Articles Tagged with criminal

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The phrase “Mass Incarceration” has become synonymous with a failed criminal justice system, but millions of people were incarcerated years before we acknowledged mass criminalization.[1]  The data show that the prison population had bloated before policymakers and the public recognized it was out of control.

In the 1970s, the U.S. decided that prison was the answer to combating crime, however, studies show that the high incarceration rate didn’t reduce serious crimes. Between 1993 and 2001, the prison population increased by 66%, but serious crime only reduced by 2-5%. During the same period, the U.S. spent $53 billion to support imprisonment policies – a high price of using many tax dollars for a low reduction in crime.[2]

Although the U.S. was incarcerating at exorbitant rates, credit goes to author, Michelle Alexander, for publishing prison facts in her 2010 book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Shocking statistics included in The New Jim Crow increased its popularity as readers shared the discoveries on social media encouraging advocates to pressure policymakers for prison reform.

iStock_000005542834XSmall (2).jpgUnmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) revolutionized the War in Afghanistan. These drones allowed the military to perform a variety of operations while reducing the threat of injury to human soldiers. In the battlefield, it may be somewhat easy to rationalize the use of UAVs, especially against a foreign terrorist threat. Your feelings might dramatically change when you think about your local police force using UAVs to fight crime. This idea may seem a little bizarre and unrealistic. However, there are Texas counties currently allowing Law Enforcement to use UAVs and others who are engaging in UAV pilot programs.

UAVs enable the police to conduct unmanned surveillance over public and private areas. The main focus of UAV surveillance is to monitor or observe criminal behavior. While monitoring public areas is seemingly reasonable, the invasion of privacy UAVs present is cause for concern. For example, the Austin police department used a UAV in 2009. The Austin police department was executing a search warrant on a suspect’s house. The suspect was a drug trafficker and was believed to be heavily armed and dangerously. The police were concerned that the suspect was capable of shooting down a helicopter, so they conducted a sweep of the property with a UAV before executing the search warrant. This UAV, called the Wasp, was particularly special because it was the size of a small bird, which would be undetectable to the unwary eye.

Feelings about drones differ amongst Texas counties. Currently, Harris County does not to take part in UAV pilot programs. It initially participated in a UAV program, but it withdrew its participation in 2007. On the other hand, Montgomery County has a $300,000 Shadowhawk helicopter drone (developed from Vanguard Industries). It is a 50 pound helicopter with an extremely powerful camera mounted in the front with infrared capabilities. Assigned to man this drone are Sgt. Melvin Franklin, a licensed pilot, and Lt. Damon Hall, who is head of the department’s crime lab and crime scene unit. Montgomery County paid with this money with a homeland security grant. This drone is intended “to assist the County in a number of critical operations to include emergency management, search & rescue, and S.W.A.T. operations.”

nursing certification.jpgOften well-meaning but misinformed opponents of marijuana law reform suggest that certain statistics imply marijuana is the cause for huge numbers of emergency room visits. One example of such an opponent is a former deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Scott Burns. The deputy director cited that patients reported marijuana as a factor in emergency room visits at a rate that rose 176 percent since 1994. Further, to support the view that marijuana should remain illegal, Burns points to the fact that marijuana as a factor in emergency room visits now surpasses heroin. More recently, Deni Carise, a substance abuse clinician, used the fact that in 2011 marijuana “was involved” in 455,668 emergency room visits nationally to argue against marijuana legalization.

Such statistics seem to highlight good reasons for the government to maintain the status quo of marijuana prohibition. A meaningful look, however, into the data from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), the source for such emergency room statistics, reveals the full picture. A fuller understanding about the role marijuana plays in emergency room visits demonstrates marijuana is not actually a major cause for emergency room visits.

While statistics from DAWN do indicate increasing numbers of people mention marijuana when visiting an emergency room, such a mention of marijuana only means the patient reported he or she had previously used marijuana, not that the marijuana use led to the emergency room visit. In interests of fully disclosing all past drug use, harmful or not, to the health care provider, patients routinely share such information. A notable increase of marijuana use reports in emergency rooms is not unique to the substance of marijuana. Since the late 1980s, and because of improved federal reporting methods, the overall amount of drug use mentions has risen significantly in emergency room visits.

iStock_000020746027_ExtraSmall.jpgIn 2007 Jennifer Boatwright, a Houston resident, was traveling up I-59 with her boyfriend and two small children to visit family when she was pulled over in the tiny Texas town of Tenaha. Cops searched Boatwright’s car and, after finding over $6,000 she had placed in the car’s console so that she could purchase a used car on her trip, accused her of a being a drug runner. Tenaha officials then gave Boatwright two options: face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case she would go to jail and her children would be turned over to CPS. Or sign the cash over to the city of Tenaha under a process known as asset forfeiture, and get back on the road with no charges. Fearing for her children, Boatwright signed away her hard-earned cash.

In another equally upsetting example from Philadelphia, an elderly couple’s breakfast was interrupted by a knock on the door: it was the police, telling them that their home had been seized and that they had ten minutes to gather five decades worth of belongings and get out. Police auctioned off their home because the couple’s grandson had allegedly made several marijuana deals on their front porch.

The basic principle behind asset forfeiture is this: cash or property gained through illegal means, such as drug money or stolen property, does not rightfully belong to the owner and therefore authorities are entitled to confiscate the items and direct the proceeds toward fighting crime. State and federal laws allow asset forfeiture in instances as diverse as white collar fraud, illegal gambling, prostitution, cockfighting, poaching, drug dealing, gang activity and drag racing. Under most laws, you don’t have to be proven guilty or even arrested in order for asset forfeiture to occur. Once a victim is coerced into asset forfeiture, getting their assets back is an unlikely venture involving complex proceedings and high attorney costs, with the defendant often bearing the burden of proving their innocence.