“It’d be really hard to have a higher recidivism rate than we have in Cook County.”

Maybe this is the place to start a brief meditation on changing the world, or at least Chicago . . . known to some of its residents as “Chiraq.”

The speaker is Elena Qunitana, executive director of the Adler Institute on Public Safety and Social Justice, which, in partnership with Roosevelt University’s Mansfield Institute for Social Justice and Transformation, recently completed a study on Cook County’s dysfunctional juvenile justice system.

What we’re doing isn’t working, justice-wise, order-wise, sanity-wise. The state of Illinois is bankrupt and yet its jails are full to bursting, at a cost, per occupant, equal to or greater than the cost of luxury suites at its ritziest hotels. And 90 percent of the teenagers who enter the system come back within three years of their release. This is no surprise: The system is a spiral of entrapment, especially for young men of color.

Why? What’s the point of such a costly and ineffective system (if “effectiveness” is measured by bringing positive change rather than by simple self-perpetuation)? Bureaucratic punishment is not the answer to social disorder; instead, it’s a major contributor to the disorder, shattering families and communities and branding people for life as permanent wrongdoers — “ex-felons” — yet answerable only to its own rules and procedures. It has nothing to do with . . . what’s that word again? Oh yeah, healing. Deep in the hidden core of the American system of justice is a determination to dehumanize people, not rescue them.

The problem is that punishment, dehumanization and domination — us vs. them — are America’s default setting. We’re always righteously subduing bad guys, in our movies and in our politics. We’re always at war, both internally and externally, and waging it is barely subject to economic restraint. Those who question it do so as individuals; collectively, the system rolls on, no matter the cost to its victims — who, ultimately, are all of us.

So I was profoundly encouraged to hear about the completion of what is called the Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment Study, the “overarching recommendation” of which, according to the executive summary, is that the juvenile justice system “create a common goal of keeping youth in community.”

When I talked with Elena Quintana, she put it a little more bluntly: “We have a moral mandate to keep kids in the community. The gestalt of (the current) system is not about reclaiming you. It’s about corralling you because you’re seen as unfit. And when you’re bounced back, you’ll be watched and rearrested.

“Your police officer has more incentive to catch you doing something wrong than to help you do something right.”

Here’s where the meditation comes in. Calm yourself, inhale, think about the world we’re collectively creating every day. What if that world is self-destructing from its own momentum and inertia — from its commitment to militarized “security” at home and abroad?

Consider this fragment of insanity, one of the challenges the study identifies about the juvenile justice system, as noted in the executive summary: “Many at risk youth who need services were unable to receive them without entering the juvenile justice system.”

In other words, kids that are in trouble won’t get help of any sort until they’re arrested. The cost to young people for extracting assistance from the state is to be branded for life as a felon and caught up permanently in the system.

“We have to deal with gangs, guns and drugs in a real way,” Quintana said. “Not by bringing in Robocop, but with preschool, with alternatives to incarceration. Instead of investing in humanizing people, we’re investing in dehumanizing people.”

Noting that many, many young people have experienced “complex trauma” in their lives, and that so many of the institutions that serve them fail to address this, she said, “We systematically invest all our money in further depriving them. We’re colluding in child neglect, if not outright abuse, because we’re not investing in types of programs for troubled young people that allows them to flourish.”

The amazing thing, she said, is that “there’s tremendous agreement about this” among juvenile justice personnel at all levels. “It’s not even controversial.”

In other words, the current system isn’t working and most people who are part of it realize this, but they are not yet, to a significant degree, in community with one another about how to begin changing it.

The system won’t be reformed, as far as I can tell. It will only be rebuilt from its core: around the values of healing and prevention and regarding young people, as Quintana put it, as precious — not as predators. The Juvenile Justice Needs Assessment Study is, I believe, a significant contribution to this rebuilding effort and I will return to its findings in future columns. What it does is begin to solidify and create common cause around a healing-based criminal justice system.

“We heal in community,” Quintana said, “We don’t heal on an ice floe. We don’t heal in solitary confinement.”

– – -
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at



A gunman stormed a Dutch CNN affiliate on Thursday and demanded to be put on air. He was arrested by police.


SIMPSONVILLE, S.C. (AP) — A woman and her family lured her estranged husband to their home by offering to let him see his children, then beat him in the head with a hammer and fatally shot him as he tried to run away — a scheme concocted because they were upset about a child custody dispute, according to police in South Carolina.

The wife’s brother, Jacob Hughes, 29, started the plan in motion by inviting John Michael Ferrell, 51, for drinks at a bar Saturday night, and then offered to bring the man back to the house to see his children for the first time in a while, police said in news conference late Wednesday. But not long after Ferrell entered the home, he was attacked with a hammer, police said. He tried to climb out a 6-foot high kitchen window, but either his pants snagged on a nail or people inside pulled them down trying to prevent him from escaping, police said.

“He was hindered by his pants that were down around his ankles, preventing him from fleeing, in addition to the trauma from being struck in the head multiple times with the hammer,” said Keith Grounsell, police chief in Simpsonville, a suburb of about 20,000 people just south of Greenville.

John Hughes, the wife’s father, then took aim with a .45-caliber handgun and fired at Ferrell, who was found dead 12 feet from the kitchen window, Grounsell said. Ferrell was hit five times, according to arrest warrants.

John Hughes, 57; his wife, Margaret Hughes, 55; their son, Jacob Hughes; their daughter and Ferrell’s estranged wife, Jane Hughes, 33; and her boyfriend Andrew Martin, 37, are all charged with murder. The suspects had requested public attorneys, but they hadn’t been assigned yet, police said Thursday.

Before his arrest, John Hughes told WYFF-TV that Ferrell was trying to break in through the window and that he feared for their lives.

“I killed my son-in-law. That’s horrible enough. But the fact I have to somehow tell my grandchildren that I killed their father — that might be more than I can take,” Hughes said.

Grounsell said forensic investigators found evidence of blood throughout the kitchen that was cleaned before police arrived Saturday night, and no one in the family mentioned any fight in that room.

No one answered a knock on the Hughes family’s door Thursday.

Dave Valente lives across the street from the Hughes’ home in a small subdivision with an entrance across the street from the Simpsonville Police Department.

Valente said he was at work the night of the shooting, but talked with his neighbor Sunday. He said John Hughes invited him in and told him Ferrell had been there earlier Saturday night and there was a heated argument. Hughes told Valente that Ferrell left three hours before the shooting but came back later. Hughes told his neighbor he shot Ferrell when the son-in-law tried to climb back in the house through the kitchen window.

“Obviously, he was baloneying me,” Valente said.

Police say less than 25 minutes elapsed between when Ferrell arrived at the house and the time police were called.

Valente has lived in the neighborhood for 19 years. He said the Hughes family started renting the house two years ago and seemed like great neighbors. The children frequently had picnics with their mom and her boyfriend in the front yard, he said.

WHNS-TV reported that it reviewed court records showing that Jane Hughes and Ferrell were going through a contentious divorce and child custody dispute.

Ferrell told officials that John Hughes told him taking his granddaughter would be the last thing he ever did. John Hughes told the court his son-in-law abused the children. A judge had issued a restraining order against the Hughes and Ferrell, according to WHNS-TV’s review of the records.

An Associated Press reporter attempted to view the records Thursday. However, in advance of a Friday emergency hearing in the case the records were sent to the office of Greenville County Family Court Judge Rochelle Contis.

A court official who refused to give her name said Contis left for the day during the lunch hour and the records were locked in her office and unavailable.


(Reuters) – The girlfriend of an unarmed black man shot dead by a police officer in a housing project’s dark stairwell notified New York City on Thursday that she plans to file a $50 million lawsuit over his death.

The fatal shooting of Akai Gurley, 28, in Brooklyn in November was among a string of incidents that fueled widespread protests over what critics say is a pattern of lethal police misconduct toward minority groups.

Scott Rynecki, the lawyer representing Gurley’s girlfriend, Kimberly Ballinger, and their 2-year-old daughter, said Officer Peter Liang acted “recklessly” both in drawing his gun while patrolling the project known as the Pink Houses and in firing the fatal shot.

“An officer has to be able to justify having his weapon out and in his hands,” Rynecki said. “We think there was no justification.”

Police have said Liang may have accidentally discharged his gun. The Brooklyn district attorney is investigating the shooting for possible criminal charges.

Gurley’s funeral was held in December amid angry demonstrations in New York City days after a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the chokehold death of another unarmed black man, Eric Garner, on Staten Island.

The New York grand jury acted less than two weeks after a Missouri grand jury also decided not to file charges against a white policeman for the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in a St. Louis suburb, sparking prolonged unrest there.

Ballinger filed a notice of claim seeking $50 million in damages against Liang, his partner, the city and the police department, according to Rynecki. She also filed a separate negligence claim against the city’s housing authority, arguing that the stairwell in which Gurley was shot had inadequate lighting that contributed to the incident.

The city comptroller’s office, which handles notices of claim, did not immediately confirm receipt of the document.

Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said: “This was a tragic incident, and the city will review the claim.”


MILFORD, Pa. (AP) — A survivalist who spent more than a month on the run after authorities say he killed one Pennsylvania State Police trooper and wounded another in a late-night ambush pleaded not guilty Thursday, setting the stage for a trial at which prosecutors will seek to put him on death row.

Eric Frein, 31, was arraigned at the Pike County Courthouse in Milford. He participated by video from the county prison, looking into the camera and politely answering questions posed to him by his attorney and the judge. Asked by defense lawyer Michael Weinstein whether he understood a not-guilty plea would be entered on his behalf, Frein answered in a clear, calm voice: “That’s what I wish.”

Frein is charged with first-degree murder, terrorism and other offenses in the Sept. 12 ambush that killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson and severely wounded Trooper Alex Douglass outside the police barracks in Blooming Grove.

Frein led authorities on a 48-day manhunt in the rugged Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania before U.S. marshals captured him at an abandoned airplane hangar, more than 20 miles from the shooting scene.

District Attorney Ray Tonkin filed notice this week that he will seek the death penalty, listing aggravating factors that include the killing of a police officer.

Weinstein said outside court Thursday that there has been no discussion of a plea.

“It’s very early in this case,” he said, adding that the district attorney “hasn’t seen what we can produce, and we certainly haven’t seen the discovery, so I wouldn’t anticipate that he would start talking about resolution to this case.”

Tonkin told reporters the death penalty is “important in this case,” adding he’s not considering a plea “at this point in time.”

Authorities have said Frein confessed to what he described as an assassination designed to “wake people up” and result in a change in government and the restoration of liberties.

His trial is tentatively scheduled for March, but Weinstein does not expect it to happen until 2016.

One of many issues that will likely need to be resolved is where to hold the trial, with the defense considering a request to move it to another county.

The ambush and subsequent manhunt drew blanket media coverage, and residents were both frightened and inconvenienced as law enforcement officials from around the nation descended on the rural region to look for the trooper’s killer.

“There’s no question that venue’s an issue,” Weinstein said. “We don’t want to pretend it’s not.”


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The gang-rape conviction of two former Vanderbilt University football players sends signals out in every direction.

To the two young men, Tuesday’s verdicts show that being drunk out of your mind doesn’t excuse criminal behavior.

Once doted on as potential Southeastern Conference football stars, Cory Batey and Brandon Vandenburg could be sentenced to decades behind bars. Even as first-time offenders, they could spend the prime of their athletic lives in a Tennessee prison.

The two remaining defendants alleged to have joined Batey and Vandenburg in the dorm room attack, former players Jaborian McKenzie and Brandon Banks, probably helped themselves by cooperating with authorities, but their consequences loom much larger now that their former teammates have been found guilty.

University officials, experts on sex crimes and survivors of sexual assault at Vanderbilt and all over the country hope the verdict’s loudest signal goes out to women suffering in silence — telling them that justice is possible without destroying their own lives in the process.

Most college sex assaults don’t turn out this way. A recent Justice Department study found that 80 percent of campus rapes went unreported between 1995 and 2013, compared to 67 percent in the general population.

The victim said she hopes her experience will encourage others to discuss how to end campus rapes.

“I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone,” she said in a statement read by one of the prosecutors. “You are not to blame.”

In this case, the evidence was overwhelming. Jurors saw university surveillance video and the players’ own graphic cellphone images that put them at the scene. Vandenburg could be heard laughing and encouraging the attack on video he shared while it was happening.

Testimony showed that he passed out condoms during the June 23, 2013 attack.

Charging all four players with rape even though not all of them engaged in the act itself sends a strong message about holding people accountable, said Jane Stapleton, a University of New Hampshire professor who runs bystander intervention programs at campuses. Only two players were accused of raping the student, but all four were charged with it because prosecutors held them criminally responsible based on their actions that night.

The trial provided a rare opportunity to see what rape really looks like, experts on sexual violence said.

“There’s no shortage of rape and sexual assault cases being put out in the media, but very rarely do we hear all the graphic details of a sexual assault,” said Rachel Freeman, vice president of programs at the Sexual Abuse Center of Nashville.

And unlike so many other rape cases, this wasn’t a matter of “he-said/she-said.” The video made it obvious the woman was unconscious and totally incapable of consenting, so it was impossible to suggest that she was somehow to blame, Freeman said.

The woman testified that the last thing she remembered was Vandenburg giving her drinks at a Nashville nightspot — and that she woke up the next morning in his dorm room, feeling sick and injured. To this day, she has no memory of the attack, she told jurors.

Rumors swirled around campus, but she didn’t learn what had happened until well after police came to her. The players had tried to cover it up by erasing the images. Testimony showed at least five other Vanderbilt athletes saw her in distress and did not report it.

Only when Vanderbilt officials stumbled across closed-circuit TV showing players carrying an unconscious woman through the dormitory and into the room did they begin asking questions and summon the police, who recovered the digital evidence that made all the difference in court.

Seeing the case through wasn’t easy. The woman cried quietly throughout the trial, and doubled over and appeared to vomit at one point when Batey was testifying.

But The Associated Press and other news organizations preserved her privacy, and she endured the proceedings as a Vanderbilt graduate. The attack didn’t keep her from finishing her degree, and she’s now pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience at an out-of-state university.

That a victim of gang rape managed to keep her academic career on track is a real achievement, advocates say, something Vanderbilt officials hope students everywhere will consider.

Beth Fortune, Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor of academic affairs, called the victim’s response “forceful and brave,” and said sexual violence will never be tolerated at the school.

“Incidents will be investigated, victims will be supported, and perpetrators will be punished. We will also continue our comprehensive ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of every Vanderbilt student intervening when another student is at risk or in distress.”


The leader of France’s far-right National Front party came out on top in a new poll on potential 2017 presidential candidates. The survey, published in Marianne on Thursday, pitted Marine Le Pen against French President Francois Hollande, former President Nicolas Sarkozy and other potential candidates.

“If the first ballot would take place today,” the magazine wrote, ” she would gather between 29 and 31 percent of the votes, depending on the adversaries.”

According to the poll, former President Nicolas Sarkozy would come in second if the elections took place today. French President Francois Hollande, who has battled low approval rates throughout his first term, would not make it to the second round.

The poll comes weeks after the deadly terror attacks on the office of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket in Paris by three radicalized Muslims. While Marianne details that it’s unclear what effects the attacks had on the results of the poll, Le Pen and the National Front, known for their proposals to reduce the number of immigrants in France and their criticism of Islam, have used the assaults to draw attention to their program.

“I have been warning of the danger of Muslim fundamentalism in our country for years,” Le Pen said in the wake of the attacks.

Le Pen is the daughter of National Front founder and controversial French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen. Since she took over the National Front’s leadership, the party has surged to the top of the polls. The latest survey by polling firm BVA puts the party’s popularity at 28 percent, just two percentage points shy of President Hollande’s Socialist Party. Marine Le Pen ran for president unsuccessfully in 2012.


KABUL, Jan 29 (Reuters) – Three American contractors were killed and a fourth was wounded by an Afghan solider at the military airport in the capital Kabul, an Afghan air force official told Reuters on Thursday.

“It is unclear yet why he shot these advisers and no one else was there to tell us the reason,” the official said, asking not to be named because he was not authorized to give statements to the media. “An investigation has been opened.”

The international force in Afghanistan confirmed the shooting took place on Thursday evening.

(Reporting by Jessica Donati; Editing by Kevin Liffey)