By Abbie Ruzicka | Friday, May 25, 2012
May 25, 2012
BOSTON — As the number of prisoners growing old behind bars increases at an alarming rate, correctional facilities across the country are scrambling to come up with the resources for the care of elderly prisoners. Older prisoners often require special care, which drives up the cost of incarceration.
The national population of prisoners age 65 or older has grown by 63 percent, while the general prison population has grown by just 1 percent, said Jamie Fellner, the author of the Human Rights Watch report Old Behind Bars.
This could be a reflection of the longer sentences prisoners are serving, decreased opportunity for parole, more people entering the prison system at older ages and the fact that people in general are living longer, Fellner said.
“There’s this kind of knee-jerk response — 'We don’t want to let people out of prisons.' We need to shift the conversation to how do we keep the public safe and ensure accountability but not senselessly and needlessly keep all these [prisoners], who can’t go anywhere or do anything, behind bars at great cost to the public,” she said.
Though elderly prisoners represent only 6 percent of the 24,000 people in the correctional system in Massachusetts, the cost of their care is much higher than the general prison population, criminal justice reporter Beth Schwartzapfel said.
Aging inmates often require special medical treatment, which drives up the cost of incarceration. For prisoners age 80 or older, the cost of their medical care averages around $40,000 per year, according to national estimates.
For Massachusetts inmates who need help with day-to-day care, there is currently a total of 29 beds available at two separate Massachusetts Activities of Daily Living Units in Massachusetts, Schwartzapfel said. The state will need about 900 additional beds by 2020.
> > READ: Beth Schwartzapfel's article from Boston Magazine
By WGBH News | Wednesday, May 23, 2012
May 23, 2012
BOSTON — Despite the Supreme Court's decision not to hear his appeal, a former Boston University student facing a $675,000 fine for downloading and sharing 31 songs via the online file-sharing network Kazaa has vowed to continue his fight against the group of record companies suing him.
While free downloads mean lost revenue for musicians, Joel Tenenbaum said that many recording artists had no problem with online file sharing. "Music fans love the artists," he said, adding that the lyricist for the Grateful Dead testified at his trial that "familiarity, not scarcity, creates value."
"The music business will never cease to exist in some form because it does what humans fundamentally need to do, which is share art," Tenenbaum added.
The case is currently before U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel, who will decide whether to impose the penalty, ask the Recording Industry Association of America whether it will accept less money from Tenenbaum or order a new trial.
Tenenbaum faces the $675,000 penalty for illegally downloading 31 songs. You've probably heard some of them yourself. Perhaps you even own them ... one way or another. Here they are, legally and for free on Grooveshark.
Aerosmith — Pink; Water Song/Janie's Got a Gun
Beastie Boys — (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)
Beck — Loser
Blink-182 — Adam's Song
Deftones — Be Quiet and Drive
Eminem — Cleaning out My Closet; Drug Ballad; My Name Is
The Fugees — Killing Me Softly
Goo Goo Dolls — Iris
Green Day — Minority; Nice Guys Finish Last; When I Come Around
Incubus — New Skin; Pardon Me
Limp Bizkit — Rearranged; Leech
Linkin Park — Crawling
Monster Magnet — Look to Your Orb for the Warning
Nine Inch Nails — The Perfect Drug
Nirvana — Come As You Are; Heart-Shaped Box
OutKast — Rosa Parks; Wheelz of Steel
Rage Against the Machine — Guerrilla Radio
The Ramones — The KKK Took My Baby Away
Red Hot Chili Peppers — By the Way; Californication; My Friends
Smashing Pumpkins — Bullet with Butterfly Wings
List source: Wikipedia.
By Sarah Birnbaum | Monday, May 21, 2012
May 21, 2012
BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers are trying to close a loophole in the state's drunk driving law that was brought to light in a recent Supreme Judicial Court decision, Paul Souza v. The Registry of Motor Vehicles.
In 1997, Souza was arrested for the first time for drunk driving. Like many other first-timers, he was able to make a deal with the judge. He pleaded to what's known as a CWOF — a "continuation without a finding." It’s similar to but not technically the same as a guilty plea.
If Souza stayed out of trouble for a year, his case would be dismissed. And that's what happened.
In 2010, Souza was caught drunk driving again. He refused to take a breathalyzer test. Under the law, because this was his second offense, Souza should have gotten his driver's license revoked for 3 years.
But Souza’s lawyers argued, and on May 17 the state Supreme Judicial Court agreed, that because his first offense was a CWOF and not a conviction, his second offense should have been considered his first offense. So instead of having his license revoked for 3 years, it should have been revoked for just 6 months.
State Sen. Katherine Clark of Melrose said because of the Souza ruling, thousands of drunk drivers could get behind the wheel much sooner. "There are almost 30,000 court cases since 2008 where defendants have pled to continued without a finding. And if they were to re-offend and we did not change the law, then potentially, they would not be subject to all the enhanced penalties for a second offense," she said.
Clark, along with Attorney General Martha Coakley and key members in the House and Senate, want to change Massachusetts' drunk driving laws to make CWOFs count as convictions. The Senate could approve the change in the law as soon as next week. Lawmakers in the House are also pledging swift action.
By Adam Reilly | Tuesday, May 15, 2012
May 16, 2012
BOSTON — On May 15 in downtown Boston, protesters gathered outside the entrance to the building that houses the Massachusetts Democratic Party. They chanted things like “Today we march, tomorrow we vote!” and “Obama! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” — Spanish for “Obama! Listen! We are in the fight!”
