Connect with us

News

Smart on crime: Part three Letting science lead the way

Bill Britt

Published

on

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Editors Note: Maria Morris, who serves as managing attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Alabama office where her primary focus is dedicated to education and juvenile justice reform in Alabama. Morris has graciously agreed to be a part of helping us understand more aspects of the criminal justice system in our series, Smart On Crime.

For years the primary consideration in corrections has been punitive. While punishment is primary to incarcerate there is an ever-growing body of evidence and science-based tools that allow for understanding what works and what does not when it comes to criminal justice. As science in crime solving has evolved into everyday tools of the trade so is the approach to prisons, parole and community-based programs.

Albert Einstein said, “A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.” This is applicable to being smart on crime.

According to Maria Morris evidence-based programs and assessment tools hold a promise of using science in criminal justice.

“One of the interesting developments over the last several years is the establishment of risk assessment tools,” says Morris. “Tools that look at the past history of a person but also the current state of an individual so that it is dynamic over time.”

In 1999 Washington State passed the Washington’s Offender Accountability Act (OAA).

In broad terms, the OAA directs the Washington State Department of Corrections to do two things:

Advertisement

Classify felony offenders according to their risk for future offending as well as the amount of harm they have caused society in the past; and
Deploy more staff and rehabilitative resources to higher-classified offenders and–because budgets are limited—-spend correspondingly fewer dollars on lower- classified offenders.
A research model was undertaken to determine the effectiveness of methods and tools used to manage inmates to achieve the goal of the state’s Legislators. According to the study, ‘When the Legislature enacted the OAA, it defined a straight-forward goal for the Act: To “reduce the risk of reoffending by offenders in the community.”

Morris says that risk assessment for offenders is one such evidence-based tool that should be considered. When a person enters the justice system there are tools that will measure where that person is in there life and what might be needed to approach some level of rehabilitation.

“What is being provided in evidence-based programs are programs such as job training, mental health treatment or anger management classes,” says Morris, These programs must match up to individuals to have a chance of success.”

The risk assessment tools look at things like criminal history, education/employment skills, financial skills, family/marital situation and other aspects of a person to evaluate what is needed but also what is warranted. In the Washington State model, if an inmate was found to have a low likelihood for success—-based on the evidence-—then few resources were allocated to that person because the cost-success ratio was too low. However, if there was a high score pointing to success, then more resources were made available to that individual.

While Morris see the value in this scientific approach she says, “This still requires buy-in from authorities.

“It is not a hidden fact that politicians and judges-—in Alabama they are politicians too-—are not often willing to “buy-in” to programs that might let a bad guy have a reduced sentence or go free.” But as Morris points out, it is science that is making the decision and not the elected official or the judge.

Morris agrees this gives cover but also cautions, “There is always going to be a certain amount of wiggle to override what the risk assessment tool says. But it is important to keep that [wiggle room] as small as possible to give the cover that the risk assessment tool gives.”

In fact in Alabama according to a long-serving judge who did not want to be quoted by name said, “We have always had room for alternative sentencing, really, many of us are just cowards and don’t want to run the risk of something bad happening and then, people point fingers at us, like we are the criminals.” He also says it hurts your chances of reelection.

Morris was asked about a hypothetical case where a woman murders her abusive husband. “In that case any assessment tool would go strongly in her favor.”

Yet there are woman sitting in Tuttwiler prison on that very charge.

Morris says that not only are evidence-based programs and assessments needed inside the prison walls, they are vital to the success of parolees and those receiving alternative sentencing.

“The other part that is really important is to have evidence-based programing for people who are going into community programs,” says Morris. “This is for people coming out of prison or being sentenced into one of these instead of only into the system.”

She says that these types of programs if done correctly are not cheep “but they are a whole lot cheeper than prison.”

Many times such programs are developed with a quasi-private-public group.

Morris sees this as a situation that can not only be a small cost savings but a big step toward prison overcrowding, “If it is possible to support those programs to the extent they can accommodate the needs of those people who don’t need to be in prison, then you can bring down the population in the prison system.”

Studies show that these options will have a better chance of success if they are science-based and not politically driven.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Advertisement

Bill Britt

Opinion | Marsh hurls accusations at Gov. Ivey. Is he barking mad?

Bill Britt

Published

on

Appearing on the latest edition of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, blamed Gov. Kay Ivey for the loss of some 450,000 jobs in Alabama.

