TIME Criminal Justice

Bipartisan Push for Criminal Justice Reform Sets Its Agenda

Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.
NICHOLAS KAMM—AFP/Getty Images Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.

But specifics are a casualty of the search for consensus

A bipartisan coalition leading a landmark push for criminal-justice reform has set its agenda, but many of the details remain to be filled in.

The Coalition for Public Safety, which includes some of the most influential policy groups on the right and left, announced a new campaign Monday to reform sentencing laws and reintegrate offenders back into society.

“We see these ideas as the baseline for how we can reduce the existing prison population,” said Christine Leonard, the group’s executive director, “as well as support individuals coming home.”

The announcement was a sign of how far the movement has come, but also a sign of how much work remains to be done to begin enacting its goals.

The group includes liberal outfits like the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as conservative organizations like Americans for Tax Reform and Right on Crime. The multi-million dollar initiative is underwritten by donors as disparate as Koch Industries and the Ford Foundation. For these fractious factions, the ability to coalesce around a set of policy objectives is no small task. But a casualty of the search for consensus has been specifics.

Read More: Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

In a conference call Monday with reporters, the group said it would launch a national education campaign to mobilize public support for some of its priorities with the broadest support, including reducing the length of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, curtailing sentences of life without parole, promoting alternatives to incarceration and removing obstacles that impede transitions back to the workforce for the one-in-three Americans with a criminal record.

But after months of meetings, the recommendations were modest in scope and light on detail. “These reforms are only the beginning of what lawmakers can do,” said Jason Pye, director of messaging and justice reform at the Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks.

Nor is it clear that the recommendations will do much to sway them. Despite growing consensus around the need to reform a system that critics call bloated and broken, there has been little little legislative movement. A raft of bipartisan proposals have languished in a divided Congress.

“Some of the other issues are blocked by partisan stalemate. This is one where we actually could move things forward,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. “We’re just going to have to defeat the forces of the status quo.”

Organizers acknowledged that threading bills through Congress remains a challenge. The Coalition hopes to make progress by the August congressional recess, when the presidential race will kick into a higher gear and lawmaking will slow even further.

“We’re in a long term marathon here, in terms of where we need to shift the country after two decades of polices that took us in the wrong direction,” Leonard told TIME in an interview. “There is a strong sense of urgency among these partnering organizations to see that we’re making an impact, both in the daily conversations that are happening around dinner tables but also among policy makers.”

But in Washington the forces of inertia increase in accordance with the number of actors. There are are seven organizations involved with the coalition, and it took months of meetings to lay out a general blueprint. There are 535 lawmakers in Congress. Even the most powerful interest groups know that translating public support into tangible reform remains an uphill battle.

“This is not necessarily a road map for a legislative proposal, but it does demonstrate the pathbreaking level of agreement and consensus around a set of issues,” Leonard says. “What we’re anxious about is, why isn’t there more happening?”

TIME justice

HBO Documentary Highlights Gun Violence

Filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob attend the HBO screening of 'Requiem For The Dead' at HBO Theater on June 15, 2015 in New York City.
Stephen Lovekin—2015 Getty Images Filmmakers Shari Cookson and Nick Doob attend the HBO screening of 'Requiem For The Dead' at HBO Theater on June 15, 2015 in New York City.

A new HBO documentary about gun violence will air Monday, just days after a deadly massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

Requiem for the Dead uses documentary material such as Facebook status updates, 911 calls, news reports and police investigations to tell the stories of some of the estimated 8,000 people who died from gunfire between March and June of 2014.

“People now document themselves in these very intimate ways,” co-director Shari Cookson tells TIME. “It was like reading a diary.”

“Every story,” her filmmaking partner Nick Doob adds, “is a kind of Greek tragedy.”

In one example, a 12-year-old boy confesses to police that he killed his 11-year-old friend while showing off his father’s loaded handgun.

Another example, about a 12-year-old who shot his sister eight times before turning the gun on himself, is accompanied by a montage of photographs of his belongings, including the Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto videogames, a Hunter Education certificate and a picture of him beaming, one hand clutching a rifle and another caressing an antler.

While the directors say they emphasized character portraits over a political agenda, many of the examples in the documentary seem to highlight incidents that could have been prevented by proper gun storage or better mental health treatment.

“Of course,” Doob admits, “we want to foster dialogue. We want the film to open people to talk so that even NRA people can look at this.”

TIME Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Just Quoted Spider-Man

Spiderman attends "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" Be Amazing Day Volunteer Day at I.S. 145 Joseph Pulitzer on April 25, 2014 in the Queens borough of New York City.
Mike Pont—Getty Images Spiderman attends "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" Be Amazing Day Volunteer Day at I.S. 145 Joseph Pulitzer on April 25, 2014 in the Queens borough of New York City.

