Thornton P. Knowles On Writer’s Workshop Fiction

According to the writer Chris Altacuise, workshopped fiction “displays the hallmarks of committee effort; emotional restraint and lack of linguistic idosyncrasy, no vision, just voice; no fictional world of substance and variety, just a smooth surface …

According to the writer Chris Altacuise, workshopped fiction "displays the hallmarks of committee effort; emotional restraint and lack of linguistic idosyncrasy, no vision, just voice; no fictional world of substance and variety, just a smooth surface of diaristic, autobiographical, and confessional speech." Having presided over a few writer's workshops myself, I consider this description extremely kind.

Thornton P. Knowles


Categories: Uncategorized

How Neuroscience is Reforming Criminal Justice

New research into how the brain works is contributing to innovative strategies for reducing recidivism and developing alternatives to incarceration.

In the courtroom, testimony or evidence about abnormalities or damage to a defendant’s brain has been used to assess the level of responsibility for criminal behavior. But new research into how the brain works is contributing to innovative strategies for reducing recidivism and developing alternatives to incarceration.

The Mind Research Network, a non-profit based in Albuquerque, N.M., has been on the forefront of discovering how the brains of psychopaths and violent offenders differ from the average person’s.

Psychopaths make up a substantial part of prison population and are 20 to 25 times more likely to be in prison than non-psychopaths.

Dr. Kent Kiehl, a lead researcher for the network, says the research can help target appropriate treatment for example, for youths who have demonstrated violent behavioral  traits.

“This will improve our ability to predict which kids are high-risk, and how to individually tailor treatment to help kids change,” he told The Crime Report.

Using a portable MRI machine, Kiehl and his team studied and scanned the brains of roughly 4,000 violent juvenile and adults offenders from 10 prisons in two states over the last decade. The process yielded the largest neuroscientific database of violent offenders in the world.

One focus of the research was to examine the differences in the brains of juveniles who have committed homicides and juveniles who haven’t.

“Scanning is the easy part,” said Kiehl about the intensive process that goes into examining each inmate he studies.

In addition to scanning, Kiehl and his team conducted intensive clinical interviewing which examined IQ, past trauma and socioeconomic history, as well as personality.

Kiehl and the Mind Research Network have partnered with the Today=Tomorrow Program at Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center (MJTC).  in Madison, Wi., a cognitive behavioral treatment program that tries to help juvenile offenders with psychopathic traits, according to its website,  by educating “youth of the connection between their thoughts, attitudes, and emotions to their behaviors; to identify ‘thinking barriers’ and substitute responsible thinking, and to increase pro-social thinking and skills through modeling and role-play practices.”

The Today=Tomorrow Program at the MJTC has garnered some attention in recent years and has been covered in-depth by several outlets like NPR and The Atlantic.

Similarly, a study by the Douglas County Juvenile Department in Wisconsin found an 85 percent decrease in recidivism after one year among 48 subjects who went through the program, and a 94 percent decrease in recidivism after two years with a smaller sample size of 12 subjects.

The program is not likely to make these troubled juveniles into model citizens, but it tries to teach them a practical form of empathy that can help them avoid the impulse to commit violent or criminal acts.

Kiehl has been scanning subjects in the program three times during the process of treatment to understand mechanisms of change in those who don’t come back for repeat offenses.

Research like Kiehl’s is helping neuroscientists map out which brain regions should be targeted for treatment that will translate to improved behavioral and life outcomes.

This approach has been likened to working on a muscle that has atrophied from not being used.

“That’s the holy grail, to show which therapies and treatments adjust and help these circuits adapt,” Kiehl said.  “What is the brain mechanism of change, and is it sustainable?

“That’s what we’re working on now.  And if we figure that out we can get carefully derived measure of treatment efficacy.”

The concept of brain age and maturity is at the heart of Kiehl’s work with juveniles and psychopaths. Neuroscience can be a way to help determine how mature a person’s brain is more accurately than their numerical age.

