Another incident of what clearly was an unnecessary killing of a black man by police. Here we learn that peoples’ biases affect what they remember of what they see, and they believe what they remember, even if it is not supported by the video.
Excerpts from the Article:
Stephon Clark, an African-American man, was killed by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard last month, setting off protests and conflict over the police’s actions. Police initially said they thought Clark was armed. But after the shooting, the officers found no weapon on Clark, only an iPhone. The city’s police chief has been credited with responding quickly to the protests by making the officers’ bodycam footage available, in an attempt to help the public discern what really happened.
But bodycam footage is unlikely to solve every conflict. Why? We are psychology scholars whose research focuses on the legal implications of memory errors. Our research, and that of other psychologists and legal scholars, suggests that bodycams may not be the definitive solution to conflicts over police behavior.
The belief that bodycam footage will both unequivocally show what happened in critical incidents involving police and civilians and thus curb unjustified uses of force is shared by politicians, police departments, civil liberties groups and most of the public. The hope is that bodycam use will help untangle the increasingly conflicted accounts between police and citizens about what happened during a fatal or near-fatal encounter. That hope has prompted local and federal governments to spend millions of dollars ensuring bodycams’ widespread adoption.
Simply put, people trust what they see. So video feels like it should be the cure that will diminish the number of interactions between police and citizens that result in excessive force.
But psychological research suggests there are at least three reasons why bodycam footage will not provide the objectivity people expect.
First is a limitation of the technology: Bodycam footage typically provides a restricted view of an incident. What people can see is often ambiguous, because of the positioning of the camera at chest height on the officer’s uniform. Other limits are created by the camera lens and environmental obstructions. Importantly, people perceive ambiguous stimuli in ways that match their beliefs and preferences, a phenomenon coined “wishful seeing.” Applied to police footage, this means people’s attitudes toward police influence what they see. For example, when people watched video of an officer interacting with a citizen, those who were instructed to focus on the officer and who identified with police – that is, they reported thinking they had similar values to police officers or shared a similar background – viewed the officer’s actions as less incriminating. These people also tended to recommend more lenient punishment for the officer compared to people who focused on the officer but did not identify with police. So, if you trust police officers and believe you share their values, you see their behavior as more justified.
Second, the fact the officer is not depicted in the bodycam footage means people will focus only on the civilian’s behavior and actions. That can have significant consequences. For example, in police interrogations, when the camera is directed solely at the suspect, people tend to discount the detective’s role in the scene. Conversely, when they can see the detective, they think about how suggestive or coercive the interrogation tactics may be and tend to be more sympathetic to the suspect. This means the perspective of the camera literally skews the information people focus on. Likewise, because bodycams focus on the civilian, people may ignore important information concerning the officer’s role in the encounter. Indeed, some evidence suggests that a bystander’s recording of a police encounter can paint a widely different picture than the bodycam, leading to entirely different conclusions about what the footage shows.
Third, people’s general attitudes toward police don’t just influence how they interpret the police behavior in footage. Those attitudes also influence what they remember seeing in bodycam footage. We found that people who identified with police (again, people who thought the police were similar to them) were more likely to rely on an officer’s report to make sense of what they saw in bodycam footage. More specifically, they reported that the civilian in the video was wielding a knife – though no knife was in the video – because the officer said he saw a knife. Those who viewed the video were trying to make sense of the officer’s actions using information they had previously learned, even though it did not fit with the footage. In essence, the officer’s report served as a source of misleading information, and that is what people remembered seeing.
Unfortunately, research on misinformation effects such as this shows they are notoriously difficult to correct, even when people are warned the information is wrong or are given an explanation for why the error occurred.
All of these factors would pose less of a problem if people had the ability to acknowledge their biases and correct for them. But, they don’t.
Instead, people believe that what they see and remember is an accurate representation of the world, even if what they see and remember is incorrect.
Bodycam footage is enormously valuable because it will likely protect both officers and civilians from false accusations. However, it must be acknowledged that people’s visual and memory biases are more likely to emerge when evidence is ambiguous and people are overconfident in their objectivity.
So bodycam footage is unlikely to be the only solution to improve fraught police–community relations. The justice system is going to have to wrestle further with how to handle these problems.
NJ attorney general announces statewide initiative to strengthen police and community relations – a smart move! kra
Increasingly, politicians are seeing what many of us have seen for years: we must improve the broken down relationship between police and those they serve. Remember and read my article Most Cops are Good Cops.
