This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: Slate reports another devastating weekend of gun violence in the US: between last Friday and Sunday, there were more than 400 shootings across the country, resulting in at least 150 deaths. These numbers come at a time when cities are struggling to respond to a widespread rise in gun violence. In New York, which has seen gun violence increase in some of its largest cities by more than 75%, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday declared a new state of emergency, committing almost $140 million to reverse the trend of rising shootings and murders across the state. New York Magazine reports from Manhattan, where Harlem native and former state Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg is set to become the city’s first Black DA. If elected, Bragg will take over the second-largest district attorney’s office in the country, a position occupied by only two people since 1975. He will oversee some of the highest-profile cases in the country, chief among them “the probe into the Trump Organization that could see the office decide a historic first: whether to charge a former president with a crime.” And Curbed reports from Buffalo, NY, where India Walton recently pulled off a “historic upset” in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary, defeating a four-term incumbent to become Buffalo’s presumptive first socialist and first woman mayor. Walton has “managed what many left-leaning politicians have tried and failed to do, notably in New York City: electoral victory on a platform that promises to dramatically cut back on policing in a city experiencing an increase in crime.”
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: With the worst of the pandemic behind us, a piece from the New York Times examines its lasting impact behind bars. More than 2,700 people are reported to have died of COVID-19 in connection to US prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers. But the real toll may actually be much higher: the Times identified dozens of cases around the country in which inmates’ COVID-related deaths went uncounted in official prison virus tallies. These additional cases “raise the prospect that the known toll on incarcerated people falls far short of providing the full picture.” A piece from NBC News centers on ankle monitors and the rise of “incarceration at home.” During the pandemic, as prisons and jails became coronavirus hotspots, many judges nationwide responded by putting those who were released in electronic ankle monitors that tracked their movements 24 hours a day. Now, early data shows how much the use of electronic ankle monitoring rose nationwide during that time; researchers are finding that “ankle monitors are keeping people connected to the prison system longer than ever, as more remain strapped to the devices for over a year.” And a piece from Mother Jones focuses on bail reform in the wake of COVID-19. Before the pandemic, roughly two-thirds of the 758,000 people in jail nationwide on any given day had not been convicted of any crime. While a fraction of those had been deemed by a judge too “risky” to release, the majority simply couldn’t afford bail or a for-profit bond agent’s fee. Judges set bail amounts and other release conditions using a simple formula: “flight risk + future danger to public safety.” But COVID, the piece argues, changed that calculation: during the pandemic, keeping a defendant in a crowded jail became the more obvious risk to public safety, leading some court systems to adapt by setting bail at $0 for people booked on misdemeanor or low-level felony charges. Now, with the worst of the pandemic behind us and jail populations once again on the rise, it remains to be seen whether any lessons learned will stick.
In complex crime storytelling: In a piece for the New Yorker, Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino dive deep into “Britney Spears’s conservatorship nightmare.” Since 2008, Spears, 39, has been living under a court-ordered conservatorship – a form of legal guardianship – which has restricted nearly all aspects of her life. Details about the arrangement have been kept out of public view, while Spears has continued to turn out records and lucrative shows, bringing in millions of dollars for those around her. But now, after 13 years, the pop star is directly confronting the people and structures that have wrested her adult life from her own control. And a piece from New York Magazine highlights “the female inmates fighting California’s wildfires.” Of the thousands of firefighters who battle California’s blazes each year, roughly 30% are prison inmates earning a dollar an hour; approximately 200 of those are women serving on all-female fire crews. A new book, Breathing Fire: Female Inmate Firefighters on the Front Lines of California’s Wildfires, by reporter Jaime Lowe, centers on “the women of California’s Correctional Camps, who put their lives on the line, while imprisoned, to save a state in peril.”
In culture/true crime: In an essay for the New York Review of Books, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Caroline Fraser tackles pop culture’s true-crime boom. “In the true crime genre’s latest iteration,” Fraser writes, “writers, reporters, bloggers, documentary filmmakers, and podcast hosts have taken a soiled brand and turned it into a collective exercise in retributive justice, recording and correcting the history of sexual violence.” The New York Times reviews Couple Found Slain: After a Family Murder, the new book by author and psychoanalyst Mikita Brottman. Brottman’s story begins where most works of true-crime writing end: the titular murder has already been committed, its perpetrator – 22-year-old Brian Bechtold – tried, convicted, and hastily sent away, to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital for the “criminally insane.” Offering a precise and intimate accounting of these rarely-seen American institutions, Brottman makes the case that “the system we have to shelter and heal people like [Brian] not only does not work, but is in fact far more damaging than incarceration.” And the New Yorker short “George Floyd Story,” by John Edgar Wideman, reflects on the death of George Floyd, the enduring pain of his loss and the meaning – and futility – of modern-day martyrdom: “I will not pretend to bring GF to life. Nor pretend to bring life to him. GF gone for good.”