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August 14, 2012

Arkansas voters likely to have opportunity to vote on medical marijuana in 2012

This AP article, which is headlined "Ark. medical marijuana group submits signatures," reports on another state ballot initiative likely to give voters a direct opportunity to participate in pot policy reform. Here are the details:

Backers of an initiative that would legalize the use of medical marijuana in Arkansas submitted more than 74,000 additional signatures Monday to the secretary of state's office, though only about a quarter of them need to be valid to get the issue on the November ballot.

The group Arkansans for Compassionate Care was given time to gather more signatures after it submitted 65,413 names on July 5. Only 36,495 names from that batch were certified as being from registered voters, leaving organizers shy of the required 62,507 verified names.

The group's treasurer, Melissa Fults, said organizers learned more about the process after submitting its first batch of signatures. This time, she said, they made sure that volunteers and paid canvassers asked people when and where they last voted before asking them to sign the petition to help ensure the signees were registered voters. "I don't think there's much of a chance we won't" make the Nov. 6 ballot, Fults said....

Fults, of Hensley, said the group wants to convince voters that marijuana is the most appropriate treatment for some illnesses. So does Emily Williams, who said marijuana enabled her to cope with chemotherapy when she was being treated for lymphoma.

Williams, who spoke during a news conference at the Capitol with Faults' group, said she experienced constant nausea and vomiting. She said her doctor wouldn't prescribe marijuana but told her he didn't see the harm because other anti-nausea medications weren't working. "You hurt all over. Everything is just kind of black," the 55-year-old Fayetteville resident said.

Katherine Reynolds of Bella Vista said using marijuana helped her through breast cancer treatment and bone marrow transplants, explaining that it enabled her eat after hospital treatments. She said it was a necessary treatment and thought it absurd that she could be arrested for it. "If I didn't have that, I wouldn't be here talking to you," Reynolds said.

But the measure has drawn a tepid response from politicians. Gov. Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, both Democrats, have said they won't actively oppose the measure but that they probably won't vote for it. Spokesmen for Beebe and McDaniel said Monday that their positions have not changed.

The conservative Arkansas Family Council opposes the measure, arguing that marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law, which trumps state law. The group's director, Jerry Cox, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.

August 14, 2012 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 13, 2012

"The New Civil Death: Rethinking Punishment in the Era of Mass Conviction"

The title of this post is the title of this important new piece now up on SSRN authored by Gabriel ("Jack") Chin. Here is the abstract:

Most people convicted of felonies are not sentenced to prison; a majority receive straight probation, or probation with a jail term.  However, this hardly means that the conviction is inconsequential.  Tens of thousands of federal, state, and local laws, regulations, and ordinances restrict the civil rights, employment, eligibility for public benefits, residence and other aspects of the status of convicted persons.

Accordingly, for many, the most serious and long-lasting effects of conviction flow from the status of being convicted and the concomitant lifetime subjection to collateral consequences.  However, courts generally treat collateral consequences as non-punitive civil regulations, and therefore not subject to constitutional limitations on criminal punishment.

This treatment of collateral consequences is surprising.  In cases like Weems v. United States and Trop v. Dulles, the Supreme Court understood systematic loss of status not only to be punishment, but to be cruel and unusual punishment.

Further, collateral consequences have practically revived the traditional punishment of civil death.  Civil death deprived offenders of civil rights, such as the right to sue, and other aspects of legal status.  Most civil death statutes were repealed in the Twentieth Century, but its equivalent has been reproduced through systematic collateral consequences. Instead of losing rights immediately, convicted people now hold their rights at sufferance, subject to limitation and restriction at the discretion of the government.

The new civil death, loss of equal legal status and susceptibility to a network of collateral consequences, should be understood as constitutional punishment.  In the era of the regulatory state, collateral consequences may now be more significant than was civil death in past decades.  The actions of judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors should attend to what is really at stake in criminal prosecutions.

