This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: Pieces from The Intercept and The Appeal highlight major gains for the progressive prosecutor movement in Tuesday’s Democratic primaries. In both Pima County (Tucson), Arizona, and Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor), Michigan, longtime prosecutors with punitive records retired this year, triggering competitive three-way Democratic primaries to replace them. And in both, the most progressive candidate – civil rights attorney Eli Savit in Michigan, and former public defender Laura Conover in Arizona – prevailed on Tuesday. A piece from HuffPost focuses on St. Louis, Missouri, where reformist prosecutor Kim Gardner defeated a Democratic challenger in Tuesday’s primary race, all but ensuring her reelection in the general election this fall.
This week, Illinois and Iowa also saw important steps toward criminal justice reform. The Chicago Tribune reported that last Friday, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker announced a planned overhaul of the state’s juvenile justice system, the hallmark of which is a move from “adult-style, prisonlike facilities” to smaller, “community-based” regional facilities. And the Des Moines Register reported that on Wednesday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order restoring voting rights to as many as 60,000 people with felony convictions living in the state. Iowa had been the last state to categorically deny such rights to the formerly incarcerated. The order does not require the prepayment of restitution, fines, or fees.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A new analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice reveals how COVID-19 is “turning prison terms into death sentences.” A piece from the Washington Post focuses on the federal BOP. Since the pandemic began, the BOP has released about 7,000 inmates – roughly 4% of the federal prison population. But the bureau has largely disregarded one method it has to release inmates, a procedure that seems ideally suited for the pandemic: compassionate release. Part of bipartisan legislation passed in 2018, compassionate release was intended as a way to quickly grant release to inmates who are terminally ill or for other “extraordinary and compelling reasons.” Yet even as it has released some prisoners to home confinement, the BOP has routinely opposed or ignored requests for compassionate release. A piece from the New York Times focuses on New York, where, even during the pandemic, the state has continued to jail parolees for technical violations as minor as missing curfew. Newsweek highlights the growing consensus behind prison releases during the pandemic. A recent poll found that two-thirds of Americans support moving non-violent offenders out of prison due to the risks posed by COVID-19. The conversation is different, though, when it comes to people convicted of violent crimes. KQED reports that even during the pandemic, some prison releases still pose a political risk. The piece focuses on California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to release thousands of state prisoners has come under fire from criminal justice hardliners as a threat to public safety, even as advocates say it does not go far enough. And a piece from FiveThirtyEight also focuses on the misguided fears and misconceptions surrounding violent crime. For the last 30 years, the violent crime rate has been in steady decline; but Americans consistently believe that crime is rising, and perceive our personal risk of victimization to be much higher than it really is. Even the concept of a “crime rate,” which compresses all nuance and complexity into a single statistic, can be messy and misleading.
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from New York Magazine focuses on Urooj Rahman, the young Brooklyn lawyer who now faces federal charges and a nonnegotiable sentence of 45 years to life for throwing a Bud Light bottle, filled with gasoline and lit with a toilet-paper fuse, through the broken window of a parked, abandoned cop car. Mother Jones profiles Kevin Sawyer, associate editor of the San Quentin News, who has been chronicling San Quentin’s massive COVID outbreak from the inside. And the New York Times reports from rural Sedalia, Missouri, where 25-year-old Hannah Fizer was killed by a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop in June. Though people in rural areas are killed in police shootings at about the same rate as in cities, victims’ families and activists say they have struggled to get justice or even make themselves heard.
And in culture/true crime: In an interview with New York Magazine, Liz Garbus, director of HBO’s Golden State Killer docuseries I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, discusses her filmmaking process, the ethics of recreating real-life violence onscreen, and “the relationship between a filmmaker and the survivors of a no-longer-living subject who have trusted her to tell their loved one’s story.” And the Los Angeles Times interviews the directors of Immigration Nation, a new Netflix docuseries that gives a rare inside look at the machinery of ICE and the bureaucratic maze of America’s immigration system. Filmed between the spring of 2017 and the winter of 2019, Immigration Nation documents “the implementation of President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration framework, a central theme in his 2016 campaign, and its effect on the migrants who must grapple with it — casting the lens on the enforcers and the immigrants.”