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sea change

7/21/14 10:30am

U.S. to Reduce Prison Sentences for Tens of Thousands of Drug Offenders

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Late last week, the United States Sentencing Commission made a historic decision to potentially reduce the drug sentences of over 51,000 drug offenders in federal prisons.

The decision mirrored a federal sea change taking place in regard to reforming drug sentencing in the criminal justice system. As the federal agency that sets criminal sentencing policies for judges, the commission voted on July 18 to allow inmates serving time for drug crimes to apply for reduced sentences. If approved by Congress and judges in the courtroom, it will be the largest such sentencing reduction in modern U.S. history.

The unanimous vote by the seven members of the U.S. Sentencing Commission will apply to the majority of nonviolent drug offenders in federal prisons. After examining the results of a similar 2007 decision solely focused on crack cocaine offenses, the commission found that the inmates released early posed no greater risk of committing more crimes than those who had served their full terms.

Judge Patti B. Saris, the chair of the commission, said in a statement that, “This amendment received unanimous support from the commissioners because it is a nuanced approach…It reduces prison costs and populations and responds to statutory and guidelines changes since the drug guidelines were initially developed, while safeguarding public safety."

Congress has until November 1 to disapprove of the commission’s decision. If lawmakers let the new rules stand, judges across the country can begin considering individual petitions from inmates for sentence reductions. The average reduction of the sentences would be about two years. According to a special rule added by the commissioners to the new program, no prisoners can be released until Nov. 1, 2015. Saris explained that the delay was intended to protect public safety by allowing time for judges to make an “appropriate consideration” of each petition.

The sea change reflects the views of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have said they strongly support a lesser emphasis on imprisoning low-level drug offenders. At around 216,000 inmates, the federal prison population currently exceeds capacity by 32% and the population is overflowing because of such low-level drug offenders.

Julie Stewart, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, expressed complete support for the decision. “This vote will change the lives of tens of thousands of families whose loved ones were given overly long drug sentences,” she said.

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By John Lavitt

war on drugs

7/21/14 8:30am

Mexican Journalist Accuses Former Presidents of Links to Drug Cartels

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Despite more than 80 journalists in Mexico being shot, stabbed or killed since 2006, one prominent reporter has stepped up and accused numerous Mexican presidents of having links to drug cartels.

Anabel Hernández’s book, Los Señores del Narco, translated into English as Narcoland, has sold over 200,000 copies and become one of the best selling non-fiction books in Mexico. Her work has accused Vicente Fox, who led Mexico from 2000-2006, and Felipe Calderón, who ruled from 2006 to 2012, of having links to drug kingpins including former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzmán. She has also insinuated that the Sinaloa Cartel is continuing to grow up in power under current leader Enrique Peña Nieto.

However, her success as an author has come at a high price. Her home has been broken into on several occasions, and she has endured constant threats against both her and her children. Police in Mexico City have since provided her with protection, which will be especially needed as she gears up to launch a new edition of her book later this summer.

“Corruption in Mexico is pyramidal and from the presidency it permeates other institutions,” said Hernández, whose own father was kidnapped and murdered in 2000. “The principal public officials and politicians that have been part of this system are still in power. They are deputies, senators, governors and others. I am convinced that this war on drugs was never real. Its only intention was to protect the Sinaloa cartel and attack others."

The current and former presidents accused by Hernández of having cartel connections have denied those relationships, but have never sued for slander; she insists it’s because they can’t prove otherwise. But while Hernández doesn’t support drug legalization, she wants the targets for the war on drugs to be revised completely.

“To have a true war on drugs we need to investigate the big world banks, put all the money launderers in prison,” she said. "The war on drugs is not with a pistol or an AK-47. The war on drugs has to be financial.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

headlines

7/21/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: July 21, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

eating disorders

7/18/14 7:30pm

Racial Differences in Body Perception Can Affect Eating Disorders

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Researchers have presented the initial results of a comparative study on body perception and differing ideals of beauty among races.

In a study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, both the rate and the type of eating disorders experienced turned out to have a racial component. The study provided a comparative analysis of perceptions of body weight, eating disorders, and binge-eating disorder among young African-American women as opposed to young Caucasian women.

While young Caucasian women were affected more by anorexia and bulimia, African-American women were more likely to be affected by binge eating disorder. According to past studies, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are up to six times more prevalent in white women than black women. The new study revealed a strong indication that racial preferences in regards to body perception may affect the incidence of eating disorders.

Dr. Simone Lauderdale, a psychiatry fellow and lead investigator of the study, illuminated the importance of the study. “Psychiatrists, as well as general practitioners, should really be aware of the role culturally bound body and image ideals may play in a patient's eating behaviors, specifically, with African Americans having higher rates of binge eating disorders nationally as compared to other eating disorders," she said.