Kiehl says that this is the essence of neuro-prediction.

“If you can measure the brain components that predict something rather than a proxy, like impulsivity, that circuit will indicate someone’s future impulsive behavior better than self-reports or other ways of measurements,” he said.

“Brain age is a better predictor if you re-offended than your date of birth.”

Drawing conclusions about people’s behavior based on brain imaging presents challenges and pitfalls for neuroscientists.

One danger involves a term called reverse inference, which can amount to researchers overestimating how much a certain area of the brain is involved or responsible for determining a specific behavior or cognitive process.

Kiehl argues that having strong data that can allow for good predictive power helps lessen the need for interpretation, and therefore creates the possibility of errors that stem from things like reverse inference.

Scientists may disagree about the exact function and role of the amygdala, for example, which has been linked to fear and aggression. But, according to Kiehl, “an amygdala deficit is an amygdala deficit.  We can academically argue about the interpretation, but what’s really important is the data.”

Other than the obvious benefit of reducing future violent acts and the damage that ripples from them, the kind of treatment offered at the MJTC can ultimately be much cheaper than it is to incarcerate people in the long run if reoffending can be reliably reduced.

A 2006 study in the Journal of Research on Crime and Delinquency found, “Over the 4.5 year follow–up, the return on the investment in the MJTC amounted to over 700 percent.”

Dr. Daniel Martell, a forensic expert at Park Dietz & Associates, and assistant clinical professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A., says that even though neuroscience is starting to tackle problems that were once thought to be unsolvable, like how psychopathy can be effectively treated, it has a long way to go before it’s ready for widespread implementation.

“We get great findings, but the problem is getting researchers to actually replicate those findings,” said Martell.

“We don’t really even have first generation studies to be replicated, so that’s where people like Kiehl are contributing.”

Martell went on to say that in terms of overall progress, “we’re still crawling.”

Dr. Francis Shen, an associate professor of law at the University of Minnesota who specializes in what’s called neurolaw, thinks that neuroscience will need to work in tandem with other developing sciences, such as genetics and psychology, in order to make the most valuable contributions to law and other fields.

Shen notes that neuroscience presently doesn’t show a lot of new ways to successfully alter the brain, and it is currently best thought of as a tool to aid in behavioral interventions, not only for juveniles but in other areas of law as well, such as poverty.

Shen used the example of poverty law to describe how neuroscience can make contributions to data we already have from other disciplines about the effects poverty has on people.

“We are starting to open the black box,” Shen said in an interview with The Crime Report. “We don’t need neuroscience to tell us that poverty’s bad, but neuroscience will let us understand the mechanisms allow for earlier and more targeted interventions and reframe discussion for policies.”

As mentioned above, neuroscience offers opportunities to extrapolate brain data and make claims about human behavior that aren’t justified.

However, Shen and Kiehl have both pointed out that neuroscience, as well as other human sciences, usually make predictions based on a spectrum.

Neuroscience deals in probabilities, and tries to predict the likelihood someone will behave a certain way.

Someone who is diagnosed as highly psychopathic may never actually commit a violent crime, although the probability they will is higher compared to the average person.

While one should always be wary of both the past mistakes that have been made in the name of brain science, and the obstacles that lie ahead, the work mentioned by Kiehl and others is trying to up-end the determinism that many fear results from a neuroscientific perspective of behavior.

Dane Stallone is a TCR news intern. He welcomes comments from readers.


Controversy Brews Over Colombian Police Ties to Scientology

Photos published on Colombian policewomen’s social media showing 22 female officials aboard a Church of Scientology boat in August 2017 have reignited questions about the national police force’s links to the controversial church.

Colombia’s National Police is unable to shake a simmering controversy over the institution’s ties to the Church of Scientology.

Photos published on policewomen’s social media show 22 female officials aboard a Church of Scientology boat in August 2017.

The policewomen spent one week aboard the controversial church’s vessel ‘Freewinds,’ reported the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.

