The Marshall Project

Closing Argument
The Week in Justice
July 2, 2016
Edited by 
Closing Argument features highlights from the past week in criminal justice. To change how often you hear from us, update your preferences.


The day his brother took a life. Issac Bailey was nine years old when his brother, Herbert, known to the world as “Moochie,” murdered a man in a small town in South Carolina. For the next 34 years the brothers, one in prison, one wending his way through life on the outside, transformed each other and themselves. Here is the story of a family broken by violence that in the end was able to mend itself; the story of a killer who was more than just the worst thing he had ever done.
She likes the money bail system just the way it is — and will say so to her million or so Twitter and Facebook followers. The fight to reform the nation’s money bail system, one that disproportionately penalizes the poor, has led to a backlash from bail agents and others who earn their living from the current system. Beth Chapman, the former bounty hunting reality television star, has emerged as a vocal leader of this industry, which will meet next month in Mississippi to plan strategies to retain the status quo. TMP’s Alysia Santo filed our report.
The matchmaker. Renea Royster, whose boyfriend is imprisoned in Kentucky, spends 100 hours a week helping inmates all over the country connect with their loved ones or seek out new friends. She takes the contents of their prison emails (when they are allowed to send them) and pastes them onto Facebook pages the inmates have paid her to create in their names. TMP’s Maurice Chammah brought us the profile of a woman who left her job at a Walmart deli to become a sort of “social secretary” for the incarcerated.
Introducing The Bookshelf. Looking for a good read this long holiday weekend? Maybe a book for the beach? The Marshall Project this week launched a new feature highlighting top criminal justice books selected by our staffers. The 37 titles we’ve compiled so far cover an array of subjects from gangs to the death penalty to rehabilitation. For starters we’ve selected ten great reads from The Bookshelf — call it “Criminal Justice 101” — for people new to the subject.
We are in the middle of one of the longest death penalty lulls in 24 years. Even after it was restored 40 years ago this week by the Supreme Court in Gregg v. Georgia, capital punishment in America has moved forward in fits and starts. The current lull is scheduled to end July 14 after 64 days without an execution. TMP’s Tom Meagher examines the math. In honor of the ruby anniversary we’ve created a quick quiz that tests how much you know about capital punishment in America. Take it and find out.
“I can’t believe you are going to Florence without me.” What do you do while you wait for your husband to go to prison? And how do you deal with his absence when he is gone? Here is the latest installment of our “Life Inside” series.


Criminal justice stories from around the web as selected by our staff.
If you haven’t been following the scandal consuming police departments in the Bay Area right now, take this three-day weekend to catch-up. The East Bay Express, an alternative weekly, is continuing its excellent coverage of the sex-crime drama, which seems to only get crazier and involve more officers as time goes on. In a nutshell: multiple officers in Oakland and neighboring communities had sex with an underage prostitute, some of whom even tipped her off about undercover stings. This week, the Express chronicled how the Oakland Department tried to bury the scandal, and that some of the cops involvedwere school resource officers assigned to the young woman’s high school. — Christie Thompson
Police Tasers are often heralded as the weapon of choice for police departments under federal review for widespread abuses. Chicago has ordered hundreds of the weapons during the past year as the U.S. Justice Department investigates its police force for patterns of civil rights violations. And the New Orleans Police Department, which is also under federal oversight, has encouraged Taser use. But a new study announced this week found that police Taser use, at least by officers in Connecticut, is far from a panacea. “Hispanics shot with stun guns by police in Connecticut in 2015 were more likely to be fired upon multiple times than other racial groups,” reported the Associated Press. — Simone Weichselbaum
In the very small pantheon of prosecutorial “mea culpas,” “Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor,” in last week’s Reason, stands out. In it, former federal prosecutor Ken White details how the culture of his former office led to a pervasive disregard for defendants’ constitutional rights. The most insightful section of the piece is about the Supreme Court holding that a violation must be material — that is, it must have been important enough that it would have changed the outcome — to matter. “As a young prosecutor I found myself analyzing each constitutional question not in terms of whether the defendant's rights were respected, but in terms of how I could show it was irrelevant that they weren't,” White writes. “A persistent professional obligation to argue that violations of constitutional rights don't matter can't help but influence how prosecutors look at rights, and treat them.” —Beth Schwartzapfel
So much of police work comes down to discretion. In Redmond, Washington, a police officer was summoned when a mother and father, accompanied by their two children, were caught trying to shoplift diapers and a pair of shoes. How did he handle it? He took account of the situation, discreetly paid for the items, then directed the parents to family resources. In Little Rock, Arkansas, police were confronted with a topless woman outside of a museum. A newspaper summary of this encounter seems funny at first, what with the woman telling police she “needed to cool off.” But then you read beyond the first two paragraphs and learn that the woman, homeless, was arrested not on one or two but three charges, under three different statutes (for example, loitering) with notoriously vague language susceptible to any number of interpretations. She was taken to jail and held without bail. — Ken Armstrong


“Politicians make the laws. Administrators set policy and manage the city departments. Police get blamed.”
— William Barry Hughes on the profitable industry of court fines

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