Behind The Headlines – August 30, 2013

Behind The Headlines – August 30, 2013


(female announcer)
This is a production
of WKNO – Memphis. Production funding for “Behind
the Headlines” is made possible in part by.. The local impact of major
changes and federal crime fighitng efforts tonight
on “Behind the Headlines.” ♪♪♪ I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. We’re joined
tonight by Amy Weirich, Shelby County district attorney. Thank you for being here. Sure. Also Bill Dries, senior reporter
with the Memphis Daily News. And Ed Stanton, U-S attorney. Thank you very much. Thank you both for being here. Well we’re gonna start with, um,
the changes announced by Eric Holder, attorney
general for the U-S, that changed a
whole lot of things. And there are details
about that we’ll get in to. But there was a philosophical
shift that is starting with the attorney general. Tell us what those changes were
that were announced just a week or two ago. And then we’ll get in to
the local impact and so on. Sure. Earlier this month, US Attorney
General Eric Holder launched an initiative called Smart on Crime
Initiative and a memo to all of the 93 US attornies
across the country. Just a recalibrated approach of
how we are prosecuting cases, particularly those with
low-level nonviolent drug offenders, as well as what we’re
doing from a stand point of re-entry, drug courts and even
a diversion being used in the federal system. The basis for this refresh of a
look was looking back over the last three decades. The last 30 years, the
incarceration rates are up nearly 800%. I think fiscal year 2011, 2010,
the criminal justice system spent upward of $80 billion. Is that the federal
or is that the whole? Overall. And so taking a new and a fresh
look and understanding that one size doesn’t fit all. And so that was the basis. But I think it’s
worth noting, Eric, what this is not. And just to assure the public
and the citizens here throughout west Tennessee that this is not
a free pass for anyone to get out of jail or the
flood gates will open. I’m happy to say that a number
of the initiatives that the attorney general has launched
and asked us to take a look at, we’re already doing
a lot of proactive, progressive measures, working
very closely with our state and local counterpoints. And so a number of
those items, we’re doing. And again, the worst of the
worst will still be prosecuted to the fullest
extent of the law, particularly on the federal
side where there is no parole. I looked at just
some numbers from, I think it’s about 1980 to now. The federal population of
prisoners went from some 20,000 to 210-, 220,000. I mean it’s a huge increase. The federal population of
prisoners is 10% of the overall. But still, I guess you all have
big influence and maybe we’ll get in to this with Amy here
about whether local and state governments follow your lead. Part of this, and you
started to address it, is that notion. And I can remember
when, on a national level, people tried to,
you know, Hillary, you know, Bill Clinton and
Dukakis and everybody — soft on crime. That was the big. And the same way that federal
politics now is driven by terrorism. It used to be driven
by, I can remember, being soft on crime. And I imagine on some level,
people look at this and say, “Wait, you know,
you’re being soft on crime. “We should throw everybody in
jai if they violated the law. “All this diversion
shouldn’t happen, these other outcomes.” Why? Why is that not
being soft on crime? Well I think it’s
still being hard on crime. I think as the title of the
initiative Smart on Crime and an understanding that, uh, the
statistics show we can’t lock our way up out of the criminal
element that we have here. A number of individuals
have substance abuse problems, mental challenges. And so before making
those charging decisions, doing something that we’re
already doing every week with Amy’s office, that
we’re sitting down. We’re looking to see which
individuals we should take on the state side, on
the federal side. Which ones? Does it make sense? But also understanding the
recidivism rate that locking folks up for a long time has
not necessarily proven to be the ultimate decision of what’s
going to make people get on the right track. And so when we look at typically
more individuals that go in will come back and be a recidivist,
which also means a couple of things. One, they come back
in to the system. We have to pay. Obviously, tax payers. But when someone comes
back in to the system, they’re also.. That also means typically
they victimized another, you know, citizen or they’ve
done something to offend the laws. And so you have
victims, obviously. You have the recidivist rate. So those are issues of
being smart on crime. What can we do to stop that? And I’m happy and pleased that
we’ve launched a re-entry court. Judge McCalla, who just switched
over from being Chief Judge McCalla to senior status. But he was very instrumental
with probation services and launching over in the federal
side a re-entry court in the drug court. Right. And Amy, we’ll bring you in. These rules don’t
directly affect you. I mean you’re driven by
local and state law and so on. But I saw you nodding a lot
as Ed was talking because.. Why is that? Do you think that these have
an impact on you indirectly in terms of how you operate or do
you even think the state will eventually come to follow the
lead of the federal government in changing some of
these guidelines? Well, the nodding is just, um.. A lot of what they’re doing now
