Category Archives: justice

One in three American Indian women have been raped or have experienced an attempted rape

A disturbing report from the New York Times

The difficulties facing American Indian women who have been raped are myriad, and include a shortage of sexual assault kits at Indian Health Service hospitals, where there is also a lack of access to birth control and sexually transmitted disease testing. There are also too few nurses trained to perform rape examinations, which are generally necessary to bring cases to trial.

Women say the tribal police often discourage them from reporting sexual assaults, and Indian Health Service hospitals complain they lack cameras to document injuries.

Police and prosecutors, overwhelmed by the crime that buffets most reservations, acknowledge that they are often able to offer only tepid responses to what tribal leaders say has become a crisis.

Reasons for the high rate of sexual assaults among American Indians are poorly understood, but explanations include a breakdown in the family structure, a lack of discussion about sexual violence and alcohol abuse.

Rape, according to Indian women, has been distressingly common for generations, and they say tribal officials and the federal and state authorities have done little to help halt it, leading to its being significantly underreported.

In the Navajo Nation, which encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, 329 rape cases were reported in 2007 among a population of about 180,000. Five years later, there have been only 17 arrests. Women’s advocates on the reservation say only about 10 percent of sexual assaults are reported.

The young woman who was raped in Emmonak, now 22, asked that her name not be used because she fears retaliation from her attacker, whom she still sees in the village. She said she knew of five other women he had raped, though she is the only one who reported the crime.

Nationwide, an arrest is made in just 13 percent of the sexual assaults reported by American Indian women, according to the Justice Department, compared with 35 percent for black women and 32 percent for whites.

In South Dakota, Indians make up 10 percent of the population, but account for 40 percent of the victims of sexual assault. Alaska Natives are 15 percent of that state’s population, but constitute 61 percent of its victims of sexual assault.

Bringing down Canada’s massive human-trafficking ring

Amazing story from the Globe and Mail

One December morning, a 49-year-old Hungarian named Sandor Simon was at a Hamilton welfare office when he became agitated, saying he was terrified of the people he was living with and wanted to escape.

Staff knew an RCMP constable, Lepa Jankovic, was investigating suspicious activity involving Hungarian nationals, so they called her. When she arrived, Mr. Simon was hunched over with his arms in his lap, in a full sweat, his hat curled up in his hand.

Constable Jankovic, 41, drove him back to her office, stopping to buy him a coffee and a pack of cigarettes. He warmed to her quickly.

Through a translator, he told the story: A man in his home country promised a high-paying job in the stucco industry if he would move to Canada. But when he arrived, he was confined to a basement with three other men and, he learned, would be forced to work long hours for no pay.

Constable Jankovic knew she was on to something. She was about to unravel the largest-known human-trafficking ring in Canadian history, exposing a Hungarian crime family that made men work as slaves on construction sites. Despite its size, the entire operation would be busted by just two tenacious RCMP officers, an aggressive Crown attorney, a couple of investigators from other agencies and a non-governmental organization.

Her very life was on the line: At one point, a hit man was hired to kill the investigators on the case.

Times are tough even for gang members

Hence the “community gun”

Hidden and shared by a small group of people who use them when needed, and are always sure to return them, such guns appear to be rising in number in New York, according to the police. It is unclear why. The economy? Times are tough — not everyone can afford a gun. “The gangs are younger, and their resources are less,” said Ed Talty, an assistant district attorney in the Bronx.

Or perhaps it’s not that there are more communal guns, but rather, that they are easier to identify through forensic science.

“We get a lot more ballistic matches than we ever have before,” Lieutenant Ruane said. “It’s amazing. You go, how the hell did that match up to that shooting? It’s a different command, a different borough, Brooklyn or something.”

The two men who opened the Bronx mailbox may have been momentarily surprised by what they found inside — nothing. But they simply went to another hiding spot in the building, in a bag under the stairs, the police said. The building was routinely referred to as “Vietnam,” a name coined during more violent times in the 1980s.

There was the gun.

Joe Paterno about to ousted at Penn State

The writing is on the wall for Penn State’s Joe Paterno.