On that same ship, Scientology carries out religious training and personal improvement sessions as it tours around the Caribbean islands.

According to the church, “The Freewinds is a religious retreat that marks for Scientologists the pinnacle of their journey to total spiritual freedom. Its position at sea is designed to provide an aesthetic, distraction-free environment off the crossroads of everyday life. As a center of spiritual enlightenment, it is a place where lives are transformed.”

A source who wished to remain anonymous denied that police paid for the trip and insisted that the policewomen were invited by the Church to attend.

According to the newspaper, accompanying the photos of the trip were comments like “what great memories” and “such great knowledge,” which has reignited the recent controversy between the Church and Colombia’s military.

Two weeks ago, National Police Director General Jorge Nieto was embarrassed after the church boasted how retired Gen. Carlos Ramiro Mena, in formal police uniform, traveled to Barbados to award a Medal of Transparency to church leader David Miscavige.

The release of these details has become so problematic that Nieto, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, and Armed Forces commander General Alberto Jose Mejia have been summoned to appear before the Senate.

The commanders must answer questions, including about alleged Scientology payments to the Armed forces, what type of courses the church provided, whether the cruise was mandatory and since when the Church has been involved with Colombia’s Armed Forces.

Colombia’s objection to Scientology’s involvement with a state body is exceptional, given the security forces’ long historical association with other religious bodies, particularly the Roman Catholic Church.


Dan Marino’s son arrested for DUI, had ‘slurred’ speech: cops

The son of Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Dan Marino was arrested for DUI last week in Florida with a blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit, police said. Michael Marino, 30, was pulled over by police less than half a mile from his home…

The son of Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Dan Marino was arrested for DUI last week in Florida with a blood alcohol content nearly three times the legal limit, police said. Michael Marino, 30, was pulled over by police less than half a mile from his home in Fort Lauderdale at about 1:30 a.m. Friday...


Categories: Uncategorized

Annual Drug Overdose Count Rises 10% to 72,300

The epidemic appears more deadly than ever. The death toll is more than the peak yearly death totals from H.I.V., car crashes or guns. It’s unclear whether the epidemic has reached its peak. Some factors contributing to the rising overdose rate have proved difficult to contain.

Drug overdoses killed more than 72,300 Americans last year, a rise of around 10 percent, say preliminary estimates from the Centers for Disease Control reported by the New York Times. Last year, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency, and states began tapping a $1 billion grant program to help fight the problem. The epidemic appears more deadly than ever. The death toll is more than the peak yearly death totals from H.I.V., car crashes or gun deaths. It’s unclear whether the epidemic has reached its peak. Some factors contributing to the rising overdose rate have proved difficult to contain. “Because it’s a drug epidemic as opposed to an infectious disease epidemic like Zika, the response is slower,” said Dan Ciccarone, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “Because of the forces of stigma, the population is reluctant to seek care. I wouldn’t expect a rapid downturn; I would expect a slow, smooth downturn.”

A growing number of Americans are using opioids, and those drugs are becoming more deadly. Experts monitoring the epidemic say the second factor most likely explains the bulk of the increased number of overdoses last year. A government telephone survey suggests that around 2.1 million Americans had opioid use disorders in 2016. Because not all drug users have telephones and some may not mention their drug use, Ciccarone said the real number could be as high as four million. The number of opioid users has been rising “in most places, but not at this exponential rate,” said Prof. Brandon Marshall of the Brown University School of Public Health. “The dominant factor is the changing drug supply.” Strong synthetic opioids like fentanyl and its analogues have become mixed into black-market supplies of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and anti-anxiety medicines known as benzodiazepines.


Nebraska Executes Carey Dean Moore With Four Drugs

Nebraska resumed capital punishment on Tuesday after a 21-year de facto moratorium. Carey Dean Moore, who had seven previous execution dates set aside in his 38 years on death row, was put to death for the 1979 murders of two cab drivers.