with Smart on Crime or going to start doing are things we’ve
already been doing in the state system. When you say
diversion, drug court, re-entry — those are three
words that float around 201 Poplar on a daily basis. We have Judge Dwyer in Division
8 and then drug court treatment program and had it for years. We offer diversion everyday
for countless offenders. And re-entry is something
that on the state side with our friends and partners at
Operation Safe Community and Mayor Luttrell’s office
that we’re working on. So no, it doesn’t impact us. I guess we on the state side of
the prosecution world found it kind of, I guess, ironic that he
would make comments that we’re not gonna go after low-level
drug offenders because quite honestly, they’re
not doing it now. The low-level drug offenders
working in cooperation with Ed Stanton’s office, those
are the ones we prosecute. And even on the state side,
we’re not locking up low-level drug offenders for years and
years and years in the penal farm or in the Tennessee
Daperment of Corrections. A lot of those are on diversion
or given misdemeanor citations and, you know, paying a fine
and run through the system. And to that
question, soft on crime.. I mean crime is a
big issue locally. It’s a big issue nationally. But it’s an issue locally. A lot of concern about crime. Violent crime is down, I
think, over a five year period. Although people don’t
necessarily register that, soemtimes because of
folks in the media who, you know, hype last nights
murder or last nights kind of horror. But for those people who maybe
hear what you’re saying adn think, “Look, you’re just
being soft on those people.” I mean that low-level
drug offender may have, you know.. They’re gonna go on to steal a
car or break in to a house and do these other things. This diversion or
all these are.. I’m just being, you know,
the other point-of-view. These are just ways to not
punish them because we’re stretched too thin. Well, and drug court is
a good example of that. It does no good for the
community that we serve to send a drug addict out to the
penal farm to do nine months for breaking in to cars, breaking in
to homes to feed his or her drug habit because when they get out,
if we have not addressed that habit, they’re gonna go
back and revictimize. They’re gonna make another
victim out of some home owner or business owner in our community. Now being on diversion, going
through the drug court treatment program, it’s not a
walk in the park. It’s a difficult,
tough, tough program. But if you can make it through,
the numbers show that you are less likely to reoffend. And that’s a good
day for everybody. Bill? I’ve actually seen the re-entry
court work when Judge Donald was a district judge on
the federal side. And it’s not a walk in the park. And in some ways, it seems as
if it might have been easier for someone who had been sentenced
before but because they were sentenced, they did their time. They were out and that was it. Now on supervised release, they
still have to show up before a federal judge and talk
about what they’ve done, the steps they’ve taken on that. How much is that a part of your
office’s consideration when you are kind of looking at how
the process works beyond prosecuting a case. Do you have to think about the
steps beyond prosecuting the case? It’s a part, Bill. And that’s a great point. It’s more so.. And you’re absolutely right. The way that the re-entry court
is set up on the federal side is that the inmates, the offenders,
they actually have some skin in the game. And it’s volunteered. It’s something they sign up for. You’re right. It’s not a walk in the park. But it’s a scenario where you
have not only the prosecuters, typically the
probation services. You have even federal public
defenders and the court all rooting for these
individuals saying, “We don’t want to see you
again and these are the things, “if you’re willing
to abide the rules, these are extra steps
that you’ll have to take.” As you mentioned, on
supervised releasing, coming before the court. But we’re trying to put you on
the right trajectory of being sucessful and not coming
back through the system. So it’s something that’s worked. It’s something that
is not for everyone. Obviously the more violent
offenders and those that have a longer criminal history, it’s
typically not something that they’re elgibile for. But those individuals that
deserve that second chance, who’ve paid their debt, it’s an
enormous win when everyone is rallying behind them and
wanting them to succeed. We’ve had some. You know there’s a graduation. We’ve had some success
stories and not only that at the graduations. Of this re-entry
court, we have individuals, family members of the clergy,
community leaders all rallying behing these
indivudals hoping that, again, they’ll be successful
and not be a recidavist. And we found some
great successes there. At 201 Poplar, we not
only have a drug court, we now have a
veterans court, as well. I covered a candidate who
ran for one of the judicial positions who advocated a
mental health type court. Do you think our court system
is moving toward that approach where it can? I mean obviously
those kind of courts, not everybodys going to fit
in to one of those courts. But is that a bigger change
in how our courts handle it? Sure. And you know it’s.. I think that will be the next
big conversation that you hear is the mental health because so
much of what we deal with at 201 Poplar and in juvenile court has