Joe Paterno’s tenure as coach of the Penn State football team will soon be over, perhaps within days or weeks, in the wake of a sex-abuse scandal that has implicated university officials, according to two people briefed on conversations among the university’s top officials.

It was one horrible misjudgement from a coach that until now has always been known for his good judgement.

Paterno has not been charged in the matter, but his failure to report to authorities what he knew about the 2002 incident, in which Sandusky allegedly sexually assaulted a young boy at Penn State’s football complex, has become a flashpoint, stirring anger among the board members and an outpouring of public criticism about his handling of the matter.

In recent days Paterno has lost the support of many board members, and their conversations illustrate a decisive shift in the power structure at the university. In 2004, for instance, Paterno brushed off a request by the university president that he step down.

Paterno came to Penn State in 1950 as a 23-year-old assistant coach making $3,600 a year. He planned to stay for two seasons, to pay off his student loans from Brown University, where he earned a degree in English literature.

He became the head coach in 1966, and he has been widely credited with helping spearhead the Penn State football program and the rest of the university from a local enterprise into a national brand. Along the way, Beaver Stadium grew to 108,000 seats from 29,000 and Penn State’s endowment grew from virtually nothing to more than $1 billion.

What separated Paterno from many of his coaching peers until this week was that he did this with few questions about how he grew the program. Penn State’s lofty graduation rates and education-first ideals, known as Paterno’s Grand Experiment, became as synonymous with the program as its plain uniforms and dominating defenses.

When police go bad

NYPD protest charges against their own bad cops

Okay, is this disturbing to anyone else?

As 16 police officers were arraigned at State Supreme Court in the Bronx, incensed colleagues organized by their union cursed and taunted prosecutors and investigators, chanting “Down with the D.A.” and “Ray Kelly, hypocrite.”

As the defendants emerged from their morning court appearance, a swarm of officers formed a cordon in the hallway and clapped as they picked their way to the elevators. Members of the news media were prevented by court officers from walking down the hallway where more than 100 off-duty police officers had gathered outside the courtroom.

The assembled police officers blocked cameras from filming their colleagues, in one instance grabbing lenses and shoving television camera operators backward.

The unsealed indictments contained more than 1,600 criminal counts, the bulk of them misdemeanors having to do with making tickets disappear as favors for friends, relatives and others with clout. But they also outlined more serious crimes, related both to ticket-fixing and drugs, grand larceny and unrelated corruption. Four of the officers were charged with helping a man get away with assault.

Jose R. Ramos, an officer in the 40th Precinct whose suspicious behavior spawned the protracted investigation, was accused of two dozen crimes, including attempted robbery, attempted grand larceny, transporting what he thought was heroin for drug dealers and revealing the identity of a confidential informant.

I guess we all can accept that there are bad cops.  There are hundreds of thousands of them in the United States and a simple law of averages say that tsome of them are going to be corrupt.  Police forces acknowledge this themselves when they have special units to investigate them or have a process where the RCMP or State Police investigate other police forces.

What really unnerves me is to see 100 colleagues supporting the bad cops and acting in a way that if they were on duty, would have an obligation to stop.

It can be put this way

“It is hard to see an upside in the way the anger was expressed, especially in Bronx County, where you already have a hard row to hoe in terms of building rapport with the community,” said Eugene J. O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The Police Department is a very angry work force, and that is something that should concern people, because it translates into hostile interactions with people.”

The behavior could be construed as violating department rules. Even when officers are off duty, the police patrol guide states, “Conduct which brings discredit to the department or conduct in violation of law is unacceptable and will result in appropriate disciplinary measures.”

It gets better.

A police official said Mr. Kelly did not condone the hostile comments made by some officers. Particularly disturbing, the official said, was a news report that said some officers chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up at a benefits center across the street, referring to electronic benefit transfer, the method by which welfare checks are distributed. The people had apparently chanted “Fix our tickets” to the officers.

“To begin ridiculing people in the welfare line across the street doesn’t endear you to the public eye,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to be heard directly criticizing members of the force.

And there is a union angle.

Prosecutors said the bulk of the vanished tickets were arranged by officials of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union. All the officers charged with fixing tickets are either current or past union delegates or trustees.

