Monthly Archives: July 2007

Troubled juvenile prison may stay open

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 Two years ago, Connecticut’s youth prison was in a boatload of trouble. It was on the verge of closing, promised new Gov. Rell. Ah, not so fast. With CT’s new juvenile jurisdiction law set to go into effect in 2010, the prison may very well get a reprieve.

The $57 million facility, which houses all but the state’s most serious juvenile offenders, is gearing up for a likely increase of its population, and an infusion of about $40 million a year.

Some say that the youth prison’s possible revival has been the result not only of the new law, but also of the power of the unions that represent the 300 employees who staff the place. Others cite a lack of resolve among politicians to shut down a boondoggle, while some point to fiscal and political realities, saying it would cost much more to close the prison and start again elsewhere.

That’s all well and good if the prison is in the same state it was in two years ago. Click on that first link above to be directed to studies about the prison and the awful conditions it existed in. However, things seem to have changed.

The building where the teenage offenders with the worst behavior problems had been housed in drab rooms, with slits for windows, has been converted into a youth center complete with arcade games and an art therapy room. Cinderblock cells once likened to “tiger cages” by Donald E. Williams Jr., a Democrat from Brooklyn, Conn., who is president pro tempore of the Senate, now have better shelving, desks, bulletin boards and carpet.

“It used to be a hellhole,” said Fred Phillips, a longtime youth services officer at the prison. What is there today, he said, “is a great improvement.”

Jeanne M. Milstein, the child advocate, said the prison, which opened six years ago, has improved enough that in April she agreed to shift the monitor she had installed there for the previous two years to a psychiatric hospital for children nearby.

Better, but still not optimal. After all, these are still kids. There’s still a chance with some of them. Studies have shown that kids that are incarcerated in adult prisons or adult-like prisons have a greater rate of incarceration as adults. We need to rehabilitate and re-integrate. Prisons are useless for that.

Jeanne Milstein still favors closing the Middletown prison and opening smaller institutions for young offenders scattered around the state, so they can stay connected to their communities.

But, she said, “I don’t think there’s the political will right now by the legislature to close it.”

I agree. It’s disappointing, but one step at a time.

For more coverage of Connecticut’s trouble with juveniles and juvenile-related posts and legislation, see these previous posts:

Gov. Rell proposes first changes

The State sure does move fast. Gov. Rell today proposed some changes in light of the recent Cheshire tragedy. She has asked parole to re-classify those convicted of Burglary in the 2nd Degree as “violent” offenders, which means they will now be ineligible for parole until they have served 85% of their sentence.

She also said that the Board of Paroles will begin reviewing those convicted of Burglary 2nd who are already out on parole (38 in number). Parolees with convictions for night-time burglaries and burglaries where the home was occupied will also be subject to random night-time check-ins by their parole officers. The reasoning, echoed by some, is that a burglar who enters a home at night or has knowledge that the house is occupied has a violent strain.

Burglary II is classified as any home burglary committed at night or when a home is occupied.

“Burglary has long been considered a generally non-violent offense, but those who commit these crimes at night or when a home is occupied are far more likely to encounter a homeowner — meaning the chances of violence are increased exponentially,” Rell said.

Does this mean that if an inmate can show that he definitively knew that the home was unoccupied and only then entered, is not violent?

The governor also said that certain burglars eligible for parole will undergo psychiatric evaluation and that the Board of Pardons and Paroles will receive more information from police and the judicial system.

For those who are interested, Burglary 1st, Burglary 2nd with a firearm and Burglary 3rd with a firearm are already “violent” offenses.

Lipstick on pigs, fact vs fiction and damage done to ID reform

I’ve been remiss in not mentioning EyeID’s terrific coverage of the debunking of a highly-publicized study out of Illinois that claimed to have raised questions about some of the procedural reforms being adopted around the country to improve the handling of eyewitness evidence.

The study, taking the form of a pilot project spearheaded by Chicago police across three counties, purported to reveal that current identification procedures protected against mistaken identifications better than reforms (PDF) proposed by respected social scientists, based on extensive research on eyewitness memory. In other words, the Chicago police were happy to report that, notwithstanding the 19 wrongful convictions recorded in Illinois that resulted from faulty eyewitness evidence, everything was just fine and no pesky (scientific) reforms were needed.

