The North Shore Limited departed Manhattan at 4:50 each afternoon in 1891. A swirl of steam and soot enveloped the crowds on the platform. The cacophony and oppressive heat were the same for the woman who had packed her meager possessions in a tenement on the Lower East Side and the one who had directed her maid to prepare her trunks in the parlor of a Fifth Avenue mansion. But the well- to-do booked tickets for a Wagner Palace Car, a serene mahogany and brocade escape from the overflowing second-class and dismal third-class options. A woman of means traveling alone booked four seats across two upholstered benches, an expensive but necessary signal of her propriety.
Before sunset on the second day, the train arrived in Chicago. It was not unusual to see a lady disembark alone in Great Central Depot, a fire-scarred structure that could not rival its grand New York counterpart. But for a few, their destination was still farther west. After an overnight stay in Chicago, they boarded the Illinois Central, speeding across the prairie toward the setting sun. As the train approached its final destination in the early hours of the next day, those on board became watchful, casting sidelong glances at any unfamiliar woman not accompanied by a man. For her, there could be only one reason to undertake this 1,500-mile trip: She had come to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for a divorce.
Throughout the U.S., judges, prosecutors, and parole boards are given algorithms to guide life-altering decisions about the liberty of the people before them, based mainly on perceived risks to “public safety.” At the same time, people accused and convicted of crimes are given little support. With underfunded public defense in most of these contexts, and no right to counsel in others (e.g., in parole decisions), the system is stacked against them. We wanted to find out what would happen if we flipped the script and used algorithms to benefit people entangled in the legal system, rather than those who wield power against them.
In a recent peer-reviewed study, the ACLU and collaborators at Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pennsylvania asked a simple question: Can one predict the risk of the criminal justice system to the people accused by it, instead of the risks posed by the people themselves?
The answer seems to be yes, and the process of creating a tool like this helps lay bare broader issues in the logic of existing risk assessment tools. While traditional risk assessment tools consider risks to the public such as the likelihood of reoffending, the criminal legal system itself poses a host of risks to the people ensnared in it, many of which extend to their families and communities and have long-term repercussions. These include being denied pretrial release, receiving a sentence disproportionately lengthy for the given conviction, being wrongfully convicted, being saddled with a record that makes it impossible to obtain housing or employment, and more.
Read the full story at ACLU.
The First Step Act (FSA), which among other things, provided federal prisoners a way to effectively lower their prison terms through participation in programs and productive activities. The law, signed by President Donald Trump in December 2018, meant that some prisoners could reduce their prison terms by up to one year. However, the rollout of the program has resulted in men and women remaining in prison well beyond what their release dates would be under FSA.
When the Federal Register published the final FSA rule on January 19, 2022, it also included comments from congressmen who expressed the need for clarity of the law. One such comment was “The Bureau does not have the resources to implement the FSA Time Credits program appropriately.” Over four months since that statement, it has proven to be true.
According to insiders at the BOP, prisoners and former executive staff with connections to the current state of the BOP as it relates to the FSA, there is “mass confusion at every institution,” and that the Designation and Sentence Computation Center, the entity ultimately responsible for calculating sentence duration, is backed up and the programming is not in place for FSA. The result is that thousands of prisoners are incarcerated beyond their legal release date.
Read the full story at Forbes.
For all who gave their yesterdays, a thank you today – on this Memorial Day!
If you even half-paid attention in high school history class, you might be forgiven for thinking that federal courts are the most powerful courts in the land. After all, they’ve been responsible for landmark rulings about everything from abortion rights to school desegregation — disputes so well-known, the cases are household names: Roe v. Wade. Brown v. Board of Education. Despite those high-profile decisions, when it comes to protecting prisoners’ rights and avoiding executions of innocent people, the top courts in the land are oddly impotent.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in South Dakota has ruled a sex crime conviction doesn’t require that there’s an actual victim.
The court last week upheld the conviction of a man stemming from a sting operation during the 2017 Sturgis motorcycle rally.
San Francisco and Sioux Falls might seem to share little beyond an abbreviation, but the cities wrestle with a common problem: homelessness. In the Bay Area, a persistently high unhoused population has long been a municipal crisis. But shelters are near capacity in South Dakota’s largest city, too, and the growing number of unhoused people on the streets has emerged as an issue in the current mayoral race.
When the Justice Department announced in February that it had seized bitcoin worth $3.6 billion, it was more than just the largest recovery of alleged crime proceeds in U.S. history. It was the biggest signal yet that cryptocurrency, once seen as attractive to criminals for its supposed shield of anonymity, may not be so crime-friendly after all.
Just a few years ago, the federal government barely knew what to do with cryptocurrency. Now, most federal law enforcement agencies employ experts adept at tracing it. Investigators are using a new generation of sophisticated software that harnesses big data to link transactions to people, taking advantage of the fact that most cryptocurrency transactions are recorded in public ledgers that can never be erased.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that became law in November 2021 not only lays out a spending plan for the repair of roads and bridges but also requires vehicle safety standard revisions and research as well as safety component additions over the next one to three years.
As attorney Michael R. Lemov points out in an opinion piece published by The Hill, the law within its 1,039 pages contains “little-noticed sections designed to implement a reduction in the rising toll of automobile crashes, deaths and injuries.”