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  More Than One In 100 Adults Are Behind Bars, Pew Study FindsFebruary 28, 2008 12:12 For the first time in history more than one in every 100 adults in America are in jail or prison -- a fact that significantly impacts state budgets without delivering a clear return on public safety. According to a new report released today by the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project, at the start of 2008, 2,319,258 adults were held in American prisons or jails, or one in every 99.1 men and women, according to the study. During 2007, the prison population rose by more than 25,000 inmates. In addition to detailing state and regional prison growth rates, Pew's report, One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008, identifies how corrections spending compares to other state investments, why it has increased, and what some states are doing to limit growth in both prison populations and costs while maintaining public safety.

As prison populations expand, costs to states are on the rise. Last year alone, states spent more than $49 billion on corrections, up from $11 billion 20 years before. However, the national recidivism rate remains virtually unchanged, with about half of released inmates returning to jail or prison within three years. And while violent criminals and other serious offenders account for some of the growth, many inmates are low-level offenders or people who have violated the terms of their probation or parole.

"For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn't been a clear and convincing return for public safety," said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project. "More and more states are beginning to rethink their reliance on prisons for lower-level offenders and finding strategies that are tough on crime without being so tough on taxpayers."
  Us Religious Identity Is Rapidly ChangingFebruary 26, 2008 08:37 The United States, founded by dissident Protestants seeking religious freedom, is on the verge of becoming a nation in which Protestants are a minority.

A growing fraction of Americans identify themselves as unaffiliated with any religious tradition, and a small but increasingly significant number say they are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Orthodox Christian. And a flood of overwhelmingly Catholic immigrants, mostly from Latin America, is helping to offset a high dropout rate among US-born Catholics

These are among the key findings of a groundbreaking study of the American religious landscape released yesterday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The study, which is the most comprehensive such examination of the country in at least a half century, finds that the United States is in the midst of a period of unprecedented religious fluidity, in which 44 percent of American adults have left the denomination of their childhood for another denomination, another faith, or no faith at all.

"Americans are not only changing jobs, changing locations, changing spouses, but they're also changing religions on a regular basis," said Luis E. Lugo, director of the Pew Forum. "We have nearly half the American public telling us they're something different today than they were as a child, and that's a staggering number. It's such a dynamic religious marketplace and very competitive."

The study is based on a survey of 35,000 Americans age 18 and over, a very large number for survey research, and the size of the pool allowed the researchers to get more detail about minority religious groups than is usually available from smaller studies. The study is also important because the quantification of religious affiliation in the United States is often difficult and contested; the US Census does not include questions about religion, and many studies rely on counts submitted by denominations, whose self-reporting is often unreliable.
  Renzi (R) Allegedly Funded First House Race With Embezzled Money, By John Bresnahan - Cbs NewsFebruary 22, 2008 14:55 The Federal Election Commission audited now indicted Rep. Rick Renzi's (R-Ariz.) 2001-02 campaign back in '04 and identified more than $369,000 in "impermissible corporate funds" given by Renzi to his campaign committee. Renzi and his attorneys said that the money was from "personal funds" and thus allowable, and the FEC, despite numerous questions about the source of the funds, took no formal action against him. Renzi had used that disputed money in 2002 to narrowly defeat Democrat George Cordova, winning with only 49% of the vote in a close general-election race.

Now, however, the Justice Department has a different explanation for where that money came from - Renzi and a business associate named Andrew Beardall were allegedly skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Renzi-owned insurance company, and Renzi steered more than $400,000 of stolen money into his first run for a House seat. Thus, according to Justice, Renzi - who raised just over $1.65 million during that cycle - basically illegally redirected about a quarter of the money he used to win his race from the customers of one of his companies.

According to Friday's indictement of Renzi, the Arizona Republican "concealed his misappropriation and embezzlement by filing Federal Election Commission Form 3, Reports of Receipts and Disbursements, on or about Jan. 24, 2002, for the final quarter of 2001. During the period Dec. 11, 2001 through Dec. 31, 2001, Renzi claimed total receipts of $404,090.00, all of which he claimed to be loans from himself. In fact, as as Renzi well knew, more than $300,000.00 of those funds constituted insurance premiums that were neither the property of Renzi nor of Renzi and Company."

In total, Renzi allegedly steered $422,000 in embezzled funds to his campaign between Dec. 2001 and March 2002, according to the indictment. Beardall allegedly assisted Renzi in covering up the embezzlement from state insurance regulators in Florida and Virginia.
  Us Military Accused Of Harboring FundamentalismFebruary 17, 2008 09:47 Since his last combat deployment in Iraq, Jeremy Hall has had a rough time, getting shoved and threatened by his fellow soldiers. The trouble started there when he would not pray in the mess hall.

"A senior ranking staff sergeant told me to leave and sit somewhere else because I refused to pray," Hall, a 23-year-old US army specialist, told the media.

Later, Hall was confronted by a major for holding an authorized meeting of "atheists and freethinkers" on his base. The officer threatened to discipline him and block his re-enlistment.

"He said: 'You guys are being a problem and problems can be removed'," Hall said. "He was yelling at us and stuff and at the very end he says, 'I really love you guys, I want you to see the light'."

Now Hall is suing the major and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, accusing them of breaching his constitutional rights. A campaign group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, is waiting for the Pentagon to respond to a lawsuit filed in a Kansas federal court on Hall's behalf.

It alleges a "pernicious pattern and practice" of infringement of religious liberties in the military.

The group's founder, former Air Force lawyer Mikey Weinstein, said he has documented 6,800 testimonies by military personnel nearly all of them Christians of sometimes punitive or humiliating attempts to make them accept a fundamentalist evangelical interpretation of Christianity.
  State Court Recognizes Gay Marriages From ElsewhereFebruary 03, 2008 14:48 A New York appellate court ruled Friday that valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples must be legally recognized in New York, just as the law recognizes those of heterosexual couples solemnized elsewhere. Lawyers for both sides said the ruling applied to all public and private employers in the state.

Even though gay couples may not legally marry in New York, the appellate court in Rochester held that a gay couple’s 2004 marriage in Canada must be respected under the state’s longstanding “marriage recognition rule,” and that an employer’s denial of health benefits had discriminated against the couple on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“The Legislature may decide to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages solemnized abroad,” a five-judge panel of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court ruled unanimously in rejecting a 2006 lower court decision. “Until it does so, however, such marriages are entitled to recognition in New York.”

For more than a century, the court noted, New York State has recognized valid out-of-state marriages. Moreover, it said that the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest judicial body, has said the Legislature may enact laws recognizing same-sex marriages. “In our view, the Court of Appeals thereby indicated that the recognition of plaintiff’s marriage is not against the public policy of New York,” the court held.