It’s an absurd accusation that any thinking Alabamian knows is a lie. But Marsh wants to hurt Ivey because she exposed him as little more than a petty, greedy-gut politico.

Still stringing from the public humiliation he suffered after Ivey revealed his “wish list” — which included taking $200 million in COVID-19 relief money to build a new State House — Marsh is leveling a cascade of recriminations against the popular governor.

However, what is astonishing is that he would spew brazen lies about Ivey during raging loss and uncertainty caused by a worldwide pandemic. This latest fiction about Ivey creating widespread economic calamity is the unseemly work of a hollow man without empathy, wisdom or decency.

This insane assertion that Ivey is somehow responsible for thousands suffering is as cravenly evil as it is politically stupid.

“The policies that have been put in place by the [Ivey] administration have 450,000 people out of work,” Marsh told show host Don Daily.

Only a fool, a nutjob or a politician would blame Ivey for losing some 450,000 jobs, but there was Marsh, on public television, showing he is perhaps all three.

In the middle of his barking-mad comments, Marsh somehow forgot to mention that he was a member of Ivey’s Executive Committee on the COVID-19 task force and helped make the very policies he now claims led to joblessness and financial ruin for many Alabamians.

Advertisement

Marsh is merely making it up as he goes because his fragile ego, pompous character and rank inhumanity suddenly became fully displayed for every Alabamian to see when he doubled down on building a new State House.

And so, like a guy caught with his pants down, Marsh is pointing his finger at Ivey to distract from his naked indifference toward the struggles of his fellow Alabamians.

Marsh’s plan to spend the CARES Act funds on a State House and other pet projects ignored the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of the state’s most vulnerable citizens and businesses.

Ivey wanted the nearly $1.9 billion in CARES funds to go to help those individuals, businesses and institutions affected by COVID-19. Marsh wanted it as a Senate piggybank, so, he lashes out at her rather than reflect on how he and the State Senate could do better in the future.

Anyone who blames others for their failings is a weakling, not a leader.

Marsh came to power under a scheme hatched around 2008, by then-Gov. Bob Riley. The plan was to make Mike Hubbard the speaker of the House, Marsh as pro tem and Bradley Byrne as governor. Riley would act as the shadow puppet master pulling the strings of power from behind a thin curtain of secrecy, allowing him to make untold riches without public accountability.

Byrne losing the governor’s race to the hapless State Rep. Dr. Doctor Robert Bentley was the first glitch in the plan (yes, during the 2010 campaign for governor, Bentley changed his name to Doctor Robert Julian Bentley so the title Doctor would appear next to his name on the primary ballot).

The second problem for the venture was Hubbard’s avarice, which landed him on the wrong side of the ethics laws he, Riley, Byrne and Marsh championed. Of course, the ethics laws were never meant to apply to them. They were designed to trap democrats.

Marsh has floundered since Hubbard’s grand departure and with Riley sinking further into the background, it is now apparent that Riley was the brains, Hubbard the muscle and Marsh the errand boy, picking up bags of cash to finances the operation.

Gofers rarely rise to power without the public noticing they’re not quite up for the job, and so it is with Marsh that his office has shown the limits of his abilities.

Marsh wanted to control the COVID-19 relief money to spend on pork projects as he’d done in the past, but Ivey didn’t allow it. To be outsmarted is one thing, but to be beaten by a woman is too much for a guy like Marsh.

Ivey burned Marsh like a girl scout roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

Senator Marshmallow, anyone?

Poor Marsh, with his political career in turmoil, picked the wrong target in Ivey.

Some look at Ivey and see a kind, grandmotherly figure. Ivey is as tough as a junkyard dog, and now Marsh knows what her bite feels like.

Ivey didn’t cause massive job losses. COVID-19 did that. But Marsh got his feelings hurt, bless his heart, so he wants to take Ivey down.

Just like his scheme to commandeer the COVID-19 funds from the people didn’t work, his attack on Ivey won’t either.

People see Marsh for what he is, and it’s neither strong nor competent; it’s weak and ineffectual.

Marsh stood behind Ivey when she announced the state’s health orders wearing an American flag style mask.

He voted for her executive amendment.

And now he lies.

In times of real crisis, true leaders emerge while others of lesser abilities whine. Marsh is complaining. Ivey is leading.

And so the public watches as The Masked Marshmallow takes on Iron-jawed Ivey, it’s not tricky to see how this cage match turns out.