August 13, 2012 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Interesting reports on post-Miller challenges in Alabama

These two recent stories coming from Alabama newspapers provide interesting perspectives on how two counties are trying to figure out just what the Supreme Court's Miller ruling means for sentencing law and procedures in the Yellowhammer State:

Though it will surely be many months (and probably many years) until all the details are sorted through, it will be real interesting to take stock of what ends up happening (procedurally and substantively) to the roughly 2,500 juvenile defendants who were serving LWOP sentences (and others facing such sentences) at the time of the Miller ruling.

August 13, 2012 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

California facing crunch time in prison population reduction plans

This new article in the Los Angeles Times, which is headlined "California unlikely to meet prison crowding reduction requirement," reports on the difficult corrections issues facing the Golden State a year after Plata.  Here are the details:

California's progress in relieving its teeming prisons has slowed so much that it probably won't comply with a court-ordered population reduction, and judges have raised the prospect of letting some inmates out early.

Three federal jurists have given the state until Friday to come up with a schedule for identifying prisoners "unlikely to reoffend or who might otherwise be candidates for early release" and to detail other ways to hasten the emptying of double-bunked cells. In the interim, the judges have ordered California to "take all steps necessary" to meet their existing deadline for population cuts.

A recent flurry of legal motions that provoked the judges' Aug. 3 order shines the first light on shortcomings in California's plan for fixing its prison system — one so overburdened, with healthcare so poor, that the U.S. Supreme Courtsaid incarceration there was tantamount to "cruel and unusual punishment."

In May 2011, the high court gave California two years to comply with the three judges' determination that prisons should not be overcrowded by more than 137.5%. State officials concede they are unlikely to reach that target by the June 2013 deadline and have told the judges they intend to ask for a new cap of 145%. That would mean about 118,000 prisoners, which is about 6,000 more than the court wants, in quarters built for 81,500.

The officials say they can comply with the spirit of the order — improved medical care and humane living conditions — if not the letter. "Reducing the inmate population is not the goal of the court," said corrections agency spokesman Bill Sessa. "It is a means to an end, which is providing better healthcare that was compromised by overcrowding." He said the goal of improved healthcare would be achieved next year, when the state opens a new 1,700-bed prison hospital in Stockton to house critically ill and long-term-care patients, which will also further reduce crowding.

Since October, Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment program has diverted tens of thousands of low-level felons to county jails and probation programs rather than put them in state lockups. A Times analysis of prison population reports and projections for the last year shows the number of inmates fell faster than analysts predicted but then leveled off.

August 13, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Death and Rehabilitation"

The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new piece by Professor Meghan Ryan.  Here is the abstract:

While rehabilitation is reemerging as an important penological goal, the Supreme Court is eroding the long-revered divide between capital and non-capital sentences.  This raises the question of whether and how rehabilitation applies in the capital context.  Courts and scholars have long concluded that it does not — that death is completely irrelevant to rehabilitation.  Yet, historically, the death penalty in this country has been imposed in large part to induce the rehabilitation of offenders’ characters.  Additionally, there are tales of the worst offenders transforming their characters when they are facing death, and several legal doctrines are based on the idea that death spurs rehabilitation.

Courts’ and scholars’ conclusion that death is irrelevant to rehabilitation likely stems from changes in our understanding of rehabilitation.  While it was once understood as referring to an offender’s character transformation, references to rehabilitation now often focus on offenders’ direct impacts on society.  This has the effect, though, of distracting from the humanness of the worst offenders and consequently not providing them with true opportunities to transform their characters — a denial which challenges the Eighth Amendment’s focus on respecting the human dignity of the condemned.

August 13, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 12, 2012

Texas continues to lower its (still high) incarceration rates

TexasToday's Austin Amerincan-Statesman has this lengthy story discussing trends in Texas's prison population levels.  Here are extended excerpts:

In July, Texas' prison system posted its lowest head count in five years, even as the state's overall population continued to grow at a fast clip.

Instead of 156,500 prisoners behind bars in Texas' 111 state prisons a year ago, the lockups now hold just over 154,000 — a drop of about 2,500, according to state statistics. Texas, which historically has had one of the highest incarceration rates per capita of the 50 states, is now in fourth place, down from second two years ago.