Despite too many incidents of police abuse and excesses, this is the TRUTH.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal today announced a new initiative called the 21st Century Community Policing Project that was created in an attempt to promote stronger police-community relations. Town hall meetings, discussions and other events will take place in each county a minimum four times every year. The new website nj.gov/oag/2121 will be a clearinghouse for information about the initiative. More than 80 events are scheduled across the state in the next 12 months with a goal of strengthening the bonds between law enforcement and the broader community, Grewal said.
“Every day, law enforcement officers across New Jersey work closely with the members of the public to keep our streets safe,” Grewal said. “But that does not mean we cannot do better, and strengthening police-community relations in New Jersey is one of my top priorities. Despite the best efforts of many people, we know that divides exist in some instances between law enforcement and the communities they serve. In certain cases, these divides have been created by misunderstandings rooted in past events, and in other cases, they are based on misperceptions about law enforcement.”
Under the new initiative, each county prosecutor will be responsible for organizing and hosting a public meeting every quarter with community leaders.Before each meeting, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office will provide the prosecutors with content and other material relevant to that quarter’s topic.
The meetings will be open to the public, and the county prosecutors will be asked to extend invitations to a broad range of community leaders, including representatives from local law enforcement, religious groups, civil rights organizations, high schools, colleges, universities, and
municipal alliance committees.
In the spring, the topic will be investigations of shootings involving police officers. In the summer the topic will be opioids. In the fall law enforcement officials will discuss immigration enforcement. In the winter the topic will be bias crimes.
The attorney general will attend at least one meeting in each of the 21 counties. A county-by-county schedule of events planned for Spring 2018 is posted on the 21/21 Community Policing Project webpage at www.nj.gov/oag/2121.
This rather lengthy article is in the form of an interview of Alisa Roth, about her new book, “Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness”. It is excellent. As many of you know, the neglect of the mentally ill in America is an absolute disgrace and costs us about $444 BILLION dollars every year! See related articles on this website. During my five years in prison I SAW that mental health treatment is virtually non existent!
We need to treat the mentally ill, not just keep locking them up!
Excerpts from the Article:
In her career as a journalist, Alisa Roth has written about people in what she calls “forgotten communities,” such as immigrants and the poor. But when she began focusing on the mentally ill trapped in the U.S. justice system, after a friend’s brother was locked up, Roth discovered what she came to realize was the most forgotten community of all.
“I can’t think of a group that’s more reviled and more misunderstood,” she told TCR. In a discussion with staff writer Isidoro Rodriguez about her new book, “Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness,” Roth, a former Soros Justice Fellow, describes how jails and prisons have become the nation’s principal institutions for treating mentally troubled individuals, and suggests that strategies for developing more humane, treatment-oriented alternatives have to begin at the state and local levels.
We talk about the issue of race in the criminal justice system, we talk about the issue of poverty in the criminal justice system, but we don’t talk about mental illness. These three intersect and overlap, but we can’t think about global reform without addressing the mental health question.
As I mention in the book, I have a friend whose brother developed a severe mental illness and committed a horrible crime. As I was thinking about this whole system, it kept coming back to him. If we as a society can allow him to see an alternative outcome, and not spend the rest of his life in prison, we can allow that for other people who have done less morally or criminally complicated things.
The criminal justice system is extremely closed in terms of access, in terms of data, and in terms of information. Likewise, the mental health care system is bureaucratic and complicated. So just figuring out where treatment is being provided, and who should be providing that treatment is difficult.
Then there’s the whole health care aspect. People are not allowed to, or are unwilling to, share information about treatment. And there’s the stigma question in both systems. There is still shame attached to having a mental illness or having a family member with mental illness. We march for breast cancer or AIDS, but we don’t want to talk about mental illness and we don’t want to admit it. So, getting people to open up and say “yes, I do have this issue” or “yes, my child does have this issue and these are the struggles we are going through,” is very difficult. I am very grateful to all the people who were willing to share their stories with me.
Unfortunately, we have abandoned the notion of reform and rehabilitation in our criminal justice system. We’ve moved back to the punitive notion. In some measure we think that people who are locked up in jail or prison deserve what they get. There is a dehumanizing aspect to the whole criminal justice system, and solitary confinement is part of that. If we don’t think of somebody as a full human being, then it becomes easier to do something really awful to them. If you think of this person as your brother, or our uncle, or your husband, it’s much harder to lock them in a box 23/7.
There’s also the fact that so many of us don’t know what goes on in the criminal justice system. The system as a whole is so abstract for such a large portion of our population, that we just don’t think or know about it. People have no idea that there are tens of thousands of people locked in solitary confinement on any given day. In a lot of places and for a very long time it’s just been how it’s done. It’s a very easy solution to put someone who is being unruly or difficult out of sight and out of mind. I think it speaks to a larger issue: We take people with mental illness, we lock them away, someplace we don’t need to see them. If we put them in jail or prison we don’t need to see them or step over them on our way to Starbucks in the morning. Solitary confinement is a reflection of that. But it makes everything so much worse.
