Plea deal reportedly near for accused Cleveland abductor
by Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND — The man accused of abducting and raping three women and holding them captive for years is due to appear in a Cleveland court on Friday amid media reports that an agreement is in the works that would allow him to avoid the death penalty.
Cleveland television station WKYC reported on Thursday that prosecutors had offered Ariel Castro a deal, and WOIO-TV said an agreement was imminent. But Castro's lawyer Jay Schlachet told Reuters reports that an agreement had been reached "were false".
Joe Frolik, a spokesman for Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty, said he had no comment on the reports.
Cuyahoga County court spokeswoman Laura Creed said in an email, "The parties have entered into plea negotiations on this case." She said the hearing had been scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. EDT.
Castro's lawyers have said for weeks that they would consider an agreement under which the former Cleveland school bus driver would plead guilty to some charges in return for his life.
Castro, 53, has been charged with 977 counts including kidnapping and repeated rape. He has also been charged with murder under a fetal homicide law for allegedly forcing one of the women to miscarry. The murder charge could carry the death penalty.
Gina DeJesus, 23, Michelle Knight, 32, and Amanda Berry, 27 were freed from Castro's home in a rundown area of Cleveland on May 6. Also freed was a 6-year-old girl who, according to DNA evidence, was fathered by Castro with Berry during her captivity.
The women had been bound for periods of time in chains or ropes and endured starvation, beatings and sexual assaults, according to court documents and a police report. Avoiding a trial would spare them from having to testify.
If no plea agreement is reached, Castro's trial is scheduled to begin on Aug. 5.
Lincoln Memorial vandalized
Green paint was splattered overnight on parts of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., U.S. Park police say.
They say a patrol officer found green plant splashed on the floor near the famous statue of President Lincoln, and some on the base of the statue, at around 1:20 a.m. local time.
The memorial, on the National Mall, will be closed until the U.S. Park Service can clean it up.
An investigation is under way.
CBS Washington affiliate WUSA-TV says its crew members got as close as they could to the statue and didn't see the paint, but saw evidence of the Park Service activity.
The station says investigators will review video from surveillance cameras to help determine who carried out the vandalism.
U.S. Prison Populations Decline, Reflecting New Approach to Crime
by ERICA GOODE
The prison population in the United States dropped in 2012 for the third consecutive year, according to federal statistics released on Thursday, in what criminal justice experts said was the biggest decline in the nation's recent history, signaling a shift away from an almost four-decade policy of mass imprisonment.
The number of inmates in state and federal prisons decreased by 1.7 percent, to an estimated 1,571,013 in 2012 from 1,598,783 in 2011, according to figures released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an arm of the Justice Department. Although the percentage decline appeared small, the fact that it followed decreases in 2011 and 2010 offers persuasive evidence of what some experts say is a “sea change” in America's approach to criminal punishment.
“This is the beginning of the end of mass incarceration,” said Natasha Frost, associate dean of Northeastern University's school of criminology and criminal justice.
About half the 2012 decline — 15,035 prisoners — occurred in California, which has decreased its prison population in response to a Supreme Court order to relieve prison overcrowding. But eight other states, including New York, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina, showed substantial decreases, of more than 1,000 inmates, and more than half the states reported some drop in the number of prisoners. (Figures for three states were estimated because they had not submitted data in time for the report.) The population of federal prisons increased slightly, but at a slower rate than in previous years, the report found.
Imprisonment rates in the United States have been on an upward march since the early 1970s. From 1978, when there were 307,276 inmates in state and federal prisons, the population increased annually, reaching a peak of 1,615,487 inmates in 2009.
But in recent years, tightened state budgets, plummeting crime rates, changes in sentencing laws and shifts in public opinion have combined to reverse the trend. Experts on prison policy said that the continuing decline appears to be more than a random fluctuation.
“A year or even two years is a blip and we shouldn't jump to conclusions, but three years starts to look like a trend,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit research group based in Washington. But he said that the rate of inmates incarcerated in the United States continued to be “dramatically higher” than in other countries and that the changes so far were “relatively modest compared to the scale of the problem.”
Most observers agree that the recession has played a role in shrinking prison populations. In 2011 and 2012, at least 17 states closed or were considering closing prisons partly for budgetary reasons, representing a reduction of 28,525 beds, according to a report by the Sentencing Project published last year.
But Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts' public safety performance project, said that while fiscal concerns might have led to the turnaround in some states, the need to cut budgets had not been the deciding factor.
“They're not simply pinching pennies,” Mr. Gelb said. “Policy makers are not holding their noses and saying we have to scale back prisons to save money. The states that are showing drops are states that are thinking about how they can apply research-based alternatives that work better and cost less.”
Changes in state and federal sentencing laws for lower-level offenses like those involving drugs have played a central role in the shift, he and others said, with many states setting up diversion programs for offenders as an alternative to prison. And some states have softened their policies on parole, no longer automatically sending people back to prison for parole violations.
But changing public attitudes are also a major driver behind the declining prison numbers. Dropping crime rates over the last 20 years have reduced public fears and diminished the interest of politicians in running tough-on-crime campaigns. And public polls consistently show that Americans are now more interested in spending money on education and health care than on building more prisons.
“People don't care so much about crime, and it's less of a political focus,” said Professor Frost, who is a co-author of a forthcoming book, “The Punishment Imperative.”
The result has been an unusual bipartisan effort to reduce the nation's reliance on prisons, with groups like Right on Crime, devoted to what it calls the “conservative case for reform,” pushing for lower-cost and less punitive solutions than incarceration for nonviolent offenders.