In a case involving the superhero

A Supreme Court justice cited an unusual source in a decision handed down Monday: Spider-Man.

With all eyes on the nation’s highest court over upcoming decisions gay marriage and Obamacare, the reference was a rare moment of levity from Justice Elena Kagan.

The reference came in her decision on Kimble v. Marvel, in which the court declined to overrule decades-old precedent that kept patent-holders from collecting royalties after a patent expires. In her opinion, Kagan noted the principle of stare decisis, which holds that court’s should hesitate to overturn their own precedents.

What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “Spider- Man,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility”).

The quote comes not from a legal expert, of course, but from Uncle Ben, who is trying to guide a young Peter Parker to use his superpowers wisely in Amazing Fantasy No. 15, the comic which features the first appearance of Spider-Man. Supreme Court justices also have superpowers, but they come from a Senate confirmation vote, not a radioactive spider bite.

In her opinion, Kagan also quoted the 1967 Spider-Man TV show theme song: “The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can).”

Read the full opinion here.

 

TIME

Martin O’Malley Is ‘Pissed’ About Gun Control

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley arrives for a campaign event at the Sanctuary Pub on June 11, 2015 in Iowa City, Iowa.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Democratic presidential hopeful and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley arrives for a campaign event at the Sanctuary Pub on June 11, 2015 in Iowa City, Iowa.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley told supporters in the wake of this week’s South Carolina shooting that he’s “pissed” Congress is not passing more stringent gun control measures.

“I’m pissed that after an unthinkable tragedy like the one in South Carolina yesterday, instead of jumping to act, we sit back and wait for the appropriate moment to say what we’re all thinking: that this is not the America we want to be living in,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in an email.

Nine people were shot dead in a historically black church in Charleston on Wednesday. A 21-year-old white man, Dylann Roof, has been charged for the crime.

O’Malley passed broad gun control measures as governor that included banning weapons, limiting handgun magazines to 10 rounds, and requiring gun owners to provide their fingerprints as part of their weapons licenses.

The presidential candidate is now advocating nationally for a national assault weapons ban, stricter background checks, and fingerprint requirements. “I proudly hold an F rating from the NRA,” O’Malley said.

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton on Thursday also called for new actions to curb gun violence. “How many people do we need to see cut down before we act?” she said, but didn’t lay out specific proposals.

On Friday morning, O’Malley spoke on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program and advocated coupling mental health programs with stricter gun control.

TIME Crime

Privately-Run Prisons Hold Inmates Longer, Study Finds

Prisoners are incarcerated 4% to 7% longer

Privately-run prisons in the U.S. have become an increasingly popular way for states to cut costs, but a recent study finds that inmates actually stay longer in private prisons than in state-run correctional facilities.

A study by Wisconsin School of Business assistant professor Anita Mukherjee found that inmates held in private prisons in Mississippi from 1996 to 2004 served 4% to 7% longer than inmates serving similar sentences in public prisons. Mukherjee’s study, which is currently under review, appears to be the first to compare time served between public and private prisons.

The U.S. private prison industry is thought to be worth $5 billion a year, with facilities increasingly used by cash-strapped states dealing with overcrowded public prisons. In Mississippi for example, whose 20,000-strong prison population gives it one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, about 40% of inmates are housed in private prisons.

While it makes financial sense for a private prison to hold inmates for as long as possible, Mukherjee says the main reason behind the trend is more complicated than a privately run facility merely attempting to lengthen an inmate’s stay.

Parole boards, rather than the prisons themselves, are the ones that decide whether a prisoner should be released early. Mukherjee argues that private prisons do whatever they can to cut costs, including hiring less experienced guards that work for less pay and have high turnover.

Those inexperienced guards may be more inclined to hand out violations to inmates, she says, which is often the easiest way to maintain authority. Mukherjee found that inmates in private prisons were 15% more likely to get an infraction. And it’s those violations that a parole board looks at when deciding whether to release an inmate early based on good behavior.

Mukherjee says that the inmates in private prisons she studied received more infractions than those in public prisons, even though the parole board is the same for all state prisons. “Because they know they can’t just keep inmates longer, private prisons may be focusing on making it cheaper,” Mukherjee says. “And there are unintended consequences from that.”

 

TIME Crime

Bloodhounds Detect Scent of Escaped Killers as Manhunt Grows, Reports Say

Officials also found a shoe or boot print and food wrappers

The hunt for two convicted murderers who escaped a New York state prison is heating up, as bloodhounds may have picked up the escapees’ scent just a few miles from the facility.

CNN, citing officials and anonymous sources, reports that workers searching for David Sweat and Richard Matt have also found a shoe or boot print, food wrappers and a possible location of bedding that may be connected to the pair, in the search area that officials zeroed in on after the dogs detected a scent.