During the investigation, overseen by the Bronx district attorney’s office, prosecutors found fixing tickets to be so extensive that they considered charging the union under the state racketeering law as a criminal enterprise, the tactic employed against organized crime families. But they apparently concluded that the evidence did not support that approach.

The Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, said the tickets fixed had robbed the city of $1 million to $2 million.

The prosecutors office is not amused.

During the investigation, overseen by the Bronx district attorney’s office, prosecutors found fixing tickets to be so extensive that they considered charging the union under the state racketeering law as a criminal enterprise, the tactic employed against organized crime families. But they apparently concluded that the evidence did not support that approach.

So let’s review.  According to the NY Times, a bad cop is under investigation for letting a friend deal drugs out of a couple of properties he owns.  While being wire tapped, he confessed to fixing tickets along with other officers, this widespread practice is actually being largely done by NYPD’s union leadership.  When charged with the crime, over 350 off duty officers start to protest and physically assault camera crews and taunt those receiving Social Assistance.

That is a huge problem and has probably set back policing in the Bronx for a generation.

The Criminalization of Homelessness

This column by Barbara Ehrenreich just killed me inside.

The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible "financial products," leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Walmart.

As it turned out, the captains of the new "casino economy"—the stock brokers and investment bankers—were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations. In an economy where a centimillionaire could turn into a billionaire overnight, the poor and unwashed were a major buzzkill. Starting with Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, city after city passed "broken windows" or "quality of life" ordinances making it dangerous for the homeless to loiter or, in some cases, even look "indigent," in public spaces.

No one has yet tallied all the suffering occasioned by this crackdown—the deaths from cold and exposure—but "Criminalizing Crisis" offers this story about a homeless pregnant woman in Columbia, South Carolina:

During daytime hours, when she could not be inside of a shelter, she attempted to spend time in a museum and was told to leave. She then attempted to sit on a bench outside the museum and was again told to relocate. In several other instances, still during her pregnancy, the woman was told that she could not sit in a local park during the day because she would be "squatting." In early 2011, about six months into her pregnancy, the homeless woman began to feel unwell, went to a hospital, and delivered a stillborn child.

Well before Tahrir Square was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and even before the recent recession, homeless Americans had begun to act in their own defense, creating organized encampments, usually tent cities, in vacant lots or wooded areas. These communities often feature various elementary forms of self-governance: food from local charities has to be distributed, latrines dug, rules—such as no drugs, weapons, or violence—enforced. With all due credit to the Egyptian democracy movement, the Spanish indignados, and rebels all over the world, tent cities are the domestic progenitors of the American occupation movement.

There is nothing "political" about these settlements of the homeless—no signs denouncing greed or visits from left-wing luminaries—but they have been treated with far less official forbearance than the occupation encampments of the "American autumn." LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.

All over the country, in the last few years, police have moved in on the tent cities of the homeless, one by one, from Seattle to Wooster, Ohio, Sacramento to Providence, in raids that often leave the former occupants without even their minimal possessions. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, last summer, a charity outreach worker explained the forcible dispersion of a local tent city by saying: "The city will not tolerate a tent city. That’s been made very clear to us. The camps have to be out of sight."

What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born "illegals," facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.

Here are my issues and some ideas of what we can do tackle them.

At work every place I can put a bed, I have put a bed.  When I started five years ago, there would be 20 guys in the shelter some nights, many in private rooms.  Now we have 70 in there.  Our lounge space is designed for maybe 15 people.  We open up our dining room in the evening for additional space.  We also have to shut down the dorms during the day so we can clean.  As tough as it is, we need to shut down to get the guys up in the morning and get working towards moving out of the shelter.  If we don’t have a shut down time, some of our clients would simply stay in bed when what they need to be doing is heading to Social Services, heading to day labour or looking for work (while day labour is hard, most find permanent jobs while working there) or out looking for an apartment.  You would be surprised at the amount of guys that just want society to take care of them for the rest of their life and they need to be motivated to move along. 

On top of that is that we have two janitors who are cleaning all of the time.  Beds need to changed, linen has to be washed, floors have to washed and a lot of garbage has to be dealt with and the line between personal belongings and garbage is a fine line.  There is hidden vodka to be found (and tossed) and drugs to be found and disposed of.  If we had adequate lounge space, this wouldn’t be a problem but it is.

