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December 17, 2012

BJS releases official accounting of "Prisoners in 2011" in the United States

As reported in this official press release, the US Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics this morning released its official accounting of the total population of prisons as of the end of 2011.  Here are a few data highlights via the press release:

Twenty-six state departments of corrections reported decreases in their prison population during 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today. California reported the largest decline (down 15,493), while New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Florida, and Texas each had population decreases of more than 1,000 prisoners in 2011.

Among states that had increases in their prison populations, Tennessee and Kentucky both added more than 1,000 inmates in 2011. During 2011, the total U.S. prison population declined for the second consecutive year, to under 1.6 million inmates or 15,023 fewer inmates than in 2010.  This represents a 0.9 percent decrease in the total prison population.

The overall decline in 2011 was due to the decrease in state prisoners, down 21,614 prisoners or 1.5 percent from 2010.  The reduction in California’s prison population under the Public Safety Realignment policy accounted for 72 percent of the total decrease in state prisoners.  The federal prison population offset the decline in the states with an increase of 6,591 prisoners (up 3.1 percent) from 2010 to 2011.

As in 2010, prison releases in 2011 (688,384) exceeded prison admissions (668,800). Admissions to federal prisons increased 12 percent (up 6,513 inmates) in 2011 while state prison admissions decreased 6.4 percent (down 41,511 inmates) from 2010.  The number of admissions to state prisons (608,166) fell to its lowest level since 2001.  Sixty-three percent (26,340 admissions) of the decrease in state prison admissions between 2010 and 2011 was due to fewer parole violators being reincarcerated.

In 2011 the U.S. imprisonment rate dropped to 492 inmates per 100,000 residents, continuing a decline since 2007, when the imprisonment rates peaked at 506 inmates per 100,000 residents.  The national imprisonment rate for males (932 per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was over 14 times the imprisonment rate for females (65 per 100,000 female U.S. residents)....

In 2010 (the most recent data available) 53 percent of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for a violent offense, 18 percent for property offenses, 17 percent for drug crimes and 10 percent for public order offenses, such as weapons, drunk driving, commercialized vice and court offenses.

An estimated 188,200 sentenced state prisoners (14 percent) were serving time for murder or manslaughter in 2010, while 160,800 offenders were incarcerated for rape and other sexual assaults.  Between 2000 and 2010, the estimated number of state prisoners sentenced for any violent offense increased by 99,400 inmates, or 16 percent (from 625,600 prisoners in 2000 to 725,000 in 2010).

Inmates sentenced for drug offenses comprised 48 percent (94,600 inmates) of the sentenced federal prison population in 2011, while 7.6 percent of federal prisoners were held for violent offenses.  An estimated 11 percent (22,100 inmates) were serving time in federal prison for immigration offenses.

Because imprisonment, especially at the margins, always seems to me to be a very expensive way to try to reduce crime, I am pleased to see that the prison population in the US went down a bit in 2011.  But, significantly, it seems most of the national prison population decrease can be attributed to the Plata litigation and subsequent realignment in California.  Absent significant prison population reductions in other states in 2012, it is possible that the national prison population in the land of the free could tick back up soon (thanks, in large part, to the seemingly ever-growing federal prison population).

The full 34-page BJS report "Prisoners in 2011," which has lots and lots of interesting data, is available at this link.  Among other interesting information, this new report reveals that, as of the end of 2011, the five largest prison systems in population terms are, in order, the feds, Texas, California, Florida and Georgia.

December 17, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Reviewing the death penalty's recent past, present and future in Ohio

Today's Columbus Dispatch has this year-end review of the adminstration of the death penalty in the state of Ohio.  The piece is headlined "State to execute 12 over 2 years: Ohio carried out three executions this year, among 43 nationally," and here are excerpts:

Ohio dropped behind other states in the number of executions this year, but the pace is expected to quicken, with 12 lethal injections scheduled in the next two years.

In addition, four new death sentences were handed down in Ohio this year, including the first one in Franklin County since 2003, according to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office.  Execution dates have not been set in those cases, including that of Caron E. Montgomery, 37, of Columbus, sentenced to death by a three-judge panel for the Thanksgiving Day 2010 stabbing deaths of his former girlfriend, Tia Hendricks; the couple’s 2-year-old son, Tyron Hendricks; and her 10-year-old daughter, Tahlia Hendricks....

