TIME Military

WikiLeaks Source Chelsea Manning Sues Govt Over Hormone Treatment Request

Artist rendering of how Chelsea Manning sees herself. Alicia Neal—Chelsea Manning Support Network

Manning was diagnosed by military doctors with gender dysphoria after her arrest

Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth military prison for leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks, has sued U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel over the government’s refusal to pay for gender reassignment treatment.

“The government continues to deny Ms. Manning’s access to necessary medical treatment for gender dysphoria, without which she will continue to suffer severe psychological harms,” Chase Strangio, an ACLU attorney and co-counsel with Manning’s long-term civilian lawyer David Coombs, said in a statement. “Such clear disregard of well-established medical protocols constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.”

Manning first expressed her intent to live as a woman before she was arrested in 2010 for perpetrating what at the time was the largest leak of classified information in American history. Since her arrest, she has been diagnosed by military doctors with gender dysphoria, the term used by the medical community to describe someone who does not identify with the physical gender he or she was assigned at birth.

Since her incarceration, Manning has requested that the military pay for hormone therapy consistent with treatment others receive for gender dysphoria.

Providing treatment for gender dysphoria is not uncommon in civilian prisons, but the Pentagon’s policies differ from other prisons.The Defense Department considered moving Manning to a civilian facility in May, a move critics charged was an attempt to avoid confronting the decision of whether or not to provide treatment to military prisoners suffering from gender dysphoria.

“I am proud to be standing with the ACLU behind Chelsea on this very important issue.” said the civilian lawyer David Coombs. “It is my hope that through this action, Chelsea will receive the medical care that she needs without having to suffer any further anguish.”

TIME justice

3 Charged With Attacking Gay Men After Twitter User ID’ed Suspects

The Philadelphia District Attorney has charged two men and one woman over the September 11 attack

Two men and one woman were charged in Philadelphia Tuesday in connection with a violent attack on two gay men after Twitter users helped cops identify the suspects.

The suspects were charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, conspiracy and reckless endangerment after they allegedly attacked two gay men in the Center City area of Philadelphia September 11. The beating left one of the men hospitalized with multiple fractures, NBC Philadelphia reports.

The names of the three suspects are Philip Williams, 24; Kevin Harrigan, 26; and Katherine Knott, 24.

At around 10:45 p.m. on Sept. 11, the 27 and 28-year-old victims were walking from a local restaurant when the three alleged assailants, who witnesses described as visibly intoxicated, approached them. One of them asked “Is this your [explicative] boyfriend?” The group then attacked the two men with punches and kicks to the face head and chest, police say.

According to police, the suspects were identified after police posted a surveillance video of the three. A civilian then used Twitter and Facebook Graph Search to identify the suspects before alerting the authorities. That series of events would be a welcome departure from a trend among some social media users to attempt to solve crimes and identify the wrong suspect, which has led to serious harassment of innocent people in the past.

https://twitter.com/PPDJoeMurray/status/512057192292573184

[NBC Philadelphia]

TIME justice

Federal Prison Population Drops By Nearly 5,000

(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Eric Holder says the federal prison population has dropped this year by roughly 4,800 inmates, the first decline in decades.

Holder is speaking Tuesday at a criminal justice conference in New York City.

According to excerpts of his speech, the Justice Department expects to end the current fiscal year next week with a federal prison population of roughly 215,000 inmates.

That 4,800 drop is compared with totals from last year. It’s the first time since 1980 that the federal prison population has declined during the course of a fiscal year.

With more population drops expected in the future, Holder says law enforcement needs to measure success by more than just prosecutions and convictions.

TIME justice

The Surprising State Leading the U.S. in Prison Population Growth

Furniture Makers Prison
A New Hampshire prison inmate works in the wood shop inside the prison in Concord, N.H., April 18, 2013. Jim Cole—AP

Live free or be incarcerated

In the past two decades, New Hampshire’s crime rate has remained steady. It has one of the lowest violent crime rates in the U.S., and the state’s population has only grown by about a fifth.

But over that period, the number of state and federal inmates in New Hampshire has almost doubled. Its main prison in Concord is routinely overcrowded. And last year, the prison population grew at a faster rate than any other state in the country.

