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October 19, 2010

Should many (perhaps most) women get alternative sentences for all non-violent crimes?

The provocative gendered question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable article from today's Los Angeles Times discussing the success of the Second Chance Women's Re-entry Court.  The piece is headlined "Court program helps women turn their lives around," and here are excerpts:

On any given day, Judge Michael Tynan's fourth-floor courtroom in downtown L.A.'s criminal courts building is crowded with lives in need of redemption.  Over the years, the 73-year-old Army veteran with a gruff, no-nonsense voice has taken on populations that others have given up on — the county's drug addicts, homeless, mentally ill and, in recent years, women parolees.

The Los Angeles County Superior Court judge oversees a number of programs known as collaborative or problem-solving courts, designed to address the underlying issues — addictions, mental health, poverty — that lead to repeated arrests and prison terms.

The former public defender has a way of encouraging people — or sometimes scaring them straight — that has made his court-supervised treatment programs successful. Tynan believes that, given the chance and support, people can turn their lives around.

Since 2007, Tynan has been running the Second Chance Women's Re-entry Court program, one of the first in the nation to focus on women in the criminal justice system. Through the court, women facing a return to state prison for nonviolent felonies plead guilty to their crimes and enter treatment instead. 

Although women make up only a small fraction of prison inmates, their numbers have been climbing for decades at a far steeper rate than men's.  Women are also more likely to be convicted of nonviolent drug or property crimes motivated by addictions or necessity....

Based on what he sees in the report and what the women have to say, Tynan doles out sanctions or incentives such as a month back in jail, an order to write a 1,000-word essay or permission to go on an out-of-town trip....

Of the close to 200 women who have entered the program since it began in 2007, one relapsed and died from an overdose. A couple dozen failed treatment and were ordered to serve out their sentences in prison.  But overwhelmingly, the women are making it through treatment and going on to lead crime-free lives....

"A lot of them have been really, really beleaguered and beaten up, primarily by the men in their lives," Tynan says.  His court, he adds, "is just a sliver of what's needed."...

Thirty miles east of Tynan's courtroom, the women of the Re-entry Court program are housed in a Pomona drug treatment facility for women called Prototypes....  Here, the women are referred to as clients or patients rather than defendants or inmates.... Their time here, a minimum of six months but longer for most, is designed to prepare them for another shot at life — be that a job at McDonald's, a new relationship with their children or paralegal school.

The treatment, currently funded through a grant from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and donated services from Prototypes, costs about $18,000 for each woman per year. But compared with keeping them in prison and their children in foster care for years, the state is saving millions of dollars, the program's organizers say.

October 19, 2010 at 04:36 PM | Permalink

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Comments

This would set a horrible precedent. Once you've adjusted for gender, why not adjust for race? Or income? You could find a flimsy pretext for those too, but it would all just serve to make the less equal and fair and less about individual accountability.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Oct 20, 2010 1:07:19 AM

Yes, "horrible precedent"...like over-incarceration since the 90s.
"Flimsy"...like putting women/mothers away for 15 years, but letting people like Chicago's Eddy Vrdolyak, or Rezko's recent friend, get off with months!
"Individual accountability"?? for what: the endless federal criminal statutes, delivered by greedy, over-baked, toupeed, botoxed, under-educated Congressmen (as well as our indefatigable President Clinton) that served up the "guidelines"?
Reading and parsing these federal judges' decisions and pontifications about sentences is like reading Dred Scott. The decision is made ab initio..then they come come up with vain, constitutionally-sustainable casuistry, and incarcerate the hell out of women (who hadn't had their share prior to the 90s), made drug terrorists of the lowest mule, and put away any and all potential Black voters.

Posted by: FluffyRoss | Oct 20, 2010 9:18:47 AM

Fluffy --

Do you believe that sentences imposed for Crime X should vary depending on the race and sex of the person who commits Crime X?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 20, 2010 9:38:38 AM

@FluffyRoss
Try to stay on topic. How does a different standard for the exact same type of criminals improve justice?

And how, if this law appeals to you, is it wrong to put into law that White people, the wealthy and all women should have to do less time for the same crimes?

Posted by: MikeinCT | Oct 20, 2010 12:54:27 PM

MikeinCT --

Fluffy tells us that the courts have "...put away any and all potential Black voters," which tells you all you need to know about her grasp on reality.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 20, 2010 1:44:25 PM

My grasp on reality, in response to both of you ---I would imagine-- hyper-medicated-for-pain dudes-- is just where it should be. I misstated with "any and all", but the spirit of my comment, about the wide grip of sentencing, of overcriminalization, incarceration and disenfranchisement, inter alia, is exactly as it should be.

