The First Step Act:  It’s Only a ‘First Step’

Congress shouldn’t rest on its laurels following the landmark sentencing overhaul bill signed into law in December, writes one of the original advocates of the legislation. He argues the changes should be part of a major ongoing effort to reform the U.S. justice system.

A poignant moment during the recent State of the Union address was listening to the story of Matthew Charles, a former prisoner who became one of the first persons released from incarceration under the First Step Act.

Charles was one of several special guests of the president in attendance.

Signed into law during the closing days of 2018, the bipartisan First Step Act expands rehabilitative programming, modifies some mandatory minimum laws to provide more proportional sentencing, and provides a second chance to people like  Charles who’ve worked hard to transform their lives while in prison.

The new law also freed Edward Douglas, who until recently was serving a life sentence in a federal prison for a nonviolent drug offense. Like Charles, Douglas used his time in prison to learn new skills and serve as a mentor to other prisoners.

The First Step Act is working in other ways too.

Despite the partial government shutdown, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been implementing new compassionate release rules to help terminally ill prisoners and their families file for sentence reductions.

capitol

Ready for next step in prison reform? Photo by Kevin Burkett via Flickr

The law is also acting as a catalyst for states that haven’t yet reformed their criminal justice systems.

But as important as the law is, additional steps are needed to improve our criminal justice system. To bring about transformative change, policymakers at all levels must act.

The private sector, civic organizations and community leaders must also do their part to ensure that the formerly incarcerated can find work, housing and access the tools they need to succeed after being freed.

First up for government is ensuring that the provisions of the new law are carried out faithfully.

Make Sentencing Changes Retroactive

Congress should apply three of the law’s sentencing changes retroactively, to help people who received overly harsh sentences under outdated policies and pass other front-end reforms that prioritize prison beds for dangerous criminals while addressing low-level, nonviolent offenses through treatment and other programs that better serve this population.

In addition, Congress should codify the Supreme Court ruling that requires prosecutors share all of the information that they have about the alleged crime with the accused at the outset the case.

Lawmakers can also address our over-incarceration epidemic by clarifying criminal intent standards and working to rein in our bloated federal criminal code and regulatory code, under which virtually anyone can be charged with a crime.

The Trump administration can act on its own to reform the executive clemency process to create second chances for people who wouldn’t necessarily qualify for relief under the First Step Act.

Needed: More ‘Clean Slate’ Laws

States can parallel many of these federal actions by removing barriers for people with criminal records. More “Clean Slate” laws, like the one enacted in Pennsylvania last year, will create second chances for people by unblocking them from jobs, housing, and education.

States could also increase the transparency of their criminal justice systems through more data collection and enhanced due process protections for citizens. Across the country individuals are incarcerated awaiting trial without considering other factors like the potential for flight risk, or whether the individual poses a threat to public safety, while others are incarcerated due to excessive fees and fines, and technical violations.

Research has shown that even a brief period in jail can increase the likelihood of a low-risk defendant committing a new crime.

Businesses can help transform lives and enable people to contribute to their communities by hiring qualified candidates with criminal records.

I’m proud to work for Koch Industries, which hires people with criminal records and recently signed the Getting Talent Back to Work pledge with the Society for Human Resource Management to end outdated, non-inclusive hiring practices.

Train Returning Citizens in Employable Skills

Mark Holden

Mark Holden

Finally, groups like Hudson Link for Higher Education, Safe Streets & Second Chances and The Last Mile can provide incarcerated people with skills and identify obstacles that prevent them from succeeding after their release.

We believe, as Winston Churchill did, in “an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man.”

We all share a moral imperative to help find and unlock that treasure, to unleash the potential in everyone.

If we all do our part, we can bridge the partisan divide and build on the great foundation provided by the First Step Act.

It’s time to take the next steps on criminal justice reform, this year and beyond.

Editor’s Note: Mark Holden will join Holly Harris of the Justice Action Network and Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof to discuss the politics of justice reform at this week’s 14th annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America. The conference will be livestreamed. The link will be announced shortly.

Mark Holden is general counsel of Koch Industries. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

New York Police Want Authority to Take Down Drones

Illegal drone use in New York City has surged from three incidents in 2013 to 550 in 2017. Authorities fear drones could be used in a terror attack.

The New York Police Department, concerned about propaganda showing that drones can be used for terror attacks, wants the authority to take down drones it deems a threat, reports the Wall Street Journal. Congress last year authorizing federal law-enforcement officials to disable a drone, including shooting it down. It would take additional federal legislation to give local law-enforcement agencies the same right. “We are a unique city,” said the police department’s Terence Monahan. “We have so many areas we need to protect.”