Marshmallow, down in three.

Continue Reading

Featured Columnists

Opinion | It should be clear by now: Kaepernick was right

Josh Moon

Published

on

A lot of people owe Colin Kaepernick an apology. 

If nothing else, surely the last few weeks of horrible, horrible racial incidents have left even the most adamant Kap haters reconsidering their positions.

Maybe, just maybe, they’re thinking the man has a point: That justice in this country isn’t color blind.

And that the promises of justice and equality, represented by the United States flag and anthem, often fall well short for black men in this country. 

Then again, if you didn’t understand before now, there’s a good chance that watching ANOTHER black man be choked to death in broad daylight on an American street by a police officer — as three other police officers defended him — then you’re probably not inclined to understand now. 

George Floyd, the man we’ve all now witnessed dying on a Minneapolis street, as he begged a cop to let him breathe, did not deserve to die. Hell, he didn’t even deserve to be handcuffed and tossed down on the street, much less to have a cop put his knee on his throat until he died. 

A store thought Floyd was forging a check. A person at the store called the cops. And a few minutes later Floyd was dead. 

This, in a nutshell, is why Kaepernick began his protest several years ago. Why he sacrificed his NFL career. Why he has endured the death threats and vitriol. 

Advertisement

Because these sorts of awful acts are far too common for black men in America. The prevalence of the cell phone camera has made that abundantly clear over the last several years. 

It’s hard to imagine how many of these incidents were swept under the rug in years past. Especially after the actions of other cops, district attorneys and judges to protect the dirtiest of cops have also been exposed. 

That sad fact was highlighted in the Ahmaud Arbery shooting in Georgia in February. Even with video evidence, it took a new DA and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation becoming involved before the two men who hunted Arbery down were arrested. 

All because one of the men was a retired investigator who worked for the DA’s office. 

Because why mess up the life of a white man simply for shooting one black man who might have done something at some time? 

But the deck stacking won’t stop with the arrest. 

If the murder of Greg Gunn in Montgomery back in 2016 taught us anything, it’s that the entire system is rigged to ensure the bad cops never face full justice for their crimes. 

After Gunn, who was walking home after a poker game in his neighborhood, was murdered steps from his own front porch by a white cop who thought he looked suspicious, the cop was — to the shock of almost everyone — arrested within a week and before a grand jury could rule. 

Other cops — even ones who privately admitted to me that the cop, Aaron Smith, was in the wrong — pitched one hell of a hissy fit when the arrest warrant was issued. They threatened a walk-out. They showed up to sit in the courtroom during one of Smith’s early hearings. The mayor of the city vowed to keep Smith on the payroll. 

And then the real shenanigans started. 

Judges started to bail on the case — eight in all. The Alabama Supreme Court issued an unprecedented ruling that removed a black judge from the case. The appointed judge moved the trial from 70-percent-black Montgomery to 70-percent-white Dale County. 

After all of that, and even with Smith admitting to investigators that he never had probable cause to stop, chase or shoot Gunn, the best prosecutors could do was a manslaughter conviction. 

And in one final slap to the faces of Gunn’s family, Smith was released on bond while he appeals his conviction. He’s out today, having served only a few weeks to this point for a murder committed more than four years ago. 

This is the system that black Americans must traverse in this country. One that leaves black parents rightfully concerned that the men and women all of us white people call for protection might just be the executioners of their children. 

The rights guaranteed to us in the Constitution are not based on skin color. But too often, the protection of those rights by cops, DAs and judges is. 

That’s not right. And all of us should be willing to say so. 

And maybe admit that Kaepernick had a point.

Continue Reading

Elections

DOJ defends Alabama absentee voting law

Josh Moon

Published

on

The U.S. Department of Justice isn’t using its vast powers to ensure the country’s most vulnerable people can exercise their right to vote, but is instead focusing its efforts on defending laws that clearly violate the spirit of the Voting Rights Act, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center said Tuesday. 

The comments, from SPLC senior staff attorney Caren Short, came in response to a DOJ filing in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of several plaintiffs by SPLC, The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program. That lawsuit seeks to implement curbside voting for at-risk citizens during the current pandemic and also to remove requirements for certain voter IDs and that witnesses sign absentee ballot requests. 

The DOJ filed a brief on Tuesday stating that it is the agency’s position that Alabama’s law requiring witnesses for absentee ballots does not violate Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act, because it is not a test or device as referenced in the Act. 

