Law and Order

Insight: Dr. Beau Clark

Aug 14, 2015

The Lafayette theatre shootings last month brought the issues of mental health commitments and gun rights to the forefront once again. In Louisiana, coroners are often involved in initiating the process that can lead to long-term commitment. East Baton Rouge Coroner Dr. Beau Clark speaks with Sue Lincoln about the safeguards and pitfalls of mental health protective orders.

President Obama toured a federal prison in Oklahoma on Thursday and said the nation needs to reconsider policies that contribute to a huge spike in the number of people behind bars.

In an unprecedented visit by a sitting president, Obama met with half a dozen inmates at the El Reno prison, outside Oklahoma City. The trip was part of a weeklong push by the White House to focus attention on the president's call for criminal justice reform.

Updated at 3:30 p.m. ET

FBI Director James Comey said the man accused of killing nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church should never have been allowed to purchase a weapon.

Comey said flaws in paperwork and communication between a federal background check worker and state law enforcement allowed Dylann Roof to buy a handgun in South Carolina on April 16 — weeks before he allegedly attacked black churchgoers in a failed attempt to fuel a race war.

Each year, convicted felons get thousands of weapons from licensed gun dealers. They skirt the mandatory background checks by having people who do qualify fill out the paperwork for them.

Now, the settlement of a lawsuit over a tragic murder-suicide in Kansas has made it easier to sue gun dealers who allow these "straw purchases" with a wink and a nod.

This week, NPR examines public corruption in South Texas. The FBI has launched a task force to clean up entrenched misconduct by public officials in the Rio Grande Valley. In this installment of the series, we hear from a police officer who became a drug dealer.

In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where people are accustomed to seeing public officials led away in handcuffs, the case of the Panama Unit shocked everyone. The Valley's celebrated anti-narcotics squad had gone to the dark side.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dealt a major blow to death penalty opponents, upholding the use of a controversial drug as part of a three-drug execution cocktail. The vote was 5-4, with unusually passionate and sometimes bitter opinions from the majority and dissenting justices.

The office hallway could be in Anytown, America, with its gray walls, bad lighting and piles of photocopy paper. That is, except for this distinguishing feature: an unknown man, armed with a weapon, who popped into view.

"Do I want to shoot this guy?" I asked the law enforcement trainer beside me.

The reply came fast: "Well, he's got a gun."

My weapon: a Glock equipped with a laser, not live ammunition — and thank goodness for that.

By last count, the Justice Department estimates about 80,000 U.S. inmates live in some kind of restricted housing.

That means being confined to a cell for about 22 hours a day.

"You are going to eat, sleep and defecate in a small room that's actually smaller than the size of your average parking space," said Amy Fettig, a lawyer who runs the Stop Solitary campaign for the American Civil Liberties Union. "And you're going to do that for months, years and sometimes even decades on end."

Fettig said solitary confinement is brutal and expensive.

A federal judge has ordered the unconditional release of the last member of the "Angola 3" who remains in prison.

Albert Woodfox, the 68-year-old former Black Panther leader, has spent the past four decades in solitary confinement after he was twice convicted of the 1972 stabbing death of a prison guard. Both convictions have been overturned because of racial prejudice and lack of evidence. U.S. District Judge James Brady has now ruled that Woodfox could not receive another fair trial so he should be released.

Prosecutors usually spend their energy putting criminals behind bars, not urging their release. But racial disparities in the system and the huge costs of locking up so many people are pushing some government officials to call for a new approach.

One of them is the woman who now runs day-to-day operations at the Justice Department. Sally Yates says she's hardly soft on crime: "I'm a career prosecutor."