We do make accommodations if the weather is bad… if it is too crappy for the staff to go for a walk, it’s too bad for our clients and during the cold, it’s announced the day before so there is no stress over us being closed.  The same thing if guys are sick.  The flu is a part of life and we don’t make guys get doctor’s notes but if a guy is sick for a couple of days, we send him to the doctor for his own sake if he is not making an improvement.

Washrooms are another issue.  We don’t have public washrooms except during meal times.  Over the years we have people shooting up in our washrooms, hiding knives, drinking alcohol, drinking hand sanitizer, and even having sex (don’t ask, it brings back a lot of trauma).  We could open it up more but then I need to hire more staff to clean it and sadly supervise it.  Some staff let people come in and use the chapel washroom but I can’t count how many needles we have pulled out of there.  There has been crap on the walls, doors, and roof during that time and it’s just vandalism but it’s a huge issue.  Our one washroom has a wall covering that you need a diamond drill to get through and that was because it was just destroyed and that was during meal times.  I have heard a plumber’s snake grind through the flushed needles and the clogs that come with it.  I understand why people don’t want to open their washrooms up to the public.  Yet at the same time where is the nearest public washroom?  Midtown Plaza?  Tim Horton’s?  We tend to open it if we know the person but then we have people yelling at us for favouritism. 

While I can’t change the architecture of where I work, I can change some of the policies and procedures to make things easier for those that are homeless.  Last month I met with CUMFI about the problem of those being outside in winter.  Here is what I am trying to do about it.

  • For those that are cold and outside and don’t want to come in for shelter services, we are opening our lounge and using it for an all night drop in spot for homeless men and women.  Yes there will be coffee (decaf), soup, sandwiches, and maybe some KD.  If we can move a person into a shelter bed, we will.  If not, we are cool to do it on their time.  I had a client live for a year in the parking lot of the Centre.  I used to bring him coffee in the morning.  Every day we would chat until he was read to move inside.  It eventually happened (and then we screwed up and he moved out but he came back a couple of days later) and he has been a big part of our community and life since then.
  • Staff will be expanding the hours of our clothes cave for winter gear.  They do this anyways but it sounds impressive when I write it down.  This way if someone needs winter clothes, they can get winter clothes.
  • Making it easier to get free meals and making it easier for select agencies to refer people for free meals.  For men and women on the street and are hungry, we will find a way to get some calories in them no matter what time of the day it is.
  • We are giving The Lighthouse some of our mats so they have extra capacity (that we will fill).  We have a great relationship with The Lighthouse and any way we can help them, we will.  We know that they will do (and have done) the same for us.
  • We are working with the Saskatoon Police on ways we can relieve some of the pressure on their drunk tank.  We can’t do a lot but hopefully we can work together at making sure those that are manageably drunk can have a place to sleep as Larson House often fills up at 2:00 p.m.  This isn’t a change as the Saskatoon Police Service has always done a good job in bringing in cold and almost frozen men and women for help but we are doing an education piece for them so they understand what we can do.  Police officers in the past have actually offered to pay for guys to stay with us which is nice but totally unnecessary.  It does speak to the degree that officers do care about homeless men and women in Saskatoon and we want to make sure that they know of all of the resources they have at their disposal.  One thing that I have learned is that the one bit of information that I need as a frontline worker may not always get to me and if an officer has that information and can give it to me which helps us make a better decision or a referral based on his/her knowledge of the client and resources, we all come out ahead.
  • Doing a survey of abandoned buildings.  This one could get me in trouble but when it is –40, men come to us who are on what is called Transitional Employment Allowance or TEA for short.  TEA is a government of Saskatchewan program that is designed to transition you from one job to another.  It works but it also means you don’t get emergency services so if you are homeless, Social Services won’t help you.  It’s messed up that way.  For years I could never figure it out why they only came in when it was extreme weather and then it clicked in, you can stay warm in an abandoned apartment building at –20 with blankets but not at –40.  We started to ask and that is exactly what it was.  I am not sure what I am going to do with this information since disclosing it could hurt guys even more but I hate the idea that because of a stupid Government of Saskatchewan policy, people can freeze to death.
  • Expanding our data collection on the causes and geography of homelessness.  In Saskatchewan, all anyone cares about is our bed count.   That’s all I get asked.  Vacancy rates which only tells a small part of the story and ignores the problems behind why they are using the shelter.  I don’t know how to tell that story… well I do but not well and that kind of irritates me.