Posted by: FluffyRoss | Oct 20, 2010 8:30:21 PM

The adjudicated crime may have no relationship to the charged crime. Before a criminal should be called non-violent, one should make certain that the charged crime was non-violent, and not just the adjudicated crime.

.-

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 20, 2010 10:58:52 PM

Fluffy writes "...the spirit of my comment, about the wide grip of sentencing, of overcriminalization, incarceration and disenfranchisement, inter alia, is exactly as it should be."

Hear hear.

Wonder what it's like to anguish perpetually over the prospect that somewhere someone who violated one of the thousands of relatively new, mostly bogus federal statutes might somehow have eluded maximum punishment for their malum prohibitum, sans mens rea offense. Maybe Bill, Mike in CT and SC can help with with that one.

Posted by: John K | Oct 21, 2010 8:35:11 AM

John K --

I'd like to help you out there, but your friend Fluffy says, in a passage with which you lodge no disagreement, that I'm a "hyper-medicated-for-pain dude," so, in this dilapidated state, I can't quite give you an answer.

How Fluffy knows my medical status I'm not quite sure. Maybe she'll deign to tell us.

In the meantime, perhaps you could supply the answer she seems unwilling to: Do you believe that sentences imposed for Crime X should vary depending on the race and sex of the person who commits Crime X?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2010 10:10:53 AM

The answer to your question, Bill, is no. But that doesn't mean women should get fewer second-chance/re-entry considerations. It means male inmates who might benefit from such considerations should get more.

Apart from all that, loved what Fluffy had to say and the way she said it:

"...endless federal criminal statutes, delivered by greedy, over-baked, toupeed, botoxed, under-educated Congressmen...that served up the "guidelines"?

"Reading and parsing these federal judges' decisions and pontifications about sentences is like reading Dred Scott. The decision is made ab initio..then they come come up with vain, constitutionally sustainable casuistry, and incarcerate the hell out of women (who hadn't had their share prior to the 90s), made drug terrorists of the lowest mule, and put away any and all potential Black voters."

Poetic, passionate and, best of all, absolutely true.

Posted by: John K | Oct 21, 2010 6:10:03 PM

John K -

Thank you for your answer. The problem is that Fluffy seemed very much to imply that sentencing SHOULD take account of race and sex. That is why I asked (and perhaps why she hasn't answered).

You state that Fluffy's post was poetic, passionate, and "absolutely true." Actually, the Fluffster herself retracted some of the words you quote, namely, that the courts aim to "put away any and all potential Black voters." And it's a good thing she retracted them, since they are not merely false but absurd -- and racist. The huge majority of potential black voters lead productive and law-abiding lives, just like most other people, and never see the inside of a jail.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2010 6:36:11 PM

Poetic license. Besides, Fluffy's certainly not the first to link high rates of incarceration for blacks with the proliferation of felon-disenfranchisement laws after the 15th Amendment was enacted.

Posted by: John K | Oct 21, 2010 8:47:10 PM

John K --

When you say something is "absolutely true," that means you're disclaiming poetic license and vouching that the proposition is -- well, how should I put this? -- absolutely true.

Left-wingers playing fast and loose with the truth seems to be all the rage these days, as the campaign winds down to its disastrous (for them) end. Axelrod accusses the Chamber of a felony, refuses to adduce a single item of evidence, and then just sits there smuggly as an incredulous Bob Schieffer blurts out, "Is that the best you can do?"

And then yesterday, the fabulously left-wing (if partly tax-funded) NPR fires a liberal (but not liberal enough) black commentator for saying what a lot of people think, to wit, that when someone in Muslim garb gets on the plane, he gets nervous.

Now you defend, as "poetic license" a statement about black incarceration so breathtakingly false that ITS OWN AUTHOR had to repudiate it less than 12 hours after she wrote it. What you do not contradict -- since you can't -- is that the huge majority of blacks, like the great majority of everyone else, are law-abiding people who never get close to jail.

For the minority that do, my answer is the same as my answer for whites: Better change your behavior.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2010 9:47:46 AM

John K --

Just to show you that I don't take it personally, I want to pass on to you a bumper sticker I just saw.

Heading: "Democrats Are Sexy." Subheading: "I mean, who ever heard of a good piece of elephant?"

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 22, 2010 2:41:39 PM

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