At London’s Gatwick Airport, hundreds of flights were canceled as a result of drone sightings in December. On Friday, Dubai International Airport briefly grounded flights because of the suspected illicit drone operations. In August, explosives carried by drones detonated near Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in an apparent assassination attemp. A drone spotted in New Jersey in January forced Newark Liberty International Airport to halt all arrivals for 30 minutes. “When you take technology and the tactics of terrorism, those are two things that move very fast,” said John Miller, NYPD deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism. “When you take legislation and law-enforcement capabilities in this regard—those are things that are moving way too slow.” The Police Executive Research Forum is holding a conference in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday and Thursday to hear concerns regarding drones from local law-enforcement agencies. Illegal drone use in New York City has surged from three incidents in 2013 to 550 in 2017. There were 333 incidents of illegal drone use throughout the first six months of 2018.

from https://thecrimereport.org

75 Scholars Call Book on Pot’s Dangers ‘Alarmism’

In a new book, “Tell Your Children,” Alex Berenson, says marijuana’s active compound, THD, is linked with schizoprenia and violence. Critics in an open letter call Berenson’s work “flawed pop science.”

A group of 75 scholars and medical professionals criticized a controversial new book about the purported dangers of marijuana, calling it an example of “alarmism” designed to stir up public fear “based on a deeply inaccurate misreading of science,” The Guardian reports. “Tell Your Children,” by Alex Berenson, has reignited debate about the drug in a social and political climate rapidly trending towards the legalization of recreational use. Berenson argues that proponents of marijuana use have ignored evidence that the drug’s active compound, THC, may precipitate the onset of schizophrenia and provoke acts of violence in individuals who experience a psychotic “break.” On Friday, 75 scholars and clinicians signed an open letter, joining a chorus of disagreement with Berenson by arguing that “establishing marijuana as a causal link to violence at the individual level is both theoretically and empirically problematic”.

The signatories include academics from New York University, Harvard Medical School and Columbia University and care providers including addiction medicine doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers. “We urge policymakers and the public to rely on scientific evidence,” they wrote, “not flawed pop science and ideological polemics, in formulating their opinions about marijuana legalization.” Berenson dismissed the letter, arguing that it “attracted only a handful of signatures from MDs, and almost no psychiatrists, who are on the front lines of treating psychosis and severe mental illness.”. The correlation between chronic mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, and marijuana use is widely accepted in scientific literature. Where the agreement ends is on the issue of causality. Most research falls well short of Berenson’s certainty, which he primarily bases on two studies.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Drug Money Plays Big Role in South Texas Economy

The El Chapo trial showed the hold that drug traffickers and their money have on police and politicians in Mexico. Drug profits also have a big influence in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

The much-watched trial of the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo shed light on the hold that drug traffickers and their money have on police and politicians in Mexico. Corruption and drug money flow on the U.S. side of the border as well. More than 100 local, state and federal law enforcement officials have been indicted on drug-related corruption charges on the U.S. southwest border since the 1990s. In the Border Patrol alone, 77 employees were arrested or indicted on corruption charges in the fiscal years from 2005 to 2017, the New York Times reports. “The money can be an extremely tempting thing,” said Kenneth Magidson, the U.S. Attorney in Houston from 2011 to 2017. “It’s hard to say no.”

In the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, drug money has an undeniable presence. It is evident not just in the corruption scandals but in everyday life, as the illicit profits of the drug trade fuel both legitimate commerce and the underground economy. Drug dealers and their relatives and associates come to the Valley to buy luxury vehicles, build heavily secured mansions, enjoy the night life in McAllen and Brownsville and gamble for cash in the popular but illegal slot-machine casinos. W. F. Strong, a professor of communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, called drug money the WD-40 of the Valley. “It’s the oil that makes the machinery work, in all kinds of ways that we don’t fully understand,” Strong said. No one knows exactly how much of that oil is lubricating the economy. “There is an underground economy that’s fueled by drug proceeds,” said Will Glaspy of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston division. “You see drug money that’s being utilized to start businesses, prop businesses up. You have legitimate businesses that are unknowingly being supported by illegal drug money.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Three-Card Monte

     The Three-Card Monte is the mother of all card cons….The Set-Up: 1. Two or more people are standing around a cardboard box on a busy street. The dealer has three cards; two are black and one is red. The red is usually a queen. The dealer shows all three cards, lays them face down on the table and rapidly picks up one card with his left hand and the other two with his right hand, and drops them back on the table in new positions. He repeats this scheme a number of times. The onlooker has to bet the position of the card which is alone in it suit (i.e. the queen). 2. Some always seems to be winning; this person is the accomplice or shill, working alongside the dealer with the intention of luring unsuspecting marks. 3. Additional accomplices will include the look-out, who watches for the cops and signals their approach so that the game can be folded up quickly; the roper, who seeks out the marks; and the muscle man, who takes care of anyone who tries to complain.