As awareness of the problem of large numbers of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system grows, judges and attorneys are more attuned to it. It’s not that people don’t know it’s there, but it’s as much as about changing attitudes as anything else. I talk to a lot of judges and I’ve said “Hey, in a lot of cases you’re being asked to make what’s effectively a medical decision and you’re not a doctor; you’re a judge. ‘
In an ideal world, we would be able to keep everybody with a serious mental illness out of the criminal justice system. In an ideal world, we’d be able to keep a lot of people without a mental illness out of the criminal justice system. We lock up a lot of people very easily. I think that diversion is absolutely critical, but in order to make wide scale diversion possible, we can’t just look at this little tiny piece of the problem. We have to remember that we are operating in a very large ecosystem, not just of criminal justice but also of mental healthcare. We need to see wide-scale reform of both these systems so that people aren’t getting to the point where they’re so sick.
You see people in jail and prison who are sicker than a lot of people you see in psychiatric hospitals. We need to be catching the diseases earlier and treating them earlier. It’s great to train the cops to not arrest people, but if you don’t have some place for the cops to take them that’s not jail, they’re still going to wind up in jail. That’s what happened in San Antonio when they created their crisis center system. [They realized] you can train cops as much as you want, but they’re still going to take people to jail if there’s no other option. The other part of it is, as long as we are going to have people that end up in the criminal justice system, we have to make sure that when they’re there, they’re getting the treatment that they need and not just being warehoused in prisons.
We’ve started locking up way more people than we ever did…and when you cast such a big net, of course you’re going to pull in a lot of people with mental illness. When you break it down even further and look at co-occurring substance use disorders, a very large majority of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system have a co-occurring substance use disorder. So, if we’re arresting tons of people for drug possession, drug use, drug selling, drug dealing, it makes perfect sense that we’ll pick up people with mental illness.
The story of mental illness in the criminal justice system is as much a story of mass incarceration as it is of de-institutionalization. Using policing tactics such as “broken windows” and “stop and frisk,” allowed us to lock up huge amounts of people [and] made it easier to arrest people with mental illness…. we do have a severe lack of mental health care in the community and we have made it extremely difficult to get treatment for mental illness. But it’s not that everybody was getting treatment in a hospital and now they can’t get it, we just don’t have that and we’ve never had it.
I think we’re starting to move in that direction, very slowly. We’re seeing more people acknowledging an issue with depression or anxiety. We’re still not seeing a lot of actors come up at the Oscars and mention that they have schizophrenia, but I think it’s becoming more socially acceptable to talk about these things. We know that people can change, and society can change. There was a time that people didn’t talk about HIV or cancer, and now we wave flags for it. We need to get over the fear and stigma [attached to] mental illness in our society. The narrative in the media and in politics that links mental illness and violence is very damaging. And it’s hard to get over that stigma when every time something bad happens somebody is out there pointing a finger at mental illness.
Getting police to respond in a more thoughtful, more community/medically oriented way, instead of the tough, warrior way, is terrific. The big caveat is that if you don’t have the whole system set up to accommodate this it can only get you so far. You might deescalate a particular situation, but if you don’t have any longer-term solutions, you’re going to be back picking up the same person with no place to go. Often communities think CIT will be a step to solving the problem, but you have to think about how you’re going to divert, what’s the mental health treatment going to be, and how do we make sure we’re not picking people up again next week or next month.
The thing about criminal justice is that so much of it happens on such a local level that, on the flip side, a lot of reform can also happen on a local level. If I’m in Manhattan, and get arrested, it could potentially be a different outcome then if I’m in the Bronx or New Jersey. Because it’s so local, I think the federal question is almost irrelevant. Even the laws of involuntary commitment are handled at a local level. I think with a lot of laws, particularly with HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and involuntary commitment, it really comes down to a very narrow line of navigating between civil liberties and safety for the person and the public.
Read the Whole Story:
Sheriff: It’s ‘financially better’ for cops to kill suspects than injure them – Of Course! Why didn’t I think of that?~ kra
What a doozie! This story was sent to me by my internet friend known as GellyBean. Thanks, Gelly!
Now this idiot candidate for Sheriff says he did not mean what he said. Uh huh.
Excerpts from the Article:
A California sheriff who’s trying to beat his chief deputy and win re-election is fighting back after the release of a 2006 video in which he says it’s “financially better” for cops to kill suspects than injure them. Sheriff Donny Youngblood, of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, told KBFX Eyewitness News Monday the 12-year-old statements were misquoted.
