Saturday, June 28, 2014

how long is long enough?

Nebraska has a math problem.
Nebraska’s prison screw-up is much bigger than originally estimated: 873 inmates erroneously received reduced sentences over the past 20 years, state officials revealed Friday.
The fix will cost the state dearly: an estimated $50 million or more to house current prisoners for the 2,050 years just added to their collective sentences.
In a state already trying to solve the problem of overcrowding because the prisons are 58% over capacity, now this.

When the Omaha World-Herald discovered that Nebraska Corrections had been miscalculating release dates for twenty years or so, the governor's first response was that those released too early would be "rounded up."

His plans have changed. Now the State Patrol is bringing in a couple dozen people who were released too early and would still be serving time if not for the calculation errors. 

Those who were released long enough ago that their correct release date has already passed are not being "rounded up" to complete their sentences. The word is that they will be investigated to see if they committed further crimes after their early release and before their correctly-calculated release date. If they did commit more crimes, it's back to the hoosegow for them.

It's a mess. The Omaha World-Herald is doing a fine job of investigative journalism.

Another area ripe for investigation: When they discover that most of those released too early have not committed more crimes, will someone suggest that the miscalculated prison sentences appear to be quite long enough?

Monday, June 23, 2014

flash-bang grenade...the cops just couldn't help themselves

When we complain about the chaos and dangers of SWAT-served search warrants or home invasion-style served warrants, we often hear that the person who broke the law is the one to blame for a family's pain, not the cops who invade homes. A Georgia family would love to hear those people make sense of what happened to their 19-month-old boy.

Jacob Sullum writes about a 3 a.m. drug raid when a flash-bang grenade was thrown into a child's playpen, critically injuring the toddler. The police said they had no idea there were children in the home or they would not have used the grenade.
"If there's children involved in a house, we do not use any kind of distraction devices in those houses," [Sheriff]Terrell told "We just don't take the chance on it....According to the confidential informant, there were no children. When they made the buy, they didn't see any children or any evidence of children there, so we proceeded with our standard operation."
Standard operation? It is standard to throw flash-bangs where the landing place is not clearly seen?

The lawyer for the family said,
"This is a stay-at-home dad who was out in front of the home, playing with the children on a daily basis. Any surveillance that was done would have revealed there was a father with four children who played in that driveway."
...the SWAT team was relying on the report of a confidential informant who briefly visited the home on Tuesday night, just a few hours before the raid...
Despite an avowed policy of not using flash-bang grenades when children are present, it seems that neither Terrell's office nor the Cornelia Police Department did anything to investigate that possibility aside from asking the informant, who according to Terrell did not even enter the home. 
So, no surveillance.
Beyond the lack of due diligence on that point, there is the question of whether tossing an exploding, potentially incendiary device into a home that may be full of innocent people in the middle of the night is A-OK as long as you are reasonably sure all those people are 18 or older.
Think about this. Laws are often described in terms of protecting the innocent and yet police take no precautions to protect the innocent or even to ascertain if there are innocents present. 

Remember those people who blame the law-breaker for the chaos? The sheriff is one of them.
Terrell continues to blame [drug]transactions for the horrible injuries police inflicted on a sleeping baby. "The information we had from our confidential informant was there was no children in the home," he told WXIA, the NBC station in Atlanta. "We always ask; that determines how we enter the house and the things we do.... Did we go by our training, did we go by the intelligence? Given the same set of circumstances, with the same information dealing with a subject who has known gun charges on him, who is selling meth, they would go through the same procedures...Nothing would change....Had no way of knowing the child was in the house. The little baby [who] was in there didn't deserve this. These drug dealers don't care."
The little baby didn't deserve this? If the grenade had landed on the bed of the baby's mother instead, the mother would have deserved it?

Sunday, June 15, 2014

fathers' day

Let's hear it for the dads who screwed up in a big way and are now showing their children how to own up to their mistakes, how to atone, and how to persevere through times of great difficulty.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

...but he seemed so helpful!

Waco, TX, has found a way to reduce the cost of indigent defense. They worried that applicants were falsifying information when requesting a public defender, so now they investigate to make sure the requester is genuinely indigent.
They send a cop to the homes of defendants seeking to apply for the public defender and have him interview and investigate them.
In fact, there’s such a problem with falsifying information on applications, that a whopping 2 people have been arrested since November.