Two immediate red flags: The report was not subjected to peer review and it was authored by a lawyer for the Chicago Police Department. EyeID notes sadly that the study’s findings “were trumpeted on the front page of the New York Times and have since served as serious impediments to reform in Legislatures around the country.”

Then some scientists decided to take a look. They released their own analysis [pdf] of the CPD report and found

“the design [of the Illinois study] guaranteed that most outcomes would be difficult or impossible to interpret,” and the study’s fundamental flaw has “devastating consequences” with respect to its scientific merits.

Then the Chicago Tribune runs this curious story, suggesting that the best lineup format has yet to be identified. This is utter nonsense. As EyeID rightly notes,

The first problem is that the “disagreement” is one of conflicting agendas, not unresolved questions of science. Scientists, with their well-known bias in favor of facts, are in general agreement that sequential lineup procedures are less likely to put innocent people in prison. Every peer reviewed study on the topic bears out this finding. A meta-analysis (PDF) was conducted by leading psychologists to extrapolate the comparative accuracy rates of the two types of procedures, and the clear finding was that sequential lineups are far less likely to result in an innocent person being identified. When “moderator variables” are considered, the two methods are also largely equivalent in their likelihood of bringing about a correct selection of the actual perpetrator, when he is present in the lineup. The general consensus among scientists is that “sequential lineups are superior.”

To the extent that there is disagreement on this point, it is not a disagreement among scientists or any sort of conflict in empirical findings. Rather, it is an objection by prosecutors at the audacity of scientists who dare to suggest that science should inform criminal justice policy. After all, the Chicago Police Department has been doing lineups for decades. Who are these scientists to tell them their procedures are flawed? It’s like a bunch of M.D.s telling cigarette manufacturers that smoking causes cancer.

While the Illinois study may have stalled ID reform in some states, or made others question the validity of their pilot programs in the short term, it has also resulted in an explosion of interest in the area of ID reform. This can only be a good thing. As more and more people become aware of these proposed reforms and there are more studies confirming their effectiveness, states will have to take notice and ID reforms will gain more acceptance. As the study I reported about earlier noted, “the leading cause of the wrongful convictions was erroneous identification by eyewitnesses, which occurred 79 percent of the time.” It should be in everybody’s interests to significantly reduce that number.

Monday Morning Jumpstart

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Here are some stories from last week to make this Monday morning more palatable:

Enjoy!

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Lying lies and the jurors that tell them

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Look, we know juries are an enigmatic group. Take a look at Anne Reed’s deliberations and you’ll get the idea. But how brazen did you expect them to be? A fellow defense lawyer explains:

I did this first degree murder case last fall. My client committed the homicide. The defense was not guilty by reason of mental illness. My client got convicted, despite his really tragic history and diagnoses, and despite the fact that I came this close to getting the state’s dr. to admit that, indeed, my client met the statutory criteria.Some of the jurors were interviewed for some law day article. And one of the jurors said (who sat on my case) that he actually had a bias against mental health defenses, and did not think the mental health defense excused the conduct. AND he said no-one asked that question during jury selection.

Well, guess what? I did the v.d. I spent pretty much the whole time talking about mental health issues, and the venire folks were all talking back. And I asked that very question (in more than one way) and said juror did not respond. Another prospective juror indicated he did have reservations, and I spent a lot of time with him and then tried to get him excused for cause (failed, of course).

THEN (after being duly appreciative of the honesty of the venireperson), I asked who agreed with that person, and the guy who ended up on my jury, and who made the statements in the interview, actually indicated that he did not have such biases because he had a mentally ill person in his family, and he would certainly want to be more compassionate and fair. He lied to me. I cannot put any other construction on events, having (finally) received the appellate transcripts for the case.

It’s one thing to lie to get on a jury (although most lie to get off). It’s another to lie, then play like you didn’t, because no one asked you, when it’s damn simple to just get a transcript and prove you wrong.

What’s the point, you ask? I don’t know. It just got me steamed up enough to post about it.