New York and neighboring state officials have been on high alert since Sweat and Matt were discovered missing from the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility on Saturday during an early-morning bed check. State officials said Wednesday that the escapees had possibly traveled to Vermont, with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin implying at a news conference the two might have figured New York would have been “too hot” with police and traveled to a Vermont campsite.

Vermont State Police said in a press release, however, that there had been no sighting of the pair in their state, yet still warned citizens to remain cautious.

Upstate New York has indeed been “hot” with police since news broke that the two convicted killers were on the lam. The Washington Post reports that more than 450 law enforcement agents are looking for Sweat and Matt. Authorities have shuttered swaths of State Route 374, a highway near the facility, and a local school district closed all campuses on Thursday to aid police in their search.

Officials are urging citizens to take an abundance of caution, going door-to-door to issue warnings and following up on leads. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly warned that the men are “desperate” and “dangerous.”

“These are not nice guys. They kill. They maim,” said Gov. Shumlin on Thursday. “They’ll do anything, they’ll steal anything to try to remain free.”

TIME Pope Francis

Liberal Clergy Lobby Vatican Ahead of Pope’s U.S. Visit

Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Hall for an audience with President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on June 7, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Hall for an audience with President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on June 7, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.

A group of liberal clergy and union leaders headed to the Vatican this week to lobby for Pope Francis to address race relations, income inequality and immigration reform, among other issues, in his upcoming trip to the United States.

During the four-day trip, the group of 14 met with representatives from a host of Catholic organizations, including two key cardinals who work on social justice issues.

Organized by the U.S. faith-based grassroots group PICO and the Service Employees International Union, the trip’s main goal was to get Pope Francis to highlight some liberal causes during his September visit.

“God cares about poor, low-wage workers. God cares about immigrants. God cares deeply about racial justice,” Bishop Dwayne Royster of the Living Water United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, one of Francis’ three major stops, told TIME. “So it’s very important that the faith community continue to lift up a moral voice and also a mirror to those in power.”

Read More: Pope Francis’ Poverty Agenda Draws President Obama

An advocate of the “Fight for 15” movement, Royster hoped to get the Pope’s attention on labor relations in his home city. When Francis arrives, Royster noted, “he will come into an airport where we support poverty wages and people are working in an oppressive environment.”

Participants on the trip also took to social media, tweeting images from the Vatican with captions such as “#TellthePope,” “BlackLivesMatter,” and “IBelieveWeWillWin.”

Overall, the people on the trip said their goal was to advocate for the marginalized.

A former undocumented immigrant from California, Father Jesus Nieto-Ruiz went on the trip to push for Pope Francis to back President Obama’s recent executive actions allowing undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.

“The Pope and his advisors should listen to the real stories that we have picked up from people who are struggling in this society of exclusion,” he said. “People who have been here for many years, 25 or 30 years, and are now facing deportation because they don’t have documentation—they suffer in the shadows. And that’s not human.”

Read Next: Pope Francis’ Latest Mission: Stopping Nuclear Weapons

For PICO, the trip was also part of an ongoing “Year of Encounter” campaign to tie together various liberal causes, such as universal health care, a path to citizenship and police brutality, into a broader mission.

It succeeded in one respect, with Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace inviting PICO to send a delegation in July to the Bolivian Assembly, where Pope Francis will speak during a Latin American tour.

For clergy members on the trip, the issues are both political and moral.

“The Gospel is political,” said Nieto-Ruiz. “We cannot distinguish and say, ‘Okay, the Gospel must explain theocracy,’ and then let the politicians run our lives with no principles whatsoever. Pope Francis is really incarnating for us the meaning of the Gospel. He’s inviting us to get involved in politics, even when politics is dirty.”

TIME justice

Texas Pool-Party Cop Let ‘Emotions’ Overcome Him, Lawyer Says

Casebolt's attorney spoke to the press on his resignation from the police force this afternoon

The Texas police officer who was caught on video slamming a 14-year-old bikini-clad girl to the ground “allowed his emotions to get the better of him,” his lawyer said Wednesday.

The attorney for Eric Casebolt, whose resignation was announced earlier Wednesday, told the media the police corporal had earlier answered two suicide calls that “took an emotional toll” on him, CNN reports. Jane Bushkin said the officer “regrets that his conduct portrayed him and his department in a negative light,” and relayed his apology to “all who were offended” by his actions.

In a video posted to YouTube on Saturday, Casebolt can be seen swearing and waving his gun at a group of black teenagers, tackling one girl—who is wearing only a bikini—to the ground, and placing his knees on her back.