Presented at the American Psychiatric Association's 2014 Annual Meeting in New York City, the study included 57 white women and 21 black women who were matched on age, weight, height, and education. Participants were assessed on their eating behaviors by the Questionnaire on Eating and Weight Patterns–Revised. Participant’s perception of body image and body satisfaction were assessed through the use of the Body Shape Questionnaire and Beauty Ideals and Body Image Questionnaire (BIQ). According to Dr. Lauderdale, “The BIQ was designed specifically for this study.”

Dr. Lauderdale explained her reasoning behind designing the new study tools when she explained how she "wanted to really see how differences in beauty ideals and body images may affect various people's eating behaviors and how ethnicity might play a role in body image and beauty ideals. ”

The clear results showed that white women were more likely to rate thinner figures as more attractive. Contrastingly, black women were more likely to rate heavier figures as more attractive. Lauderdale illuminated the results by explaining how “caucasians having a greater value for a thinner image may be related to the reporting of more eating disorders in this population, whereas African Americans value a heavier body type and report fewer eating disorders.”

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By John Lavitt

nosy

7/18/14 5:30pm

Paranoid Parents Can Rent Drug Dogs to Sniff Out Kids' Stash

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If you're a parent who suspects their kid of being drug user, you can now uncover the truth with private drug dogs for hire.

NPR recently spoke to Tom Robichaud, who owns a drug dog outfit called Discreet Intervention in the Boston area and brings Ben—a dog with police-level contraband detection training—to conduct searches for the nominal price of $300. Robichaud offers the tools and techniques of police detection without the prosecution or jail time, and said in most cases he won't contact the police if the searches turn anything up.

"I don't say anything," Robichaud explained. While he isn't legally obligated to inform the police, he feels he could be morally obligated to call under extreme circumstances. "If, by chance, my dog does come across, let's say, a meth lab [or] a big amount of a narcotic, I have to call the police."

Robichaud simply tells parents what locations the dog hits and allows the parents to take the reigns from there, no questions asked. Sometimes he receives calls from people who suspect their neighbors of doing drugs; since he's a private investigator, Robichaud isn't subject to the same restrictions as police. But such a service has caused some concern among those in the legal community, particularly the ACLU and local police.

"There's a fundamental principle here that we don't intrude in that way on people's homes," said Jay Stanley of the ACLU. "And I don't think we want to go down the road to allowing open season for neighbors to spy on each other."

Police forces are also uncomfortable with the idea of a private drug investigator snooping about strangers' houses, since such activity could put lives or investigations at risk.

"We don't seek this kind of assistance," said Jim Pasco of the National Fraternal Order of Police. "We believe that some things are best left to police to ensure the best possible result."

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By Bryan Le

addicted to stupidity

7/18/14 3:30pm

Urban Outfitters Pinpoints Hairroin Salons With Free Hypodermic Pens

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Pinpointing Hairroin Salons in their stores that give away free hypodermic needle pens, it’s clear that Urban Outfitters has failed to learn their lesson.

After previously pulling shot glasses designed as prescription medication bottles from its shelves after an uproar, the teen-focused store has actually teamed up with a hair salon with the name Hairroin in its latest New York City location. The so-called cutting edge salon glamorizes drug addiction with their slogan, "addicted to style," and distribution of hypodermic needle pens as promotion.

Can you imagine laughing at such a play on words in light of the countless families suffering from heroin abuse and overdose deaths? To go along with this cruel joke by Urban Outfitters that mocks the tragedy of heroin addiction, shoppers can pick up their hypodermic pens as casually as a teenager picks up a new drug habit. Along with other items emblazoned, “I Love Hairroin” that celebrate the ugly reality, the store seems to actively disregard the horror of local statistics in New York.

Plagued by an actual heroin epidemic, the number of drug-related deaths in New York more than doubled from 940 in 2004 to 2,044 in 2012. This is according to the latest available drug statistics from the New York Health Department. The latest report that recommends Naloxone access for state paramedics explained how “[h]eroin-related overdose deaths increased 84% between 2010 and 2012 in New York City, after four years on the decline.”

With devastating effects on the youth of the state, the heroin epidemic is generating tragedy in homes and in families across the state. Speaking at Rockland Community College on June 11, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “This state has a serious problem with heroin, and it has been growing, and it is getting worse, and it is of epidemic proportions at this point,” according to the Democrat Chronicle.

In the shadow of such a grim reality, Urban Outfitters' partnership with Hairroin, with its tone-deaf slogan and freebie syringe pens, is clearly crossing an obvious line. Even if the salon Hairroin has its own business, with standalone locations in New York City and Los Angeles, does Urban Outfitters really need to glamorize such a callous disregard for today’s gruesome reality? How many young people will get caught up in the casual fun of the promotion, leading to more unnecessary victims of the heroin epidemic that is raging across the entire country?

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By John Lavitt

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