On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that thousands of federal inmates serving time for certain non-violent crimes will soon be able to apply for clemency.
Those eligible to be set free will be prisoners convicted of low-level nonviolent crimes—mostly drug offenses—who have already served 10 years of their sentence, don't have a significant criminal history, and are serving out a sentence the would likely be shorter had they been convicted for the same crime today. The rule change could apply to some 2,000 of the 200,000 inmates in federal prison, and is part of a wider effort by the Obama administration to make sentencing laws more fair. Last year, the DOJ changed sentencing guidelines to give judges the freedom to determine whether or not to apply mandatory minimums for certain drug charges.
Weldon Angelos: Angelos is serving 55 years for selling a few pounds of marijuana while in possession of a gun. In his early 20s, Angelos founded a successful Utah-based rap label called Extravagant Records, where he wrote and produced songs with artists like Snoop Dogg. In 2002, the Salt Lake City police, who suspected Angelos was part of a local gang, arranged for an informant to purchase marijuana from him. The informant claimed that Angelos had firearms with him during both buys. When the judge in the case was forced to sentence Angelos to a mandatory 55 years, he called the punishment "unjust, cruel, and even irrational," noting that repeat child rapists and airplane hijackers get shorter sentences.
Sherman Chester: Chester is serving life without parole for selling cocaine and heroin as part of a drug ring. Chester started selling small amounts in his 20s and soon got involved in a drug conspiracy headed up by a family friend near Tampa, Florida. After an undercover detective bought from him on several occasions, Chester was indicted in federal court in 1992 along with nine others involved in the ring. He was 25. Chester was sentenced as if he had been in possession of nearly the entire amount of heroin and cocaine found on all members of the conspiracy. The judge who meted out Chester's harsh punishment said, "This man doesn’t deserve a life sentence, and there is no way that I can legally keep from giving it to him."
Sharanda Jones: Jones is serving life without parole for allegedly leading a drug ring. After high school, Jones worked as a restaurant manager and cosmetologist. Unable to support her family on her income, she began selling coke and crack in the Dallas area. In 1999, at age 32, Jones was found guilty of taking part in a conspiracy to sell crack, and sentenced to life. Jones received such a harsh sentence because she allegedly carried a gun when she went to buy cocaine from her supplier; because the court considered her a "leader" of the ring; and because she claimed innocence. Her co-conspirators got sentences that ranged between five and 19 years. Jones' daughter, who was eight when Sharanda went to prison, is now an adult.
Barbara Scrivner: Scrivner is serving 30 years in federal prison for participating in a drug ring. Scrivner was molested as a child, and later fell into drugs and a string of abusive relationships. At age 26, in order to make ends meet, Scrivner started selling small amounts of meth as part of a drug ring. The other participants in the conspiracy were arrested in 1992, but Scrivner initially was spared because she only played a bit part in the ring. A year later, after she refused to testify against the other members, Scrivner was indicted and held accountable for 109 kilos of meth. Once behind bars, Scrivner plunged into depression and attempted suicide by jumping from a 40-foot prison building. She survived, and has since undergone rehab.
Timothy Tyler: Tyler is serving a mandatory life sentence for selling LSD. After high school, Tyler traveled around the country following the Grateful Dead, doing drugs, and being hospitalized for mental health problems. He was arrested a couple of times for selling. In 1992, Tyler sold LSD and marijuana to an informant, and was later charged with possession and conspiracy to distribute along with three other codefendants, one of whom was his father. Partly because of prior convictions, Tyler went to prison for life, while his codefendants only got five to ten years. His father died serving out his term.
Last month, Shanesha Taylor, a homeless single mom in Phoenix, Arizona, was arrested for allegedly leaving her two children in her car while she went to a job interview. Taylor's story, and her tearful mug shot, have attracted national attention and an outpouring of donations. Debate the morals, but one thing is clear: child care is expensive. As the Washington Post reported Wednesday, infant daycare costs more than in-state college tuition in about two-thirds of the nation.
In 31 states, parents have to shell out more annually for infant child care than for a year of tuition and fees at a mid-priced state college, according to a report released last fall by Child Care Aware America, a national organization of child-care resource agencies. In New York, daycare for young children costs $8,000 more than in-state college tuition. Infant child care in Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, Wyoming, Alaska and Oregon also costs thousands of dollars more per year than a state college education. Check it out, via the Post. (In red states, daycare costs more):
The difference in the cost of daycare and higher education among states is due to variances in costs of living, differing state regulations, and disparities in state spending on higher education.
