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February 5, 2008

"The Subjective Experience of Punishment"

With thanks to Larry Solum for this pointer, I see Adam Kolber has this new paper on SSRN titled "The Subjective Experience of Punishment".  Here is the abstract:

Suppose two people commit the same crime and are sentenced to equal terms in the same prison facility. I argue that they have identical punishments in name only. One may experience incarceration as challenging but tolerable while the other is thoroughly tormented by it. Our sentencing policies seek to equalize the duration of their incarceration, yet largely ignore the differences in their experiences of isolation, stigma, and confinement. In this article, I argue that, according to our prevailing theories of punishment, the subjective experience of punishment matters. There is, therefore, a disconnect between our punishment practices and our best attempts to justify those practices.

There are three possible responses. First, we could try to modify or expand our theories to avoid the obligation to calibrate punishment. I show why this approach is unlikely to succeed. Second, we could conclude that, even though we ought to calibrate our punishments, doing so would be too costly or difficult to administer. This response is too hasty. In civil litigation, we do make subjective assessments of damages. Advances in neuroscience may someday make these assessments more accurate and less expensive. Even if we cannot individually calibrate punishments, we can surely enact sentencing policies that are more subjectively-sensitive than the policies we have now. We are left, then, with only the third response: to recognize that subjective experience matters in assessments of punishment severity and to take at least modest steps toward calibrating punishment, either through individual measurement or, more feasibly, by enacting punishment policies that are subjectively sensitive.

Here is Larry Solum's mini-review: "I really enjoyed this fine paper by Kolber, although I am pretty sure I do not accept his argument.  Nonetheless, a compelling read and highly recommended."

February 5, 2008 in Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Federal district judges say the darndest things

For proof that federal district judges cannot do just anything they want at sentencing after Booker, check out the opinion of the Eighth Circuit today in US v. Wysong, No. 07-1025 (8th Cir. Feb. 5, 2008) (available here).  Here is how the brief opinion starts:

Cinthia Wysong pled guilty to one count of possession of pseudoephedrine, knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the chemical would be used to manufacture a controlled substance, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(c)(2).  At sentencing, the district court varied downward from the advisory guidelines range of 46-57 months to a term of 24 months’ imprisonment, and then suspended the 24- month sentence.  Because federal courts are not authorized by statute to suspend sentences, we reverse and remand for resentencing.

February 5, 2008 in Booker in district courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

What's just right in Kansas...

KansasProving yet again that the states are way ahead of the feds in figuring out how to do sentencing and corrections, this local article reports encouraging news from everyone's favorite bellwether state:

The percentage of Kansas inmates who commit new crimes while on supervised release has dropped significantly over five years.

The rate, which was a little more than 5 percent in 2002, fell to 2.2 percent last year, Corrections Secretary Roger Werholtz told lawmakers Monday.  He attributed the reduction to increased legislative funding for programs that supervise inmates after they leave prison, and more dollars for alcohol and drug treatment.

Werholtz said that with fewer offenders returning to prison, the number of inmates in Kansas prisons has decreased from 9,153 in 2004 to 8,854 in mid-2007. “There is sufficient (prison) capacity to meet our needs for the next 10 years,” Werholtz told the House Appropriations Committee. However, he said that prediction assumed that the Legislature would not pass new sentencing laws that would put more offenders in prison. “During the last week of January, the prison population fell below 8,700, which was the first time that had been done since July, 2002,” he said.

Werholtz praised the passage last year of SB 14, which enacted a grant program to encourage community corrections programs to reduce revocation rates at least 20 percent.  The law also reduced sentences by 60 days for offenders who complete job training and drug abuse programs in prison.  Rep. Pat Colloton, the Leawood Republican who sponsored the House legislation, said the goal was to save money and rehabilitate criminals by preventing return trips to prison.

February 5, 2008 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Will the new US Pardon Attorney "scandal" garner any serious attention?

