Will the Coronavirus make us rethink mass incarceration?

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Arrested during the crisis, Roslyn Crouch feared she wouldn’t leave jail alive.

 

Community groups have pointed out the social costs of the prison system for decades. Now the pandemic has exposed its public-health risks.

On March 14th, Roslyn Crouch, a mother of twelve, left her house in New Orleans to stock up on toilet paper and canned goods, and didn’t return. Crouch, who is forty-two, with slender braids down to her knees, had been feeling anxious about the spread of the coronavirus. At home, she cared for her elderly mother, and for a half-dozen children, including a son with sickle-cell anemia, a blood disorder. She herself had chronic bronchitis, and worried that it put her at risk. Many people in her neighborhood lacked access to high-quality medical care. (Black residents of Louisiana have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic; they make up about thirty per cent of the state’s population, but account for almost sixty per cent of documented deaths from the virus.) She thought, This is some serious stuff. After scrolling through a few too many coronavirus stories on her phone that Saturday morning, she got dressed, spritzed herself with her favorite perfume, A Thousand Wishes, and drove to a dollar store with her two-year-old son, Kyi, to buy shelter-in-place supplies.

On the way, Crouch failed to stop at a stop sign in Jefferson Parish and was pulled over by the police. She was then arrested for a string of petty crimes, including driving without proper registration and with a stolen license plate that police valued at twenty-five dollars. The most serious charge resulted from a nine-year-old warrant for possession of marijuana. As Crouch was put in the back of a police car, with Kyi, she pleaded with the arresting officers to call her daughter Tae, who worked as a security guard. Tae sped across the Mississippi River, arriving just in time to pry her sobbing little brother from the police car and prevent him from being turned over to child-protective services. “I call him Hip Baby, because he’s attached to my mom’s hip,” Tae told me. She took Kyi home, but it was “hell on earth trying to tame him without her.” The cops drove Crouch to the Jefferson Parish jail.

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Man sentenced to death in Singapore via Zoom

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Singapore has some of the world’s toughest anti-drug policies

A man has been sentenced to death via a Zoom video call in Singapore, as the country remains on lockdown following a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Punithan Genasan, 37, received the sentence on Friday for his role in a drug deal that took place in 2011.

It marks the city’s first case where such a ruling has been done remotely.

Human rights groups argued that pursuing the death penalty at a time when the world is being gripped by a pandemic was “abhorrent”.

The vast majority of court hearings in Singapore have been adjourned until at least 1 June, when the city’s current lockdown period is due to end.

Cases which have been deemed to be essential are being held remotely.

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Meet Ella: New Zealand Police unveil first artificial intelligence officer

The police have unveiled their first AI officer, with hopes she’ll soon be smiling and blinking out of screens in stations all around New Zealand.

Ella, the artificial intelligence cop at the centre of the police’s new digital services, was revealed at the police national headquarters in Wellington this morning.

Ella, which stands for Electronic Lifelike Assistant, is part of two new digital kiosks police have designed to help reduce queues in stations and to provide a modern way to connect with the public.

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AI can help find illegal opioid sellers online. And wildlife traffickers. And counterfeits.

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Tablets suspected by the Drug Enforcement Administration to be fentanyl. Don Emmert/Getty Images

The government is investing in an AI-based tool that could help catch illegal opioid sales on the internet. But the same approach could find lots of other illicit transactions.

An estimated 130 people die from opioid-related drug overdoses each day in the United States, and 2 million people had an opioid use disorder in 2018. This public health crisis has left officials scrambling for ways to cut down on illegal sales of these controlled substances, including online sales.

Now the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, is investing in an artificial intelligence-based tool to track how “digital drug dealers” and illegal internet pharmacies market and sell opioids (though online transactions are likely not a large share of overall illegal sales).

New AI-based approaches to clamping down on illegal opioid sales demonstrate how publicly available social media and internet data — even the stuff you post — can be used to find illegal transactions initiated online. It could also be used to track just about anything else, too: The researcher commissioned by NIDA to build this tool, UC San Diego professor Timothy Mackey, told Recode the same approach could be used to find online transactions associated with illegal wildlife traffickers, vaping products, counterfeit luxury products, and gun sales.

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7 Anti-drone weapons used by the military and law enforcement around the world

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Drones can be used for some very nefarious activities. For this reason, armies and law enforcement need some effective means of countering them.

Drones are, frankly, awesome. But there are some bad actors who could use them for nefarious activities.

For these reasons, many companies around the world, including engineering-giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, are producing anti-drone weapons to counter the potential threats drones can offer.

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Harvard’s prestigious debate team loses to New York prison inmates

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Prisoners participating in Bard College initiative to provide them a liberal arts education beat Ivy League students who won national title only months ago

Months after winning a national title, Harvard’s debate team has fallen to a group of New York prison inmates.

The showdown took place at the Eastern correctional facility in New York, a maximum-security prison where convicts can take courses taught by faculty from nearby Bard College, and where inmates have formed a popular debate club. Last month they invited the Ivy League undergraduates and this year’s national debate champions over for a friendly competition.

