition, the LAPD and other departments are also reconsidering disqualifying applicants based on credit checks and certain criminal records, both of which, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, disproportionately impact racial minority candidates who are more likely, for multiple reasons, to have low credit scores and more contact with criminal justice in their communities.
By adjusting certain aspects of selection in this way, departments ideally have a chance at widening the pool of applicants they have to choose from.
This was the case in Philadelphia where, in 2017, after lowering the college credit requirements and raising the hiring age, the police department experienced a 20 percent increase in applications from the roughly 5,000 annually that they were accustomed to. More applicants arguably allows departments to be more selective in their hiring and take the time to find the best possible candidate, opening a pathway up to those most needed that gets them through the hiring process much faster for much less.
“If I’m trying to process 10,000 people, many of whom are unqualified, that is a harder drain on my resources than if I’m processing 7,000 candidates who are more qualified,” said Aram Kouyoumdjian, Assistant General Manager (Public Safety) of the City of Los Angeles Personnel Department, the entity that handles testing and produces the lists of eligible candidates certified to be hired for the LAPD’s final review, to TCR.
“It actually makes the process easier for them and for us.”
According to Kouyoumdjian, this more streamlined process, and resulting influx of officers, has allowed his department, which handles every aspect of hiring but the police department interviews, to fine-tune testing to focus more on reading comprehension and communication skills, adjust physical exams to be more in line with what is done in the academy, and take a much harder look at applicants backgrounds than ever before.
“It’s about trying to get more qualified candidates into the process from the get go, as opposed to just testing willy-nilly and spending time screening people out,” said Kouyoumdjian.
Yet some in law enforcement remain concerned that changes such as these could potentially have dangerous results.
A 2016 article for policeone.com warns that a person with poor credit history may be susceptible to bribery, someone convicted of a previous crime may reoffend, or a person who can’t meet physical standards may jeopardize the lives of others.
And in Texas, ksat.comreports that the San Antonio Police Officers Association recently argued that changing the standards for department hires may lower the quality of men and women hired for the job rather than improve it.
Despite these concerns, Kouyoumdjian insists that changing the standards by no means equates to lowering them.
“Our responsibility is hiring officers who can deliver on all fronts.”
“We want officers who can, when circumstances call for it, perform the job of law enforcement, but (who will) also be able to recognize who needs protection and who needs accountability.”
However, although this kind of clear-sighted and optimistic approach may be necessary to finding today and tomorrow’s best police candidates, it might not be enough to tackle the many real hurdles the industry has to overcome.
While practices such as involving the community in hiring, diversifying applicants, decertifying lateral hires, restructuring division of labor, and updating and evolving hiring to suit the times represent some of the best efforts being made today to find the officers we need tomorrow, men like Peter Sarna still remain unconvinced.
“Are we fooling ourselves? Can we actually get people in large numbers, who can perform full spectrum policing? Or is it impossible?”
The answer to those questions may determine the future of 21st century policing in America.
Isidoro Rodriguez is a contributing writer to The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Annette Bongiorno, 70, former secretary to Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, is seeking release from federal prison under a provision in the new First Step Act for older inmates.
Soon after President Trump signed a prison-reform law, one federal inmate quickly sought to benefit: former Bernie Madoff secretary Annette Bongiorno, Courthouse News Service reports. “She is in decent health for a 70-year-old, but suffers from the aches and pains that come with age, and she continues to struggle with her pulmonary problems,” said Roland Riopelle, her attorney. The First Step Act makes elderly prisoners who served two-thirds of their sentence eligible for direct release to home confinement. When U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain sentenced Bongiorno to six years imprisonment in December 2014, she noted that Madoff’s assistant was not “fundamentally corrupt” but was still “was a knowing and willing participant who made a choice to participate in the securities fraud.”
Bongiorno surrendered early in 2015 year and has been imprisoned since that time at Florida’s Federal Correctional Center Coleman. “She remains an ‘old fashioned’ family-oriented person, who would benefit greatly from the release to home confinement that the First Step Act provides, because it would permit her to see more of her extended family more often than she is able to do so now,” wrote Riopelle to Judge Swain. However Swain rules, Bongiorno’s former boss will not benefit from the same relief. Madoff received a 150-year sentence in 2009 for perpetrating the biggest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.