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Federal Prison Handbook

Articles by Michael Fortino, Ph.D

After a Decade of Fighting, The Last Resort Exoneration Project Finally Frees Two Wrongfully Convicted of Murder

The Last Resort Exoneration Project, headed by Lesley C. Risinger and her husband, D. Michael Risinger, worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to attack the credibility of the evidence, utilizing every resource available, including investigators, ballistic analysts, forensic pathologists, and a host of other experts.

Lesley Risinger had previously won the exoneration of two men in two previous cases without the luxury of faulty DNA analysis, and she did so prior to attending law school. Her husband, John J. Gibbons Professor of Law Emeritus at Seaton Hall University School of Law, is considered one of the foremost evidence scholars in the United States. Together, they make up The Last Resort Exoneration Project. Leslie, who understands the complexity of exoneration where no DNA exists, stated, “[w]ithout DNA evidence the road to justice and freedom is uphill—and it’s a very big hill. But if the DNA exonerations have ...

Police State: From Social Justice to Social Dominance

Just when we thought things could not get any worse, somehow they did. In the midst of a global pandemic, economic collapse, mass unemployment, and racial divide, we were exposed to a dark truth about police brutality—a truth we could not unsee because the weight of its evidence pressed down squarely on our neck.

Chances are that by the time you read these lines the world will have already changed again. No one now can possibly keep up with the seismic transformations taking place globally, a paradigm shift triggered at the surface level by violent events perceived as reactions that point to racism throughout the nation and the world—implicit and obvious but actually resulting from a deeper groundswell of longstanding social frustration.

We now live in a country where factions of our citizenry believe police have moved from revered to racist, from guardian to warrior, from peacekeeper to punisher, and from public servant to public enemy number one.

Fortunately or unfortunately, video footage shot in real-time does not lie, but neither do the numbers. The difference is where we choose to look. What we are failing to see is a paradigm shift that has moved the ...

Fulton County Prosecutor in Georgia to Expunge MLK and Other Civil Rights Leaders’ Records, But not Everyone Agrees

On October 19, 1960, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested while taking part in the Atlanta Student Movement’s campaign of boycotts and sit-ins, in which he and others attempted to seek service at a whites-only dining room in the Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta, Georgia. Sixty years later, that arrest record could be expunged, but Dr. King himself, if he were still alive, might have objected.

Fulton County Solicitor General Keith Gammage said, “I always had in my mind, what effect would it have if we expunged the record for arrests of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the other civil rights protesters, and called those arrests what they were—unconstitutional and biased arrests.”

Gammage, 48, born after King’s death, is on the board of trustees at King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church.

“There is a gap between social justice-related protests and activism and a true criminal offense,” he said. “And what the protesters and activists were fighting for, remains a barrier for other citizens today.”

Gammage’s announcement of the proposed expungement came on the eve of the anniversary of King’s April 4, 1968 assassination. Not everyone attending agreed.

Gammage has said he’s had positive conversations with ...

COVID-19 Creates Opportunity for Big Brother in the Sky

Now that COVID-19 has brought about new public enforcement policies, a dystopian world where government agencies watch our every move may not be as far in the future as we might think. With the intent of observing crowd activities in public places (and private ones as well), law enforcement and health authorities have begun to utilize drones and other monitoring technologies ostensibly to forecast or prevent possible coronavirus outbreaks. These surveillance tools have proven extremely effective as “infectious disease tracking” technology, but many people are beginning to fear we must now sacrifice coveted privacy in exchange for safety.

Various applications for the technologies focus predominantly on contact tracing, including the monitoring of safe social distancing or the detection of an individual’s fever through thermal imaging. Other more general uses of drone technology involve strategic deliveries where exposure may be risky. Drone couriers now deliver pharmaceuticals to the sick, personal protection equipment to the front line, or emergency supplies to COVID-19 ravaged environments. Although these applications may sound practical and noble, local, state, and federal agencies have moved beyond mere COVID-related usage and have begun to exploit the pandemic in an effort to invade other areas of ...

Joint State-Federal Task Forces Practice Rogue Justice Under Protection of Qualified Immunity

Hundreds of rogue joint state-federal task forces—accountable to no one, and acting as units of vigilante justice—continually violate the constitutional rights of individuals while hiding behind the aegis of “qualified immunity.”

The concept of the “joint task force” was first initiated by President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s and designed to conduct raids as part of the “war on drugs.”

Dan Baum, author of the 1996 publication Smoke and Mirrors, suggests these entities were basically designed to be a “strike force that could kick down doors and put the ‘fear of God’ into drug offenders without burdensome hurdles like the Fourth Amendment or separation of powers.”

The ‘70s were a turning point in America’s concept of crime and punishment. On the big screen, actors like Charles Bronson in Death Wish or Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry portrayed vengeful enforcers with no respect for social or constitutional restraints. Such restraints became viewed as impediments to “getting the bad guys”—the beginning of a social acceptance that suggested “get the bad guys, at any cost.” Hollywood fed the public’s xenophobic fear of lawless thugs by providing villains that begged to be viciously stomped out and, in so ...