As the number of incarcerated Americans inched up for the first time in four years, the prison population in small, largely rural New Hampshire grew faster than any other state. The 8.2% increase in the Granite State topped second-place Nebraska’s 6.8% rise and far outpaced the 0.3% national increase in the number of inmates, according to figures released Sept. 16 by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Many state experts and public officials trace the rise not to a spike in crime or a recent population boom, but to the alteration of a bill initially designed to reduce New Hampshire’s prison population. In 2010, the state adopted a law that freed all inmates who had served 120% of their minimum sentence. If an inmate was sentenced to 5-10 years, for example, he or she would automatically be released by the sixth year. It also required prisoners to walk free when they were within nine months of their maximum sentence. Within a year of the law’s enactment, almost 300 prisoners were released as a result.

The bipartisan effort was meant to cut a prison population that had been growing for decades. According to the New Hampshire Department of Corrections, state prisoners increased from 287 in 1980 to 1,250 by 1990 and 2,847 by 2008. A policy called Truth in Sentencing, which reduced early releases for inmates based on good behavior, contributed to that growth. The Justice Reinvestment Act, as the 2010 law was known, undid many of those guidelines.

“It was a wholesale change to the department of corrections,” says Dennis Delay, an economist at the New Hampshire Center of Public Policy.

But the political timing was terrible. The law became effective in October 2010—one month before local elections—and it became an easy target for candidates seeking to look tough on crime, says Donna Sytek, chairman of the New Hampshire Adult Parole Board. It didn’t help that the first few inmates released under the program were violent criminals and rapists, raising the specter that dangerous people were being returned to the streets.

“It was initially embraced by everybody, Democrats and Republicans,” Sytek says. “But it became a political football.”

The following year, the state legislature effectively gutted the bill. Instead of mandatory release nine months before the end of a maximum sentence, for instance, inmates were now just granted a parole hearing. The state’s prison population has swelled ever since. In 2013, New Hampshire had 3,018 inmates.

Experts cite other factors contributing to the increase, such as the state’s gradual population growth and judges handing down stiffer sentences for drug crimes. But the change to the 2010 law appears to be the main culprit.

“I can tell you that many New Hampshire stakeholders are extremely concerned that the current prison population exceeds its capacity,” says Ted Kirkpatrick, a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “I am uncertain, however, what will come out of that concern.”

TIME justice

More Than 1,000 Search for Missing Student Hannah Graham

The first wave of volunteers spread out around Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday to search for a missing University of Virginia student who disappeared a week earlier.

More than 1,600 people gathered Friday night at the John Paul Jones Arena for a briefing on the massive search for 18-year-old Hannah Graham, who vanished a week ago after an off-campus party, said Jeffrey Stern, a state coordinator for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Crews said the turnout was so large that volunteers would be split into groups with different start times, according to NBC affiliate WVIR

Read the rest of the story at NBC News

TIME Crime

Grand Jury Process Raises Questions About a Ferguson Indictment

Residents Of Ferguson Continue To Call For Change Over Handling Of Michael Brown Shooting
Police block demonstrators from gaining access to Interstate Highway 70 on Sept. 10, 2014 near Ferguson, Mo. Scott Olson—Getty Images

The ongoing grand jury proceedings may suggest the prosecutor is trying to avoid backlash if Wilson isn't indicted

Officer Darren Wilson testified this week in the grand jury investigation into his shooting of Michael Brown, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper’s scoop was unusual. Unlike most criminal-justice proceedings in the U.S., grand juries are highly secretive. Leaking information about them is a criminal act.

But perhaps it should no longer be surprising to see the investigation take an interesting turn. More than a month after Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., the grand jury appears to be nowhere near a decision on whether Wilson should be charged. And the road to justice has been paved with strange decisions.

Several elements of the grand jury’s proceedings have been uncommon, according to legal experts surveyed by TIME. None of these decisions are necessarily improper. But together they have raised eyebrows. “This is not your regular St. Louis grand jury case,” says Susan McGraugh, a veteran Missouri criminal-defense attorney and law professor at St. Louis University.

