This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: Pieces from the AP and USA Today center on rising crime, police reform, and the Biden administration’s “political high-wire act” in balancing the two. Over the last year, a nationwide increase in shootings and homicides has catapulted violent crime back into the political spotlight. In the first three months of 2021, the homicide rate in more than 30 US cities increased by 24%. In a meeting at the White House last week, Biden outlined a plan to crack down on gun trafficking and to help beleaguered police departments hire more officers – a signal that the administration is “taking steps to address rising national anxiety over an increase in homicides.” But the announcement has also stirred concern among some activists, who worry that Biden’s push to combat rising crime could sap momentum for police reform. And a piece from Slate outlines a path forward for Democrats on the crime debate. Conventional thinking would suggest that both crime and “the economy” are “good issues” for the GOP, which has for decades identified itself to voters as the party of “law and order” crackdowns. Democratic leaders “live in fear” that their party’s activists, by advocating cuts to police funding, will enable Republicans to sell this tough-on-crime messaging. But now, public opinion seems to be shifting in Democrats’ favor: a Washington Post/ABC News poll released last week found that though the number of Americans seeing crime as an “extremely serious problem” in the US is at a more than 20-year high, liberal, “root cause-based” policy solutions to the problem of rising crime are also unprecedentedly popular.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: A piece from Wired explores the ongoing battle over trans medical care behind bars. More than 20% of trans women – and nearly 50% of Black trans people – have been incarcerated at some point in their lives. Once behind bars, almost all are incarcerated according to the sex they were assigned at birth; for trans women, that means being locked up in men’s facilities, where many experience long stints in solitary and near-routine physical and sexual violence. A piece from the Marshall Project goes “inside the nation’s overdose crisis in prisons and jails.” According to new federal data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US prisons and jails have become increasingly deadly places in recent years. But one cause of death has climbed most dramatically: overdoses. From 2001 to 2018, the number of people who have died of drug or alcohol intoxication in state prisons increased by more than 600%. And a piece from the New York Times asks, “We know how to fix the clemency process. So why don’t we?”. The “faulty architecture of clemency” has been apparent for decades, with shamefully low grant rates from presidents of both parties. During the 2020 Democratic primaries, nearly every candidate endorsed a good and simple solution: take the clemency process out of the DOJ and put it in the hands of a bipartisan board to advise the president. Under this plan, clemency could be used “frequently, impartially, and with principle.” Inexplicably, however, President Biden now seems poised to reject this consensus, a move that would “undermine the administration’s stated hope of achieving criminal justice reform.”
In complex crime storytelling: A piece from the New Republic recounts “the rise and fall of an herbal Viagra scammer.” In the early 2000s, an “internet huckster” named Erb Avore made millions selling a sex enhancement supplement called Stiff Nights. Then the FDA sampled his wares. A piece from the New York Times explores a “mystery in Indian country”. In 2015, the body of 26-year-old Allison Highwolf was found alone in a Montana motel room. Six years later, the circumstances of her death remain a mystery, “one of many involving Native women who disappear or meet violent ends with alarming regularity.” And a piece from New York Magazine captures “the plight of the violence interrupters.” Last year, New York City, like dozens of other major US cities, saw its murder rate jump by nearly 45%. Now, violence interrupters – community-based crisis-management teams tasked with stopping shootings before they occur – are struggling to keep up.
In culture/true crime: A piece from Salon tackles pop culture’s enduring fascination with the serial-killer narrative, while Slate highlights We Keep the Dead Close, an “incredible true crime book about the problems with true crime.” The Progressive reviews “The Price of Freedom,” a new documentary about the fight for gun control, while Cultured Magazine goes inside California’s San Quentin State Prison with photographer Nigel Poor. And the Marshall Project highlights “Spaces of Detention,” a new multimedia art project that seeks to illuminate New Jersey’s insular “architecture of punishment.”