     The Sting: 4. The mark is persuaded to join the game. He never wins. 5. The dealer holds two cards in his right hand. The upper card is held between the thumb and forefinger and the lower card is held between thumb and middle finger, with a small gap between both cards. According to common sense, the dealer should drop the lower card first, but his forefinger surreptitiously ejects the upper card first, which causes the mark to lose track of the right card (the queen). This is especially difficult to see if the dealer’s hand makes a sweeping move from his left side to his right side while he drops the cards….

Joel Levy, The Scam Handbook, 2004    

     The Three-Card Monte is the mother of all card cons….The Set-Up: 1. Two or more people are standing around a cardboard box on a busy street. The dealer has three cards; two are black and one is red. The red is usually a queen. The dealer shows all three cards, lays them face down on the table and rapidly picks up one card with his left hand and the other two with his right hand, and drops them back on the table in new positions. He repeats this scheme a number of times. The onlooker has to bet the position of the card which is alone in it suit (i.e. the queen). 2. Some always seems to be winning; this person is the accomplice or shill, working alongside the dealer with the intention of luring unsuspecting marks. 3. Additional accomplices will include the look-out, who watches for the cops and signals their approach so that the game can be folded up quickly; the roper, who seeks out the marks; and the muscle man, who takes care of anyone who tries to complain.

     The Sting: 4. The mark is persuaded to join the game. He never wins. 5. The dealer holds two cards in his right hand. The upper card is held between the thumb and forefinger and the lower card is held between thumb and middle finger, with a small gap between both cards. According to common sense, the dealer should drop the lower card first, but his forefinger surreptitiously ejects the upper card first, which causes the mark to lose track of the right card (the queen). This is especially difficult to see if the dealer's hand makes a sweeping move from his left side to his right side while he drops the cards….

Joel Levy, The Scam Handbook, 2004    

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

The JonBenet Ramsey Investigation Bungled By Hacks

     ….The Boulder police union’s contract requires that police officers regularly and frequently rotate through the various units–traffic, patrol, and investigations–rather than developing extensive experience in a particular area. Thus, Boulder police rotate in and out of detective duty, which is highly desirable for the officers because they don’t have to work weekends or wear uniforms, but also means that relatively untrained detectives have to handle criminal cases. This is a major difference from employment contracts in other Colorado cities.

     Imagine how we [John and Patsy Ramsey] felt when we learned that an officer who had only been a detective for several months was one of the major police investigators on the case.

     Our friends began telling us that the Boulder police detectives were contacting them and saying things like, “The Ramseys think you may have something to do with the death of their daughter. Would you like to tell us anything about the Ramseys?” A standard interrogation technique. Bias the witness against a suspect and let them spill their guts out. We also heard the police made comments like, “The Ramseys refuse to talk with us. Will you help us?”

John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence, 2000

     ….The Boulder police union's contract requires that police officers regularly and frequently rotate through the various units--traffic, patrol, and investigations--rather than developing extensive experience in a particular area. Thus, Boulder police rotate in and out of detective duty, which is highly desirable for the officers because they don't have to work weekends or wear uniforms, but also means that relatively untrained detectives have to handle criminal cases. This is a major difference from employment contracts in other Colorado cities.

     Imagine how we [John and Patsy Ramsey] felt when we learned that an officer who had only been a detective for several months was one of the major police investigators on the case.

     Our friends began telling us that the Boulder police detectives were contacting them and saying things like, "The Ramseys think you may have something to do with the death of their daughter. Would you like to tell us anything about the Ramseys?" A standard interrogation technique. Bias the witness against a suspect and let them spill their guts out. We also heard the police made comments like, "The Ramseys refuse to talk with us. Will you help us?"

John and Patsy Ramsey, The Death of Innocence, 2000

from http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com/

Trump Accuses McCabe of ‘Treasonous’ Behavior

The president criticized former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe in a tweet after McCabe told “60 Minutes” that a “crime may have been committed” by Trump.

President Trump is suggesting that key officials involved in the Russia probe were engaged in “treasonous” behavior, the Associated Press reports. Trump lashed out on Twitter at former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, whose new book details his concerns about potential foreign influence over the president, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who initiated special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Trump says McCabe and Rosenstein “look like they were planning a very illegal act, and got caught.”