I am not happy with the solutions but they make the best use of limited resources and hopefully it will make a difference to those on the streets at night.  We have a long way to go and if you want to help, send me an email.

Former Reform and Canadian Alliance MP Jim Pankiw to face charges

From today’s StarPhoenix

Former MP Jim Pankiw has been charged with impaired driving, driving with a blood-alcohol content over the legal limit and failing to go for fingerprinting.

The incident occurred July 26 in Saskatoon. Pankiw, 45, served as MP for Saskatoon-Humboldt from 1997 to 2004 – first as a member of the Reform party and later as a member of the Canadian Alliance. He ran unsuccessfully as Independent candidate in the Saskatoon-Humboldt riding in this year’s federal election.

The matter returns to provincial court Oct. 27.

Pankiw is also awaiting a Nov. 4 Court of Appeal hearing brought by the Chiropractors Association of Saskatchewan (CAS), which sanctioned him for professional misconduct in 2006.

Pankiw was disciplined by the CAS board after admitting making disparaging and profanity-laced comments about other chiropractors and the board’s legal counsel.

Pankiw admitted guilt in 14 counts of professional misconduct but appealed the fines and suspension in 2009 at Court of Queen’s Bench, where a lesser penalty was imposed. The CAS is appealing that ruling.

According to court documents, the comments that landed Pankiw in trouble included him telling a fellow member at a CAS wine and cheese event in 2004 that there was someone in the room who he would like to "put a bullet in their head for screwing him."

He also complained at the same event about being wrongly treated by the CAS.

I have long wondered what went wrong with Pankiw.  Looking back to some of the childish antics that went on between him and Morris Bodnar, something has always been wrong.  I guess it happens but it’s sad to see it seemingly get worse.   Hopefully he can get the help he needs.

10 Things That Make Your Home a Target for Thieves

From Consumer Reports

A home is robbed every 14.6 seconds and the average dollar loss per burglary is $2,119, according to statistics just released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And that’s the good news because burglaries were down slightly in 2010 compared to 2009. Sure you lock your doors and windows when you’re not home (you’d be surprised how many people don’t). But here are ten things that you’re probably doing that make your home a target, and what you should do instead

Read the entire list here.

The hypocrisy of the Terrelle Pryor decision

Some of you know I am a big fan of Yahoo! Sports’ Mike Silver.  He has a great column on Terrelle Pryor’s entrance into the NFL Supplemental Draft and the hypocrisy that is shown by the NFL by punishing Pryor and letting coaches like Pete Carroll to move on from programs under suspension to the NFL.

Terrelle Pryor of The Ohio State UniversityBy essentially accepting Pryor’s suspension, Smith is daring Goodell to apply the same standard to non-players who land NFL jobs after having run afoul of the NCAA. If and when Goodell fails to do so (and I’m not holding my breath that he will), I believe Smith would make some noise, and he’d occupy the moral high ground in the process.

That, of course, is not the endgame for the NFLPA. I believe the union is thinking about this issue on a much larger level and considering its options toward reforming a corrupt system that leaves many of its future members in a defenseless and subservient situation.

Could college athletes ultimately unionize to protect their rights, either with the NFLPA’s implicit support, or perhaps under its umbrella as part of a labor partnership?

It’s a tricky proposition, but I definitely wouldn’t rule it out.

In the meantime, NFL players have a right to be angry about Pryor’s suspension. They can’t help but compare the situation to that of, say, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who left USC one step ahead of the NCAA’s slow-footed enforcement arm, boarded Paul Allen’s private jet and made a soft, $33-million landing in Seattle.

Someone think of the hamsters

Especially in France where they have been found guilty of not protecting the Great Hamster.

The Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the European Union’s highest court, ruled Thursday that France had failed to protect the Great Hamster of Alsace, sometimes known as the European hamster, the last wild hamster species in Western Europe. If France does not adjust its agricultural and urbanization policies sufficiently to protect it, the court said, the government will be subject to fines of as much as $24.6 million.

It was a tough loss to swallow for French politicians.

The chief of staff for Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, France’s minister of ecology, sustainable development, transport and housing, said Thursday evening that Ms. Kosciusko-Morizet would make no comment on the ruling.

The editorial staff of was pretty choked up about it as well.

What happens when a Supreme Court justice performance declines?

From the Globe and Mail

Alarmed by the chief justice’s wandering concentration and a fall on the stairs of an Ottawa restaurant, the other eight Supreme Court judges banded together and gave him a gentle prod toward the door.

Besides shedding light on a fascinating chapter in Supreme Court history, the story of chief justice Lamer’s departure opens a window into a world rarely glimpsed. Outside of the cloistered world of the judiciary, there has been precious little public discussion about the delicate question of what happens to a judge whose health and performance falters.

The judges were intent on showing respect to a jurist who had played a pivotal role in fleshing out a broad span of individual rights under the Charter. They selected a delegation of three veteran judges who embodied experience, candour and impartiality.

“We didn’t ask him to resign,” recalled former Supreme Court judge John Major, one of the three who attended the ultra-sensitive meeting with their chief. “We merely said that his performance was not what it had been up until this time. … He said instantly: ‘Well, then I’ll resign.’ ”

The real CSI

A  come to the city

Blunders by doctors in America’s morgues have put innocent people in prison cells, allowed the guilty to go free, and left some cases so muddled that prosecutors could do nothing.

In Mississippi, a physician’s errors in two autopsies helped convict a pair of innocent men, sending them to prison for more than a decade.

The Massachusetts medical examiner’s office has cremated a corpse before police could determine if the person had been murdered; misplaced bones; and lost track of at least five bodies.

Late last year, a doctor in a suburb of Detroit autopsied the body of a bank executive pulled from a lake — and managed to miss the bullet hole in his neck and the bullet lodged in his jaw.

"I thought it was a superficial autopsy," said Dr. David Balash, a forensic science consultant and former Michigan state trooper hired by the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department to evaluate the case. "You see a lot of these kinds of things, unfortunately."

More than 1 in 5 physicians working in the country’s busiest morgues — including the chief medical examiner of Washington, D.C. — are not board certified in forensic pathology, the branch of medicine focused on the mechanics of death, our investigation found. Experts say such certification ensures that doctors have at least a basic understanding of the science, and it should be required for practitioners employed by coroner and medical examiner offices.

This is unbelievable.

For 26 years, Tim Brown, a construction manager, has served as the coroner of rural Marlboro County in South Carolina, a $14,000-per-year part-time post. "It’s been kind of on-the-job training, assisted by the sheriffs," he said.

Long before the current economic crisis began shrinking state and county government budgets, many coroner and medical examiner offices suffered from underfunding and neglect. Because of financial constraints, Massachusetts has slashed the number of autopsies it performs by almost one quarter since 2006. Oklahoma has gone further still, declining to autopsy apparent suicides and most people age 40 and over who die without an obvious cause.

Of course this isn’t just an American issue.  Ontario and later Saskatoon have had their own bad pathologists.

As criticism mounted against Smith, Ontario’s chief coroner called for a review of 45 child autopsies where the once renowned pathologist had determined the cause of death was murder or criminally suspicious. In 2007, the outside experts concluded Smith had made major errors in 20 of those cases — 13 of which had resulted in criminal convictions.

That was followed by the damning inquiry report from Justice Stephen Goudge that skewered Smith as incompetent, arrogant and unqualified. Five wrongful convictions based on his evidence have now been overturned, with many more pending appeal.

Although the issue in Ontario and Saskatoon seems to be one of oversight, not a lack of funding.

Removing the Roadblocks to Rehabilitation

There are programs that do rehabilitate offenders.  So why are there not more of them.  Especially applicable in Canada as the debate over Harper’s prison plan heats up.

How can this be, when we profess to be concerned about crime?  As taxpayers, we don’t want to pay the costs of incarceration.  As citizens, we want to be able to live free of crime.  Why, then, the persistence of obvious folly?