Casebolt was called to the scene in McKinney, Texas amid reports of fighting among the teenagers. Some at the scene later accused him of racial bias in his reaction; on Monday, hundreds protested outside an elementary school in McKinney. Bushkin denied Wednesday that he had deliberately targeted minorities. “His actions were only in attempt to investigate the reports of violent assaults,” she said.

[CNN]

 

TIME

Rikers Island Guards Charged In Death of Detainee

rikers island new york city
Bebeto Matthews—AP This file photo taken June 11, 2014, shows the main sign for the Rikers Island jail in the Queens borough of New York.

Ronald Spear was beaten to death in the early morning of December 19, 2012 during an attempted visit to the on-duty doctor

One former and two current guards at Rikers Island have been charged in the December 2012 death of a pre-trial detainee at New York City’s island prison.

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office said former Rikers Island correction officer Brian Coll and current officer Byron Taylor were arrested on Wednesday on charges relating to the untimely death of Ronald Spear. Anthony Torres, another officer, had earlier pleaded guilty to charges on Tuesday.

Spear, 52, died on December 19, 2012 when an early-morning attempt to visit the on-duty doctor at Rikers for ongoing kidney trouble turned into an altercation with Officer Coll. Spear’s autopsy report showed that he had likely been kicked repeatedly in the head while lying on the floor. In the wake of Spear’s death, Coll, Torres, and Taylor claimed Spear had attacked Coll with a cane — a claim prosecutors say was false. Coll has been charged with depriving Spears of his rights, and all three face charges for obstructing justice.

These charges come on the heels of the death of Kalief Browder, 22, who committed suicide on Saturday after spending three years in Rikers Island as a pre-trial detainee, nearly two of them in solitary confinement. Browder told a writer for the New Yorker that he was repeatedly beaten both by corrections officers and fellow inmates while detained. Browder was sent to Rikers Island when he was just 16 years old.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara spoke on the charges at a noon press conference, saying that “Rikers inmates, though walled off from the rest of society, are not walled off from the protections of our Constitution.”

TIME Crime

What to Know About the 2 Killers Who Escaped a Maximum Security Prison

Richard Matt and David Sweat have long criminal records

Two convicted murderers with grisly pasts escaped from a maximum security in upstate New York on Saturday morning, spurring a dragnet hunt for the escaped felons.

They two escapees—David Sweat, 34, and Richard Matt, 48—both have a gruesome criminal history. Sweat had been at the prison since 2003, and Matt had arrived in 2008, and both had “satisfactory” disciplinary records in prison, the New York Times reports.

“This is a crisis situation for the state,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said over the weekend. “These are dangerous men capable of committing grave crimes again.”

Here’s what you should know about the escapees, pictured below.

David Sweat Richard Matt Murderer Escaped Prison New York
New York State Police/Getty ImagesConvicted murderers David Sweat (L) and Richard Matt are shown in this composite image.

David Sweat was convicted of murdering a sheriff’s deputy in central New York in July 2002. The cop approached Sweat, then 22, and two accomplices, shortly after they stole a cache of weapons from a store in Pennsylvania. After the robbery, the went to a park near the deputy’s home in the early morning to split the stolen rifles and handguns between them. When the deputy approached, Sweat and an accomplice shot the deputy 15 times and drove over him with a car, according to court records.

As a 16-year old in 1996, Sweat was charged with attempted second-degree burglary, and in 1997 he was charged with burglary after entering a home and stealing jewelry and cash, PoliceOne.com reported in 2002.

Sweat is 5 feet 11 inches, 165 pounds, has brown hair and a tattoo on his left bicep. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Richard Matt was convicted of kidnapping, dismembering and killing his former boss in 1997. According to the testimony of an accomplice, Matt abducted a 76-year-old food broker and his former boss, William Rickerson, first entering his home and hitting him with a knife sharpener. About an hour later, Matt bound up Rickerson with duct tape and threw him into the trunk of a car. According to the accomplice, Matt repeatedly beat and assaulted him before killing Rickerson by twisting his neck. The entire episode lasted 27 hours.

After the murder, Matt fled to Mexico. In the city of Matamoros, across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, Texas, Matt fatally stabbed a man outside a bar. He was sentenced to prison for 20 years and eventually extradited to the United States in 2007. But his rap sheet goes back further than that: Matt was sentenced to 2-4 years for a 1989 rape in Buffalo and stabbing a nurse in 1991. He served time for those crimes until 1997, the same year he abducted and killed Rickerson.

And Matt has escaped from prison before. In 1986, he made a four-day getaway from Erie County Jail in Alden, where he was serving for assault. “He was the highest threat of security we ever had in our jail,” said the Niagara County Sheriff’s chief deputy, shortly after rushing Matt from his county jail to a higher security prison in June 2008.

Matt is 210 pounds, about 6 feet tall, has black hair and a tattoo that says “Mexico Forever.” He was serving 25 years to life.

 

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