Crime

The costs of imprisonment

When I was involved in prison-reform efforts with ex-offenders, as an activist in courts and as a critic in articles and books decades ago, I was surprised to find that conservative judges were better at enforcing change than liberals. They were, it seemed, more comfortable exercising power once they were convinced of the injustices demonstrated.

That irony — one would presume that liberals were more humane — was apparent again recently when reports showed that conservative states had cut prison populations by way of programs diverting prisoners, in appropriate cases, to community-based programs rather than incarceration. The motives were founded on economic grounds; the costs of incarceration were escalating with no reduction in crime rates to warrant them. The wisdom of the result is more important than the ground for getting to it. So we should celebrate getting to a better place in the criminal justice system.

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From Casey Anthony to Wall Street: Crime pays

Soon Casey Anthony will be a wealthy woman while her child, with her mouth and nose closed shut by duct tape, her body stuffed in a bag with vermin eating at her corpse, rests in peace, in heaven, with God.

Once again, crime pays. Nobody will be punished for the death of this child. But who was punished for their role in the scandals on Wall Street? Who will go to jail for them? Who was punished for committing what is now agreed was illegal torture? Who will go to jail for that? I could go on. You get the idea.

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No justice, no peace of mind

Casey Anthony.

Do we yet have another O.J. Simpson-like case in which someone who is obviously guilty walks free, to the dismay of so many?

The little that we do know as fact is confounding at best. The mother does not report her child missing for a month; that in and of itself is unimaginable. When it finally is reported, she relates that the child was abducted by a housekeeper who does not exist, then it somehow becomes her wealthy boyfriend who abducted the child — until it becomes clear that he did not exist.

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The world meets Jessica Mah

Say what you like about Whitey and Catherine, but they went in the right direction, to southern California. And in the end they made a handsome couple in that excellent and iconic courtroom drawing, their final portrait together; Whitey Bulger with that distinguished beard, like a South Boston white-trash Lawrence Ferlinghetti, his handsome mistress framed slightly behind and to his creative left side. The west is the best, and the best final destination for those of us who, like Whitey’s family and mine and Tip O’Neill’s and five generation of Kennedys, lived virtually on the same block since we arrived from Ireland these last 150 years.

Whitey’s epic journey might well be the last for the Southie Irish and all of Europe’s “huddled masses” who made the Atlantic crossing. It might even mark the end of Europe, as long-term economic forecasters have been suggesting; the final death cough of life as we learned it in Europe: 500 years, described by Jacques Barzun from “Dawn to Decadence,” with Whitey and Catherine at the very end sunning in Santa Monica.

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Getting smart

Half a century ago, President Lyndon Baines Johnson set up a National Crime Commission to study the broad and confounding subject of crime in America. A useful report was published in 1967, but for the most part the systemic reforms hoped for by the sponsors and participants have not occurred. In fact, many of the problems analyzed then still exist, and some have gotten worse.

That was the subject of a new report, Smart on Crime, just released by the Constitution Project. It included contributors from a collation of 40 interested organizations that run the ideological range from the ACLU to the Cato Institute to the Open society, ABA, PEW Center and others. Its aim is to present Congress and the administration with an agenda for reform of the criminal justice system, and hopefully to provide a proposed national commission now before the U.S. Senate with a jumpstart of recommendations.

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A nation’s need for blame

There are times when even the capture of the culprit fails to quench people’s thirst for justice. This usually happens in the wake of horrific, mind-bending crimes like the shooting in Arizona last weekend that killed six people and injured scores of others. The gunman’s intended target, a congresswoman, has barely escaped with her life, for now.

But in the heated aftermath — sparked by comments by the Tucson sheriff, who was a close friend of two of the victims — there seems to be a wider indictment being brought by some in the media. He suggested that a general political climate of intolerance caused these events.

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Sarah Palin tosses gasoline on flames

Whatever else you say about Sarah Palin, she’s got the worst sense of timing in politics today.

Just when the nation is yearning for healing, the same morning members of Congress prepare to gather in prayer, just hours before the president goes to Tucson to deliver a message on the need for us all to pull together — Palin decides to pour more gasoline on the flames of hatred and division she has already ignited.

It would have been so easy, and appropriate, for Palin to say what so many other public figures have said. Something like: In light of Saturday’s tragic shooting, it’s important that we all do a little soul-searching about the political rhetoric. I certainly never meant anybody any harm when I put up that map with “bull’s-eyes” on it (her word), but today, looking back, I realize it was probably inappropriate. And I wouldn’t do it again.

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The psychopathic rhythms of everyday American life

Reporting on Jared Loughner’s music choice, The Washington Post’s J. Freedom du Lac says a lone video is listed as a “favorite” of the shooter, Drowning Pool’s “Bodies.” “ ‘Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor,’ the singer barks in a refrain that carries an eerie echo in the context of the shooting rampage Saturday in Tucson,” he writes. David Horowitz, executive director of the First Amendment group Media Coalition, told the reporter, "it seems like a real stretch" to suggest that "Bodies" had anything to do with the shooting.

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A few early reflections

I am heartbroken by the tragedy in Arizona and wish the best for everyone affected by the shootings, those grieving and those recovering from the horror of Saturday.

In my column Thursday I will touch on the broader issues this has raised, but I will briefly take note here of how this event is already affecting the 2012 presidential race. Let's start by agreeing that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) is not remotely responsible for the actions of mentally unstable people and should not be the central focus of the discussion over how to arrive at a more measured and reasoned debate. Do comments like "don't retreat, instead RELOAD" coarsen the political discourse? Absolutely. Is she the only person who talks that way? No way.

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From the minds of babes

Like everyone in America, my three granddaughters in Atlanta were troubled by the recent murders and mayhem created in Arizona by a crackpot using a Glock. So much so, they wrote to their president seeking his leadership in this troubling violent world they find fearsome. “I don’t think there should be guns. People would have to figure out there [sic] problems without hurting each other,” Anabel wrote.

These aware children have genuine cares and fair questions. “I hope these violent things stop. What can we do about this?” Cait earnestly asked her country’s leader.

Joanna inquired of her president, “If you have any good ideas, please write me back.” She noted, “It’s not OK to shoot people,” along with reporting that she is sorry about what happened to Gabrielle Giffords.

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