Nebraska resumed capital punishment on Tuesday after a 21-year de facto moratorium, reports the Lincoln Journal Star. Condemned prisoner Carey Dean Moore, who had seven previous execution dates set aside in his 38 years on death row, was pronounced dead at 10:47 a.m. Moore, 60, received the death sentence in 1980 for the 1979 murders of Omaha cab drivers Maynard Helgeland and Reuel Van Ness Jr. The execution was carried out with four lethal injection drugs — diazepam, fentanyl, cisatracurium and potassium chloride. No state had used the drugs in that combination. The execution went forward after a federal appeals court denied the drug company Fresenius Kabi’s request to halt the lethal injection over concerns about whether the drugs were obtained improperly by the state, NPR reports.

After the drugs were administered, Moore’s face “very gradually initially turned slightly red and then turned purple,” said witness Grant Schulte of the Associated Press. Brent Martin of Nebraska Radio Network said the execution took “much longer” than the 13 he witnessed as a reporter in Missouri, which used a three-drug protocol of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. He never noticed the change in facial color of an inmate. Outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary, about 20 people gathered to oppose the execution, praying, holding signs and standing quietly. Only a few came to support the execution.


Police Recruiting Slows; Hundreds of Openings in Cities

More than 80 percent of U.S. police departments are operating below their authorized levels. In some places, fewer than 10 percent of applicants go on to become officers.

Police brass around the U.S. are shuffling schedules, burning overtime, and watching response times rise as the numbers of qualified recruits has slowed to a trickle, the Christian Science Monitor reports. That has left hundreds of openings at some big city departments. More than 80 percent of U.S. police departments are operating below budgeted “authorized force.” Among the causes: a wave of retirements from the last big recruiting push 20 years ago, a tight labor market that offers less dangerous opportunities at higher pay, and a social media environment where officers whipsaw between being portrayed as heroes and villains. Millennials especially are steering away from lifetime careers like policing, opting instead for shorter experiences.

Social media and the burgeoning use of body cameras has exposed the profession to unprecedented transparency, while also helping police departments defend against false accusations. “The role of police has changed fundamentally in very recent years,” says Sarah Charman, a University of Portsmouth sociologist who conducted a five-year study of police recruits in Great Britain. “We are asking police officers to be something and portray something and symbolize something that doesn’t exist in the reality of their role. They are supposed to be heroic crime fighters yet they get heavily involved in social work, safeguarding, and mental health services.” Through Freedom of Information Act requests to six police departments in Texas and Oklahoma, the Monitor obtained recruitment numbers from the past five years. Fewer than 10 percent of applicants go on to become officers. The gap can result in hundreds of officers missing from the streets. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo estimated he needed at least 1,500 more officers.


Can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help Juvenile Offenders?

When youths are preconditioned to violence and crime, disregard for the law becomes automatic. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) targets this “criminal thinking” to reduce crime and recidivism— and give juveniles the opportunity of a productive future.

Looking back on childhood, a scene of handcuffs and reporting to probation officers does not usually come to mind. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many juveniles in the United States.

On any given day, nearly 53,000 youths sit in U.S. juvenile or criminal facilities due to involvement with the justice system, according to a 2018 report by the Prison Policy Institute (PPI).

The report also notes that “two out of every three confined youths are held in the most restrictive facilities,” with almost one in ten confined juveniles incarcerated in adult facilities.

Though there is no national average recidivism rate for juveniles, reports from individual states remain stubbornly high, with many re-arrest rates at more than 50 percent over a one- to three-year period, according to a paper prepared by The Council of State Governments Justice Center.

So, the question becomes, even with specialized courts and detention facilities responding to juvenile offending, why are so many children caught in the cycle of crime?

The answer to this behavior lies, in part, within the biology of the adolescent brain.

Neurobiology points to key differences between the brain composition of a juvenile compared to an adult. A study from the National Research Council (NRC) notes that juveniles’ lack of mature self-discipline in emotional situations, have increased susceptibility to peer pressure and instant-gratification incentives, and use less judgement based on future goals, fostering poor decisions that negatively impact themselves and others.