When put in perspective, you begin to see why Edwards has seen a drop in applications. It might have to do with the fact that people don’t want a police officer coming into their homes and asking them questions.
The a public defender blog quotes the Waco Tribune so we can see what else came of investigating financial circumstances of the applicants:
Carrizales said he has made more than 20 arrests simply from following up with applicants at their homes and finding fugitives with outstanding warrants.

Colyer said the sheriff’s office expected the additional arrests because the investigation of one crime often leads to the discovery of other offenses.
Sure, the investigation of one crime can lead to the discovery of other offenses but this sheriff's detective isn't investigating a crime, he is investigating finances...or so he says when he knocks at the applicant's door.

Poor people who need a public defender may not be able to afford to let this investigator in their homes.

Monday, June 2, 2014

forcing failure to register in Chicago

In Chicago, sex offenders waiting to register are routinely turned away and told to come back another day because the police are too busy to register them. In March, WBEZ reporter Rob Wildeboer wrote about the practice. 11:45 a.m., a man comes out of the registry office and tells Wright and the two dozen other men who have been waiting in the cold all morning, that they won’t be able to register today. But then it gets weirder. The police department employee tells the men they can sign a list that will prove they showed up today to register but then he tells them that even if they’re on the list, they can still be arrested for failing to register.

In a written statement, Adam Collins, a spokesman for the Chicago Police, said the list is collected and the department “proactively sends their names to Illinois State Police … to minimize any potential criminal registration problems for the individuals.”

Of course letting the men actually register would be an even more effective way to minimize registration problems. For clarity, I asked Collins several times, aren’t the men at risk of being arrested? He simply [re-sent] a portion of his written statement.
Sex offenders TRY to register, are not allowed to, and yet they can be--and ARE--arrested for failure to register.

In a recent follow-up piece, Wildeboer talks about the sex offenders who are arrested for failure to register.
...police records show that Jerome Sanders, a homeless man, was turned away from the registration office because, not surprisingly, he didn’t have the hundred dollar fee sex offenders have to pay once a year. He was arrested less than two weeks later, February 3, for failure to register and is in the county jail, where he’s costing taxpayers $143 a day.

Or take Larry Hill. He went to police headquarters March 4, 5, 6 and 7. The records show that each time the Chicago police refused to register him because they were too busy. Finally on March 10 he made it into the office and he was arrested because something called an investigative alert had been issued for him. The Chicago police had been looking for this guy and for a week he’d been standing in a line outside CPD headquarters.

Just one more example: On March 4 Robert Mitchell went to register and was turned away. He returned on the 5th but police failed to register him again. The note on the police sign in log says he was turned away because he needed a sign language interpreter. So he wasn’t registered. He’s since been arrested and is now in jail for failure to register.
Taxpayers need to know how their money is spent. Incarcerating people for years because they were not allowed to register is very expensive.

Wildeboer further investigated the practice of collecting the names of those who were turned away "to minimize any potential criminal registration problems for the individuals." 
As officers turned offenders away, they wrote down the names of the offenders who had shown up. Using the Freedom of Information Act, WBEZ got copies of those lists. The lists have fields for name, date, time, several other things and then one space for “reason for being turned away.” In the first three months of this year the office turned people away 601 times, and in that space for the reason it put “capacity.”
Glad to see that the police are trying to help these guys out by letting the State Patrol know why they haven't registered...and then we read:
According to Tracie Newton with the Illinois State Police, which maintains the sex offender registration, that list from CPD is absolutely useless. Newton says CPD just started sending lists over one day without any discussion or explanation and there’s nothing in the statutes that allows the state police to do anything with the lists.
There is a very large part of the story missing: the scary part where we hear about all the new sex offenses committed by the offenders who did not register. That's because that is not part of the story. Sex offenders, registered or not, only rarely commit new sex offenses.

The Chicago police probably have a few reasons they are willing to let sex offenders leave without registering: one, they are deliberately setting the sex offenders up for failure to register arrest, or two,  they know full well that letting the offenders go home without registering is not a danger to the community safety.

A third possibility seems more likely. The police have been taught that it is acceptable to treat sex offenders as if they are subhuman, that the lives of sex offenders are something to toy with, that the effect on families of sex offenders is not worth considering.

Protect and serve? Not in Chicago. Believing that this kind of deliberate disregard happens only in Chicago is almost certainly a mistake.