The object of their wrath: the federal Secure Communities program, which launched in Massachusetts on Tuesday. Now, any time someone is arrested, their fingerprints will automatically be shared with federal immigration officials — and if that person is in the U.S. illegally and has a criminal record, they'll be deported.
The president overrules the governor
That's the idea, at least. But critics say that Secure Communities puts plenty of immigrants whose only crime is violating federal immigration law at risk of deportation, too.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has been a vocal critic of Secure Communities. Last year, he told the federal government that Massachusetts wouldn’t participate.
But President Barack Obama and his administration say the program is an efficient, effective tool. They officially launched the program in Massachusetts over the governor’s opposition.
For people like Ada Fuentes of East Boston, that decision is a betrayal by the president.
“The Latino community is angry [at Obama],” said Fuentes. “Because he’s asking for them with one hand to vote for him, and with the other pushing them back to the border, back to the south.
Not just the worst of the worst?
Secure Communities is supposed to target illegal immigrants with criminal records, while leaving other illegal immigrants alone. But Fuentes says the system also punishes innocents — for example, domestic abuse victims who turn to law enforcement for help.
“The statistics are out there [pdf] saying that cases that are being reported to police officials about domestic abuse or any type of domestic problem — those people are also being detained and deported,” Fuentes said. “And I feel like that’s going to happen more and more."
Federal data suggests that there is, in fact, some imprecision. Of the 179,000 people deported under Secure Communities since the program began, just 135,000 were criminal illegal aliens.
For Fuentes, those numbers are deeply personal. Her mother fled Honduras with her when Fuentes was an infant and sought asylum in the U.S. When that request was denied, Fuentes joined the ranks of America’s undocumented immigrants.
“I’m afraid that there’s going to be further criminalization of my community,” she says. “I feel like this is not just or in any way going to protect anyone.
On the one hand …
Tuesday's protests attracted plenty of attention from passers-by downtown. But among the people we spoke with, reaction to the demonstrators' cause was mixed.
“I’m fine with it,” George Tecci of North Reading said of Secure Communities. “If you’ve done something, you’re guilty. If you’re not guilty, you don’t care."
He added, “The only thing that concerns me is something domestic. If someone is afraid, it should be excluded — domestic violence, or something like that."
Madelina Fernandes of Roxbury disagreed with the initiative. “I think everybody has the right to come to this country to work and support their kids,” she said. “Immigrants [are] the one that built this country.”
The demonstrators who protested Secure Communities agree. And this fall, they plan to bring their frustration to the ballot box.
By Danielle Dreilinger | Monday, May 14, 2012
May 14, 2012
BOSTON — On Monday, Attorney General Martha Coakley called for an amendment to the state's open meeting law. The need for change comes as no surprise to those who have followed the State Integrity Investigation, a nationwide look at corruption risk.
Massachusetts flunked the "public access to information" category on the SII report card. Investigators found that while citizens have a legally enshrined right to government information and records, in practice those rights are hard to access. The state earned a C overall, placing it 11th in the nation for corruption risk.
"The amendment would clarify the standard for a finding by the AG of an intentional violation of the Open Meeting Law," Coakley said in a statement.
The current law states that a violation is considered "intentional" if it occurs after the official or governmental body has been given a warning by a court or prosecutor. Coakley's change would add situations where the board or member "acted with specific intent to violate the law" or "with deliberate ignorance of the law’s requirements."
The Massachusetts Legislature is exempt from the open meeting law.
The attorney general's office plans to hold a public hearing on the regulation in July.
> > READ: The AG's press release
By Adam Reilly & Sarah Birnbaum | Wednesday, May 9, 2012
May 10, 2012
BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick said on Thursday that he hoped the resignation of Carl Stanley McGee would let the new state Gaming Commission proceed with its work. McGee had been appointed interim executive director before concerns surfaced over a sexual assault accusation.
Patrick defended the appointment, however, saying, "The charges that were made in Florida against Stan were serious, they were investigated, there were no charges. And he and anyone else under those circumstances should be able to resume their life." McGee has worked for the Patrick administration since 2007. He is expected to return to his job as assistant secretary for policy and planning, where he was charged, among other things, with crafting the state’s expanded-gambling law.
The group Mass. Citizens for Children is calling for Patrick to place McGee on administrative leave and conduct further investigations.
“You don’t have to have CSI”
In 2007, McGee was accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy in Florida. Authorities there chose not to prosecute — but later, McGee reached a civil settlement with the boy’s family. In a press conference Tuesday at the Beacon Street offices of Mass. Citizens for Children, attorney Carmine Durso said the details of that settlement should be made public.
“You don’t have to have CSI engaged to determine whether or not these allegations are credible,” said Durso, who sits on MCC’s board of directors. “There’s information out there — there’s information that could be provided.
“I see nothing wrong with asking [McGee] to disclose the amount of money that was paid,” he added. “I see nothing wrong with asking him to have the attorneys who represented him provide the documents that were part of the discovery in the case. Had the case gone to trial, this is information that would have been made public.”
Early test for the Gaming Commission
The furor over McGee’s hiring began after the Boston Globe reported that the Gaming Commission didn’tinvestigate the 2007 allegations before hiring McGee. State Rep. Dan Winslow said that was a serious mistake.
“It’s very important that we get this right,” said Winslow, a Republican from Norfolk. “Because this will set the bar for how the [Gaming] Commission treats future due diligence and future applicants.”
On Monday, Winslow urged the gaming commission to stay McGee’s hiring and delve into the old charges. Commission chairman Stephen Crosby refused, arguing that such a move would violate McGee’s right to the presumption of innocence. But at the Tuesday press conference, Durso claimed that no such right exists.
“An individual who is a defendant in a criminal case is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” he said. “This is not a criminal case.”