“I stand by the intent of what I was trying to get across — that just because someone doesn’t die doesn’t mean we escape with less money or unharmed,” Youngblood said. “Do I wish I would’ve said it differently? Absolutely. When you listen to the verbiage, it doesn’t sound good. But I think the people of this county know that’s not what I mean.” He went on to say the department’s officers are trained “to shoot to stop the threat — not to kill.”
The video shows Youngblood, who was a challenger for the office then, sitting at a table during an interview with the Kern County Detention Officers Association, arguing it was financially better for the department to kill a suspect rather than injure them.
“You know what happens when a guy makes a bad shooting on somebody and kills them? Three million bucks and the family goes away after a long back and forth,” Youngblood said.
“Which way do you think is better financially – to cripple them or kill them – for the county?” he asked. A person, who was not seen, replied “kill them.” “Absolutely,” Youngblood replied. “Because, if they’re crippled, we get to take care of them for life. And that cost goes way up.”
Chris Ashley, the director of Kern County Detention Officers Association which posted the video, told The Guardian the group was “disgusted” by Youngblood’s comments.
Thank God: Increasingly, states are realizing that these “tough on crime” forfeiture laws were one dumb ass idea! Read related articles on this website. In 2014 police seized more than was taken in all burglaries nationwide!
Excerpts from the Article:
A bill providing new protections for people to regain property and cash seized by Tennessee law enforcement officials is headed to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk after receiving state Senate approval Thursday. The vote for the bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, was unanimous. “This is a rare bill because you had the ACLU on one side and the Beacon Center on the other, and they both agreed on it,” Gardenhire told senators.
The bill is intended to address long-standing complaints and controversies involving law enforcement seizures of property tied to actual crimes or suspected unlawful activity. Sheriffs, police chiefs and prosecutors have defended the practice, saying it deprives suspected criminals like drug traffickers of assets that law enforcement can use to fund future operations.
Under current state civil-asset forfeiture laws and procedures, agencies often keep the property or cash. Critics have long charged the legal deck is often stacked against innocent third-party owners.
“Tennesseans should not have their property seized without being charged with, or convicted of a crime,” Venable said. “This bill brings much-needed reforms which should drastically curtail the practice of civil asset forfeiture.”
Daniel had pushed the issue for several years but encountered stiff opposition from local and state law enforcement officials. Last year, Carter, chairman of the House Civil Justice Committee, engaged in the issue after his panel heard horror stories involving several Tennesseans’ efforts to regain their property.
A Knoxville attorney described at that hearing how a woman suspected of drunken driving was stopped and charged with possession of prescription drugs for sale. Police seized $11,000 in cash. The drugs turned out to be over-the-counter antacid medication, the cash from the just settled estate of the woman’s late mother, according to the attorney.
A criminal court judge threw out the case, but the attorney said the woman had to fight a lengthy and confusing battle in state administrative courts to regain her money and vehicle.
The legislation requires authorities to provide quick, formal notice within five days of a property seizure of a forfeiture-warrant hearing, regardless of whether the person was present or not at the time the property was taken. It also says a seizing agency found to be in the wrong must pay attorneys fees not to exceed the lesser of 25 percent of property or cash or $3,000.
In the case of those charged at the scene and their assets seized, they, too have a more defined legal process to seek return, provided the property was not involved in commission of a crime. Another significant aspect, is that cash itself is not in and of itself a crime.
For years, critics have charged that law enforcement in Tennessee and across the country have taken advantage of seizures to fund operations, calling the practice “policing for profit,” a description denounced by law enforcement.
Illegal tactics used to force confessions from California prisoners, ACLU alleges – Widespread Crimes – WHY are they not prosecuted? kra
What is a word stronger than “outrageous”? Horrific? Despicable? Those responsible for this entrenched system to violate rights should be imprisoned! AGAIN, where is the U S Attorney – the feds?
Not everyone has a famous star like Bob Dylan to tell their story, as Rubin Carter did!
Excerpts from the Article:
Prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies in California’s Orange County used jailhouse informants in an extraordinary and long-running scheme to illegally obtain confessions from criminal defendants, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is alleging in a new lawsuit. The suit, filed early Wednesday, alleges that the district attorney’s office and sheriff’s department in the suburban county south of Los Angeles routinely employed prisoners – including hardened gang members – as informants and used “threats of violence to coerce confessions” from defendants, violating their rights to an attorney. The ACLU cited a mountain of evidence, amassed in criminal cases over the past five years, that prosecutors obtained material illegally, suppressed parts favorable to the defence, and sought to cover up the existence of the scheme.