The investigation has been fraught from the start. Residents of Ferguson, who have massed in protests each day since Brown was killed on Aug. 9, immediately cast doubt on the impartiality of McCulloch, who has been the county’s elected prosecuting attorney since 1991. McCulloch’s father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty by a black suspect. Critics have pointed to his record of charging police-involved shootings and suggested that his background may cloud his judgment in the case. There were early murmurs that McCulloch would recuse himself or be replaced by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. Instead, McCulloch has delegated the task of presenting evidence to two senior attorneys in his office.

The first unusual decision taken by the prosecutor’s office, experts say, was not to recommend a specific charge for Wilson. Instead, the prosecutors are presenting evidence as it becomes available, and leaving it up to the grand jury to decide what the evidence warrants.

To some members of the community, the decision was taken as a sign that McCulloch may be trying to avoid an indictment. “To present a case to a grand jury, without any direction or instructions with regard to what you want them to achieve,” says Adolphus Pruitt of the St. Louis NAACP, “gives the best odds that an indictment will not occur.”

McCulloch has ordered that all testimony in the case be transcribed. This is rare, because it can be used against witnesses in future legal proceedings. In addition, McCulloch has pledged to immediately release full transcripts and audio recordings of the panel’s testimony in the absence of an indictment. This too is highly unusual.

The prosecutor’s office, which did not respond to an interview request from TIME, has said these decisions were designed with transparency and openness in mind. But they may also be a way to head off criticism. “It will take the heat off McCulloch if the grand jury comes back with something that the public doesn’t like,” says McGraugh.

Without a charging recommendation, the grand jury has the option to indict Wilson on either first- or second-degree murder, or either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. “If they return an indictment for either murder or manslaughter, no one’s going to care that he didn’t have a charging recommendation,” says Jens David Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School. “If, on the other hand, they don’t return an indictment, he can deflect any criticism and say I presented all the evidence to the grand jury, and in their wisdom they decided.”

There is a greater chance that the jury declines to return an indictment than the public may expect, Ohlin says. “It’s a very difficult case.”

With three blacks and nine whites, the grand jury’s composition reflects the demographic makeup of the county, which is roughly one-quarter black. It was empaneled before Brown was shot, and began hearing evidence shortly after. The proceedings could prove unusually lengthy. Authorities originally suggested they expected a decision on whether to charge Wilson by mid-October. But a circuit judge recently extended the panel’s term, giving them until Jan. 7 to decide whether to charge the officer in connection with Brown’s death.

The case is complex, and justice is often slow. But within the community, there are suspicions that the protracted proceedings are a way to drag out the case until the anger on the streets fades—and, perhaps, to gain the benefit of winter weather that might deter protesters.

It won’t work, warns Pruitt of the NAACP. “If there’s no true bill,” he says, “as a community, we are going to be thrust right back into the same discontent and civil disobedience we experienced the first time around.”

TIME justice

Feds Seek to Patch Up Relations Between Cops and Communities

Justice Department's $4.5 million program is a response to the crisis in Ferguson

The Justice Department is launching a program to improve relations between communities and the law enforcement officers that police them, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday.

The $4.5 million program is part of the department’s response to the crisis in Ferguson, which shed light on the deep-seated tensions between the police and urban and black communities.

“Each of us has an essential obligation – and a unique opportunity – to ensure fairness, eliminate bias, and build community engagement,” said Attorney General Holder.

Through the program, titled the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, law enforcement agencies will be provided training on “bias reduction and procedural fairness,” according to the Department of Justice.

TIME justice

Local Prosecutors Form Nationwide Alliance Against Gun Violence

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. attends National Night Out on the streets of Manhattan on August 7, 2012 in New York City.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. attends National Night Out on the streets of Manhattan on August 7, 2012 in New York City. D Dipasupil—Getty Images

Homicide rates have improved in the past 20 years, but there's a lot more cities can do, New York City's leading prosecutor Cyrus Vance Jr. tells TIME

Prosecutors from major cities across the United States announced the formation Wednesday of an alliance to combat gun violence, even as national gun control legislation is frozen on Capitol Hill.

An October summit of the prosecutors, which organizers say will be the first of its kind, is notable for both the range of cities represented—Milwaukee’s lead prosecutor will sit side by side with Los Angeles’—and for the cooperation among disparate offices.

“What I want to achieve at the end of the day is to have very smart, dedicated people get together and start to talk about gun violence, and put the voice of prosecutors into this debate,” New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., co-chair of the new Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, told TIME in an interview. “We want to share what’s working for us.”

