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Opinion: We Need To Rethink Our Entire Criminal Justice System

July 25, 2018 Crime, Featured Comments Off on Opinion: We Need To Rethink Our Entire Criminal Justice System
Bank of holding cells at police HQ

Decades ago both major political parties both wanted to appear “tough on crime”. which led to knew legislation, sentencing guidelines, etc. The results haven’t been what was expected. Instead of a deterrent to crime, or at least rehabilitation for first offenders, we’ve created a system of mass incarceration.

Over the past four decades, our country’s incarceration rate – the number of prisoners per capita – has more than quadrupled and is now unprecedented in world history. Today, roughly 2.2 million people are behind bars in the United States, an increase of 1.9 million since 1972. We have the world’s largest prison population – with one-quarter of its prisoners but just 5 percent of the total population. And, on any given day, some 7 million people – about one in every 31 people – are under the supervision of the corrections system, either locked up or probation or parole. This vast expansion of the corrections system – which has been called “the New Jim Crow” – is the direct result of a failed, decades-long drug war and a “law and order” movement that began amid the urban unrest of the late 1960s, just after the civil rights era. It’s a system marred by vast racial disparities – one that stigmatizes and targets young black men for arrest at a young age, unfairly punishes communities of color, burdens taxpayers and exacts a tremendous social cost. Today, African-American men who failed to finish high school are more likely to be behind bars than employed. (Southern Poverty Law Center)

This highly profitable system begins early, with the School-to-Prison Pipeline:

A disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out.  “Zero-tolerance” policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while cops in schools lead to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school. Students of color are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline. (ACLU)

So I applaud St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardener for trying to change the current system — changes that will improve lives and potentially reduce crime.

“We’re looking to collaborate more with law enforcement because as law enforcement we have to say things aren’t working and we have to do things differently. So we have to change the narrative of more arrests means safer cities because St. Louis has done a great job arresting and prosecuting and we still are a less safe city,” said Gardner.

Gardner says alternatives for jail would include diversion programs. She said also wants to reform the bail system.

Gardner added she wants her office to reach out to groups that work with offenders to address the root of violence. (KMOV)

Earlier this year 60 Minutes took a look at German prisons, a stark contrast to our prisons:

In Germany, prison isn’t meant to punish, it’s designed to mirror normal life as much as possible. Among the privileges enjoyed by German prisoners: immaculate facilities, organized sports, video games and keys to their own cells. Inmates can wear street clothes and can freely decorate their own cells — keeping all sorts of household objects that American prison guards might consider dangerous. Prisoners who demonstrate good behavior can even leave prison for work or weekend getaways. Average Americans may balk at this level of freedom for convicted criminals, but prisons in Germany cost less and produce far fewer repeat offenders than U.S. prisons. (CBS News/60 Minutes)

Less cost, fewer repeat offenders. We need to admit our ‘tough on crime’ policies are as big a failure as our ‘war on drugs’ policies.

Readers were split in the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Do the crime, do ALL the time (including non-violent offenders).

  • Strongly agree 4 [22.22%]
  • Agree 3 [16.67%]
  • Somewhat agree 0 [0%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree 0 [0%]
  • Disagree 5 [27.78%]
  • Strongly disagree 4 [22.22%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 2 [11.11%]

If we truly want to do reduce crime we must rethink our approach to criminal justice, because what we’ve been doing isn’t working.

— Steve Patterson

 

Sunday Poll: Should Non-Violent Offenders Get Less Jail Time?

July 22, 2018 Crime, Featured, Sunday Poll Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Should Non-Violent Offenders Get Less Jail Time?
Please vote below

Crime continues to be a problem in St. Louis, so I thought the following recent story would make a good poll topic:

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner says she wants to see less jail time for non-violent offenders.

Gardner claims such a move could be the key to curbing violent crime, telling News 4 she believes her office and St. Louis police would be freed up to focus on more serious crime.

“We’re looking to collaborate more with law enforcement because as law enforcement we have to say things aren’t working and we have to do things differently. So we have to change the narrative of more arrests means safer cities because St. Louis has done a great job arresting and prosecuting and we still are a less safe city,” said Gardner. (KMOV)

Diversion programs &  bail reform would also be part of her plans. Please vote in the poll below.

This poll will automatically close at 8pm tonight.

— Steve Patterson

 

Opinion: Missouri Governor Eric Greitens Should Resign

February 28, 2018 Crime, Featured, Missouri, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Opinion: Missouri Governor Eric Greitens Should Resign
Mugshot of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens

The reasons why Eric Greitens should NOT resign as Missouri’s governor are few, the reasons he should are numerous. Let’s review the issue quickly:

Missouri GOP Gov. Eric Greitens was indicted on Thursday amid looming allegations of sexual misconduct and blackmail following an admission of an affair last month.