Ohio carried out three of the nation’s 43 executions this year, the same number nationally as in 2011, according to figures compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.... Ohio had other executions scheduled this year, but they were canceled because of a court fight over lethal-injection procedures and clemency commutations granted by Gov. John Kasich.

As usual, Texas led the nation with 15 executions this year, followed by Arizona, Oklahoma and Mississippi with six apiece.  Ohio was next with three, along with Florida. South Dakota had two executions, and Delaware and Idaho, one each.  Alabama and Georgia, which are usually among the top states on the executions list, had none in 2012.

Ohio executed five men in 2011, third nationally behind Texas and Alabama, and eight in 2010, second to Texas....

The Ohio Supreme Court has scheduled six executions next year, including Ronald Post of Lorain, set to be lethally injected on Jan. 16, barring intervention by the court or a grant of gubernatorial clemency.  The Ohio Parole Board recommended last week that Kasich grant clemency in Post’s case; the governor has not decided.

If Post is executed, he would be the 50th person in Ohio put to death since capital punishment resumed in 1999. There have been 1,320 executions in the U.S. since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976; most were by lethal chemical injections. The last electrocution execution was in 2010.... There are six executions slated in 2014 and one in January 2015.

December 17, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 16, 2012

"California inspired — and now inspired by — other states' marijuana legalization measures"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article in the San Jose Mercury News. Here is how it gets started:

Many marijuana activists always thought California would be the first state to legalize the drug for recreational use, but their dreams faded in 2010 when the state's voters rejected Proposition 19.

Yet the legalization measure's poor timing, lackluster funding and vague regulatory plan offered vital lessons that allowed activists in Colorado and Washington state to succeed last month where California had failed. Now activists in the Golden State are, in turn, scrutinizing those states' successful campaigns to prepare themselves for another California measure down the road.

"This isn't over until we say it's over, and we won't say it's over until we win," said Dale Sky Jones, chairwoman of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform.

Jones, executive chancellor of Oakland's Oaksterdam University (a cannabis industry training school) said California's next effort is already under way. Proposition 19's backers hosted a summit meeting Dec. 7 at Oaksterdam with the people behind five other legalization measures that failed to make it onto the ballot in the past two years. The groups agreed to work together to avoid competing measures.

"The coalition in California is now stronger than ever and bigger than ever and moving forward," Jones said, adding that activists will probably put their full effort behind a measure on 2016's presidential election ballot, though it hasn't ruled out 2014.

December 16, 2012 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Could latest tragic mass shooting prompt renewed consideration of "smart gun" technologies?

Like so many others, I have been struggling to come to terms with the largely incomprehensible and horrifically tragic mass murder in Connecticut on Friday.  And the struggle has not been especially aided by another round of the same old debates over the politics and practicalities of gun control and over the so-called "gun culture" in the United States.  But a helpful reader reminded me of my posts nearly five years ago here and here about the prospect of smart-gun technologies being a possible frontier for a better gun control discourse.

Because I am not well-versed on gun manufacturing or the modern devises that now control and monitor smart phones and smart cars, I still cannot readily discuss what kind of engineering might have allowed Adam Lanza's mother to buy all the guns she wanted without making it so easy for her son to murder her and so many innocent teachers and children with her guns.  But I have an inkling that most (all?) legal gun purchasers — and surely all law enforcement agencies — would love to have guns that, through some sort of advanced technological means, would become disabled if pointed toward the authorized owner and/or would not function in certain regions and/or would not fire more than a single shot without a special user code. 

Rather than go on and on as I did years ago concerning the seeming value (and failure of) advancing smart-gun technologies with the help of modern GPS tracking, I will close here by linking to my old posts on this topic and by encouraging readers to supply links to any new (or old) discussions of new gun technologies.

Prior posts from way back in February 2008:

UPDATE:  For clarity, I wanted to add that I fully recognize that smart-gun technologies would surely not eliminate all (or even most) gun crimes or harmful/illegal uses of firearms.  But I do think advanced gun technology could and should reduce misuse and harms, just as smart car and related safety technologies have reduced the number and severity of car accidents.

December 16, 2012 in Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (31) | TrackBack