Marc Levin, senior policy adviser for Right on Crime, described the change in conservatives' position on parole violators: It used to be “Trail 'em, nail 'em and jail 'em,” he said, “but there's been a move to say, ‘Yes, there's a surveillance function, but we also want them to succeed.' ”
Some of the most substantial prison reductions have taken place in conservative states like Texas, which reduced the number of inmates in its prisons by more than 5,000 in 2012. In 2007, when the state faced a lack of 17,000 beds for inmates, the State Legislature decided to change its approach to parole violations and provide drug treatment for nonviolent offenders instead of building more prisons.
In Arkansas, which reduced its prison population by just over 14,000 inmates in 2012, legislators in 2011 also passed a package of laws softening sentencing guidelines for low-level offenders and steering them to diversion programs.
“It's a great example of a state that made some deliberate policy choices to say we can actually reduce recidivism and cut our prison group at the same time,” Mr. Gelb said.
Joan Petersilia, a law professor at Stanford and a co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, said in an interview last year that she thought Americans had “gotten the message that locking up a lot of people doesn't necessarily bring public safety.” California's example, she said, has also spurred other states to consider downsizing for fear of facing similar litigation.
But Professor Petersilia added that though the trend may have begun out of a need for belt-tightening, it had grown into a national effort to rethink who should go to prison and for how long.
“I don't think in modern history we've seen anything like this,” she said.
N.C. Legislature approves $10M for victims of forced sterilization
RALEIGH, N.C., July 26 (UPI) -- People sterilized decades ago in North Carolina because they were deemed unfit to have children will split $10 million in compensation, officials said.
The state Legislature included the money in the budget that was adopted Wednesday by the General Assembly, the Watauga Democrat reported.
North Carolina carried out forced sterilizations from 1929 to 1974. Many of the victims were teenagers and did not realize at the time what was being done to them.
Under the law, the money will be split equally among all identified victims. Claims must be submitted by June 30, 2014.
The North Carolina Department of Administration said 177 claimants have been approved so far. The state Eugenics Compensation Task Force said last year between 1,500 and 2,000 people may be eligible for compensation.
The task force has recommended payment of $50,000 to each person. But the amount will be far less than that if it is right about the numbers.
United, American and US Airways offer to deliver your bags anywhere -- for a fee
by Brian Sumers
How much would you pay to avoid waiting for your luggage at baggage claim?
On three major airlines -- United, American and US Airways -- you can pay a fee to have a service deliver bags to a hotel, home, business or even a golf course.
It's part of a drive by major carriers to make traveling easier for customers, and to make a little extra profit in the process. If the service is successful, it could be something of a win-win for airlines and customers.
"We are more driven by time," said Melody Andersen, director of customer strategy for US Airways, describing why she believes passengers are ready for bag delivery. "We want things to be as hassle free as possible."
At US Airways, which began the service earlier this month, the cost is $29.95 for one bag, $39.95 for two bags and $49.95 for three to 10 bags.
Customers still bring bags to the airport. But after the flight, a service contracted by US Airways takes them from the carousel and promises to deliver them within four to six hours, although sometimes the service is considerably faster. The destination must be within 40 miles of the airport or an extra fee is required.
At American, which will soon merge with US Airways pending government approval, the program is nearly identical. So is bag delivery offered by United. All three airlines offer the service, which is actually handled by a contractor, at each Los Angeles-area airport they serve.
Passengers must be on a flight arriving from another U.S. destination or a foreign airport at which U.S. Customs and Border Protection maintains a pre-clearance facility, such as Toronto and Dublin. At least an hour before their flight, customers must sign up for bag delivery on a website.
In a recent interview, Maria Walter, a United managing director for product and brand strategy, said the carrier is seeing a lot of repeat customers since launching the program in January. But she said it has been difficult to drive new business, in part because airline passengers are concerned about leaving bags for someone else to fetch.
"There's been this inherent distrust of, 'My bag gets lost if I'm not managing it myself this whole time,' " Walter said. "So getting people used to the idea of, 'We'll get it from baggage claim and get it to your hotel' is something that is going to be a bit of a paradigm shift for people to get used to."
Robert Mann, a New York-based airline industry analyst and consultant, said only a small slice of customers might be interested in a baggage deliver service. And he said that the customers with the best ability to pay -- business travelers with expense accounts -- are probably the least likely to check a bag, given the short durations of most trips.
"All you are really avoiding is waiting for 25 minutes at a bag belt," Mann said. "It's an issue of what is your time worth or what's the inconvenience of going to the bag belt."
Andersen, of US Airways, said the service could be helpful to families, noting that she used it after a recent vacation.
"We just wanted to get home," she said. "We were tired. We didn't want to wait and we didn't want to deal with the four extra bags. It was a nice benefit for us. The bags were delivered about 20 minutes after we got home."
Bag delivery might be convenient, but whether it is a short-lived fad or a long-lasting service enhancement probably depends more on whether it brings profit to airlines than anything else, Mann said.
"Airlines are looking for the sweet spot -- something that customers want and are willing to pay for and on which you can make a margin," Mann said. "There are a lot of people who want a lot of things. They're generally not willing to pay for them."
Tim Winship, publisher of the blog Frequentflier.com, said the price of the service might be a little too high for most customers. He called it a "splurge."
"It might be worth $29.95 to bypass the baggage claim scrum and have your bag delivered directly to your home, business, or hotel," he said. "But most travelers will also have to factor in the $25 fee charged by the airlines, too, for each checked bag. So on a round-trip basis, the all-in price is more than $100 -- just to get your luggage there and back."
Troy Daniel Smith, an independent film producer in Los Angeles, said he is intrigued by the service. Waiting at LAX this week for his bag to arrive off his United Express flight from Wichita, Kan., Smith tweeted: "I expect the Duchess's labor will be more swift."
"Having something like this, though it is an extra service and you're paying for it, I think it would make travel easier for some people," Smith said.