This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: Prison Policy Initiative highlights the “promise – and peril” of Biden’s criminal justice reform platform. As he prepares to translate proposals into policy, the piece outlines possible paths forward – and potential pitfalls – on some of Biden’s loftiest criminal justice reform goals, from reducing the prison population to expanding funding for reentry, addiction and mental health treatment, and community-based alternatives to incarceration. A piece from HuffPost focuses on Los Angeles, a city with a progressive reputation but a history of being surprisingly tough on crime. Although various law enforcement unions poured nearly $10 million into LA County’s criminal justice-related races this election cycle, anti-carceral candidates and policies won across the board – victories that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. The outcome, activists say, is the result of grassroots organizing by Black Lives Matter and allied groups who have worked tirelessly for years to mobilize the community around racial justice demands. And a piece from the American Prospect also focuses on Los Angeles and BLM as “electoral powerhouse,” highlighting the successful messaging, fundraising, and voter education efforts that contributed to both the ouster of DA Jackie Lacey and the passage of Measure J, the “first truly successful attempt at comprehensive police-funding reform in the nation.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: USA Today reports from FCI Oakdale in central Louisiana, where eight inmates died last spring in one of the earliest and most lethal coronavirus outbreaks in the federal BOP. A review by the Justice Department’s inspector general, published earlier this week, found that prison officials failed to isolate inmates who tested positive for the virus and did not inform staff who were interacting with sick inmates. Some inmates who tested positive were left in their housing units for up to six days without being isolated, and staff who supervised them were not given proper PPE. As of this week, some 3,300 federal inmates are currently infected with COVID-19, while nearly 18,000 more across the federal system have recovered. And Reuters takes a deep dive into one American city’s struggle to police its police. Joseph Ferrigno, a white police officer in Rochester, New York, already had a long history of misconduct when he shot an unarmed Black man three times in the back during a traffic stop in 2016. The victim, Silvon Simmons, who woke up in the hospital on a ventilator and unable to speak, was charged with attempted murder. His story, recounted in three parts, is a study in the kinds of police practices and policies that have driven mass protests across the United States – and in the enormous challenges cities face when trying to enact change.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from the New Yorker focuses on Vallejo, California, where police kill civilians at the second-highest rate of any city in the country – and where officers who use deadly force are more often rewarded with promotions than held accountable. Vallejo cops have terrorized the community for decades, costing local taxpayers tens of millions in legal settlements, while the powerful union that represents them has all but taken over the city government, crushing any effort at reform. Now, elected officials say they’ve finally had enough and have moved to rein in the police. And two pieces from The Marshall Project center on the myth of the “superpredator.” The first explores the origins, impact, and enduring legacy of the term, which was coined 25 years ago this month to describe teenagers prone to violent crime who would soon take over the streets. There was never any factual basis for the term – by the mid-90s, juvenile arrests for murder, and juvenile crime in general, had already started to fall – but as fodder for fearmongering campaign speeches and headline-grabbing magazine features, “superpredator” was a tragic success – with an enormous, and lasting, human tool. The second piece focuses on the case of Derrick Hardaway, who, at the age of 14, took part in the gang-related murder of an 11-year-old boy. The crime occurred in the mid-90s, at the height of “superpredator” hysteria; the three boys involved, all of whom were Black, became exhibits in the sensational media myth of the remorseless, incorrigible teen killer. Hardaway was tried as an adult and sentenced to 45 years in prison, 20 of which he served before his release in 2016.
And in culture/true crime: The New York Times reviews “Crazy, Not Insane,” HBO’s Alex Gibney-directed documentary about the pathology of crime. The film follows Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a clinical psychiatrist who has dedicated her career to the study of violent criminals. Through conversations with Dr. Lewis, excepts of her writing, and archival video, including footage of her interviews with notorious serial killer Arthur Shawcross, the film explores the age-old question of why certain people kill – starting with Dr. Lewis’s theory that murderers are made, not born. KQED interviews architect Deanna Van Buren, co-founder of the Oakland-based nonprofit firm Designing Justice, which works to “end mass incarceration by building infrastructure that addresses its root causes: poverty, racism, unequal access to resources, and the criminal justice system itself.” And Hyperallergic highlights Barring Freedom, a traveling art exhibition and online event series about prisons, policing, and justice. Organized around the theme of “Visualizing Abolition,” the project aims to “challenge the dominant ways people see and understand the complex nexus of policing, surveillance, detention, and imprisonment that makes up the nation’s prison industrial complex.”