As I had predicted and feared, buzz about Super Tuesday has totally eclipsed the new story suggesting scandalous behavious by the now-resigned former US Pardon Attorney Roger Adams.  Fortunately, FAMM is unlikely to let this story go away without a bit more attention, as evidenced by this new FAMM press release.  Here are excerpts:

Today, FAMM calls on Congress to immediately investigate the breakdown at the Office of the Pardon Attorney and ask Attorney General Michael Mukasey how he intends to fix it.... [George] Lardner’s piece [in the New York Times] was triggered by a report produced at the end of a seven-month investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general regarding alleged mismanagement.  Lardner’s piece described the pardon office as being in complete disarray.  According to the pardon attorney’s official reports, there is a backlog of 2,501 clemency petitions still “pending” in the bureaucratic mill as of January 1, 2008.

This is a tragedy because many prisoners seeking clemency are serving truly excessive sentences that benefit no one.  For example:

  • Barbara Scrivner has served over 12 years of a 30-year sentence. She played a minor, addiction-driven role in her husband’s methamphetamine ring. In prison, she has beaten her drug addiction, is earning a bachelor’s degree from a Christian college, and counsels young people on the dangers of drug abuse. Meanwhile, her own teenage daughter is growing up without a mother.
  • Marty Sax is a decorated Vietnam veteran and first-time, nonviolent offender. He has served almost 15 years of a 20-year sentence for his part in a marijuana conspiracy. He has been a model prisoner. Even the judge who sentenced him, the FBI agent, and an attorney who helped prosecute Marty agree that he has served too much time.

“All Americans—even those in prison—are entitled to a government that takes them seriously and responds to their needs,” says [FAMM's Molly] Gill. “The Office of the Pardon Attorney is not doing this, and all of us should be asking why.”

Not suprisingly, P.S. Ruckman at his blog Pardon Power has a distinct take on the Lardiner piece, which concludes with these astute insights:

[T]here has never been a single reason in the world for anyone anywhere to think George W. Bush would be anything but extremely stingy with pardons.  His administration came on the heels of a first-class clemency controversy (Clinton).  Bush is a Republican and a former governor. As a governor, he set records for stinginess with pardons and knew what it was like to experience sharp criticism for use of the clemency power....

Bush may or may not grant a "big bunch" of pardons before he leaves. But, if he does, he certainly wouldn't be the first President to do so. That would be George Washington.  And, if he (Bush) does grant a few, just how many would constitute a "bunch" will be entirely debatable.  The only thing that seems clear to me is that Bush is in something like a no-win situation with his critics.  And the expectations and calls for reform of the clemency process have been much greater during his administration than they ever were during the administration of Bill Clinton.  In my mind, that says something in and of itself.

February 5, 2008 in Clemency and Pardons | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Helping the federal judiciary (but not private lawyers) with crack retroactivity

A self-described "friend of the blog" sent me the following e-mail:

I thought that you might be interested in the programs that the Federal Judicial Center is developing for the District Courts. The e-mail announcing the programs is set out below. I believe all of the programs are accessible only through the judiciary's intranet website or TV network.

To All District and Magistrate Judges:  I am pleased to announce the availability of three Center initiatives that may be helpful in applying the new Sentencing Guideline pertaining to crack cocaine convictions.

1. An FJC Online web resource: the Crack Cocaine Retroactivity Guideline Information Exchange.  The Federal Judicial Center is providing this resource in response to the need for a central location for judges, chief probation officers, district court clerks, senior staff attorneys, and federal defenders to share information and resources concerning policy, practical application, and local procedural issues.  You can search the Exchange by topic, add your own topics, pose questions, and offer answers to others.  Links to relevant websites are included.  You can also post documents and reference materials. The Exchange is also available through the FJC Online home page at http://cwn.fjc.dcn.

2. An FJTN broadcast, Using BOP Sentry Reports to Evaluate Sentencing Reductions, a 30-minute live program on Thursday, February 7, at 1:00 p.m. EST.

3. An FJTN broadcast, Sentencing in Federal Courts: Applying Gall, Kimbrough, and the New Cocaine Guidelines, which has been rescheduled to debut on February 27 at 3:00 p.m. EST.

E-mails announcing the availability of the Exchange and the FJTN broadcasts have been sent to chief probation officers, district court clerks, senior staff attorneys, and federal defenders.

Barbara Rothstein, Director, Federal Judicial Center

Of course, I am pleased to see so may efforts afoot to help with implementing the new crack guidelines.  But I am disappointed (and getting grumpy) that private attorneys and academics and other non-federal-employees (like me) are being shut out from these significant resources.