to do and is connected to mental health issues. 201 Poplar is not a place for
somebody who is a mental health victim to spend too much time. And so working with public
defender’s office and Jericho Project, which was created years
ago to make sure we’re getting those people out of the jail if
that’s what is the best thing to do and getting them
the treatment they need. That’s the challenge. But yeah, I think that mental
health focus will be the next wave. You’re both part of
Operation Safe Community. What does this shift
at the federal level, which is already been underway
here on both the federal and state level. What does it mean for what’s
been called the broken windows theory of law enforecment? Well I think it’s just that —
that we’ve got to start looking outside of the way. You know when I started as
a prosecutor 22 years ago, our office was basically
enforcement and that was it. Now, you hear prosecutors. You see the work we do on a
daily basis focused just as much in the areas of prevention and
intervention because we’re not going to arrest and
prosecute our way out. So the broken window is
getting back to the theory of neighborhoods making sure
that we are addressing what are sometimes called more minor
crimes but they have a great impact on the safety and
how people feel about their community. And that, having those
good relationships with law enforcement,
trusting law enforcement, goes a long way in helping all
of us keep the crime numbers down. And, just, I’ll do
in layman’s terms. Broken windows was the theory
that kind of came out of New York or New York made is
famous I guess that yeah, a broken window isn’t
the same as a murder. But that broken window —
one, makes people feel bad about where they live, feel
unsafe about where they live. And that person who breaks a
window is more apt if they’re not stopped to then break in
to a car and then break in to a house and then go
down this road. Is that right? And you can see the
whole succession, particularly when you look at
a juvenile offender’s record. You know we get them on a murder
case but when you look back through their
juvenile crime record, it starts with the truancy. It starts with
the broken window, the disorderly
conduct, the fight at school, the bringing the gun to school
and now here we’ve got a murder. And so in terms
of these changes, again, at the federal level,
we’re talking about how Memphis, federal, local has
embraced these over the year. Is it not so much that at that
early stage and that scenario you just described, it’s not
that the courts don’t step in. It’s just not jail time. I mean that’s fundamentally what
it’s about because you still want to try to
interrupt that path. Sure, exactly. Exactly. And sometimes it is jail time. But it’s also why you see us use
our nuisance power a lot to shut down some of these
blighted properties, to shut down that home that
becomes the stash house for the gang members to hide their
guns, to sell the drugs, to, you know, work
the prostitutes, whatever. The nuisance action
is a big part of that. And I think another
good example is the D-M-I, the drug market,
market intervention, a project that we have. We’ve worked closely
with Amy’s office. And again where we
have low-level offenders, drug offenders, there’s actually
neighborhoods selling drugs on the corners. We have them on videotape and
ready to indict and procede with charges. But we bring them in. If they don’t havea
history or record, if this is a first
time and say, “Hey, this is
where you’re headed.” Again, tie-ins as Amy metioned
from the religous and civic and family community of
these individuals, they’re watching
this and saying, “Hey, you deserve
a second chance. “We’re gonna fight for
you but if you don’t, “if you violate it, this is
your second time around. “This is where you’re headed.” And so again, being able to do
prevention early on the front end makes a huge difference. We found a number of
successes in that regard. You talk about drug market. Some of the rise.. And forgive me if
I simplify this. But some of the rise in the
federal prison population was a response to the crack epidemic. And really tough sentences,
mandatory sentences that were put in in maybe
the ’90s, you know, that even small possession,
selling a small amount, you know, had to go to
jail for five years. Looking back, is that part of.. That’s part of what
Eric Holder, your office, is trying to avoid, that
automatic kicking in and, you know, possession of crack
automatically put someone in jail for five years. Right, that’s exactly right. And what Attorney General Holder
has asked is before we need to take a strong look at
how we’re indicting cases, particularly with the
mandatory minimums. Sometimes as high as five, ten,
fifteen years to life depending on the amount. Now we need to be clear
that these cases are not to be confused with when
there are ties to gangs, when they’re minors involved,
violence involved and we have career offenders. Absolutely will remain
vigilant in prosecuting these individuals. But again, it’s the low-level
nonviolent offenders that the attorney general has made
clear that we need to be very deliberate about how we’re
charging on the federal side. And one more question. And this is maybe
almost obvious. But I just want to
put it out there. Part of what you’re saying is
that jail is not a deterrent. Right? That jail alone, jail time alone
is not enough of a deterrent for people. Well I guess what I
would say is it depends. I mean it is for me. I just want to be real clear. But it seems like that’s part