“It is not a literacy test, it is not an educational requirement, and it is not a moral character requirement,” Jay Town, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, said in the brief. “Nor, contrary to Plaintiffs’ position, is it a voucher requirement prohibited by Section 201’s fourth and final provision.”

Plaintiffs in the case have argued that the requirement for a single person with a pre-existing condition could pose a grave risk and reasonably lead to them being unable to safely cast a vote. In fact, they point out in the lawsuit instances in which the DOJ, prior to the Trump administration, also had argued against states requiring witnesses. 

“Our complaint demonstrates how Alabama’s witness requirement violates Section 201 of the Voting Rights Act,” said Deuel Ross, senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. “In the past, the DOJ itself has objected to witness requirements, but since February 2017, it has brought zero new voting rights cases.”

The “voucher” requirement was one of many tactics utilized by whites to prevent black citizens from voting. In practice, it required that any black person wishing to vote must first obtain the signature of a white person. 

Towns argued in the brief that there were differences between voucher requirements and the witness signatures, including that the witness doesn’t have to be a registered voter and the witness is merely signing that he or she witnessed the absentee voter filling out the ballot.

Advertisement
Continue Reading

Congress

Jones calls for investigation of potential price fixing by meatpackers

Brandon Moseley

Published

on

U.S. Senator Doug Jones, D-Alabama, has joined other U.S. senators in calling for an investigation into potential price-fixing by the nation’s four largest meatpackers.

Many farmers and ranchers claim what they get paid to produce beef has no relation to what consumers are getting charged in the stores and that the big four beef packers are pocketing the profits, while farmers suffer and consumers struggle to pay for the meat on the table.

“I am once again calling on the DOJ to investigate potential price-fixing in the meat-packing industry,” Jones said on social media. “In this time of uncertainty, we need to protect our nation’s food producers and make sure we can maintain our food supply.”

In April, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Rick Pate asked Jones and Sen. Richard Shelby to ask for an investigation.

Ag commissioner concerned about collapsing beef prices

Jones and the other Senators sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

“We have heard growing concerns from cattle producers and feeders in our states about troubling practices in the cattle industry that the COVID-19 national emergency has intensified, including allegations of market manipulation and coordinated behavior harmful to competition,” the Senators wrote.

“These serious claims have been relayed in a request for further inquiry by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) from eleven state attorneys general this past week, in addition to a number of letters from Senators on the matter,” the letter states. “We support these calls to action and request that the DOJ investigate suspected price manipulation and anticompetitive behavior in the highly concentrated cattle industry, in order to identify more clearly the factors contributing to a dire situation for producers.”

Advertisement

Four meatpackers — Tyson Foods, Cargill/Excel, JBS Swift, and National Beef — process over half of the cattle that are butchered in this country and there are a number of regulatory barriers that make entering the industry both expensive and time consuming.

“The lack of competition in the meatpacking industry has resulted in a vulnerable beef supply chain, which the current national emergency has destabilized further,” the Senators continued. “Recent pricing discrepancies between fed cattle and boxed beef are pushing cattle producers and feeders to the brink, adding to the longstanding concerns stemming from the state of competition among beef packers. Since February, we have seen live cattle prices slump by more than 18 percent, while wholesale beef prices have increased by as much as 115 percent during the same period.”

With warm weather and more people spending much more time at home rather than at restaurants demand for beef and other meat should be at all-time highs. Unfortunately, COVID-19 outbreaks at slaughter plants have meant that less cattle and hogs have been butchered. This has led to a decrease in the prices that farmers and ranchers receive for their animals while the price of boxed beef that the packers sell to the grocery stores has increased substantially.

Most Alabama cattlemen own acreage of grassland and a herd of mature cows. The cows and the bull do what they do naturally and most years each cow has one calf. The cow cares for the calf to weaning at 180 to 290 days (205 is average) and the rancher sells the calves, usually at an Alabama livestock auction. Buyers from the plains states come to purchase the 450 to 650 pound calves which are called “feeder calves.” They go west to be stockered and finished, usually at a feedlot. Finished, also called fat, cattle are then processed. Over 80 percent of the time by one of the big four packers.

Sunday afternoon, the Alabama Political Reporter spoke with Callahan Parrish, a fourth generation Cattle Farmer. Callahan also owns the Cullman Stockyard and is emerging as an Industry Advocate.