Aggressive NYPD Police Tactics Spreading COVID-19

Like a scene out of Will Smith’s movie, Legend, one of the most iconic visual images during the New York City lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 is a photo of a lone policeman on horseback patrolling a deserted downtown street. Juxtaposed to that image is a different scene further uptown of three NYPD officers aggressively infiltrating a crowd of partygoers where no one, police nor patrons, is wearing a mask. The complex reality of this unusual setting is that some people, intent on returning to normal life, may begin to clash with police in defiance of social distancing, resulting in a risk of COVID-19 exposure on all sides of the equation.

Toward the end of March 2020, NYPD officers began to step up enforcement policies as social distancing became the catchphrase for a new order of compliance in the city. It began in Brooklyn when three individuals were arrested for failing to “socially distance themselves.” The violators were charged with obstructing governmental administration, unlawful assembly, and disorderly conduct. One of the perpetrators, a female, was ultimately thrown in jail for 36 hours with two dozen other female prisoners and all without masks, soap, or ...

COVID-19 May Ring in a New Era of High-Tech Private Policing

by Michael Fortino, Ph.D.

Rand Corporation, a prominent think tank known for its ability to forecast future trends, describes a post-COVID-19 era where police departments experience reduced, if not curtailed power, and are rendered nearly obsolete as a protectorate of the public from risk of a coronavirus outbreak.

Retired Police Chief Bob Harrison, in describing life in America in 2030, envisions a post-apocalyptic existence 10 years from now where our economy has all but collapsed, where we are forced to avoid any and all social interactions, and where our daily routines consist of monitoring devices that track our every move to keep us compliant. We will soon fall under the watchful eye of a newly coined law enforcement known as, “COVID Cops.”

In this post-COVID-19 world, schooling has moved online, entertainment is now experienced through compartmentalization, which may include spectator enjoyment from the protection of a viewing bubble. Brick-and-mortar stores, and our ability to touch merchandise before we purchase it, will become a thing of the past. Home theaters will be as commonplace as kitchens, and houses of worship will be experienced virtually.

Human life, as we knew it, has moved out of neighborhoods and communities and into the cozy ...

Latest Forensic Technology, Pattern Analysis, May Be ‘Pseudoscience’

Television crime dramas and docudramas have, for decades, lulled the public into accepting the infallibility of forensic crime science. However, a groundbreaking study by the National Academy of Sciences (“NAS”) — made up of legal, technical, and policy experts authorized by Congress in 2005—was tasked with investigating the reliability of forensic science, ultimately casting serious doubt on many of the techniques investigators used to convict defendants.

According to S.J. Nightingale with the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, “The NAS Report” published in 2009, “calls for a broad and deep restructuring of how forensic techniques are validated and applied, and how forensic analysts are trained and accredited.” The report determined, “[with] the exception of nuclear DNA analysis ... no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.”

One highly questionable technique routinely used over the past 50 years by the FBI to secure convictions is that of photographic pattern analysis. When subjected to rigorous, unbiased testing, photographic analysis may be used to compare something as innocuous as a seam pattern found ...

Virus Vigilantes v. Virus Violators: Shunning, Shaming, or Policing COVID-19 May not Be the Cure

Crises have a way of bringing out the best as well as the worst in all of us. When driven by fear of the unknown, and in this case the unknown is a microscopic viral assailant known respectfully as COVID-19, a society’s response can vary dramatically.

In the media, we are shown messages of hope, endurance, and recovery, yet for every positive message, the media seem to feed us two that promote shunning, shaming, and of course, political slamming.

Fear of the unknown tends to breed contempt, and during a crisis, the blame game turns to war. Human nature attempts to mask its own fear through the use of deflection, and because we are all at war with this epidemic, we tend to deflect by offering our opinion on who misspoke, who mis-stepped, or who misled us deeper into this contagion. 

Of course, not everyone is focused on the negative. We see people creating nonprofit food banks, setting up websites to offer volunteer services for the sick or elderly, and people hand-sewing masks from their basement or garage. We see the best in people.

On the flip side of that equation, however, we also witness the ...

Repeat Offenders May Be the Result of Different Brain Composition

With consideration for the age-old adage, “nurture versus nature,” a recent study suggests that the single common characteristic shared by repeat offenders may be isolated to the structure and composition of the brain itself, suggesting “nature” may trump “nurture” as the key to identifying a future career criminal.

According to the Ministry of Justice in England and Wales, a 2006 study showed that although criminal behavior may arise in adolescence, most who may have stolen a candy bar or picked a fight on the schoolyard go on to become well-balanced, law-abiding adults. The study suggested that only about 10% continue along a path of criminality, but it is unclear if this non-conformity to social rules could be the product of a broken home, a deprived lifestyle, misguided role models, or a biological anomaly that presents itself as a striking difference in the makeup of the brain.

“These findings,” suggests Professor Essi Viding, “underscore prior research that really highlights that there are different types of young offenders—they should not all be treated the same.” Terrie Moffit, a professor at Duke University, and part of the research team behind the study, upon evaluating biological differences in brain structure, ...



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