More specifically, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the prefrontal cortex, the area responsible for reasoning and decision-making is not fully developed in children and adolescences.

Depending heavily on the already-matured brain structure of the amygdala, the region responsible for emotional and impulse responses, juveniles rely less on logic and more on reaction to guide their behavior.

The Adolescent Brain

Despite adolescents’ predisposition to unpredictability and explosiveness, having a developing brain allows for the shaping of thought and actions, maximizing the effectiveness of treatment and diversion programs for those connected with the justice system—in effect, letting kids be kids and not kids behind bars.

A major player in treatment that utilizes this ability to mold and reform thoughts and behaviors is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT works under the premise that the way we think about a circumstance explicitly shapes our decisions and behavior; adverse thoughts lead to adverse behavior, while a positive mentality leads to positive behavior.

For example, enduring negative thoughts before giving a presentation such as “I know I’m going to mess up,” causes anxiety and fear which then dictates our behavior, making it more likely that these fears will come true. On the other hand, experiencing helpful thoughts such as “I am confident in my work and abilities,” will lead to a positive presentation outcome.

Though traditionally used in psychology to treat various disorders, the goal of CBT in the context of the justice system is to present a counterbalance to these automatic negative thoughts by helping participants understand the thinking processes and choices that precede criminal behavior.

For those youth who have a family member in jail or just grow up around maladaptive behavior, such as violence, abuse, and disrespect to authority, these actions are engrained into their minds as normal and automatic, simply “part of life.”

Many of these hardened criminals pass down the cycle of negative thought (wanting to be the most feared inmate in the state or swearing to never snitch on a fellow criminal, for example) to younger followers or family members.

Although this creates challenges in reforming these individuals solely through traditional punishment, CBT provides an escape from the “criminal mentality,” targeting offenders’ thinking through impulse management, critical and moral reasoning, means-ends problem solving, and social skill improvement, according to the National Institute of Justice.

Dr. Jack Bush, an Oregon-based cognitive therapist, has taken these foundational treatments and created his own version of cognitive behavioral therapy, called cognitive self-change.

Highlighting the need for reform, Dr. Bush argues in a recent article posted on the National Public Radio website, that “incarceration is a basic tool of criminal justice, but when the sole purpose is punishment and confinement, offenders respond, in the privacy of their own minds, with resentment and defiance.

“The thinking that led them to offend is not extinguished by punishment; it is reinforced.”

Dr. Bush focuses on minimizing the chance of recidivism by reforming dysfunctional thinking through four central steps:

  • Becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings;
  • recognizing how these thoughts and feelings are directly connected to harmful or unlawful behavior;
  • Brainstorming new ways of thinking that allow offenders to still feel good about themselves but which do not led to acts of crime; and finally
  • Applying this thinking to real-life situations.

Cognitive Self-Change (CSC), another way to describe the approach, stresses the skills offenders need in order to change themselves, rather than forcing an individual to change.

Participants in this program are given a pivotal message:

“When you learn how to steer your thinking away from crime and violence…you have a real choice to make. If you don’t learn these skills your important decisions will have already been made. Your decisions will be made in advance by the attitudes and habits of thinking you perform in your mind automatically, ‘without thinking.’”

Asked to assess CSC’s significance, Dr. Bush quoted one participant as saying, “I realized that the story of my past doesn’t need to be the story of my future.”

Dr. Bush commented: “I think that captures the heart of what CSC offers. It doesn’t cure a disease. It opens possibilities for new forms of life.”

He added that the approach can “change criminal justice attitudes.”

“CSC demands an attitude supportive of change by the criminal justice system,” he said. “This is contrary to punitive and condemnatory and exclusionary attitudes.”

The introspective treatment program of CBT has been found to be 79.2 percent in reducing crime among juveniles through a meta-analysis of 50 cognitive behavioral therapy programs conducted by the National Institute of Justice.