“The pandemic has unmasked many fundamental problems associated with the current beef production model,” Parrish said. “Industry infrastructure, competitive market access for our producers and food security issues top this list.”

In 2009 the average retail price of boneless sirloin steak was $5.68 per pound, In 2010 it climbed to $6.07 per pound, 2011 $6.16, 2012 $6.78, 2013 $6.78, 2014 $8.15, 2015 $8.29, 2016 $7.91, 2017 $7.93, 2018 $8.31, and 2019 $8.48.

https://www.statista.com/statistics/236803/retail-price-of-sirloin-steak-in-the-united-states/

The cattle market is a much more volatile from week to week; but in 2009 the average liveweight price for a feeder calf was approximately $.94 a pound, 2010 $.99, 2011 $1.30. 2012 $1,44, 2013 $1.51, 2014 $1.66. 2015 $2.20, 2016 $1.55, 2017 $1.32, 2018 $1.38, and 2019 $1.43. In the last 12 months the feeder calf price has traded at a high of $1.49 on October 28 all the way down to a low of $1.08 on March 31 at the height of the COVID-19 panic, the lowest the feeder calf price has been on the exchange since October 2010. Feeder cattle have rebounded somewhat in May and they closed on Tuesday at $1.33. There was a brief two year period from late 2013 to late 2015 where feeder calf prices soared. When prices crashed in the winter of 2015 (and never came back) the retail price of beef stayed high even though ranchers have gotten less than 1.61 per pound in these last five and a half years.

https://markets.businessinsider.com/commodities/feeder-cattle-price

Those are the Chicago Mercantile Exchange prices. Most Alabama cattlemen do not get those prices. The big packers are located out west in Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Nebraska as are most of the feedlots so they tend to buy southern cattle at a discount.

Using last week’s USDA feeder calf market report, Last week in Alabama steers: medium and large frame thick steers weighting 550 to 600 pounds were trading at between $1.20 per pound and $1.37 per pound last week depending on what day and what stockyard. At the same time in Oklahoma the same weight and classification of OK steer calves were trading at $1.4764. Advantage Oklahoma rancher $110.63 per calf. The same week medium and large frame average heifers weighing 550 to 600 pounds were selling for $1.01 to $1.18 per pound in Alabama. In Oklahoma they were trading at $1.248. Advantage Oklahoma rancher. The spread might not be this great every week, but in this example a rancher who sold 100 calves, 50 of them heifers and 50 of them steers would have made $9,953 more if he were the typical Oklahoma rancher versus the typical Alabama rancher. According to the same USDA report, there were some loads of 600 to 700 pound Alabama heifers trading at below $.90 a pound and we are off of the bottoms that farmers and ranchers experienced in March and April, where prices were disastrously low in many instances.

“We are seeing a lot of our local producers hurting right now due to extreme and unprecedented market volatility,” Parrish said.

This is because our cattle are not processed or fed out in Alabama; but instead are bought by order buyers and shipped out west at a profit. Some ranchers speculate that the Big Four packers are cooperating to set the spot or cash market price for cattle as low as they can, while selling beef at an artificially high price to American consumers.

Some cattlemen have asked for the DOJ to investigate. Last year, the producer group R-CALF filed suit against the Big Four packers alleging unfair trade practices. Southern cattle face continued price discrimination versus plains, Midwest, Texas, and western cattle. The Big Four packers process all the cattle out west, mix it with Mexican and Canadian calves, another move some cattlemen suggest is to drive down the spot price, and then ship all of that processed beef back to Alabama and the rest of the country. Some cattlemen have suggested that Alabama needs its own packing plants and feedlots to keep the beef closer to consumers.

“Lack of state infrastructure and increasing import issues are adding insult to this injury,” Parrish said. “Alabama Cattle Farmers, retailers and consumers are feeling the heat. As the temperature continues to rise . . . the conversations are getting louder. Not only are the conversations getting louder . . . they are getting exciting.”

We have spent a lot of time talking about agriculture & the importance of protecting our food supply, but the reality is that the farming industry is being left behind & they stand a lot to lose during this pandemic. We must prioritize our farmers & protect our food supply chain.

(Original writing and research by Montgomery area writer Amy McGhee contributed to this report. McGhee’s parents own and operate an Angus beef cattle farm in Tennessee.)

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Authors

Advertisement

The V Podcast

Facebook

Trending

.