February 5, 2008 in New USSC crack guidelines and report | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

What might Second Amendment strict scrutiny mean for strict gun laws?

As detailed in this article in today's Washington Post and this post at SCOTUSblog, attorneys for respondent Dick Heller filed this brief in the Supreme Court assailing the constitutionality of DC's gun restrictions under the Second Amendment.  Among many interesting aspect of the brief is a section calling for the "highest level of scrutiny for regulations implicating Second Amendment rights."  Here are some intriguing (and puzzling) excerpts from this part of the brief:

The Second Amendment has the distinction of securing the most fundamental rights of all — enabling the preservation of one’s life and guaranteeing our liberty. These are not second-class concerns. .... If a gun law is to be upheld, it should be upheld precisely because the government has a compelling interest in its regulatory impact.  Because the governmental interest is so strong in this arena, applying the ordinary level of strict scrutiny for enumerated rights to gun regulations will not result in wholesale abandonment of the country’s basic firearm safety laws.... The prohibition on possession of guns by felons, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), and the requirement that gun buyers undergo a background check for history of criminal activity or mental illness, 18 U.S.C. § 922(t), would easily survive strict scrutiny.

So, according to the respondent in Heller, the Second Amendment secures "the most fundamental rights of all," namely "preservation of one’s life."  And yet, only a few sentences later, the respondent in Heller asserts that any and all felons — including Martha Stewart and Lewis Libby and Lil Kim and Michael Vick (but not Wesley Snipes) — can be entirely prohibited from securing this fundamental right to the preservation of their lives.  Hmmm.

Some related posts on jurisprudential challenges in the Heller Second Amendment case:

February 5, 2008 in Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Is even Texas justice going softer on capital punishment?

Because Texas is the only state that seems really invested in and committed to capital punishment, I found the headline of this local article from Austin really interesting: "Four Travis candidates lay out their views on death penalty: Three of Earle's assistants say they would seek ultimate punishment infrequently; former assistant says he would never seek death."

Notably, the one Texas candidate saying he would not pursue death cases stressed the "cost of prosecuting such cases."  I have long thought an emphasis on economic realities is the strongest practical argument against the death penalty.  And these economic realities are highlighted by this intriguing article from New Hampshire, which starts this way:

Nearly $978,000 has been allocated to date for the capital murder case against Michael K. "Stix" Addison and requests for more money likely will be made before Addison stands trial in September for allegedly killing a Manchester police officer, attorneys involved in the case said.

Notably, as detailed in this New Hampshire budget report, the state's Highway Safety Agency gets only about $500,000 annually.  So the citizens of New Hampshire are likely to be spending in 2008 more than twice as much to seek a death verdict against a murderer than they are going to spend on keeping their state highways safe.  I wonder how many of the frugal citizens of New Hampshire realize their state tax dollars are being allocated this way.  I also wonder how many lives might be saved on the roads if the NH Highway Safety agency had an addition million dollars for road safety.

February 5, 2008 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 4, 2008

Super Tuesday and sentencing "change"

Tomorrow, so-called Super Tuesday, will likely be the biggest single day in the 2008 presidential campaign until November.  Thus, I thought it appropriate to spotlight a few of my favorite posts from my Campaign 2008 archive as pundits everywhere gear up for the big day:

Needless to say, I am caught up in all the "change" talk coming from all the candidates, and I am sincerely hoping that change may extend to our current misguided affinity for long terms of incarceration for lots of non-violent offenders.  I think some of the candaidates are more likely than others to work seriously toward sentencing change, but I fear these issues will be relatively low-priority matters for anyone elected in 2008.

February 4, 2008 in Campaign 2008 and sentencing issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Valuable new paper on sex offender registration realities

Professor Wayne Logan has this interesting new little paper on SSRN, titled "Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification: Past, Present, and Future."  Here is the abstract:

Based on a keynote address delivered in conjunction with the Journal's annual symposium, this paper examines several of the major legal and policy issues associated with sex offender registration and community notification laws.  Particular attention is dedicated to the Adam Walsh Act, a federal law taking effect in July 2006 that continues Congress' effort to foster changes in state registration and notification regimes as a result of its Spending Clause authority.  In addition to discussing the federalism implications of the AWA, the paper examines several of its most significant provisions, including those calling for empirical assessment of registration and community notification, twelve years after Congress first pressured states nationwide to adopt laws in accord with its will.