“For 30 years, the Orange County sheriff’s department and district attorney’s office have been operating an illegal informant program out of the jails,” the ACLU lawyer Brendan Hamme told the Guardian. “They’ve used it to coerce information from defendants, including with threats of death, and at the same time they’ve been systematically hiding evidence of that program. These sorts of tactics are offensive to basic constitutional principles and ethical duties.”
The ACLU’s 41-page complaint lays out the particulars of the scandal, much of it based on documents produced by the county and by the courtroom testimony of county officials, in unforgiving detail: evidence of informants telling their cell mates they were marked for death by a “shot caller”, or gang leader, and could only save themselves if they talked in detail about their crimes; evidence that one informant was encouraged by the police to help frame a 14-year-old boy for attempted murder even though several witnesses said the boy was nowhere near the scene of the crime; evidence that informants were paid tens of thousands of dollars for their services; evidence that prosecutors had repeatedly failed to hand over documentation to defence lawyers as required by law; evidence that sheriffs had repeatedly lied under oath when asked about the existence of the informant program.
The scandal in Orange County, a bastion of law-and-order conservatism, first erupted in 2013, when Scott Sanders, a public defender, noticed that the same jailhouse informant was cited in two high-profile murder cases he was working. That informant turned to be a member of the Mexican mafia, whose jailhouse file included the instruction “Do not use as a CI [confidential informant]”.
One of the compromised cases was the biggest mass killing in the county’s history. Prosecutors went all out for the death penalty for Scott Dekraai, who shot and killed eight people in a hair salon in 2011, but the scandal delayed sentencing for years and the judge forced the county to settle for a life sentence instead.
In Orange County, the scandal has been remarkable for the tenacity of the officials at the center of the storm. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens has announced she will not be seeking re-election this year, but has persisted in saying that any abuses were the work of a few rogue deputies only. Tony Rackauckas, the district attorney, has been stridently unapologetic and is locked in a furious re-election battle with a county supervisor who is using the scandal as his primary political weapon.
The system is such a mess that prosecutors in 35 states now have people review claims of wrongful conviction! To learn the many reasons for wrongful convictions, read articles on this website like John Grisham: Eight reasons for America’s shameful number of wrongful convictions
Excerpts from the Article:
In May 1988 on the south side of Chicago, a video store caught fire in the middle of the night. The fire spread quickly, eventually burning down seven other nearby businesses and killing two people. The police determined it was arson, and quickly identified the owner of the video store as the mastermind of a four-person plot. But it was a local repairman, Arthur Brown, who prosecutors accused of actually setting the fire, using gasoline as an accelerant. Two other people were accused of taking part, and all four were charged with first-degree murder and arson. At the first bond hearing, local prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty for three of the men, including Brown. He immediately collapsed to the floor. “I’m just emotional,” Brown said, apologizing to the judge. “I’ve never been in a courtroom before.”
Brown had signed a confession during his interrogation but steadfastly maintained his innocence afterward, continually stating that he only signed it after being beaten and threatened by the cops for over seven hours. However, in 1990, after a trial led by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Brown was granted a new trial in 2003, but was once again found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. But last November, a judge threw out his conviction and ordered a new trial based on Brown’s post-conviction petition. That petition argued that prosecutors in his second trial had not only solicited testimony they knew to be false from one of the police officers who handled his case, but “improperly relied extensively on that false testimony in its opening statement and closing argument.” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx asked her Conviction Integrity Unit to review the case. Days later, prosecutors dismissed the charges and Brown was released.
Brown is one of the 139 people who was exonerated last year, according to the annual report of the National Registry of Exonerations (NRE), released last week. According to the report, 42 of those exonerations involved Conviction Integrity Units (CIUs). These units, which are part of prosecutors’ offices, are intended to “prevent, identify, and correct false convictions.”
As prosecutorial reform has garnered more attention, many district attorneys have responded to the calls for change by creating CIUs. These conviction review teams have become more common — according to the report, there were 33 CIUs in 2017, “more than double the number in 2013, and more than six times the number in 2011.” (That list doesn’t include recently created units in Detroit, Michigan, and Jacksonville, Florida.) But while the number of CIUs is growing, they are still extremely rare. There are, after all, 2,300 prosecutor’s offices in America — meaning a whopping 98.5 percent of offices don’t have a CIU.
Further, the mere fact that a CIU exists means very little — several have accomplished nothing. In fact, of the 33 offices listed in the report, 12 of them have never exonerated a single person. Another five offices have exonerated only one.
In Boston, Suffolk County DA Dan Conley has touted the importance of his Conviction Integrity Program. Last year, he awarded his office’s Unsung Hero award to the director of the program, Donna Patalano, stating that her “commitment to the interests of justice has helped us set a national standard with policies replicated by prosecutors across the country.” That Conley brags about this unit is baffling. Suffolk’s CIU has no full-time staff. It’s not even mentioned on the office’s website. And in six years, it has exonerated only one person.