of what you’re talking about, that you’re putting
somebody in the penal farm, putting somebody in.. It just doesn’t make sense and
that’s not the right way to go. Well and I think the
answer to that is, as I mentioned earlier,
one size doesn’t fit all. If anything we’ve learned over
the last 30 years is that just locking people up
is not the answer. And so with every case, and I’m
happy to say that’s what we’re doing on a case-by-case basis. We’ve determined
which, you know, which court, which system these
matters should be indicted. It’s also much more
expensive — right? To put someone in jail. And is that a reality you are
forced to look at or that you embrace? That I, as a public official,
you’re going to spend some of the tax payers money on
diversion or whatever or a lot of them locking it up. Is that part of your
calculation or not, the expense of it? It’s a case-by-case basis. I won’t say that the
expense is driving. It’s really the actually
underlined offense of the defendant, the history. Is this a very
violent individual? Is this someone that really
needs substance abuse issues adressed? Mental issues? Someone who deserves a second
chance who’s proven that they deserve a second chance? Or if not, again.. Right. And part of.. I bring up the expense part. Maybe that’s more of
a legislative thing. And you see certain states
and real conservative states, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia have
gone through this process of saying, “Look, we’re
spending so much money on jails. “It’s not working.” And so they are leading the
charge in some ways at the state level of putting these kind of
programs we’re talking about in place. So I suppose you guys is.. You’re the enforcers. You don’t have to
deal with those issues. But have you seen
on the state level? Is there any notion among your
peer district attornies or among your legislatures.. You talk about
governor’s offices. To kind of go in that direction
from a state point of view? That it’s so expensive to
house these people and it’s, in general, it’s been
too expensive and not very effective. Well, sure. I mean I think we have
to, as public servants, be good stewards of
the tax payers money. And so while it is not a driving
factor when we’re sitting down trying to decide
how to handle a case, it is a factor when you go
to the legislature and say, “Hey, we need tougher
sentencing laws in this area.” The first thing they’re gonna
do is look at the fiscal note. What is that gonna cost us? And so that kind of begins the
process of the negotiation and the bartering. And alright, we realize this is
what the prosecutors would like but how can we maybe make it
a little more economically feasable and still get the
same job done for the communtiy. And do you see? I’ll put you on the spot. Do you see in the Tennessee
legislature a very Republican dominated
stereotypically, you know, tough on crime folks? Do you see them being open to
more diversion and alternate means other than jail? I mean is the legislature open
to that or do you get a lot of people saying, “No, we just want
to lock them up and throw away the key.” No, it’s a good mix of kind
of realizing that often times, incarceration does
not solve the problem. But with the worst of the worst,
with the most violent offenders, those are the ones the
communty wants off the street. And we’ve come a long way in
toughening our state laws. Every week, as Ed said, our
prosecutors and law enforcement sit at a table and review every
arrest where a gun has been confiscated in Shelby county. And it used to be that some of
the worst of the worst always went federal because that was
where we could get the tougher sentencing. Our state laws have caught up a
lot in the last couple of years. And so now, there’s a good mix
of the pile that goes state side is a little bit bigger after
those meetings than it would have been five years ago. Okay, Bill? I want to kind of go broader
because we’ve talked about the decisions you both
make as prosecutors. Um, should we as a society be
rethinking the way our prisons operate and the philosophy
under which they operate? What do you mean? In terms of we’ve talked a lot
about how for some offenders, sending them to prison for a
long time doesn’t really help them. Deter and help. Yeah. In fact, it might even make
them worse when they come out. You know, it’s
itneresting because we, as I mentioned, mayor’s office
and board of probation and parole and
operation safe community, started this re-entry program
where we’re looking at a study group of male inmates and female
inmates and offering them an opportunity to start getting
some training while they’re incarcerated instead of just
opening the doors to the prison and saying, you
know, “Good luck to ya!” We’re working with
them while they’re there. And what’s been one of the
challenges is getting the offenders to want to participate
in that program because so often, the response is, “I
just to flatten my time. “I don’t want to be on paper.” The mentality being just let
me stay in prison a little bit longer but I don’t want to
be a part of that program. I don’t want anybody watching
what I do even if it means I get to get out sooner. So that’s a philosophy change
that has to occur and I don’t know how you go
about doing that. But getting people to want to
participate and better their life when they get out. Mhm. Ed, I’ve seen some federal
offenders who couldn’t wait to get in to the main population
from the places like Mason, Tennessee. They just wanted to