He was charged in St. Louis with a first-degree felony invasion of privacy, according to the Missouri court system. 
In a statement Thursday, Greitens denied committing any crime and instead called the situation “a personal mistake” from his time prior to taking office. (CNN)

Here’s a little more detail:

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who was swept into office in 2016 with a vow to clean up a corrupt state government, was indicted and booked Thursday on a felony invasion of privacy charge for allegedly taking and transmitting a non-consensual photo of his partly nude lover shortly before that campaign started.

It stems from a scandal that broke last month, in which Greitens was accused of threatening his lover with the photo — an allegation that isn’t mentioned in the indictment. Greitens has admitted having an extramarital affair, but has denied the rest. (Post-Dispatch)

So here’s why he shouldn’t resign:

  • An indictment isn’t proof of guilt. The prosecution & defense are both going to debate the applicability of the Missouri privacy law Greitens is accused of violating in 2015. Innocent until proven guilty by a jury of peers is an important part of our justice system.
  • This is a personal matter from before the election.

The above sound very logical until you look at it from other perspectives — here’s why he should resign:

  • Defending himself against this charge will require his full attention. Sorry Missouri…the governor is preoccupied. The day after the indictment he resigned from a leadership post with the Republican Governors Association — to focus on Missouri. More like to save his own skin.
  • The felony charge is serious. Ok. not Illinois-level serious but still possible jail time if found guilty.
  • Even some members of his own party are saying he should:

    Greitens should resign, even before his criminal case reaches a conclusion, said Reps. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, and Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville.

    “The recent news of Gov. Greitens’ indictment on a felony charge is very disturbing,” Dogan said. “While the governor is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, the governor appears to have lied to the people of Missouri when he said in January that he had not taken a photograph of a woman who was undressed, blindfolded and bound.” (Springfield News-Leader)

  • His defense team wants an early trial, like May, but the St, Louis Circuit Attorney says more time is needed to conclude the investigation and prepare the case. With state primaries in August and the midterm elections in November this could hurt GOP candidates. Hmm, perhaps he shouldn’t resign — that way neoliberal Sen. Claire McCaskill has a chance at being reelected.
  • Until a jury finds him guilty or not guilty this will prevent him from doing his job. Who will slash budgets of programs helping the poor, lower taxes for the wealthy, etc?

Here are the results from the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: Missouri Gov Eric Greitens, indicted last week, is innocent until proven guilty in court. He should only resign if found guilty.

  • Strongly agree 9 [18.37%]
  • Agree 4 [8.16%]
  • Somewhat agree 3 [6.12%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 3 [6.12%]
  • Somewhat disagree 2 [4.08%]
  • Disagree 16 [32.65%]
  • Strongly disagree 10 [20.41%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 2 [4.08%]

A little more than half think Greitens should resign.

Even if he somehow continues he’ll only be in office for one term. I think we’ll see Lt Gov Mike Parson sworn in as Governor before the midterm election in November.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers: We Need More Gun Control

February 21, 2018 Crime, Featured Comments Off on Readers: We Need More Gun Control
Grand Theft Auto’s gun store Ammu-Nation

Every time we have a mass shooting in America I’m reminded the rest of the world doesn’t have this same problem. How can we have such a major problem but nobody else does? They have firearms, are not immune to mental illness, play the same video games, etc.

After the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Australia, the country made its previously patchwork state-by-state regulations more uniform and banned some semiautomatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns. A 1987 attack in Britain led to an outright ban on the ownership of high-powered self-loading rifles and burst-firing weapons. (The Washington Post)

We have far more guns than per person than any other country. Some argue this is why they need a gun — to protect themselves from other people with guns.

Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. (Cornell Law School)

The above language is a big part of our problem.  The late 18th century language doesn’t work in the 21st century. So we work at the fringe.

From October 2017:

Democratic politicians routinely profess their fidelity to the Second Amendment — or rather, “a nuanced reading” of it — with all the conviction of Barack Obama’s support for traditional marriage, circa 2008. People recognize lip service for what it is.

Then there are the endless liberal errors of fact. There is no “gun-show loophole” per se; it’s a private-sale loophole, in other words the right to sell your own stuff. The civilian AR-15 is not a true “assault rifle,” and banning such rifles would have little effect on the overall murder rate, since most homicides are committed with handguns. It’s not true that 40 percent of gun owners buy without a background check; the real number is closer to one-fifth.

The National Rifle Association does not have Republican “balls in a money clip,” as Jimmy Kimmel put it the other night. The N.R.A. has donated a paltry $3,533,294 to all current members of Congress since 1998, according to The Washington Post, equivalent to about three months of Kimmel’s salary. The N.R.A. doesn’t need to buy influence: It’s powerful because it’s popular.