At first glance, San Diego’s office may look a little better than Boston’s. Two years ago, the office formalized its Conviction Review Unit. Before that, an assistant district attorney in the office had served as the office’s liaison to the Innocence Project since 2011. Now, the division has two full-time staff attorneys. It also has a website where people can apply online to have their convictions reviewed. The site even quotes Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But in seven years, the office has been responsible for just one exoneration.
The list goes on. Los Angeles County is the biggest county in the nation, yet in three years, its office has exonerated exactly two people, according to its report. Manhattan’s DA, Cy Vance, has exonerated just five people since 2010. Philadelphia has exonerated just three people in four years.
And those offices look pretty good compared to cities like Tucson, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Fort Worth, and Sacramento. All of those offices have CIUs and yet, according to the report, they have yet to exonerate a single person.
Exonerations can take years, and sometimes these offices are facing circumstances outside of their control. For example, in Texas, the post-conviction process “presents unique procedural hurdles to the innocence process,” according to a 2016 article written by former Harris County ADA Inger Chandler in the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice magazine. “It’s not enough in Texas to believe justice would be served by overturning a conviction. Nor is it enough to say, ‘Had I known then what I know now, I would not have prosecuted this case.’” In Texas, there must be a constitutional violation to vacate a conviction.
CIUs have done at least some good. According to NRE’s report, they’ve “helped secure 269 exonerations from 2003 to 2017; more than 80% [of which] occurred since 2014.” But many of these offices see tens, sometimes hundreds, of thousands of cases each year, and the evidence says that prosecutorial misconduct is far from unusual. According to the report, 60 percent of all wrongful convictions last year — including 84 percent of homicide wrongful convictions — involved official misconduct. And while official misconduct encompasses a large group, “the most common misconduct documented in the cases in the Registry involves police or prosecutors (or both) concealing exculpatory evidence.” If in 15 years, these units have identified fewer than 300 cases where a person was wrongfully convicted, they are certainly not effective enough.
The truth is that CIUs’ biggest asset is also their biggest obstacle. On the one hand, these units have incomparable access to district attorneys’ internal evidence, and have better access to other law enforcement agencies.
But because CIUs are part of the DA’s office, they are often incentivized to protect their own. Most of these units are staffed by career prosecutors, who are given the task of investigating their colleagues and their superiors — so even when they do identify misconduct, they may be hesitant to accuse those around them of wrongdoing. “Conviction review units are totally contained within the office, and the prosecutor has total control over which case he’ll review and which ones he won’t,” said Phil Locke, Ohio Innocence Project advisor, in CounterPunch magazine. “My personal opinion is that CRUs [another term for CIUs] are politically motivated and self-serving. It’s the fox guarding the henhouse problem. They’ll cherry-pick the cases, overturn the obviously worst ones, thump their chests about all the good being done.”
There are some institutional necessities for an effective CIU. According to a report released by the Quattrone Center, a policy hub at the University of Pennsylvania focused on preventing errors in the criminal justice system, CIUs should fundamentally be “independent, flexible, and transparent.” The report lays out several policy and practice recommendations, including: the unit should stand alone, rather than within an office’s appellate or post-conviction division; it should be “led by an attorney with firsthand prosecutorial and criminal defense experience;” and it should “review all petitions on their factual merits, and not on non-substantive grounds,” meaning the office should even review cases where a petitioner pled guilty. According to Quattrone’s report, testing evidence and establishing an “open exchange of information” are also important, as are personnel trainings and written policies. Certainly, all of these things are critical. But even following these guidelines won’t guarantee an effective CIU unless they have support from the top — these units require a strong, dedicated district attorney who is concerned with justice above convictions.
Consider the case of Harris County, the third largest county in the nation. The DA’s office is led by Kim Ogg who was elected in 2016, and is generally considered one of the most progressive prosecutors in the nation. In the past, Harris County DAs were known for prosecuting trace cases, or cases that involve a miniscule amount of drugs. Often, due to a crime lab backlog, it took months for that trace drug evidence to be tested. That meant that many defendants who could not afford bail would have to sit in jail, waiting for a test to prove their innocence. Unsurprisingly, many would ultimately just plead guilty so that they could be released. The drug labs, then, would de-prioritize testing those samples at all, since the cases had technically been resolved.