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Rick Smith: The man who plans to make bullets obsolete

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Axon Enterprise CEO Rick Smith

Rick Smith is the Chief Executive Officer of Axon Enterprise, a pioneer in less-lethal weapons and a global market leader in law enforcement technology. He notes that the gun is antiquated technology, and it is responsible for tens of thousands of senseless killings every year. Humanity has accepted that killing is an unavoidable fact of life, but Smith argues that it doesn’t need to be this way and that we have the means to make the bullet obsolete in our lifetime.

Smith founded his company, formerly known as TASER, in 1993 with the mission of “protecting life.” The company has since expanded its focus from the eponymous electroshock weapon to an ecosystem of integrated hardware and software ranging from body-worn cameras used by the majority of major US police departments to a cloud-based evidence management system.

Smith is also the author of the new book, The End of Killing: How Our Newest Technologies Can Solve Humanity’s Oldest Problem. It is a manifesto on how we will be able to protect life without taking life “through technology that redefines public safety and makes our communities stronger, safer, and more connected.”

In this interview, Rick shares his entrepreneurship journey and details how Axon is pursuing the aforementioned mission.

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Amazon’s Ring wanted to use 911 calls to activate its video doorbells

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Ring wanted 911 calls to activate its doorbells.

 The company worked with police and cities to build in this real-time feature, emails showed.

Ring considered building a tool that would use calls to the 911 emergency number to automatically activate the video cameras on its smart doorbells, according to emails obtained by CNET. The Amazon-owned company isn’t currently working on the project, but it told a California police department in August 2018 that the function could be introduced in the “not-so-distant future.”

In the emails, Ring described a system in which a 911 call would trigger the cameras on Ring doorbells near the site of the call. The cameras would start recording and streaming video that police could then use to investigate an incident. Owners of the Ring devices would have to opt in to the system, the emails said.

“Currently, our cameras record based on motion alerts,” Steve Sebestyen, vice president of business development for Ring, said in an email that CNET obtained through a public records request. “However, we are working with interested agencies and cities to expand the device owners controls to allow for situations where a CFS [call-for-service] event triggers recording within the proximity of an event.”

It’s unclear how long Ring had contemplated this idea and how many cities it proposed this plan to, but the project is no longer being pursued.

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Revealed: This is Palintir’s top-secret user manual for cops

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Motherboard obtained a Palantir user manual through a public records request, and it gives unprecedented insight into how the company logs and tracks individuals.

Palantir is one of the most significant and secretive companies in big data analysis. The company acts as an information management service for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, corporations like JP Morgan and Airbus, and dozens of other local, state, and federal agencies. It’s been described by scholars as a “secondary surveillance network,” since it extensively catalogs and maps interpersonal relationships between individuals, even those who aren’t suspected of a crime.

Palantir software is instrumental to the operations of ICE, which is planning one of the largest-ever targeted immigration enforcement raids this weekend on thousands of undocumented families. Activists argue raids of this scale would be impossible without software like Palantir. But few people outside the company and its customers know how its software works or what its specific capabilities and user interfaces are.

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Huntington Park Police to deploy ‘RoboCop’ to monitor public areas

The Huntington Park Police Department is set to unveil “HP RoboCop,” the latest tool in the force’s arsenal that will keep an electronic eye on public areas, the city of Huntington Park announced in a news release.

The device is “an autonomous data machine that is meant to serve outdoors,” that will use 360-degree HD video footage to “act as an extra set of eyes and monitor areas such as parks, city buildings and corridors where police might not have the time to consistently patrol,” the release said.

The city released a video of HP RoboCop rolling down a sidewalk, making electronic sounds and at one point even saying, “Good day to you.”

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His DNA solved a century-old jailhouse rape. The victim: His Grandmother

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Commercial DNA tests showed that Hiram and Bruce were related. But their link proved to be much deeper — and darker — than either could have imagined.

As a black teenager in Compton, California, in the 1970s, Hiram Johnson began to wonder about his father’s fine curly hair, and the light-brown skin that strangers sometimes thought was white.

Hiram knew only a few things about his father’s childhood. Fred Johnson was raised in Jackson, Mississippi, by his mother, Bernice. Fred said that Bernice was a “beautiful black woman,” but he never said a word about his father. All Hiram knew was that his grandfather probably wasn’t black.

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San Francisco bans city use of facial recognition technology tools

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Pedestrians walk along Post Street in San Francisco. The city became the first in the United States to ban facial recognition technology by police and city agencies. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Concerned that some new surveillance technologies may be too intrusive, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban the use of facial recognition tools by its police and other municipal departments.

The Board of Supervisors approved the Stop Secret Surveillance ordinance Tuesday, culminating a reexamination of city policy that began with the false arrest of Denise Green in 2014. Green’s Lexus was misidentified as a stolen vehicle by an automated license-plate reader. She was pulled over by police, forced out of the car and onto her knees at gunpoint by six officers. The city spent $500,000 to settle lawsuits linked to her detention.

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