February 4, 2008 in Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Another notable sentencing ruling from the Sixth Circuit

Keeping up with just the Sixth Circuit sentencing jurisprudence is becoming a full-time job, and today brings yet another thoughtful sentencing ruling from a panel of that court.  Today's work is in US v. Conatser et al., Nos. 06-5694/5946 (6th Cir. Feb. 4, 2008) (available here), and the start of Judge Moore's partial concurrence provides a flavor for some of the issues being discussed in this decision:

I join the majority opinion in most respects, but I write separately because I believe that the majority gives inadequate attention to Marlowe’s argument that his sentence of life imprisonment violates the Sixth Amendment because judge-found facts triggered a substantial increase in his advisory Guidelines range.  Although I do not believe that Marlowe’s sentence violates the Constitution, his claim deserves a more detailed analysis than it received in the majority opinion.  Therefore, I concur in the judgment upholding Marlowe’s sentence.

February 4, 2008 in Booker in the Circuits | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The sad (unpardonable) state of compassion in the Bush Administration

Writing in today's New York Times, George Lardner has this potent op-ed headlined "Begging Bush's Pardon." Here are a few excerpts from a piece that deserves a full read and lots of attention even while other political matters are making bigger headlines:

The first rule for handling requests for presidential pardons was set down in a report to Congress in 1887, during Grover Cleveland’s first term in office.  It said they were to be sent to the attorney general’s “pardon clerk” for “his prompt and appropriate attention.”

Just as important, according to the report, was that the petitioners were to be given a fair shake.  They were almost always convicted criminals, but that didn’t mean they were all guilty as charged or deserving of the harsh punishments that had been inflicted on them. And so, the pardon attorney in those days was under instructions to “accord to the convict all that he may be fairly entitled to have said in his favor.”  The attorney general, thus provided with “an impartial representation” of the case, was to tell the president what he thought should be done.

Today’s Justice Department seems to have nothing but contempt for those principles.  The Bush White House has seemingly never heard of them.  Thousands of petitioners for clemency have been waiting for years for a ruling, some since before Bill Clinton left office.  Thousands of others have been rejected out of hand, largely because preparing a fair report of what might be said in their favor would take too much time and cost too much money....

The sorry state of the system became apparent last month with the abrupt resignation of the pardon attorney, Roger Adams....  His departure came on the heels of a seven-month investigation of alleged mismanagement by the Justice Department’s inspector general. While Mr. Adams has disputed the findings, a heavily censored report of the investigation, provided to me on Friday under the Freedom of Information Act, found that he made “highly inappropriate” racial remarks concerning a Nigerian petitioner and threatened retaliation against employees who dared complain about other aspects of his work....

Being over-free with pardons has hardly been George W. Bush’s problem. He has granted only 142 pardons, four commutations and one remission (to I. Lewis Libby Jr., the former White House aide) since taking office seven years ago.  President Bush has denied more than 40 requests for every one granted. (President Clinton, by comparison, granted one in seven requests.)...

Oddly, it seems that the White House, in fact, wanted to say yes more often. In early 2006, several Justice Department officials insist, Harriet Miers explicitly asked the pardon attorney for more recommendations that the White House could act on favorably. Mr. Adams, according to one official present at the meeting, replied that he would need a bigger staff to handle the workload. Favorable reports do take more time, requiring F.B.I. background reports, the views of prosecutors and judges if willing to give them, and other opinions like those of prison officials.  Typically, it takes a year to 18 months at best before a positive recommendation can be sent to the White House.  Denials, however, are almost automatic if that is what the Justice Department recommends.

Still, Mr. Adams’s talk of a need for more help rings somewhat hollow. He usually had a staff of six lawyers including himself to handle pardon requests. In the late 1980s, by contrast, the pardon attorney had three lawyers besides himself to process petitions and, under President Ronald Reagan, they saw 406 requests granted, almost three times as many as the current administration. Despite the supposed constitutional restraints on the president’s war-making and lawmaking powers, widely skirted in recent years, his authority to grant pardons is complete, except in cases of impeachment.

