August 15, 2013
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
In a stunning turn in criminal justice policy, Attorney General Eric Holder announced steps the Justice Department will take to address over population in federal prisons by changing mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines and pushing non-violent drug offenders into rehab programs instead of prison cells.
In a speech Monday August 12 at an annual meeting of the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder said, “Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.”
Holder also acknowledged, that “too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no good law enforcement reason.”
Nearly 219,000 Americans are locked up in federal prisons. Even though, Blacks account for 13.1 percent of the United States population, Blacks take up 37 percent of the beds in federal prisons, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons. Roughly 47 percent of prisoners are locked up for drug offenses, many of them non-violent offenders. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Justice spent $6.6 billion housing federal prisoners in 2012.
Holder said that the Justice Department’s plans would mirror policies that worked to reduce prison populations and recidivism in Kentucky, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina. Ohio and other states. According to Holder, at least 17 states have improved recidivism rates and decreased prison populations without compromising public safety by shifting resources “from prison construction and toward evidence-based programs and services, like treatment and supervision, that are designed to reduce recidivism.”
Holder noted that while the federal prison population continues to increase, in 2012 state prison populations experienced the largest drop in a single year.
“The bottom line is that, while the aggressive enforcement of federal criminal statutes remains necessary, we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” said Holder. “To be effective, federal efforts must also focus on prevention and reentry.”
Holder also announced increased funding for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) that provides federal funding for advanced training and jobs for local law enforcement. Holder said that a new round of COPS grants would provide more than $110 million to hire military veterans and school resource officers.
The Obama administration placed more than $1.5 billion into the COPS program over the past four years, even as critics panned it and research that found it often contributed to over-policing in poor and minority communities and played only a limited role in the reduction of crime.
Still, members of Congress praised Holder’s announcement. In a press release, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said that she will introduce legislation that will “curb federal prosecutions of low-level and non-violent drug offenders; re-focus scarce federal resources to prosecute major drug kingpins, and give courts and judges greater discretion to place drug users on probation or suspend the sentence entirely.”
In a separate statement, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) said that, “It is well documented that a disproportionate share of stiff mandatory sentences for low-level, non-violent crimes typically impact low income populations and communities of color.”
Fudge continued: “The measures introduced by the Attorney General will provide a fair and balanced approach to sentencing while improving protection of our nation’s vulnerable communities.”
The Justice Department’s “Smart on Crime” initiative will focus five key provisions:
• Prioritizing prosecutions to focus on the most serious cases
• Reforming sentencing to eliminate unfair disparities and reduce overcrowded prisons.
• Pursuing alternatives to incarceration and low-level, non-violent crimes.
• Improving reentry to curb repeat offenses and re-victimization.
• Surging resources to violence prevention and protecting the most vulnerable populations.
“We must never stop being tough on crime,” said Holder. “But we must also be smarter on crime.”
August 15, 2013
By Geoff Mulvill and Angela Delli Santi
Cory Booker brushed off three experienced opponents in a victory in New Jersey’s special Democratic U.S. Senate primary, setting up a campaign of deep contrasts with Steve Lonegan, who won the Republican nomination.
The two winners Tuesday will face off in an Oct. 16 special election called by Gov. Chris Christie to fill the last 15 months of the seat previously held by Frank Lautenberg, who died at 89 in June.
Lonegan, former mayor of Bogota, is trying to buck history and become the first Republican elected to represent New Jersey in the Senate in 41 years. Booker, mayor of Newark, is trying to make history as the state's first black senator.
Booker promised to disregard old political rules and focus on finding common ground. Lonegan, who had harsh words for Booker as a celebrity who rubs elbows with “elites” in Hollywood, said that Democrats like Booker need to be stopped so the government does not deprive citizens of individual liberty.
Booker, 44, a rare New Jersey politician who was well known statewide before seeking statewide office, easily defeated U.S. Reps. Rush Holt and Frank Pallone — who both did well only in and near their districts — and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. Despite facing experienced competition, he received around three-fifths of the votes.
A prolific social media user, Booker is a friend of celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Eva Longoria, both of whom made campaign appearances.
He has become known through his story: He grew up in a well-off northern New Jersey suburb as the son of IBM executives, played football at Stanford, was a Rhodes Scholar and went to law school at Yale before moving into one of the toughest Newark neighborhoods and launching a career in public service.
As mayor of a city known for crime, corruption and poverty, he's courted hundreds of millions from philanthropists, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
In his acceptance speech Tuesday night in Newark, he talked about not following political convention and trying to find common ground with adversaries, but also about some core liberal beliefs: raising the minimum wage, rewriting the tax code, protecting Social Security and Medicare and securing equal pay for women and the right to marry for gays.
