This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: Politico reports that as the coronavirus spreads into the federal prison system, the Bureau of Prisons has moved to broaden the ranks of inmates eligible to be transferred into home confinement. The BOP is now allowing inmates who have yet to serve half of their sentences to be considered for early release. The New York Law Journal reports that 51 inmates held at Rikers Island on alleged parole violations have been approved for release; and a piece from the New Yorker focuses on parole incarcerations more generally: “The stresses of COVID-19 have revealed fissures and weaknesses in all kinds of systems, including New York’s parole practices, training a spotlight on the question of why New York imprisons so many people for violating parole in the first place.” And finally, a piece from the Washington Post highlights the importance of including all inmates – not just low-level or nonviolent offenders – in conversations around decarceration. Even as state and federal officials have ramped up efforts to reduce the prison population, releasing thousands of low-level offenders and scaling back new arrests, people convicted of violent crimes have been almost entirely excluded. The idea that “people convicted of violent crimes are in a special category that deserves less compassion and harsher treatment… ignores the math, misunderstands human behavior and, perhaps most important, reflects a poor moral choice.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from the New Republic looks at the “new American death sentence”: even as public health experts have called for immediate decarceration to help slow the virus’s spread, law enforcement agencies around the country are still making low-level arrests. “Given what we know about the spread of the virus in prisons and jails, incarcerating someone right now can be tantamount to intentionally exposing them. To leave them there is a possible death sentence.” The Washington Post goes inside FCI Oakdale in Louisiana, the hardest-hit federal prison in the country. At Oakdale, where six inmates have already died, social distancing guidelines are routinely ignored, symptoms go unreported, and prisoners and staff alike fear for their lives and the safety of their families. A piece from Mother Jones shows just how fast the virus can spread in prisons and jails. And a piece from Lawfare looks at the “long history of coercive health responses in American law,” dating all the way back to 1647, when the Massachusetts colony enacted a formal quarantine law to stop the spread of smallpox.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from D Magazine focuses on the town of Highland Park, Texas, an affluent suburb of Dallas and home to a massive drug trafficking ring involving an unlikely cast of characters.
And in culture/true crime: A piece from the Daily Beast explores the unlikely comfort of true crime TV during a pandemic. Psychology Today reviews “The Definition of Insanity,” a new documentary from PBS. The film focuses on the Miami-Dade Criminal Mental Health Project, a groundbreaking organization that works to help those suffering from serious mental illness within the criminal justice system. And Variety reviews “The Innocence Files,” Netflix’s latest true crime offering. The nine-episode series focuses on the work of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that uses DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.