Nor will it do to follow the “Australian model” of a gun buyback program, which has shown poor results in the United States and makes little sense in a country awash with hundreds of millions of weapons. Keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill people is a sensible goal, but due process is still owed to the potentially insane. Background checks for private gun sales are another fine idea, though its effects on homicides will be negligible: guns recovered by police are rarely in the hands of their legal owners, a 2016 study found.

In fact, the more closely one looks at what passes for “common sense” gun laws, the more feckless they appear. Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.

There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment. (New York Times Opinion piece)

Repeal the 2nd amendment and adopt a new modern amendment. It’ll take generations to accomplish, if ever. In the meantime, with more guns than population, mass shootings will continue.

Results of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Agree or disagree: We don’t need more gun control legislation, just enforce existing laws/regulations.

  • Strongly agree 0 [0%]
  • Agree 8 [25%]
  • Somewhat agree 1 [3.13%]
  • Neither agree or disagree 0 [0%]
  • Somewhat disagree 1 [3.13%]
  • Disagree 5 [15.63%]
  • Strongly disagree [16 50%]
  • Need LESS gun control 1 [3.13%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

 

I hope the students will succeed where us adults have failed over and over.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers Split On Homicide Rate

January 17, 2018 Crime, Economy, Featured Comments Off on Readers Split On Homicide Rate
Vacant & burned out storefront on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in the Wellston Loop area

Last year St. Louis had more homicides than we’d seen in a couple of decades. This year we have a new police chief, hired from within, and our mayor in her first full calendar year in office. Will they be able to lower the number of homicides this year?

Of course none of us know for sure…we can only guess. My personal feeling is until we make significant progress toward addressing economic inequality we’ll continue seeing the same level of violence. Inequality — real & perceived:

Hicks and Hicks (whose relation is unclear) found that the link between conspicuous consumption and high crime rates is much stronger than the link between income inequality and crime.

That said, when spending is visible, the rates of only certain types of crimes tend to spike. Theft and vandalism, interestingly, aren’t significantly more present, but murder and assault are. These findings actually take a bit away from Gary Becker’s hypothesis, seeing as a visibly luxurious car apparently isn’t likely to inspire theft. Instead, this study adds to what’s called “strain theory,” which is another way of making sense of criminal behavior. Strain theory suggests that when poorer people perceive inequality, they feel less of a commitment to social norms and in turn come to view crime as more acceptable. The key insight the Hicks’s study provides is that when potential criminals are giving up on social expectations, they’re doing so based on information that’s visible, not information that’s password-protected. (The Atlantic)

Placing signs in your yard saying “We’ve got to stop killing each other” or calling on a deity might make you feel better — but they don’t do a thing to address the actual problems in our high-crime neighborhoods. How you ask?

From Talk Poverty in 2015:

  1. If the private market fails to provide enough jobs to achieve full employment, the government must become the employer of last resort.
  2. When growth is below capacity and the job market is slack, apply fiscal and monetary policies aggressively to achieve full employment. Right now, this means not raising interest rates pre-emptively at the Fed and investing in public infrastructure.
  3. Take actions against countries that manage their currencies to subsidize their exports to us and tax our exports to them. Such actions can include revoking trade privileges, allowing for reciprocal currency interventions, and levying duties on subsidized goods.
  4. Support sectoral training, apprenticeships, and earn-while-you-learn programs.
  5. Implement universal pre-K, with subsidies that phase out as incomes rise.
  6. Raise the minimum wage to $12/hour by 2020 and raise the overtime salary threshold (beneath which all workers get overtime pay) from $455/week to $970/week and index it to inflation.
  7. Provide better oversight of financial markets: mandate adequate capital buffers, enforce a strong Volcker Rule against proprietary trading in FDIC-insured banks, strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and encourage vigilant oversight of systemic risk in the banking system by the Federal Reserve.
  8. Level the playing field for union elections to bolster collective bargaining while avoiding, at the state-level, anti-union, so-called “right-to-work” laws.
  9. Maintain and strengthen safety net programs like the EITC and CTC, SNAP, and Medicaid.
  10. In order to generate needed revenue and boost tax fairness: reduce the rate at which high-income taxpayers can take tax deductions, impose a small tax of financial market transactions, increase IRS funding to close the “tax gap” (the difference between what’s owed and what’s paid), and repeal “step-up basis” (a tax break for wealthy inheritors).

To many of us the choice is clear — all of the above or continue to see the violence escalate.

Here is the results of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: Compared to 2017, the number of homicides in the City of St. Louis for 2018 will be…

  • significantly lower 1 [3.85%]
  • slightly lower 7 [26.92%]
  • about the same 7 [26.92%]
  • slightly higher 8 [30.77%]
  • significantly higher 2 [7.69%]
  • Unsure/No Answer 1 [3.85%]

A year from now we’ll know who was right.

“Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Why We Can’t Wait, 1964 (Newsweek)

Aresting and locking up more people isn’t the answer, providing an economic alternative to crime is the long-term solution.

— Steve Patterson

 

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