get in to that routine. Do our federal prisons need
to change the way that they operate? I think it’s
worth taking a look. And I think that
goes back to, uh, Eric Holder’s notion of
being smart on crime. I mean when we look at what
we’ve done and the approach we’ve taken over the
last two or three decades, I think there’s some tweaking
that needs to happen and understanding that just locking
individuals up and housing them there, it’s proven that with the
recidivism rate that it’s not completely effective. And so looking at how we charge,
what we charge and where we send individuals,
whether or not probation, again for low-level offenders,
is a better use of resources. I think roughly seven dollars,
a little over $7.77 per day is what it costs on probation,
supervisor release rather, and over $70 a day per
inmate to be housed. So we look at just the best
allocation of resources but more imporantly, the most
effective allocation. If we see the crime
numbers hit a bump and go up, do you think there will be
political pressure to abandon this? Um, we’ll see. I mean I’m sure, you know,
the winds blow both ways. But that doesn’t deter
the job that we have. We don’t base our decisions on
politics but based on the law and what’s in the best interest
of the community and making sure our citizens remain safe. That will remain a priority. Do you see, um.. A part of what the
attorney general, Eric Holder, is doing
is what I would call, you know, new guidelines
within the existing laws. There were passage of a new
crime bill by the congress. This is just, you know, working
within the system as it’s set up differently. Do you? Would you like to see, I mean,
the congress come forward with some changes in law about
sentencing and so on and so forth? Would that make your job
easier and more effective? Well I mean that’s a question
that only congress can answer. I’m mean I’m charge with
obviously enforcing the laws that are
legislated on the books. But I do think that,
uh, this approach is. And you’re right. This is no act. This was pretty much a memo sent
to all the US attornies from the attorney general. But yeah, it’s somewhat of
an easy transition for us, as I mentioned earlier,
because many of the things, we’re already doing. And we’ve been very successful
with working with Amy and her office. Just a couple of minutes left. Amy, you mentioned, you
know, going to Nashville and, you know, the sentencing
laws about guns changing. Is there, you know.. The session is, the legislative
session is three or four months away. Will you be up there and what
will you be lobbying for or asking for as you look
ahead to that session? There was some
measures that we, uh, started the conversation on
last year that we need to carry through this year having to do
with making tougher sentences for some child abuse
issues and for violent crimes. And then also looking at what we
can do to make sure that drugs and D-U-I and those types of
legislative issues are short-up and as strong as they can be. Prescription drug abuse, you’ll
hear a lot about that because it’s.. But so and the number
two killer of kids. Number one killer. It’s the number two
abused nationally. I mean it’s a phenomenon that
we in the media probably haven’t covered enough. You know we focus on
crack and cocaine. We focus on certain things. It’s the pills in people’s
drawers that are killing people. Right, and then you know the
other problem that comes from that are the number of babies
being born addicted to drugs. And those numbers are up. The last time I looked, the
count was 440 babies born with neonatal abstinence
syndrome statewide. Tragic. And we’ll all be paying for
that for generations to come. And we’ve got ot
get a handle on it. And with just a
minute and a half left, let me ask you. I can’t help but ask. The sequester, it must
have hit your office. Absolutely. Sequester, very tough times
of austerity in our office. And again, we’re charged
with being on the frontlines of making sure that our
communities stay safe. But I will tell you the men
and women from attorney’s office between Memphis and Jackson in
our office are doing a great job. We’re having to
do more with less. Our numbers are
still right along. We’re above where we’ve been
in the last few years with less resources. But it’s something we’ll
continue to fight with everything we have not
withstanding sequester. Okay, okay. Bill, last question
with just 30 seconds left. Um, okay. James Coleman, when he
ran the county jail, talked about the drug
program that was there. And he talked about
how exemplary it was. But then he lamented the
fact that once prisoners left, they couldn’t get that. That seems to be kind of the
flip side of what we’ve been talking about here that you have
that kind of program in prison but then outside
of the county jail, it doesn’t exist. Right. And I think we
are getting better. I mean I think you’ve seen more
private industry coming to the table and saying, “Look, we’re
a part of this problem as well. “Let’s be part of the solution. “How can we help?” But yes, the drug program at the
penal farm is one of the best. The problem is you’ve got a
waiting list to get in to it as well and often times, they do
their time before they can get in to it. We’ll leave it there. We’ve run out of time. Thank you for being here. Thank you. Thank you, Bill. And thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Goodnight. CLOSED CAPTIONS PROVIDED BY
WKNO – MEMPHIS.

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