This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: A piece from The Intercept looks at the criminal justice reforms – decreasing prison and jail populations, improving conditions, and reducing new prosecutions of low-level nonviolent offenses – that are now being expedited due to the spread of coronavirus. Advocates have pushed for these reforms for decades; now, “swift changes from prosecutorial offices across the country raise the question: Why not earlier? And with those changes in place, can things go back to the way they were?” A piece from the Marshall Project explains why county jails are so important in the fight against coronavirus: with more than 200,000 people flowing into and out of jails every week, the spread of the virus poses great risks not only for the detained, but also for surrounding communities. A piece from the Atlantic makes the “public-safety case” for jail releases; and a piece from The Appeal challenges state governors and the president to use their authority to grant commutations and reprieves to people in prison. Lastly, a piece from Slate focuses on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to reverse the state’s new bail reform law, which, if it passes, could not only drastically increase the public’s exposure to COVID-19, but also doom the long-planned closure of the Rikers Island jail complex.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: The Texas Tribune reports that as the coronavirus continues to spread in Texas’ two biggest county jails, Governor Greg Abbott has blocked the release of thousands of inmates, issuing an executive order that bars those accused or previously convicted of violent crimes from being released without paying bail; a piece from the Texas Observer argues that COVID-19 has “laid bare the fundamental inequalities that a cash bond system creates.” The Intercept reports that in New York, Rikers Island prisoners are being offered $6 an hour – a fortune by prison labor standards – and personal protective equipment if they agree to help dig mass graves. And a piece from the Trace highlights the dangerous combination of widespread economic strain, a surge in firearm sales, and shelter-in-place orders – an especially toxic mix for victims of domestic violence.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from the New Republic focuses on the fatal police shooting of a ten-year-old boy in South Jamaica, Queens in 1973. In describing the incident, first to other cops and then in court, the two officers involved “vacillated between absolute certainty and extraordinary vagueness”: they were certain the “suspect” had been armed, certain they’d been compelled to shoot in self-defense, but on all other counts, they were “terrifically inexact.” Through the lens of this tragic case, the piece focuses on the “poisonous contradictions” of coptalk: the series of euphemisms, like “officer-involved shooting,” that serve to make obscure what could be clear, and that ultimately undermine the relationship between civilians and police.
And in culture/true crime: The New York Times takes a deep dive into Kim Kardashian West’s “prison-reform machine.” Over the past two years, the reality TV star has become an unlikely force in the world of criminal justice reform: she has successfully lobbied President Trump, spoken with governors and legislators, written letters in support of clemency petitions, and is even working towards a law degree. The piece examines the fraught relationship between Kardashian West’s two worlds, celebrity and activism, which combine in “Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project,” a two-hour documentary airing this Sunday on Oxygen.