Additionally, CBT led to a 44 percent reduction in recidivism in a study of disadvantaged male youth (grades 7-10) from high-crime Chicago neighborhoods, by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Encouraged by these successful statistics, more and more programs utilizing CBT have been implemented in prisons and jails across the country.

In 2016, the Sheriff’s Office of Thomas Dart in Cook County, Illinois started the ongoing initiative of Sheriff’s Anti-Violence Effort (SAVE), a program working to curb violence by changing the way high-risk offenders think. The program has also been adapted by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Nashville, TN.

A Therapy Curriculum

With a focus on reducing gun violence, SAVE provides inmates with therapy curriculum including conflict resolution and anger management, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

Of the program participants, a study found that only 17 percent were readmitted to the jail within a year and a half, in contrast to the 75 percent readmission for those inmates who did not go through the program.

Not limited to inside correctional facilities, cognitive behavioral therapy also has an important role in schools, with the goal of providing youths with cognitive skills needed to keep them out of contact with the justice system in the first place.

Education has a close relationship with crime. If a juvenile is incarcerated, he or she is 13 percentage points less likely to graduate high school and 22 percentage points more likely to be incarcerated when they are an adult.

Without a high school degree, juveniles are susceptible not only to engaging in crime, but also face increased chances of unemployment and poverty, which are also major contributors to the factors behind committing a crime.

Striving to avoid these outcomes, The Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit organization seeking to reform the justice system, has implemented a “restorative justice” program in five high schools in Brooklyn, NY.

“What restorative justice allows us to do is to look beyond the behavior and look at some of the root causes and see how we can prevent this from turning into something much bigger,” program coordinator, Mischael Cetout, said during a recent PBS News Hour special.

According to the Center for Court Innovation, its restorative justice approach works to “promote individual responsibility and participation, repair harm, and build relationships.”

Student participants develop empathy and communication skills through “harm circles,” a space where conversation is mediated by a program coordinator to resolve conflicts between peers and give time for the students to reflect.

Employing CBT practices, this program drills down to find the root cause of an issue and allows students to understand why they acted in a certain way and what they can do better in a similar situation in the future.

By giving youths these skills to handle an explosive or enraging situation, this design essentially works as a diversion program; lowering the number of disciplinary incidents which subsequently allows students to redirect from a path of delinquency and harm to one of respect and success.

Policy Loopholes Add Complications

Though CBT programs have successfully been implemented in and out of the justice system, issues still remain for juveniles in receiving the benefits of this therapy due to policy loopholes.

Recognizing that culpability of a crime may lay more on the composition of a growing brain (as opposed to an individual being purposefully defiant), the federal courts put in place specialized juvenile programs and standards, including the most recent authorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) in 2002.

Setting forth safety and treatment standards for youth, the act establishes four core requirements: deinstitutionalization of status offenders, adult jail and lock-up removal, “sight and sound” separation of juveniles from adults, and disproportionate minority contact.

However, JJDPA was amended to “create an exception to the DSO [deinstitutionalization of status offenders] core requirement that allows judges to securely confine youth adjudicated for a status offense if the child violated a “valid” order of the court,” according to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

This exception converts a minor status offense such as skipping school or running away from home, into a criminal act. It does so by providing judges with a loophole; although truancy is not a detainable offense, youth can be punished for violating a court order to attend school every day.

The Vera Institute reports that “as of 2011 [the last year of available data], 27 states used the so-called VCO exception, and thousands of kids are still removed from their homes to be put in detention and out-of-home placements each year.”

Not only does this exception disrupt a child’s daily life, it can also put their safety at risk and limit their access to treatment.

The Campaign for Youth Justice estimates that 200,000 youth are tried, sentenced, or incarcerated as adults each year in the United States, while juveniles within the adult criminal system are between 34 percent and 77 percent more likely to be re-arrested for a crime.

