This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: the Washington Post reports that on Tuesday, voters in Northern Virginia turned out to elect an “unprecedented” swath of reformer prosecutors. Four candidates running on explicitly progressive, anti-mass incarceration platforms won races for commonwealth’s attorney offices in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William counties – among the most populous in the state. Their wins have been called a “sea change” for Northern Virginia and beyond, as the elections will likely push the Virginia state prosecutor’s association to the left on issues ranging from the death penalty to cash bail to cooperation with immigration authorities. And Vox reports that Kentucky’s new governor-elect, Democrat Andy Beshear, is poised to sign an executive order that would restore voting rights to at least some people with felony records after they’ve served their sentences. Kentucky has one of the strictest felony disenfranchisement laws in the country, banning ex-felons from voting for life. Beshear’s executive order would potentially increase the state’s voter rolls by more than 100,000.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: a new investigation by the New York Times has found that alcohol breath tests, a “linchpin of the criminal justice system,” are often unreliable. The machines are highly sensitive and require careful calibration and upkeep in order to work properly; the investigation found that due to human error, lax oversight, and improper maintenance, the tests often yield skewed results. The consequences of the legal system’s reliance on breath tests are far-reaching: “People are wrongfully convicted based on dubious evidence… And when flaws are discovered, the solution has been to discard the results — letting potentially dangerous drivers off the hook.” And in a new piece for The Atlantic, John J. Lennon examines the lasting impacts of the 1994 crime bill, which has prevented many incarcerated people from pursuing higher education while behind bars, creating “a culture of ignorance, violence, and hopelessness.”
In complex crime storytelling: a new piece from The Atlantic looks at the case of Ganave Fairley, a longtime resident of San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood who was captured on video stealing Amazon packages left on neighbors’ porches. Photos of Fairley, taken from video surveillance apps like Ring or Nest, were posted “Wanted”-style on Nextdoor, where they blew up as evidence of San Francisco’s “out of control” property crime rates. The story highlights the complexities of race and class relations in a liberal, rapidly gentrifying city that is home to both extreme poverty and extreme wealth.
And in culture/true crime: the New York Times profiles Christina Randall, a YouTube creator who talks candidly about life behind bars and the challenges of re-entry with her 400,000 subscribers. In addition to sharing prison beauty hacks – coffee grounds as mascara, Dorito dust as lipstick – Randall has also explained the “unspoken rules of prison” and interviewed a former correctional officer about corruption among prison guards. Overall, her videos offer an “empathetic, first-person perspective on incarceration.” And The Marshall Project reviews “Texas Jailhouse Music,” a new book that explores the “Golden Age of prison radio.”