Cheryl Corley

More than 200,000 women and girls are incarcerated in this country — 10,000 of them in federal prisons — and Danielle Metz used to be one of them.

Updated at 9:35 p.m. ET

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill Monday that makes Illinois the first state in the country to abolish cash bail payments for jail release for people who have been arrested and are waiting for their case to be heard.

On a sunny January afternoon, Amy Blumenthal drove to her Chicago home after picking up groceries. She turned off a street and into an alley, backed her car into her garage and started unloading the bags.

"All of a sudden, I heard something and looked up and there was a boy with a COVID mask on holding a gun just inches from my face," Blumenthal says. He demanded she hand over her keys. Another young male, also wearing a mask, told her to hurry up.

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Carjackings have surged during the pandemic. They're on the rise in most major U.S. cities, and many of the suspects involved are juveniles, which has created a dilemma for officials. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

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Updated at 2:14 a.m. ET Wednesday

Editor's note: This story includes information that may be upsetting to some readers.

Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, died by lethal injection early Wednesday after the Supreme Court vacated several lower-court rulings, clearing the way for her to become the first female prisoner to be put to death by the U.S. government since 1953.

Last year, an alarming increase in homicides left communities — often in lockdown — reeling as officials searched for answers. That was evident at lots of news conferences as police officials and mayors in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City rolled out dire news.

At the end of 2020, Chicago police reported more than 750 murders, a jump of more than 50% compared with 2019. By mid-December, Los Angeles saw a 30% increase over the previous year with 322 homicides. There were 437 homicides in New York City by Dec. 20, nearly 40% more than the previous year.

This month's elections, especially in the aftermath of this summer's protests against racial injustice, were seen as a test for criminal justice reforms. This was especially true for so-called progressive district attorneys.

Many policies in the higher-profile cities of Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago already had drawn the ire of some in law enforcement, including choosing not to prosecute certain low-level crimes, among other changes.

Those policies appear to be just fine with voters in cities with prosecutors who vowed to continue shaking things up.

Voters this week had their say on what police reform would look like, approving dozens of measures that will begin shaping policies at departments across the country.

This summer's massive protests over police brutality, spurred by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, demanded significant changes in policing.

Those protests have moved some cities and states to "reimagine" what departments could look like through changes in funding and legislation. Some efforts stalled, like in Minneapolis where George Floyd was killed.

For months, protests over the police involved killing of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, George Floyd in Minnesota and others around the country reinvigorated an intense debate over policing. Then when Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Ky., recently announced the city would pay $12 million to Taylor's family and institute a number of police reforms, that highlighted an aspect less discussed — the financial impact of police misconduct on cities and taxpayers.

Updated at 11:09 p.m. ET

Illinois moves into the next phase of its reopening plan on Friday.

The guidelines allow movie theaters, zoos, museums and health and fitness centers to reopen with limited capacity. Restaurants will be able to offer in-door dining and gatherings of 50 people or fewer will be permitted.

Schools and child care programs with social distancing policies in place can also reopen. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans can return to work.

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When COVID-19 first hit the United States, it spread through communities of color at alarmingly disproportionate rates.

This was especially true in Chicago. More than 70% of the city's first coronavirus deaths were among African Americans. Those numbers have declined, but black residents continue to die at a rate two to three times higher than the city's white residents. Researchers believe underlying health conditions that are prevalent in Latinx and black communities, such as hypertension and diabetes, make residents there more vulnerable to the disease.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Tuesday his five-phase reopening plan, while the state saw its highest daily death toll from COVID-19.

Over the previous 24 hours, 176 residents died, said Illinois Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike, who joined the governor at his daily briefing. That brings the number of deaths in the state to more than 3,800.

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The fight over COVID-19 has become a legal battle in Illinois, pitting a Republican state lawmaker from a rural county against the Democratic governor.

Darren Bailey argued the state's latest stay-at-home order was taking an unfair economic toll on his constituents in Clay County. So he sued last week. And won. Sort of.

A Clay County circuit court judge issued a temporary restraining order against the state's extension of its stay-at-home policy.

That ruling only applies to one person, though — Bailey.

Cook County Jail in Chicago is one of the country's largest and it's in a fierce battle with COVID-19. The rate of infection in the jail is higher than most anywhere else in the country. More than 50o people have tested positive so far. Detainees make up nearly two-thirds of the cases and three have died from apparent complications.

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What to do with a jury summons during a pandemic? That was the question Edward Lifson faced when he opened his mail and read that he was scheduled for jury duty in Los Angeles this week. Lifson believes it's an honor and a duty to serve on a jury, but, "to be honest, I would not do it right now," he says. "If they told me I had to come in I would say no."

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Gun and ammunition sales often spike during a crisis. That's exactly what's been happening now with the cornonavirus threat. Many gun buyers say they want to be ready with protection if there's panic.

Just a few miles from the Los Angles Airport, a group of people, including families with children playing video games, lined up outside LAX Ammo in Inglewood. A store employee checks IDs and tells potential customers what caliber ammunition is in stock. Answering questions, he tells the crowd he has .45 caliber and .38 Special.

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One of the first things visitors see as they walk through the ornate ground floor of Chicago's landmark Cultural Center is a cluster of four glass houses. Each has 700 glass brick openings — a stark, physical reminder of the average number of people killed by guns each week in the country. Designers of the Gun Violence Memorial Project say just as the AIDS Memorial Quilt raised awareness about a deadly disease, they want their focus on victims of gunfire to bring widespread attention to what they consider another epidemic.

A group of registered sex offenders in Aurora, Ill. — about 40 miles outside of Chicago — could face felony charges if they don't move out of their home. The city says they live too close to a playground, which has sparked a legal fight over housing, redemption and the definition of a playground.

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Felony murder is not your average murder. Juvenile justice advocates call felony murder laws arcane and say they unfairly harm children and young adults. Prosecutors can charge them with felony murder even if they didn't kill anyone or intend to do so. What's required is the intent to commit a felony — like burglary, arson or rape — and that someone dies during the process.

Public health officials say the number of people who have died or have gotten ill after using e-cigarettes or other vaping products is rising, and they're still trying to figure out why. It's led to plenty of warnings about e-cigarettes and put a spotlight on illegal vaping operations.

Bristol, Wis., is just north of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line. In early September, law enforcement officials conducted a raid at a condo unit located in a winding subdivision of new homes and houses still under construction.

President Trump's depiction of urban life in America is often grim, and the tension between the president and big city mayors is often filled with name-calling and lawsuits. For many mayors who end up in the president's crosshairs, it's a balancing act as they try to determine how to ward off criticism, as well as Trump administration policies they think may be harmful, while not jeopardizing federal funds earmarked for city projects.

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