In 2014, under former District Attorney Devon Anderson, Harris County’s CIU identified the backlog and the large number of people who were innocent but had pled guilty. As a result, the report states, “the District Attorney’s Office developed a plan to clear that backlog and exonerate as many of the innocent defendants as possible.” Now the office has a policy that drugs must be tested before a guilty plea is accepted. Harris County is a rare example, and it’s unclear if the office has been as aggressive about identifying wrongful convictions outside of the drug context. Still, this is one instance where a CIU was effective — the unit recognized wrongdoing, the office exonerated the innocent, and policy changes were implemented to prevent further wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, there just aren’t many examples like this. For many prosecutors, establishing a unit allows them to appear as if they are making strides towards justice. But an actual dedication to integrity is a different matter altogether.
In fact, as NRE’s report points out, many CIUs are anything but eager to investigate these cases, even when there’s evidence of innocence. “Most CIU exonerations were initially investigated by defense attorneys, innocence organizations, journalists, or others. In some cases, the exonerated defendants even faced concerted resistance by the prosecutors’ offices before the CIUs came around to supporting the exonerations.”
Arthur Brown’s case followed such a path. His wrongful conviction was initially investigated by an outside attorney dedicated to exonerating the innocent. And even after a judge vacated his conviction and ruled that he was entitled to a new trial due to prosecutorial misconduct, Cook County prosecutors vowed to retry him. It wasn’t until Brown appealed to Foxx directly that the CIU decided that the case should be dismissed.
In the past few years, CIUs have become stronger and more prevalent than ever. But that doesn’t mean they’re adequate. If prosecutors truly believe it’s their role to fight for justice, they should implement, staff, and encourage independent CIUs. After all, there are thousands more Arthur Browns languishing in prison as we speak. It’s prosecutors’ job to exonerate them.
This report is no surprise to me. Our criminal justice system long has attacked the poor and those of color. See many articles under “Race”.
Open the Story to see the charts, like the one: “Incarceration rate of men between 28 and 34, by parents income”!
Men who grew up in the poorest 10 percent of American families are 20 times as likely to be imprisoned by their early 30s than men from the richest 10 percent of families, according to a new Brookings Institution analysis of the drivers of incarceration.
“We estimate that almost one in ten boys born to families in the lowest income decile are incarcerated at age 30, and they make up about 27 percent of prisoners that age,” the study’s authors, Adam Looney and Nicholas Turner, concluded.
By contrast, fewer than half of 1 percent of men from the richest 10 percent of families were imprisoned on any given day in their early 30s.
That stark relationship — between childhood family income and adult incarceration — underscores how much the environments children grow up in can shape their life trajectories.
To produce their analysis, Looney and Turner collected Internal Revenue Service tax returns for 2.9 million incarcerated individuals. For a subset of about 500,000 of those inmates, they were able to link incarcerated individuals to their parents’ income tax returns, providing snapshots of where the future inmates were born and how much money their families made at the time of their birth.
While the incarceration rates for girls were much lower, the data showed a similarly sharp incarceration gradient running along the income spectrum.
They also found that children from single-parent families were about twice as likely to end up incarcerated as the children of married parents, regardless of family income.
Children of poor families are thus heavily overrepresented in the prison population. Among the cohort of prisoners age 28 to 34 the authors examined, the bottom 5 percent of families, by income, produced about 30 percent of the inmates. The bottom 20 percent of households produced nearly half the inmates, while the bottom 50 percent of families accounted for over 82 percent of inmates.
Incorporating family structure into the analysis, the study found that “boys from single-parent families in the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution — a group that makes up only 3.7 percent of the overall population” — accounted for 20 percent of all prisoners in 2012. Conversely, boys with married parents who grew up in the top 50 percent of households accounted for 46 percent of all boys but only 14 percent of men in prison.
“The neighborhoods with high incarceration rates are predominantly black, or are otherwise nonwhite, have child poverty rates that are two to three times the national average, and have male unemployment rates substantially higher than the rest of the country,” Looney and Turner found.
“Poor African American and Native American boys living in segregated communities of concentrated poverty are highly unlikely to experience anything but unemployment or incarceration or both,” wrote the Brookings Institution’s Camille Busette in an accompanying commentary. “If we add to this the fact that police disproportionally kill African American and Native American men, it is clear that the level of exclusion faced by these men is staggering.”
Other research has shown that one way out of the cycle of poverty, violence and incarceration is to get out — literally. A 2015 study by Raj Chetty and colleagues found that “moving to a lower-poverty neighborhood significantly improves college attendance rates and earnings for children who were young (below age 13) when their families moved.”