The underlying reason is that crime has normally been a highly emotional issue for voters.  Politicians may understand that certain strategies do not leave us safer, yet they do not try to change them for fear of being tarred as soft on criminals.  When crime rates are high and crime is a potent electoral issue, the pressure encourages public officials to appear tough on crime at all costs.  When crime rates are low and voters might be more receptive to more effective approaches, the issue has usually vanished from public attention.

A related reason is that advocates of new strategies rarely have the research that would allow them to make their case.  Especially with an issue like crime, it is important to be able to offer proof to counter the emotion.  But many aspects of why people commit crimes and how to stop them have been little studied. “Research is very expensive to do,” said Peggy McGarry, the director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections for the New York-based Vera Institute. “You have to create a comparison group out of the files of a public agency, create a database, do interviews.  It is getting harder and harder to persuade private funders to spend money on research because the human need is just so great.  And they are not convinced that legislatures and government offices are going to do anything with the results of it anyway.  Why spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to evaluate the Castle if you are not convinced that New York State will try to replicate it?”

The good news is that we may have reached a turning point, a chance at last to see effective anti-crime policies edge out ineffective ones.  One reason is the record number of people being released from prison.  This has made prisoner re-entry a hot topic in the field of corrections (if still invisible to the rest of the world).  The politics, too, have changed.  The crime rate throughout the United States has dropped, which means that voters are less panicked about crime and less singleminded about harsh measures.

Today You… Tomorrow Me

A wonderful story of kindness and generosity that you don’t hear a lot about anymore.

I was on the side of the road for close to 4 hours. Big jeep, blown rear tire, had a spare but no jack. I had signs in the windows of the car, big signs that said NEED A JACK and offered money. No dice. Right as I am about to give up and just hitch out there a van pulls over and dude bounds out. He sizes the situation up and calls for his youngest daughter who speaks English. He conveys through her that he has a jack but it is too small for the Jeep so we will need to brace it. He produces a saw from the van and cuts a log out of a downed tree on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top, and bam, in business. I start taking the wheel off and, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones and I wasn’t careful and I snapped the head I needed clean off.

No worries, he runs to the van, gives it to his wife and she is gone in a flash, down the road to buy a tire iron. She is back in 15 minutes, we finish the job with a little sweat and cussing (stupid log was starting to give), and I am a very happy man. We are both filthy and sweaty. The wife produces a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand but he wouldn’t take it so I instead gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I could send them a gift for being so awesome. She says they live in Mexico. They are here so mommy and daddy can pick peaches for the next few weeks. After that they are going to pick cherries then go back home. She asks if I have had lunch and when I told her no she gave me a tamale from their cooler, the best tamale I have ever had.

So, to clarify, a family that is undoubtedly poorer than you, me, and just about everyone else on that stretch of road, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took an hour or two out of their day to help some strange dude on the side of the road when people in tow trucks were just passing me by. Wow…

But we aren’t done yet. I thank them again and walk back to my car and open the foil on the tamale cause I am starving at this point and what do I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirl around and run up to the van and the guy rolls his window down. He sees the $20 in my hand and just shaking his head no like he won’t take it. All I can think to say is "Por Favor, Por Favor, Por Favor" with my hands out. Dude just smiles, shakes his head and, with what looked like great concentration, tried his hardest to speak to me in English:

"Today you…. tomorrow me."


(Not) taking care of those that can’t take care of themselves

According to the provincial auditor, the Saskatchewan government doesn’t know how many children are in it’s care

But a new report by Brian Atkinson, the acting provincial auditor, released Wednesday said that after two years of urging, the Ministry of Social Services still does not know how many children are under care, who they are and where they live.

The minister said they can tell how many children are in the system, just that it’s convoluted. And the case management system is being replaced, added the minister. But how did it get so bad? A car dealer in such poor shape would be out of business or its manager fired and replaced long before disaster struck.

One estimate puts 4,700 children in the care of Social Services. Even if the ministry is able to track the numbers, it doesn’t appear to be able to manage the number of children. On the same day the report was released, a woman accused in a foster baby death had her court case delayed again.