Vance said American cities are facing an “epidemic” of gun violence that has become a “fact of life.” There were 11,068 firearm homicides in the United States in 2011, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with a homicide rate of 3.6 per 100,000 people. Many of the prosecutors, including Vance and co-chair Mike Feuer, the City Attorney in Los Angeles, have publicly supported stricter gun control. Vance supported the NY SAFE Act, which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the toughest gun control law in the country.

The October summit comes nearly two years after the Sandy Hook shooting, which briefly sparked a clamor for stricter gun controls but ultimately was not enough to push legislation through Congress. The summit is likely to focus on more manageable prosecutorial strategies rather than a sweeping push at broad gun control legislation, Vance said, but gun policy would be on the agenda. “If you can find something that’s working across the country and it relates to legislation or some broader policy, we’re going to share it,” Vance said.

Despite the sense of urgency among prosecutors, gun violence has fallen significantly in the United States since 1993, with firearm-related homicides dropping 39% by 2011, according to Pew Research. Vance said the decline in gun violence was due to successful policing strategies and the increasing severity with which prosecutors treat gun cases. Community organizations, Vance said, have also put pressure on police and politicians to tamp down on neighborhood crime.

“Thirty years ago, when I was a young assistant DA and murders happened every day, if someone was shot on the stoop people wouldn’t even take the time to clean up the blood,” Vance said. “Now, and not just in New York, when a homicide happens it’s something the community reacts to and wants to see action.”

The Prosecutors Against Gun Violence summit will convene in Atlanta and include 23 prosecutors from jurisdictions including New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Atlanta and Boston.

TIME justice

FLDS Successfully Cites Hobby Lobby Decision in Child Labor Suit

Hobby Lobby
Ed Andrieski—AP

A member of the Mormon offshoot argued that divulging the names of church leadership would infringe upon his religion

A judge ruled that a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is exempted from testifying in a child labor investigation, citing the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision in his ruling.

Judge David Sam ruled last week that forcing FLDS member Vergel Steed to reveal the identity of FLDS church leaders, the organizational structure of the church or information about its internal affairs would be a “substantial burden” on his free exercise of religious beliefs. The decision came down last week, but emerged in widespread public circulation Tuesday.

The decision stems from an investigation into possible labor violations during a harvest at an FLDS pecan ranch in Utah in which children and adults may have worked without pay.

In his ruling, Sam cited the 2014 case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., in which the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation can be exempt from a law—in that case, the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers pay for contraception—that its owners sincerely object to on religious grounds if there is any less restrictive means of achieving the law’s ends. Sam found that prosecutors had other means of getting the information they sought from Steed and thus that he was exempt from testifying.

FLDS, a radical offshoot sect from the mainstream Mormon church, has been under the scrutiny of authorities for years on issues including alleged child labor violations and forced marriages of grown men to underage girls. The church’s former president Warren Jeff’s is serving a life sentence in prison for numerous sex crimes including incest and pedophilia.

TIME justice

U.S. Prison Population Expands For the First Time in 3 Years

Fremont Police Detention Facility Offers Pay Upgrade For Jail Stay
Jail cells sit empty at the Fremont Police Detention Facility on August 1, 2013 in Fremont, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

1,574,700 and counting

The U.S. prison population grew for the first time in three years in 2013, according to a report released Tuesday by the Department of Justice, deflating hopes that a recent batch of minor reforms could put a major dent in the number of people incarcerated. Some 1,574,700 people are currently incarcerated in American prisons.

The growth marks a return to a long-term trend that stretches back to the early 1980s, when the prison population began to steadily expand year after year. That expansion continued until 2009, when the prison population peaked at 1,615,487 inmates. Subsequent declines offered signs that minor reforms, including lighter sentences for low-level offenders, might have begun to whittle away at incarceration rates.

The number of prisoners for every 100,000 Americans continued to fall, however, to 478 inmates, the lowest ratio in 10 years, showing that while the prison population may be growing once again, it still isn’t growing as quickly as the wider population.

The Department of Justice noted that the number of federal prisoners continued to fall in 2013, but those decreases were overwhelmed by a rise in the number of state prisoners.

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