Posts Tagged: Justice Department

Pragmatism over principle on pot

The Chicago Tribune’s John Byrne reports that the city’s new top cop, Garry McCarthy, says that he might want to give citations, instead of court summons, to people arrested for marijuana possession. This comes shortly after Toni Preckwinkle, the head of the Cook County Board, declared marijuana arrests an unduly expensive burden on the judicial system.

Missing here, of course, is the argument that pot arrests don’t just drain resources but are a needless use of police powers that, in Chicago at least, unfairly target African Americans. A purely budgetary argument implies that once Cook County’s finances turn around, the city will again make casual marijuana users appear in court.

DOJ funds used to pursue child pornography prosecutions

Dave Rozek of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that there is a “major effort” by Illinois state attorney general Lisa Madigan to make more child pornography prosecutions. The use of U.S Justice Dept. money to help states apprehend and prosecute users of child pornography has rapidly increased in the internet era. By one estimation, 50 people faced federal prosecution on child pornography in 1995 and 2,500 were prosecuted in 2010.


A step toward fair drug laws

The U.S. Sentencing Commission, an independent agency, voted yesterday to retroactively apply a law, the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, that will reduce the penalties for crack offenders, making them more equivalent to cocaine sentences. The decision is about fairness: crack offenders, more so than powdered cocaine users, tend to be black and poor. But the Sentencing Commission is also trying to take on prison overcrowding, which is hard thanks to a “tough on crime” policy making attitude that usually carries the day. (more…)

Do Illinois state police unfairly target minority drivers?

The Illinois chapter of the ACLU wants the U.S. Justice Dept. Civil Rights Division to investigate whether the Illinois State Police force uses consent searches unfairly to target black and Latino drivers. The Chicago Tribune’s Monique Garcia reports that state data shows Hispanics and African Americans are “two to three times more likely to be searched for contraband even though white motorists were more likely to be found in possession of drugs, alcohol or weapons.” Interestingly, the law that produced accessible data on state searches was pushed by then-state Sen. Barack Obama.  Obama has continued to pay attention to civil rights issues, boosting funding and staff for the Civil Rights Division.

Police departments feel impact of federal budget cuts

The last-minute 2011 federal budget cut $38 billion in non-entitlement domestic spending, exempting all national security agencies from cuts. But the Chicago Tribune’s Robert Channick and Joseph Ruzich report that Justice Dept. money to local law enforcement was not exempt — overall the Dept. lost about $1 billion from its 2010 budget, including $296 million for the Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, program. The Tribune looks at how hard these cuts hit suburban Chicago police forces. For example, the COPS program pays the salaries of three police officers and provides the money for bulletproof vests for the Maywood police department.

Corporate lobbyists use sweeteners to win over regulators

There’s more than political donations or legions of arm-twisting lobbyists in the Washington lobbying toolbox.  Sometimes, there’s a status symbol cupcake, as Edward Wyatt reported in the New York Times.  With AT&T facing what would appear to be a formidable task of convincing the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department to approve its proposed $39 billion merger with T-Mobile, one wonders if the company will be strategically delivering chocolate Easter eggs to the regulators this time around.  Wyatt likened the delivery of the sought-after cupcakes to offices within the FCC during holiday season to a military operation.  The breakdown of who got how many cupcakes was labeled “proprietary.” (more…)

An actual problem with voting in Illinois

U.S. Dept. of Justice officials are concerned that Illinois didn’t mail its election ballots in time to overseas military personnel and that these votes might not be counted in the midterms. The Decatur (Illinois) Herald-Review’s Kurt Erickson reports that one-third of the state’s 110 election authorities missed a Sep. 18 deadline to military personal and other Illinois residents who live outside the country. The Justice Dept. met with Illinois State Board of Election officials this week, though it’s not clear how, at this point, the federal government can ensure that these ballots will reach the state’s thousands of registered absentee voters. (more…)

Fraudulent claims of fraud

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the Illinois GOP is stoking fears of voter fraud in the November elections and wants Tea Party activists to work as poll watchers who guard against fraud. In Illinois, Khimm writes, “local election boards seems grateful that there’s greater interest in filling chronic poll worker shortages. But many Democrats and election experts have expressed concern about placing activists driven by anti-fraud hysteria in charge of managing and overseeing voting stations.”

But it should be more than Democrats and left magazines like Mother Jones that get involved on this issue.  Career federal Justice Dept. officials, and political appointees of both Obama and Bush, should be screaming on the mountaintops that voter fraud doesn’t exist. (more…)

Standish and Thomson: A tale of two prisons

The Justice Dept.’s Federal Bureau of Prisons might convert a maximum security prison in Standish, Michigan into a federal prison, reports Steve Carmody of Michigan Public Radio. This despite an environmental impact study stating that the prison must do renovations, including increasing the number of prisoners it can house.

The situation in Standish is similar to what happened three months ago in Thomson, Illinois — with a couple of critical differences. (more…)

So you want to buy a gun in Illinois

The Justice Department will provide Illinois a $1.2 million grant to better participate in a national system of gun background checks, the Associated Press reports. Illinois is one of seven states that will get money to put mental health records into a national background-check database. The FBI can deny gun sales to customers with questionable mental health records.

The federal grant announcement comes two months after Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and the City Council overturned a 28 year-old handgun ban — a decision forced by the U.S. Supreme Court, which effectively declared the ban unconstitutional. (more…)