February 14, 2011
A list of themes for stopping drug war "madness"
Ethan Nadelmann has this notable new essay titled "The Disastrous War on Drugs Turns 40: 5 Ways to Stop the Madness." I am interested in reader reactions to his suggested five key themes stressed at the end of this essay:
Count on five themes to emerge over and over during this anniversary year.
1. Marijuana legalization is no longer a question of whether but when and how....
2. Over-incarceration is the problem, not the solution....
3. The war on drugs is "the new Jim Crow."...
4. Politics must no longer be allowed to trump science -- and compassion, common sense and fiscal prudence -- in dealing with illegal drugs....
5. Legalization has to be on the table.
"Deadly Dilemmas III: Some Kind Words for Preventive Detention"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper from Professors Larry Laudan and Ronald Allen, which is now posted on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This paper explores the role of assessments of dangerousness in the criminal law, arguing that they are ubiquitous not only in setting sentences and guiding bail and parole decisions but, far more importantly, in determining which activities are criminalized and which are not. While many theorists of the criminal law continue to assert that prospective judgments of dangerousness have no legitimate role in the criminal law (since persons are to be punished supposedly only retrospectively for harms already committed), we argue that it is entirely appropriate to punish people for harms that they are likely to commit, provided that pertinent due process demands are satisfied. More generally, we deny both the existence and the desirability of a sharp distinction between the aims of criminal law and the aims of other forms of legal control and regulation.
Criminal justice cuts in President Obama's proposed budget
President Obama's proposed federal budget for the year starting Oct. 1, issued today, calls for a 2 percent increase in the Justice Department's spending but a major cut in the Office of Justice Programs and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office, both of which provide state and local anticrime aid. Describing the reductions as "tough choices," the White House still seeks $600 million to hire "first responders," including police officers and sheriff's deputies.
The proposed budget includes a solid increase for the FBI but a reduction for the Drug Enforcement Administration. It would cut funding for juvenile justice and child safety programs. The proposed budget calls for $50 million in cuts, "refocusing many formula and other grants into a new $120 million Race to the Top style grant that rewards states for tangible improvements in juvenile justice systems." For many programs the Obama budget may signify a maximum potential allocation, because Republicans in Congress will seek further cuts in many federal programs.
February 13, 2011
"Mass Incarceration and the Paradox of Prison Conditions Litigation"
Thanks to the always great Prison Law Blog, I just discovered the very interesting article that shares a title with this title of this post. This piece is by Heather Schoenfeld in a recent issue of Law & Society Review. Here is the abstract:
In this article I examine how prison conditions litigation in the 1970s, as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement, inadvertently contributed to the rise of mass incarceration in the United States. Using Florida as a case study, I detail how prison conditions litigation that aimed to reduce incarceration was translated in the political arena as a court order to build prisons. Drawing on insights from historical institutionalist scholarship, I argue that this paradox can be explained by considering the different historical and political contexts of the initial legal framing and the final compliance with the court order.
In addition, I demonstrate how the choices made by policy makers around court compliance created policy feedback effects that further expanded the coercive capacity of the state and transformed political calculations around crime control. The findings suggest how “successful” court challenges for institutional change can have long-term outcomes that are contrary to social justice goals. The paradox of prison litigation is especially compelling because inmates' lawyers were specifically concerned about racial injustice, yet mass incarceration is arguably the greatest obstacle to racial equality in the twenty-first century.
Missouri prison breaking in new geriatric wing
This new piece, headlined "Aging inmates challenge Missouri prison system," concerning a new wing of a Missouri prison reports on what is becoming old problem for states dealing with old inmates. Here are excerpts:
A prison in Missouri's capital now has a geriatric wing as state officials confront an increasingly elderly inmate population. The "enhanced care unit" opened Jan. 1 at the Jefferson City Correctional Center....
The 36-bed unit is designed as a miniature nursing home, a place where elderly convicts in wheelchairs, strapped to oxygen tanks or struggling with dementia can be segregated from the general prison population. Prisoners older than 50 represented 6 percent of Missouri state inmates in 1998; two decades later, that figure increased to 15 percent.
State officials plan to open similar units in five more state prisons and eventually build a separate prison hospital for elderly inmates, complete with a dementia unit and a dialysis lab.
Missouri Supreme Court Judge Michael Wolff questions whether the state can afford such specialized care. "I don't think the public is really all that keen on spending hundreds of millions of dollars on running nursing homes in prison for old — dare I say — harmless guys," he said....
The rapid growth in the state's aging prison population — as well as the overall prison population — has been driven not by an uptick in crime but by state sentencing policies...
Medical and corrections officials say that due to a variety of factors — including backgrounds that often include drug and alcohol abuse, high-stress lifestyles and a chronic lack of proper medical care — prisoners tend to age more quickly than people on the outside. That's why most state corrections agencies classify inmates as "geriatric" at age 50 or 55, the common age when inmates' health begins deteriorating.
Across the country, older inmates pose a much lower risk of recidivism than their younger counterparts, statistics show. According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, people released from prison at age 20 or younger have a recidivism rate of 23 percent for new crimes after two years. For those older than 70, only 3.5 percent commit new crimes.
Some related posts:
- "Aging Prisoners, Increasing Costs, and Geriatric Release"
- What should Florida and other states do with all their old sex offenders?
- "Aging inmates straining prison systems"
- The story of prisons becoming nursing homes in Virginia
The drug offense (and drug court) part of the story of women in Oklahoma's prisons
As noted in this prior post, a collection of news outlets have come together in Oklahoma to assemble extensive coverage of "Women in Prison" in that state (all of which can be found at this multi-media webpage.) The latest group of pieces zeroes in on drug offenses, starting with this lead piece headlined "Half of women in prison there for drugs." Here are excerpts:
Drug-related offenses account for about 12 percent of arrests among females in Oklahoma, and about 50 percent of women in prison are there on drug-related convictions, according to federal and state crime data.
The average sentence in the state for women in drug-related convictions is 5.5 years, according to a Tulsa World analysis of prison sentences since 2000. Drug court participation in Oklahoma has increased from about 1,500 in 2005 to about 4,200 currently, as more counties add programs....
Oklahoma implemented specialty courts as a method to decrease the number of people going to prison, said Terri White, commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The agency has been pushing the more comprehensive program "Smart on Crime," which promotes specific programs before and after a person is incarcerated.
"We took a step back by one phase," White said. "We're saying we can step back even further to when contact with law enforcement is made initially or prevent any contact with law enforcement." The courts are designed to give each participant an individual plan for graduation, which includes home visits, weekly progress reports, random drug testing, and support for obtaining treatment and job skills training.
White said the low re-arrest rate and increases in employment and income among drug court graduates have convinced officials in the criminal justice system that specialty courts work. But the drawback is a lack of treatment beds statewide. Between 600 and 900 people are on a waiting list for mental health services each day, White said.
"Drug court offenders do not cut in line because that would not be fair to those who haven't committed a crime and are wanting to get treatment," White said. "So you may be a person who can't get treatment because you're No. 700. By the time you get in, you are now in the throes of using again, have stopped taking your medications, have committed a crime or have had contact with law enforcement."
Companion pieces with this story in the Tulsa World are headlined "Tough-on-drugs stance puts more in prison" and "Meth maker turns her life around after prison release."