Whether the declining prison population is the start of a long-term decrease or a short-lived dip is a matter of debate that will be settled only by time. Still, experts say, prison population declines are occurring in other states, too.

"It's real. It's happening, not only in Texas, but around the country," said Tony Fabelo, an Austin-based criminal justice consultant who coached Texas officials during the 1990s as the state tripled the size of its prison system and is now advising other states on how to decrease their prison populations. "The challenge is to sustain the outcomes to see how far you can go in downsizing prisons. I have my doubts, but it's an interesting time for criminal justice," Fabelo said.

Instead of sending more and more lawbreakers to prison, judges in Texas and other states are increasingly sentencing them to alternative treatment and rehabilitation programs that have proven more effective — and that cost much less. For taxpayers, that could mean safer communities and fewer expensive prisons to operate. For criminals, that could mean more effective programs to help them escape drug and other addictions and become law-abiding citizens again.

A decrease in crime rates, changes in demographics and an aging state population also have a role in emptying Texas' prison beds, experts say.

Not since the early 1990s, when then-Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, shook up the historical punishment culture of Texas prisons by opening new drug-treatment prisons focusing on rehabilitation, has such a dramatic trend emerged, some experts say. Only this time, conservative Republicans are driving the reforms that began in 2007, as fiscal conservatism gained the upper hand over tough-on-crime policies.

National prison rates

"Policies in various states are finally catching up with what we know works," said Marc Levin, director at the Austin-based Center for Effective Justice and a leader in the national Right on Crime campaign, which promotes community-justice solutions. "For most nonviolent offenders, community-based initiatives are much cheaper and have much better outcomes," Levin said. "In this time of tight budgets and programs that work, this is the conservative thing to do."...

More reforms are expected when the Legislature convenes next year, with proposals to change drug sentencing to provide more treatment rather than prison time and a push to fund a 2011 law that allows Texas counties to limit the number of felons they send to state prisons in exchange for more state funding for local corrections programs.

"We're definitely going to be looking at what works and what doesn't — and we know that treatment and rehabilitation and community justice programs work," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, an architect of many of the reforms. "Prisons should be reserved for the worst of the worst, the violent criminals, murderers, child molesters we should definitely be afraid of. We have a lot of other inmates in there that could probably be housed someplace else, at less cost," Whitmire said....

Despite the enthusiasm in Texas and nationally for community-based alternatives to prison, there are limits [in part because] alternatives to prison don't work for everybody. Sharon Padilla's family highlights that dilemma.

The 34-year-old former Austinite, now living and working in Houston, served three years in Texas prisons for cocaine possession, after flunking out three times on probation with several stints in jail. "I went through programs one after the other, but nothing took," Padilla said. "Prison didn't do much, except it got me off the street.  Drug court got in my business big time, and I had to get my head straight. But it took myself to want to do it."

August 12, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation: 2001-2011"

The title of this post is the title of this notable report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.  Here are excerpts from the start and end:

Two main goals drive the nation’s juvenile justice system: protecting both public safety and the welfare and rehabilitation of young offenders who break the law.  State juvenile justice policies require balancing these interests, while also preserving the rights of juveniles.

A rise in serious juvenile crime in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to state laws that moved away from the traditional emphasis on rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system toward tougher, more punitive treatment of youth, including adult handling.  During the past decade, juvenile crime rates have declined, and state legislatures are reexamining juvenile justice policies and rebalancing approaches to juvenile crime and delinquency....

States are not complacent about juvenile crime and remain interested in providing public safety, improved juvenile justice systems and positive results for youth.  The legislative trends evidenced during the past decade reflect a new understanding of adolescent development and the value of cost-benefit analysis of existing data-driven research. Investing in community-based alternatives to incarceration and evidence-based intervention programs, as well as multi-system coordination and cross-systems collaboration are among the examples of how states now are better serving youth and addressing and preventing juvenile crime.

August 12, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack