Steven Yoder

Steven Yoder has written about criminal justice and other domestic policy issues for Salon, Al Jazeera America, The Fiscal Times, and others—online at @syodertweets.

Recent Articles

Getting Beyond Prison: A Vermont Case Study

The federal sentencing reform advancing in Congress would expand programs designed to cut recidivism among released offenders. One state thinks it’s found a solution—give former prisoners a circle of volunteer supporters.

(Photo: AP/Toby Talbot)
(Photo: AP/Toby Talbot) Inmates walk through the yard at Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland, Vermont, in 2008. S eated in an office of the Montpelier City Hall on a recent April morning, an ex-criminal offender whom we’ll call Gene sat playing a parlor game of sorts with three community volunteers. One by one, the four participants took turns answering the questions printed on a box of cards that they passed around, which included such conversation starters as: “What’s your basic philosophy of life?” “What’s your fondest memory?” and “On your deathbed, what will be your last thought?” It was something of an unlikely exercise for Gene, who spent ten years behind bars for a sexual assault and now is in his mid-thirties. But in the18 months since Gene has been out of prison, he hasn’t violated any of his stringent probation conditions, and hasn’t reoffended. And his probation officer in part credits it to his participation in this and other meetings run by Circles of Support...

Do Trump Rallies Trample on Protesters’ Free Speech?

Donald Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, and his campaign’s eagerness to eject protesters, might prompt First Amendment lawsuits—including against police officers.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast Chicago police officers on foot and mounted, watch over protesters after a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was cancelled due to security concerns, on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago, Friday, March 11, 2016, in Chicago. U ntil now, violent outbreaks at Donald Trump rallies have raised questions mostly about the obstreperous billionaire’s role in inciting aggression; whether Bernie Sanders encouraged protesters, as Trump alleges; and whether anti-Trump agitators or pro-Trump supporters have been to blame. But the political skirmishes that follow Trump wherever he goes also spotlight another group of players whose actions may put the First Amendment on a collision course with public safety: the police officers, private security details and Secret Service officials struggling to keep the peace. The confused and overlapping roles of Trump’s various law enforcement escorts have made it tough to assess exactly what has...

Why Are Police Shootings of Innocents on the Rise?

AP Photo/Jessica Hill
AP Photo/The Chronicle-Tribune, Jeff Morehead In New York City, police mistakes get played out on a big stage. In September, the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) performance was caught on camera in crowded Times Square when two officers shot at an unarmed suspect, missed him, and hit two bystanders instead. The man had been lurching in and out of traffic, ignoring police commands to stop, and at one point pulled his hand out of his pants as if he had a gun, according to a report in The New York Times . It was the latest in the department’s two-year run of an unusually high number of unintentional shootings of innocents. Last August, police wounded nine bystanders while unloading 16 rounds at a suspect who’d just shot a co-worker on the street near the Empire State Building. In separate cases last year, cops wounded four other bystanders. Gun battles and shoot-don’t-shoot decisions can be appallingly hard for even experienced cops to handle well. Low light, suspects in motion, and...

When Kids Stand Their Ground

AP Photo/Mike Brown
AP Photo/Phil Sears O n September 20, 21-year-old Bryon Champ was shot at by rival gang members, who grazed his leg with a bullet. That night, Champ and three allies allegedly went to the other gang’s neighborhood and opened fire on a crowd with an assault rifle, wounding 13 people, including a 3-year-old boy. They have been charged with multiple counts of attempted murder. Our nation's libertarian approach to guns has exacted a terrible toll on young people. The U.S. firearms homicide rate is 20 times that of other industrialized countries. But for those ages 15 to 24, it’s an off-the-charts 43 times higher . And until this year, a 17-year congressional ban on federally funded firearms research wrecked efforts to systematically understand the links between state gun laws and gun casualties. (The Obama administration lifted the ban in January.) Violence and easy access to guns have especially created a lethal witches’ brew in poor neighborhoods. Crime experts agree on the need for...

How to Keep Bad Cops on the Beat

A few states forego a key tool protecting the public from rogue police officers.

AP Photo/Harold Valentine
AP Photo/Elise Amendola David Silva died during an arrest in Bakersfield, California on the night of May 8. The Kern County sheriff’s department contends that the 33-year-old was drunk and uncooperative and fought back during the arrest. The sheriff’s deputies on the scene also fought back during the arrest—using unreasonable and excessive force, as the civil-rights lawsuit Silva's family filed charges—allegedly beating Silva with batons while he lay on the ground. One of the accused deputies has the same name as one charged in the 2010 beating of a man that resulted in a $4.5-million court judgment against Kern County. County sheriff Donny Youngblood declined to tell The Los Angeles Times whether he is the same officer. If the deputy is one and the same and the lawsuit succeeds, the circumstances will fit an emerging pattern in the state—police departments retaining cops with questionable records. In October 2011, two San Joaquin Valley TV stations revealed that several officers with...