May 24th, 2012
03:59 PM ET

US Prisons: Centers for rehabilitation or stagnation?

Does the United States justice system do enough to rehabilitate lawbreakers? Today, CNN.com published a story about the world’s nicest prison, which allows inmates to roam freely around a fenceless perimeter, prepare their own food, work with animals, receive a stipend and even take computer classes. This Norwegian jail accepts criminals who’ve committed a wide range of crimes, from murder to embezzlement. Those in charge of the Norweigan prison in Bastoy believe these activities help build an inmates’ self-worth and equip them with the skills to effectively reenter society - thus preparing them for life after imprisonment. According to the article, only 20% of Norwegians who leave prison commit crimes again – an astounding number compared to the approximately 50% re-offender rate in the United States. Why is that? As we reflect on people in the news who could face possible jail time, such as the man in custody for the Etan Patz case, George Zimmerman and even Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man responsible for attacks that killed 77 people last year, one can’t help but wonder how difficult it would be for those people to reacclimatize after serving their sentences.

April 12th, 2012
11:03 AM ET

Trayvon family attorney: Family feels charge shows Trayvon mattered

Trayvon Martin family attorney Natalie Jackson speaks with CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien on the charges brought against George Zimmerman, the bond hearing and Trayvon’s family reaction.

Jackson says, “But I think [Trayvon’s family feels] relieved and they feel that someone recognizes that their child mattered. So, I think that this validates that their child mattered.”

She continues, “This family has only called for equal justice in this case. They called for simple justice. They haven't asked for any favors. They asked for justice to apply equally for all. And George Zimmerman does have a - if a judge decides that he has a right to bail, that is the system and we will respect the system.”

Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien airs weekday mornings from 7-9am ET on CNN.

April 3rd, 2012
09:42 AM ET

Zimmerman neighbor, fmr. Neighborhood Watch captain: Prior burglaries were by 'young black males;' 'if you plant corn, you get corn'

Frank Taaffe, George Zimmerman’s neighbor and former Neighborhood Watch captain, tells CNN’s Soledad O’Brien that prior robberies in area were by young black males and that Zimmerman protected his residence from a potential burglary on February 2nd. Taaffe denies telling The New York Times that the prior burglaries were done by “Trayvon-like dudes with their pants down."

Taffe says, “We had eight burglaries in our neighborhood all perpetrated by young black males in the 15 months prior to Trayvon being shot. It would have been nine - there would have been nine, but George Zimmerman through his efforts of being a neighborhood watch captain helped stop one in progress, documented in the 911 calls February 2. My house was being robbed, and George on his nightly rounds watched this burglary in progress, called Sanford P.D., waited for them, and helped ensure that nothing bad happened to my house. And it's documented the 911 call for February 2. That was my residence that George Zimmerman helped stop.”

Taaffe continues, “All of the perpetrators of the burglaries, the prior burglaries, were young black males.”

When O’Brien presses on how this comment relates to Trayvon Martin, Taaffe responds, “There's an old saying if you plant corn, you get corn.”

O’Brien asks for further clarification, and Taaffe says, “It is what it is. It is what it is. I would go on record by stating that of the eight prior burglaries in the 15 months prior to the Trayvon Martin shooting, all of the perpetrators were young black males.”

Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien airs weekday mornings from 7-9am ET on CNN.

March 30th, 2012
10:07 AM ET

CNN's 'Starting Point' panel debates influence of Zimmerman's dad in the Trayvon Martin case

Retired officer Lou Palumbo joins the Starting Point panel of CNN contributor Will Cain, National Urban League President Marc Morial and political comedian John Fugelsang, to discuss the possible influence George Zimmerman's dad, a judge, had on charges in the Trayvon Martin case.

Palumbo says, "I don't want to taint this for you any further. But Zimmerman's father is also a judge. If you look at the Van Der Sloot case in Aruba where we had some influence with the father. You may have the same thing going on here."

After Cain disagrees with the comparison, Palumbo adds, “What would be so surprising? I can tell you this right now. I’m a little reluctant but I’ll just tell you that. Every time we run into people in our own community, the law enforcement community, we show them difference. Lawyers do it. Doctors do it. What would make you think the judicial system would not do it for a judge? I’m confused.”

Cain responds, “Logic.”

Palumbo answers, “Logic? This whole case is devoid of logic.”

Cain states, “You have two individual circumstances and drawing a parallel. Two anecdotal individual circumstances and drawing a parallel, it just simply doesn’t give you evidence to add them together.”

Fugelsang adds, “So, Trayvon may have had weed in his bag once and that's relevant. But the fact that a shooter's father is a judge, that's not relevant?”

Cain responds, “Let’s make one thing clear to you, have I ever sat this table with you and suggest that Trayvon’s marijuana residue is relevant here?”

Fugelsang says, “We're talking about logic, Will. We’re talking about logic. It is a debate worthy of discussion.”

Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien airs weekday mornings from 7-9am ET on CNN.

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March 30th, 2012
09:03 AM ET

Dave Kopel: Zimmerman wasn't the victim; "Stand Your Ground" doesn't apply

Dave Kopel, NRA member and author of “Firearms Law & the Second Amendment,” states Florida “Stand Your Ground” law does not protect George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin shooting.