But it looks as if it will take a new president devoted to addressing cases of what Alexander Hamilton called “unfortunate guilt” to restore it to its original vigor. Pending appointment of a permanent replacement, the acting pardon attorney is Helen Bollwerk, a former federal prosecutor who has been Mr. Adams’s deputy the last two years. Ms. Bollwerk is not likely to preside over a renaissance. She arrived in the pardons office with a duplicate of a Monopoly “Get Out of Jail” card that had a red-circle-and-slash “no” symbol over it. It’s said that this was a gag her fellow workers in the United States attorney’s office had given her, but there are thousands of pardon petitioners who aren’t laughing.

As regular readers know, I have done lots and lots of posts on the pardon power, on the Libby commutation, on the Bush record and on pardons and the 2008 campaign.  Here is an abridged list of some of these prior posts:

On the pardon power and modern politics:

On the Bush clemency record:

I suspect that P.S. Ruckman at his blog Pardon Power will join me in closely following the fall-out from this significant sentencing story.  I hope that lots of others will focus on this important story, too, though I fear it will get lost in all the buzz now about Super Sunday and Super Tuesday and a super-sized federal budget.

February 4, 2008 in Clemency and Pardons | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Finding "Compassion in Juvenile Sentencing"

Thanks to CDW, I just discovered the new blog Compassion in Juvenile Sentencing.  Here is how the creator has described her new project:

My name is Lisa Kenney and I became aware the number of individuals in my home State of Colorado who had been convicted as juveniles to Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) when I watched the Frontline documentary, When Kids Get Life.  I was so disturbed by what I’d watched that I began researching the subject of juveniles tried and sentenced as adults.  Based on what I discovered, I believe there are some serious problems with our justice system and with the way we, as a society view the children convicted of serious crimes.  This Weblog is a forum for presenting and discussing articles, rulings and issues related to this subject.

There is a lot of really interesting stuff on this blog, and I found this passage from the latest post especially moving and astute:

When I began writing this blog, I had assumptions about how the judicial system worked, but I never understood how gray so much of what happens is.  The cases that caught my attention are all high profile, highly publicized cases because of the age of the offenders and because of the nature of the crimes.

I’ve learned that the justice system and the laws that govern it can be profoundly impacted by politics, perceived public opionion and of course by the media. I’ve learned that most of those who’ve been locked away as children have been largely forgotten. The lucky ones have one or two people who stand behind them and support them.  The unlucky ones have been forgotten by even their families.

February 4, 2008 in Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Connecticut getting serious about a serious sentencing commission

This local news piece reports on another state getting serious about creating a permanent sentencing commission.  Here are the basics (with a notable guidelines twist):

A panel of experts is expected to recommend that the state form a permanent commission to study sentencing in criminal courts, racial disparities in prisons and other issues.  The panel, a temporary task force created by the state legislature, will make dozens of recommendations when it releases its final report this month. Among them will be a recommendation that Connecticut join 26 states that have permanent bodies to examine criminal justice....

A permanent commission has almost unanimous support, as long as it would not have the power to set up sentencing guidelines that judges and many attorneys oppose.... "The judges would have a problem with any permanent commission that is a precursor to guidelines," said Judge Patrick Carroll, the state's deputy chief court administrator. Carroll likely has nothing to worry about. "We're not into guidelines in this state - not judges, prosecutors or defense lawyers," said Thomas Ullmann, a public defender in New Haven who headed the task force subcommittee studying the possibility of a permanent commission.

The commission likely would be made up of a rotating group of appointed experts from all areas of the justice system, officials said. "I think it's a great idea," Ullmann said. "It will help us create sound policy." Connecticut needs a permanent task force in part because record-keeping is so confusing that it is almost impossible for lawmakers to analyze state courts, the task force concluded.... "There is not a clear understanding of how offenders are moving through the criminal justice system," the task force concluded in its interim report.  "Data is not shared among agencies." 

An out-of-state consultant who served on the temporary task force said she was stunned by how difficult it was to get basic data. Barbara Tombs, a senior fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York City, a nonprofit that researches criminal justice issues, asked the state for a report on how many inmates in prison on burglary charges had prior burglary arrests.  The state could not provide the data, Tombs said. The state could not set how many people had been convicted of murder in recent years, she said. "These are very basic things you should know about your system," Tombs said....