Updated 3/26/18: PUBLISHED on page A 4 of The Delaware State News of 3/26/18
Op Ed Submission – My America is Gone – 3/19/18
I grew up as a child in Dover, DE, from 1952 to 1965, when I entered college. I was 5 when we moved here in ’52 from Venezuela, where Dad was working for Shell Oil administering their field hospitals in that country. He became the administrator of what is now Bay Health Kent General. Dover was a wonderful, quiet little town, and the neighborhood we moved to, near what is now Central Middle School, was a great, safe place for kids. We played outdoors most of the time, rode out bikes everywhere, and actually knew our neighbors. There was virtually never a shooting! Drugs were not a problem of any significance (I suppose some were around, but those troubles really did not start until decades later), and our friends were friends, irrespective of politics, skin color, or where they came from.
The city in which I grew up is gone, as are thousands of similar communities across America, and it is a real shame. We have shootings every week, drugs are everywhere, and bodies (3 in the last couple of months) are turning up in the lake, Silver Lake, where we swam in the summers and played ice hockey in the winters. The joy of childhood is one casualty of many societal ills plaguing America today.
How did this happen? I suggest that our abysmally failed “war on drugs”, other “tough on crime” policies, mass incarceration – causing so many children to grow up without parents – , the decline of the influence of our churches, and the degeneration of political discourse into the rancorous political tones of today all are somewhat responsible. Other towns have even worse problems with violence, rampant drug overdoses, senseless (bigoted) hatred, and some have bombings in their neighborhoods. Witness the four recent explosions in the Austin TX area, all targeting minorities. I was not there, but bet you that Austin TX was as peaceful and pleasant as Dover DE was in the ’50s.
Let’s all tone it down! Let’s report crime to the authorities when we see it (that is not being a “snitch”, it is merely being a responsible citizen; a snitch is one who acts – rats on another – to save his/her own butt!). Let’s have sensible and fair laws and policing policies, with plenty of community engagement between police and civilians. And, OMG, let’s all tone down the terribly divisive political comments! Just tone it down!
Ken Abraham, Dover, DE 302-423-4067
I was a state employee for 6 years (1 as law clerk to the Supreme Court, and 5 as Deputy Attorney General, handling thousands of criminal cases, where I saw how lazy/incompetent too many government workers are. Since then, during the past 40 years, I have see great real personal harm done to many by too many such state and federal workers. Raise a little hell about it; they work for YOU!
I sent this out to my 250+ press email list this morning:
Letter to the Editor – Why such a huge disconnect between pay and performance? 3/19/18
A recent news article reported that 1,700 employees of the state of Delaware each were paid more than $100,000 annually, and it listed the “top ten”. Five of those ten, each being paid nearly a quarter of a million dollars annually, are in the mental health/substance abuse field. So I wonder why it is that mental health care, as it is in most states, is still in a state of tremendous neglect, virtually nonexistent in our prisons, and that drugs still are such a scourge on society! Why is there such a huge disconnect between pay and performance?
We should be a bit less “top heavy” and implement laws and policies that work. Let us reward those who actually improve the lives those who are paying them: the citizens.
Ken Abraham, former Deputy Attorney General, founder of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE, Dover, DE 302-423-4967
I get lots of letters published, and ghost write for others. THIS IS THE BEST WAY TO REACH THOUSANDS OF READERS! The keys to getting your Letter published are:
1. Keep it to 250 words or fewer.
2. Do not make it about “poor little old me”. Describe the problem as one which not only affects the individual, but is a senseless or ineffective measure, policy, or law which also harms communities and society. For example, with reentry, the obstacles make it unnecessarily difficult for the individual, but also harm society by making it hard to become productive, spending money and paying taxes in the community, and they cause increased recidivism = increased crime.
3. Speak from your heart.
4. Google any facts you are not sure about.
5. Do not name-call.
Do what works: Write that Letter!
Letter to Editor – sign name, town, state, and your phone number (they often call to verify that you sent it), and “Member of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE” if you like – shows you are part of a large group.
Send the email to yourself, and put on the “bcc” bar the email addresses for Letters to the Editor for the top ten newspapers in your state and several national ones – The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, U S A Today (google the Letter to Editor email addresses). Any questions, CALL me at 302-423-4067!
GOOGLE THE EMAIL ADDRESSES FOR “LETTERS TO THE EDITOR” FOR THE TOP TEN NEWSPAPERS IN YOUR STATE AND SAVE THAT INFORMATION FOR REPEATED USE – Some papers will print a letter from you every 2 weeks, some every 30 days, some every 90 days. They have varying policies. But if you really want to make a difference shoot them a new letter once a month! I send one out every 2 weeks.
Need a Letter on some criminal justice issue and not a great letter writer? NO EXCUSE! Email me a rough draft and call me and I’ll polish it up! firstname.lastname@example.org .
ANY QUESTIONS, CALL ME AT 302-423-4067.