“It’s a campaign that seeks to give testimony to the truth that the lines that divide us are insignificant compared to the ties that bind us,” he said.
Lonegan, 57, who also grew up in suburban Bergen County and played college football, served three terms as mayor of the small community of Bogota and then became the New Jersey director for the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity, wasted no time Tuesday going after Booker’s approach and his celebrity, dismissing him as the candidate “anointed by Hollywood” and supported by “Silicon Valley moguls.”
“It’s going to look like a conservative versus a far-left liberal who’s going to paint a picture of a utopia where government can meet all of our needs,” Lonegan said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think government is a problem.”
Lonegan, who opposes gay marriage, abortion rights and President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul, and generally wants to scale back the role of government, scoffed when told of Booker’s plan to match Lonegan’s “negative attacks with positive visions.”
“Maybe he can send out tweets from the Hundred Acre forest,” he said, referring to the setting for the Winnie the Pooh books.
During the primary campaign, Lonegan held news conferences to blast Booker on proposals for minimum wage increases, ties to a tech start-up and crime in Newark.
Lonegan received about 80 percent of the vote in a Republican primary where the only other candidate was a political newcomer, physician Alieta Eck.
While Booker is a close ally of Christie on Newark issues, the Republican governor said this week that he “fully anticipates” endorsing the winner of the Republican primary.
August 15, 2013
By Angus Shaw
Zimbabwe's longtime President Robert Mugabe said Tuesday his party won "a resounding mandate" from voters to complete a sweeping black empowerment program to take over foreign and white-owned assets.
Mugabe said the program in Zimbabwe, widely criticized by Western countries, will be "pursued to its successful conclusion."
Outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, 61, is challenging the results of the July 31 election and alleges widespread vote rigging that gave Mugabe, 89, and his ZANU-PF party a commanding victory.
Addressing military parades on the annual Defense Forces holiday, Mugabe said voters ended an unwieldy coalition with Tsvangirai's opposition that was formed after the last violent and disputed elections in 2008.
Mugabe said the vote showed confidence in his party and its drive for "total economic emancipation" for prosperity and jobs.
"I extend my hearty congratulations to all of you for showing our foreign detractors our destiny lies in our hands," Mugabe said, speaking at the main sports stadium in Harare where the parades and parachuting displays, gymnastics and a soccer match between the uniformed services of Zimbabwe and regional ally Tanzania were held.
In his first public appearance since the election on the Heroes' Day holiday Monday, honoring guerrillas in the war the led to independence in 1980, Mugabe described his rivals as an enemy he disposed of in the election "like garbage."
On Tuesday he called them "some misguided fellow countrymen" who received backing from hostile Western nations and followed a regime-change agenda to oust him.
Tsvangirai's party had called for reforms to the military and police it has blamed for state orchestrated violence in the past.
"What they call security sector reform is when the enemy's aim is to dilute the efficiency of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces," Mugabe said. "We appeal to all Zimbabweans to resist the enemy's strategies and renewed advances by our erstwhile colonizers."
Britain, the former colonial power, and the United States have questioned whether the results of the July 31 poll represent a free and fair vote.
Mugabe, who for the first time this year inspected the parades from an open military jeep instead of walking through the ranks, said Britain has opposed black empowerment since 2000 when thousands of white farmers were forced to surrender their land.
Critics of the program say it disrupted Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy, shut down industries and scared away foreign investment in mining and other businesses where owners were required to yield 51 percent control to blacks.
Mugabe, however, said empowerment succeeded in creating jobs and economic growth in other African countries in the post-colonial era where it had not drawn the same condemnation as in Zimbabwe.
In its election manifesto, Mugabe's party vowed to take control of the last 1,138 foreign and white-owned businesses in the country.
"This policy beneficial to indigenous Zimbabweans will be taken to its successful conclusion" under a new ZANU-PF government, Mugabe said.
Tsvangirai and leaders of his Movement for Democratic Change campaigned for liberalization the economy to attract Western investors. They stayed away from Tuesday's parades and Monday's ceremonies at a national cemetery outside Harare.
August 15, 2013
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
Michelle Obama is making a cameo appearance in a video for a hip-hop song recorded to encourage kids from minority groups to take care of their bodies.
The song, “Everybody,” is one of 19 on an album called “Songs for a Healthier America,” set for release next month. The album is being produced by Hip Hop Public Health and the Partnership for a Healthier America, both of which support the first lady’s “Let’s Move” anti-childhood obesity campaign. Statistics show higher rates of overweight and obesity among black and Latino children.
In the video, Mrs. Obama talks briefly about launching “Let’s Move” and people’s doubts about whether it will make a difference.
The song itself is sung by rapper Doug E. Fresh, along with Jordin Sparks, Dr. Oz and others.