The anti-guidelines sentiment in Connecticut is not just notable, but deeply ironic, given that a lot of the ideas and support for sentencing guidelines at the federal level emerged from work at Yale Law School.  Yale Professors like Dennis Curtis and Dan Freed and Kate Stith and Stan Wheeler all played major roles in the federal guideline sentencing story, but now it seems sentencing guidelines are a reviled concept to state actors in Yale's backyard.

February 4, 2008 in Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Poetic sentencing justice thanks to Wal-Mart

As first discussed here, the re-sentencing of former Wal-Mart vice chairman Tom Coughlin resulted in an interesting and important post-Gall opinion from U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson.  The full 30-page opinion (available here) merits a close read, and I wanted to highlight this lengthy poetic paragraph at the very end of the opinion:

[T]he Court notes that there has been considerable debate of late concerning the sentencings of criminal defendants such as Gall and Coughlin and the role of the Guidelines in those sentencings. The goal is to reconcile a congressional desire to achieve some semblance of national uniformity in sentencing with a conflicting desire to maintain the discretion of sentencing judges, while not infringing upon the Sixth Amendment right to have jurors decide certain sentencing facts. The debate percolates from the deepest foundations of the criminal justice system, holds its principles to light and inquires into the nature and desirability of forms and degrees of punishment.  That vigorous debate, played out in media and in courts, evidences the nation’s desire for criminal courts that are powerful in their imposition of punishment but not prideful in their formulation of sentences, effective in their determent of crime but not cruel in their measure of retribution, firm enough to apply the forceful hand of the law but merciful enough not to raise the specter of tyranny.  It is the struggle towards that goal that makes the American criminal justice system one of the greatest achievements of this nation’s social evolution and ingenuity. Punishment is imposed parsimoniously and with respectful consideration for the individuality of each peculiar defendant.  A court that mechanically doles out precalculated sentences on a wholesale basis to categories of faceless defendants fails to do justice. A court that succumbs to apathy, bred by repetition, will cease to see defendants as individuals, with pasts and potentials, with humanity and promise.  “It is a terrible business to mark a man out for the vengeance of men,” and “the terrible thing about legal officials . . . is simply that they have gotten used to it.” Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles 54-55 (BiblioBazar, LLC 2006) (1909). “[T]he more a man looks at a thing, the less he can see it,” so that “they do not see the prisoner in the dock; all they see is the usual man in the usual place.  They do not see the awful court of judgment; they only see their own workshop.”  Id. at 55.

February 4, 2008 in Booker in district courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

More on the Snipes jury outcome and acquitted conduct enhancements

Following up my post on Friday's verdict in the Welsey Snipes tax evasion trial, I received this notable e-mail from a lawyer who had a criminal trial before the federal district judge in charge of Snipes' sentencing fate:

Snipes - re: acquitted conduct

FYI - I had a jury trial before Judge Hodges (the Snipes case judge) a couple of years ago. Split verdict.  Jury acquitted the defendant of the most serious charge and convicted of a less serious one.  Judge Hodges pounded the defendant with the acquitted conduct and imposed a Guidelines sentence that was identical to the one defendant would have received had he been convicted on all counts. The judge's decision made the jury trial seem less than pointless. I often wonder how that jury would feel if they knew that their deliberations were meaningless.

Some posts on acquitted conduct sentencing enhancements:

February 4, 2008 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 3, 2008

Why tight budget times will speed path to technocorrections

I am so sorry that Mike at the CS blog is calling it quits, because a local story from my local statehouse highlights why he is so right in emphasizing that tight state budgets will increase affinity for technocorrections.  This local Ohio statehouse news story (which may require a subscription) is headlined "Senators Told GPS Electronic Monitoring Of Offenders Could Save State $148 Million."  Here are excerpts:

Housing inmates in prison costs $69 per day.  Tracking some of them electronically would cost $18 per day and, a Senate panel was told this week, could save the state at least $148 million. 

For the third time this session, the Senate Judiciary Criminal Justice Committee was briefed on an electronic monitoring system that tracks travel of individuals who may be subject to restraining orders or on parole. Chairman Timothy Grendell (R-Chesterland) took a test drive with one of the Global Positioning Satellite bracelets from I-Secure Trac of Ohio.  Results were presented to the panel in the form of a computer map display of the state that reflected his travel.