Kopel says, “Florida law is very clear. On self-defense the Florida law, the basic standard is the same as it is in all 50 states, that you can only use when you're in a public place deadly force and self-defense if you are the victim of an eminent attack that could kill you or cause brave bodily injury or if violent forcible felony. Those are the only circumstances in which a person in a public place in Florida can use deadly force in self-defense.”

He adds, “I think if you actually read what the law says, it doesn't apply in this situation. The stand-your-ground law is about when a person who is a victim of a violent attack, under what circumstances do they have a duty to retreat rather than take action to defend themselves? If Zimmerman is the aggressor in this case then he wasn't the victim. And since he wasn't the victim, he had no right to self-defense at all, and the issue of whether he should retreat or not wouldn't - has nothing to do with it.”

Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien airs weekday mornings from 7-9am ET.

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Topics: CNN • Starting Point
March 27th, 2012
10:20 AM ET

Joe Oliver: Zimmerman told him what happened before 'the gun went off;' 'race had nothing to do with it" 'race had nothing to do with it'

Joe Oliver, George Zimmerman’s friend, appears on Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien to talk about the Trayvon Martin case, including what Zimmerman has told him, Zimmerman’s condition, the 911 tape and why he has volunteered to help Zimmerman.

Oliver says, “Well, I spoke with George yesterday as a matter of fact and was able to get some more details about what happened. The report that was released yesterday is what George told me, what happened, where the report stops he filled in the blanks for me as well. And unfortunately at this time I'm not able to discuss that, but basically it fills in the gap between what happened when Trayvon and George came face-to-face and by the time the gun went off.”

He continues, “[Zimmerman’s] extremely remorseful, even though he took someone else's life in order to save his…. Race had nothing to do with it.”

“What it had to do was George living in a community that had been victimized by a number of burglaries and on his way home from the grocery store, he saw a suspicious individual," Oliver says. "And as someone who has taken the responsibility and volunteered to keep an eye out for his neighbors, he made a call to a non-emergency phone line and did what he thought was right and it turned out horribly wrong.”

Oliver adds, “I volunteered because of my experience with the media and understanding what he was going to have to deal with. I volunteered because I'm a black man and I understand what is happening because of this story. Like I said, if I didn't know George and if I didn't know what I know, I'd have been in downtown Sanford last night with everyone else. I would have been here the night before with everyone else. I understand why we're having this conversation, because I grew up with it. I lived it. I've had those conversations with my own son on what it's like to be a black man in this country. I get that. But what I also get is this was not a racial incident. This was an incident of a good man trying to do the right thing.”

Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien airs weekday mornings from 7-9am ET on CNN.

March 23rd, 2012
10:54 AM ET

Florida rep. on Trayvon Martin case: 'We're not trying to make it racial. It is racial'

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) talks about the Trayvon Martin case on Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien.

Wilson says, “It's racial profiling. This isn't something that someone is pulling out of a hat. It happens all the time. It is happening as we speak. Racial profiling happens in our nation, in our state of Florida…. It happens every day. We're not trying to make it racial. It is racial.”

On the potential public reaction if shooter George Zimmerman isn’t convicted, she adds, “Well, I am afraid to even think. I don't want to think back to the '60s when people burned down cities. So, as we move around and we talk with people who are participating in rallies, we've got to prepare them as they move through this process as to what the outcome might be. There is no way I can see a grand jury not indicting this man. However, it's my understanding the grand jury is all white. I think that needs to be changed first of all. I think it should be a jury of his peers, someone who looks like him or looks like his family members, his mother or father. And I think that the energy - we'll have to find a way to transform this energy in making this a better country for little black boys. We’ve got to all become mentors.”

On the police chief stepping down, she continues, “That's an insult for him to say that he's temporarily removing himself. He needs to be fired. He needs to be removed. That's a temporary situation. He's still being paid. He probably still is a part of the investigation. He needs to be terminated. And those people in authority who refuse to terminate him, perhaps they need to be terminated. That's the only way justice is going to be served.”

Starting Point with Soledad O’Brien airs weekday mornings from 7-9am ET on CNN.

March 13th, 2012
08:19 AM ET

CNN legal contributor on FL shooting of Trayvon Martin: Stand Your Ground law moves Castle Doctrine to the street

CNN Legal Contributor and Criminal Defense Attorney Paul Callan explains 'Stand Your Ground' law in connection with the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida.

Callan tells CNN's Ashleigh Banfield, "…The police have said Mr. [George] Zimmerman, when he was questioned, indicated that he was acting in self-defense, that [Martin] had attacked him and that he had the right to protect himself with a weapon. And Ashleigh, I have to tell you, Florida is one of about 15 states in the United States that have something called a 'Stand Your Ground' law…. And it's very easy to assert self-defense in Florida. This law was signed by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005, and it changed the law in Florida. It said basically that even if you're outside of your home, if you think you're under attack and you have to protect yourself, you can use deadly physical force if you're in fear. You don't have to run or retreat.”

When Banfield asks if the 'Stand Your Ground' law is different than the 'Castle Doctrine,' he adds, “… What Florida has done is it's taken the 'Castle Doctrine,' which means you, basically, can protect your home and it's allowed you to use that same doctrine in the street. It moves the 'Castle Doctrine' to the street, and they name it 'Stand Your Ground' in Florida.”

Early Start with Ashleigh Banfield & Zoraida Sambolin airs week mornings from 5-7am ET on CNN.

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