Democrats' chances of keeping control of the Senate in 2014 don't look great. FiveThirtyEight polling guru Nate Silver recently predicted that "Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber," and the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog gives the GOP an 80 percent chance of taking the Senate in 2014. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) isn't up for election this year. But the liberal darling is throwing her name—and her fundraising mojo—behind an effort to preserve the Dems' majority.
Warren has already raised $1.2 million this election season for 22 Senate candidates, including Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), according to Warren's political operation. That's a lot of dough. "Most members of Congress are not capable of raising that much for their colleagues…She's a rock star," says Viveca Novak, the editorial director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the influence of money on politics. And in late March, the Massachusetts senator expanded her 2014 efforts even further, joining up with the Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), a liberal PAC, to endorse two lucky Senate candidates: Rick Weiland, who is running to replace outgoing Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, and Rep. Bruce Braley, who is vying to take the place of retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).
Landing a Warren endorsement is great news for candidates without a lot of name recognition at the national level, says John Halpin, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress. Weiland, the South Dakota candidate, says Warren's endorsement has been "extremely helpful" so far, adding that after Warren and the PCCC sent out their fundraising pitch, "there was quite a spike [in donations] in the first couple of days." (The Weiland campaign does not yet have final fundraising numbers for the initial Warren-PCCC push.)
The US economy added 192,000 jobs in March, according to new numbers released Friday by the Department of Labor (DoL). The unemployment rate remained steady at 6.7 percent.
The number of jobs created last month was an improvement on the more moderate job gains seen in recent months—113,000 in January, and 175,000 in February. And even those numbers were revised upwards in March by a total of 37,000 jobs.
The portion of Americans who either had jobs or were looking for jobs—this is called the labor force participation rate—ticked up to 63.2 percent after a half-million Americans began looking for work again last month. And the number of long-term unemployed—those Americans who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more—has fallen by 837,000 since last year.
Economists predict that the positive March jobs numbers mean that the Federal Reserve, the US central bank that sets monetary policy, will likely continue to pull back on the massive economic stimulus measures it put into effect in September 2012.
Now for the sour news. The number of jobs added to the economy last month was still fewer than many economists had expected. "Everybody who said 'ah we finally turned the corner, we're going to be booming like crazy'—I think they're going to have to hold off for a few months," Austan Goolsbee, President Barack Obama's former top economic adviser, said on CNBC Friday.
And the jobs gained last month are not necessarily good middle-class jobs. The professional services sector posted the largest gains in March, but of the 57,000 new jobs added, most were in temp work. Food services added 30,000 jobs. The healthcare sector took on 19,000 jobs, and construction added 19,000.
The disparities in unemployment by race changed little in March. The jobless rate was 5.8 percent for whites, 12.4 percent for blacks, 7.9 percent for Hispanics, and 5.4 percent for Asians.
The Los Angeles Police Department attempted to bury a case of sexual assault involving two of its officers, even telling the victim not to seek legal counsel after she came forward, according to a recent lawsuit filed in a California federal court. The suit alleges that the officers were reported for sexual assault by at least three other women between 2009 and 2012, but they remained on the job until 2013.
In September 2009, Tara McMahon, then 20, was arrested on drug charges by LAPD narcotics officers Luis Valenzuela and James Nichols; in the following months, she alleges in a legal complaint that was filed in late March, the two officers continued to contact and harass her. Toward the end of the year, McMahon says she was walking her dog in Hollywood when Valenzuela and Nichols pulled up beside her and ordered her inside their car. Valenzuela then drove to a secluded spot, and forced McMahon to perform oral sex on him in the back of the car while Nichols sat in the front seat, the complaint alleges. "If you don't suck my dick, you're going to jail," Valenzuela told McMahon, according to a search warrant filed by an investigator involved in an ongoing LA County criminal investigation of the men. The officers threatened McMahon with jail if she told anyone about the incident, according to the complaint. McMahon alleges that the officers also tried to buy her a ticket to Las Vegas, if she promised not to come back to LA.