The protection from adult offenders under the JJDPA do not apply to those youth who are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice, subjecting them to mandatory minimums, increased exposure to abuse, and use of solitary confinement to segregate.

When juveniles are exposed to hardened criminals, the destructive “criminal thinking” becomes more deep-seated, complicating reform and rehabilitation through cognitive behavioral therapy.

Additionally, due to the vulnerability of juveniles to abuse from older inmates, many officers tend to protect youths by confining them to a segregation unit. This limits the access to treatment and therapy for juveniles by isolating them, unable to ‘talk things out’ within a group of individuals.

Luckily, NRC researchers commenting on the legal effects of brain chemistry, note that “much adolescent involvement in illegal activity is an extension of the kind of risk-taking that is part of the developmental process of identity formation, and most adolescents mature out of these tendencies.”

Laura Binczewski

Laura Binczewski

So, by implementing CBT programs in and out of the justice system, juveniles armed with beneficial cognitive skills will be able to avoid or restrain their criminal behavior as they grow older.

Though CBT has been found to be successful for offenders as well as in reducing taxpayer money on incarceration, Dr. Bush notes that we should not “replace incarceration with treatment or let people out of prison early just because they have taken treatment.

“But,” he continued, “adding treatment to incarceration provides hope to offenders now, and benefits to society in the future.”

Laura Binczweski is a TCR news intern. She welcomes comments from readers.


300 PA Priests Accused of Molesting 1,000 Children

A state grand jury report recounted sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania since the 1940s. Prosecutors say that in nearly every case, statutes of limitations preclude criminal charges.

A priest raped a 7-year-old girl while visiting her in the hospital after she’d had her tonsils removed. Another priest forced a 9-year-old boy into oral sex, then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who abused him. Those children are among the victims of about 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania who molested more than 1,000 children since the 1940s, according to a sweeping state grand jury report that accused senior church officials, including the current archbishop of Washington, D.C., of systematically covering up complaints, the Associated Press reports.

The true number of abused children and abusive priests might be higher since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward, the grand jury said. While the grand jury said dioceses have established internal processes and seem to refer complaints to law enforcement more promptly, it suggested that important changes are lacking. “Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.” In nearly every case, prosecutors found that the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead. Many others are retired, or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave. Authorities charged just two, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing. The investigation of six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses is the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state. The dioceses represent about 1.7 million Catholics.


‘American Violence’ to Gather, Analyze City Crime Data

The American Violence website will assemble and translate publicly available information into an interface that doesn’t take specialized training to navigate, says sociologist Patrick Sharkey of New York University.

In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump tweeted that “inner-city crime is reaching record levels.” He was off by a long shot: violent crime had ticked up in some cities, but rates were nowhere near the astronomical levels of the early 1990s. Innumeracy about violent crime has long plagued policy discussions and news reporting, and that ignorance is what sociologist Patrick Sharkey of New York University wants to combat with a new online tool, The Trace reports. American Violence is an online portal that enables readers to explore murder rates and trends in cities by culling the most up-to-date data from reliable local sources. While the FBI collects city-level data in its annual Crime in the United States reports, its numbers are at least a year old and scattered across documents that take effort to collate.

American Violence will assemble and translate publicly available information into an interface that doesn’t take specialized training to navigate. “Researchers, politicians, journalists, policymakers, and the public can all know that they’re going to the single place to get the definitive word on how violence is changing and how much violence there is in different cities across the country,” says Sharkey. With easier access to the data, “people will be able to have a more informed public debate about the problem of violent crime,” he says. In launch form, American Violence is powered by the latest available homicide data from 82 of the largest 100 cities, which Sharkey’s team pulls from city police departments and other vetted sources every month. Users can focus on a single city or compare statistics across the country in a map view. Murder rates can be viewed over a single stretch of time or compared over multiple periods. “Confusion between short-term trends and long-term trends is hugely destructive and problematic and dangerous,” he said.