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” McCabe, who was fired last year, described Rosenstein as having raised the prospect of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Trump tweeted, “This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!” McCabe told “60 Minutes” that a “crime may have been committed” when fired the FBI director James Comey and tried to undermine an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. McCabe said the FBI had good reason to open a counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was in league with Russia, and therefore a possible national security threat. “And the idea is, if the president committed obstruction of justice, fired the director of the of the FBI to negatively impact or to shut down our investigation of Russia’s malign activity and possibly in support of his campaign, as a counterintelligence investigator you have to ask yourself, ‘Why would a president of the United States do that?’ ”  McCabe said.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Praised Houston Cop May Be Charged With Crime

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo called officer Gerald Goines “tough as nails” after he was involved in a raid in which two civilians were killed. Now the chief says Goines could face criminal charges if he can’t justify a no-knock warrant.

Before a drug raid left two civilians dead, Houston police 0fficer Gerald Goines had a troubling history of allegations against him. The undercover agent in the Jan. 28 raid had been involved in multiple shootings, racked up written reprimands, faced several lawsuits and is currently accused of fabricating a drug deal then lying about it in court to win a conviction against a man who maintains he’s innocent, the Houston Chronicle reports. Through it all, the longtime narcotics officer racked up glowing reviews and praise from supervisors who called his work “impressive” and wrote that he set a “good example for new officers in the squad.” As Goines lay in the hospital after the gun battle, Chief Art Acevedo praised his courage, describing the 54-year-old sergeant as “strong as an ox” and “tough as nails.”

On Friday, Acevedo offered a very different narrative. Now, he said, the veteran officer — who’s still in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound to the neck — could face criminal charges after investigators realized they couldn’t find the informant reportedly behind the undercover buy used to justify the no-knock warrant. Law enforcement experts say that’s indicative of a unit without sufficient oversight, where repeated complaints and lawsuits don’t lead to an internal review. “The number and type of incidents should be a red flag for any police organization to go back and look at exactly what happened in any and all of the incidents,” said Larry Karson, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston-Downtown. Previous allegations surfaced about Goines in at least two drug buys, with the officer accused of lying under oath and mishandling drug evidence, and questions arising about his use of a confidential informant.

from https://thecrimereport.org

This week at the court

This week at the courtThe Supreme Court will release orders from the February 15 conference on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. There is a possibility of opinions on Wednesday at 10 a.m. On Tuesday, the justices hear oral argument in Return Mail Inc. v. United States Postal Service. On Wednesday, the justices hear oral argument in Mission Product Holdings Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC. On […]

The post This week at the court appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

This week at the court

The Supreme Court will release orders from the February 15 conference on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. There is a possibility of opinions on Wednesday at 10 a.m.

On Tuesday, the justices hear oral argument in Return Mail Inc. v. United States Postal Service.

On Wednesday, the justices hear oral argument in Mission Product Holdings Inc. v. Tempnology, LLC.

On Friday, the justices will meet for their February 22 conference.

The post This week at the court appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

from https://www.scotusblog.com

‘First Amendment Auditor’ Shot by Guard in L.A.

An armed security guard shot a YouTube personality outside a Los Angeles synagogue as the confrontation was live-streamed to thousands of followers. “First Amendment auditing” has morphed into a YouTube subculture.

An armed security guard shot a YouTube personality outside a Los Angeles synagogue last week as the confrontation was live-streamed to thousands of followers. Zhoie Perez,  “Furry Potato” on YouTube, was filming the guard in a “First Amendment audit,” reports the Washington Post. A video shows the guard standing behind a gate with his weapon drawn for several minutes, before he tells Perez to “get away” and fires his gun. “First Amendment auditing” and “copwatching” dates from at least the mid-2000s. The practice has morphed into a YouTube subculture, with self-styled “auditors” seeing how police react to a camera lens. Photographers say they are testing their constitutional rights. “This is not only an example of the paranoia …among cops and security guards when it comes to citizens with cameras but an example of the dangers of placing armed security guards and cops in schools,” said Carlos Miller, whose website Photography Is Not a Crime writes about auditors.

An auditor may stand in a public space and refuse to put the camera down, explain or identify herself or himself when an officer approaches. “It’s not only about shining a light on the crooked bad cops but shining an even brighter light on the good cops,” Perez said. “You put yourself in places where you know chances are the cops are going to be called. Are they going to … uphold the law … or break the law?” On Thursday, Perez filmed outside the Etz Jacob Congregation and Ohel Chana High School in Los Angeles’ Fairfax neighborhood. “It turned into an impromptu First Amendment audit because the security guard almost immediately was getting really aggressive with the filming and putting the hand on the gun,” Perez said. She said she did not realize the building housed a school.

from https://thecrimereport.org