This is a curated selection of highlights from Crime Story Daily this week.
On the criminal justice policy front: On Monday, the FBI released its latest crime statistics, revealing an almost 30% spike in homicides across the country in 2020 – the biggest one-year increase on record in the US. A piece from the New York Times locates this startling data in a broader context: although homicides increased almost uniformly across the country, overall crime rates declined; and while the higher murder rate has continued into 2021, its pace is beginning to slow. A piece from the Conversation, by criminologist Justin Nix, examines some of the many factors underlying these figures, including economic and social disruptions caused by COVID-19, increases in gun sales, and a “police legitimacy crisis” sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Pieces from the Washington Post and the Intercept focus on national police reform, outlining how and why months of bipartisan talks on the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which began last April after the conviction of Derek Chauvin, have since broken down. And, with federal police reform stalled indefinitely, pieces from Governing and the Crime Report highlight more localized efforts at reform, with state- and city-level leaders stepping in to fill the gap.
In muckraker/watchdog reporting: On Sunday, Isaabdul Karim, a 42-year-old father of two, died after suffering a medical emergency at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, where he was being held for a minor technical violation of the rules of his parole. Karim, the New York Times reports, was the 11th person incarcerated at the jail to die this year alone, making 2021 the deadliest year in New York City jails since 2015. In an interview with New York Magazine, attorney Corey Stoughton of the Legal Aid Society discusses the origins of the ongoing Rikers crisis and the current situation there: “It’s hard to find the words to describe how bad it is right now.” A story from Gothamist highlights the role of local judges, who exercise broad discretion over pre-trial detention in New York and who have been a driving force, the piece argues, behind recent increases in the incarcerated populations in many city jails. A piece from Slate asks, “What will it take to finally shut down NYC’s most notorious jail?” In an interview with Slate’s What’s Next podcast, journalist Jan Ransom, who covers criminal justice issues, law enforcement, and incarceration for the New York Times, discusses Rikers’ long and brutal history, why the infamous jail complex just keeps getting worse, and what it might take to finally shut down the facility for good.
In complex crime storytelling: A story from the Wall Street Journal tackles “unsolved murders, missing millions,” and “the unraveling of a legal dynasty.” In recent weeks, the saga of Alex Murdaugh – the 53-year-old South Carolina lawyer at the center of an “astounding web” of criminal activity – has become the stuff of tabloid and true crime podcast legend. Until recently, Murdaugh, the scion of a local legal dynasty, had been a partner at the private law firm founded by his great-grandfather in 1910. But now, the family legacy has crumbled amid accusations of embezzlement and insurance fraud; a string of untimely deaths; and the grisly, as yet unsolved murders of Murdaugh’s own wife and younger son. And a piece from the New Yorker asks, “Who owns the legacy of a women’s prison?” In the fall of 2015, staffers at HMP Holloway in London, the largest women’s prison in Western Europe, learned that after 160 years, the facility was shutting down. From the beginning, the move was controversial: Holloway had come to be respected as a well-run, progressive institution, and critics of the closure noted that the facility’s location, on highly valuable real estate in one of London’s most sought-after boroughs, had likely played a role. Now, an ongoing battle over the site’s post-Holloway fate has raised larger and more difficult questions about the prison’s legacy: “We don’t want this history to be erased.”
In culture/true crime: This week, “Dateline,” the longest-running series on NBC prime time and one of the best-known true crime programs in America, began its 30th season on the air. To mark the occasion, journalist Jane Coaston, in a New York Times op-ed, reflects on her own complicated love for true crime: “fascinating, terrible and often… misleading.” In an interview with Town & Country magazine, longtime “Dateline” correspondent Andrea Canning discusses the making of the show, the genre’s ever-growing popularity, and preserving the humanity at the center of true crime. And, in a piece for the New Yorker, two exonerated ex-convicts visit a Georgia “escape room” fashioned as a prison-break scenario, with visitors playing the role of innocent incarcerees, for “wrongful conviction, the game!”