Law and Order

The exact cause of prisoner Jerome Murdough's death at Rikers Island in February is still under investigation. But the temperature in the cell when he was found in New York City's biggest jail was at least 100 degrees.

The death of Murdough, who had severe mental illness, called renewed attention to a long-standing problem: maintaining reasonable temperatures in jails and prisons.

With Judges Overriding Death Penalty Cases, Alabama Is An Outlier

Jul 27, 2014

When Courtney Lockhart was tried for murder in Alabama, the jury unanimously recommended a life sentence, but the judge overrode that recommendation and sentenced Lockhart to death instead. Now the convicted murderer is asking the state Supreme Court to examine Alabama's unique process of judicial override.

Alabama is an outlier. It's the only state in which judges routinely override jury decisions not to impose the death penalty.

There are a lot of steps that come between an arrest and a conviction, and between conviction and sentencing. And throughout that winding process, a prosecutor's decisions carry enormous weight.

Does the prosecutor accept the case? Does she have the defendant jailed before trial? Is a plea bargain offered to the defendant, and if so, what are the terms?

Washington, D.C., is expected to join four states and several cities soon in prohibiting companies from asking job applicants — up front — if they have a criminal record.

It's part of a growing movement called Ban the Box, a reference to that box on a job application form that asks, "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?"

Advocates for the laws say having to check the box prevents many ex-offenders from getting a fair shot at a job.

We have a default template for the way we process mass shootings. We scour through every available scrap of the perpetrators' interior lives – Facebook postings, YouTube videos, interviews with former roommates — to try to find out what drove them to kill. The sites of the massacres become a kind of shorthand: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Fort Hood. We conduct protracted, unsatisfying conversations about gun rights, and about mental illness, and about how we have to make sure that they never happen again.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A federal judge has sentenced former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to 10 years in prison for corruption conviction. The sentence was lighter than what prosecutors were seeking for the former two-term Democrat. NPR's Debbie Elliott covered Nagin's trial earlier this year, and she joins us now to talk about today's sentencing. Debbie, first remind us of what Ray Nagin was convicted of back in February.

Some red states like Louisiana and Texas have emerged as leaders in a new movement: to divert offenders from prisons and into drug treatment, work release and other incarceration alternatives.

By most counts, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. In recent years, sentencing reformers in the capital, Baton Rouge, have loosened some mandatory minimum sentences and have made parole slightly easier for offenders to get.

But as reformers in Louisiana push for change, they're also running into stiffening resistance — especially from local prosecutors.

For the past four years, Flint Dollar has been teaching music at Mount de Sales Academy, a Catholic school in Macon, Ga. He is, by all accounts, beloved by his students.

But Dollar won't be leading the band or teaching the chorus in the fall. His contract was not renewed after administrators found out he plans to marry a man.

Under federal anti-discrimination laws, employers are not prohibited from hiring or firing people on the basis of sexual orientation. Dollar is working to change that.

For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a for-profit corporation can refuse to comply with a general government mandate because doing so would violate the corporation's asserted religious beliefs.

By a 5-4 vote, the court struck an important part of President Obama's health care law — the requirement that all insurance plans cover birth control — because it conflicted with a corporation owners' religious beliefs.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Let's go now to Massachusetts where staffs at abortion clinics are scrambling to adjust their plans after that ruling. From Boston, NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: The rules of the game have changed, as one abortion-rights activist put it, and protesters agree on that point. Ray Neery, who's been demonstrating outside Boston-area clinics for years, says he can do a better job now inside the 35 foot buffer zone than he could from the outside.

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