"I had the benefit of wearing this device for several days this week," Sen. Grendell said.  He drove to church, to the bakery he owns, to downtown Cleveland, and eventually to the Statehouse.  He was fitted with a device about the size of an iPod that continually tracked him via satellite at 20-second intervals.  He discovered it also measured the speed at which his car was moving. "I was driving down here on I-71 when I was notified I was speeding.  It's amazing technology," Sen. Grendell said....

Chairman Grendell views use of electronic monitoring technology not only for stalkers, sex offenders and other law enforcement applications, but also as a potential way to relieve crowding in prisons.  He met this week with Director Terry Collins of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and a member of Gov. Ted Strickland's staff. "The administration is open to different solutions including the broader use of these technologies," said Keith Dailey, the governor's press secretary.

Some related posts on the costs and benefits of GPS tracking:

February 3, 2008 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Is legislation to lower federal sentences a real possibility in 2008?

In this recent post, I hinted at my own pessimism about the prospects of legislation to lower federal sentences during an election year.  But this new article from the Houston Chronicle strike a distinctly more optimistic tone.  Here a excerpts:

The tough-on-crime crackdown of the 1980s and 1990s is getting a second look in Congress. Some lawmakers, including Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, are questioning whether the soaring incarceration rates brought about by changes in federal sentencing laws have actually deterred crimes....

Jackson Lee, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee's crime subcommittee, is part of the vanguard re-examining a criminal justice system that has seen the federal prison population double from 1.1 million inmates in 1990 to 2.3 million today [sic: these numbers are national incarceration, not the federal prison population]....

The momentum for change reaches beyond liberal lawmakers and left-leaning interest groups. The Supreme Court and the Sentencing Commission recently moved to give judges more discretion in sentencing crack cocaine offenders....

Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, will be among those standing in Jackson Lee's way.  After the Sentencing Commission's decision to allow judges to retroactively reduce crack offenders' sentences slightly — though not less than the mandatory minimums — Smith introduced his own legislation seeking to block any early releases. "In addition to endangering our communities, allowing the early release of criminals back into society would cripple our re-entry programs by overburdening probation officers and flood the courts with additional litigation," Smith said....

Jackson Lee, who also is pushing to cut prison rates by half for nonviolent federal offenders who are over the age of 45 and have served at least 50 percent of their sentence, said she is hopeful that the new Democratic majority in Congress will be able to prevail on criminal justice changes.  "The question of liberty is so important to me, and the question of having faith in the integrity of the criminal justice system," she said. "There is a sense of urgency to make right which has been wrong, to improve what has not worked, and to find ways to rehabilitate, to protect the American public from crime but at the same time give people a second chance."  Her views are far from universally shared. Jackson Lee acknowledged the legislation faces a strong challenge, though the congresswoman said she has high hopes of getting it into law this year.

For lots and lots and lots of political and practical reasons, I doubt significant sentencing reforms will emerge from Congress in 2008.  But perhaps I am being too pessimistic at a time when everyone seems to be getting on the change bandwagon. 

February 3, 2008 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Legislative Reactions to Booker and Blakely, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Could Nebraska become the next state to repeal its death penalty?

As detailed in local articles here and here, debate over the death penalty is heating up again in Nebraska.  Here are a few details from the news report:

Term limits are forcing him out, but Ernie Chambers hopes to leave on a high note.  Once again he's trying to get rid of Nebraska's death penalty.  This time, he has some strong support....  A packed house heard Friday's hearing on Chambers' latest bill. Most who spoke out were against capital punishment.

Curtis McCarty, against the death penalty says, "We make mistakes, we do put innocent people in jail, and we put them on death row." Curtis McCarty was sentenced to die in Oklahoma in 1982. McCarty says, "Confined 23 hours a day to this small cage with very little to do, no social contacts, little contact with family and visitors." After 19 years on death row, a judge made McCarty a free man. "Generally you would feel elated that you were vindicated, but it was more sad then it was anything," McCarty says....

No one testified in favor of the death penalty at Friday's hearing, but there were two County Attorneys who wanted the bill to be clarified,explaining the difference between a sentence of life or a sentence of life without parole.

February 3, 2008 in Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack