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September 16, 2013

FBI releases 2012 crime statistics showing stability in relatively low crime rates

12violentcrimeoffensefigureAs explained in this official press release, today the FBI released its accounting of 2012 crime in the United States based on its "statistical compilation of offense and arrest data reported by law enforcement agencies voluntarily participating in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR)  program."  And here are the highlights of this data:

The FBI estimated that in 2012, the number of violent crimes increased 0.7 percent, according to the figures released today.  However, property crimes decreased 0.9 percent, marking the 10th straight year of declines for these offenses, collectively.

The 2012 statistics show that the estimated rate of violent crime was 386.9 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants, and the property crime rate was 2,859.2 offenses per 100,000 inhabitants.  While the violent crime rate remained virtually unchanged when compared to the 2011 rate, the property crime rate declined 1.6 percent.

I tend not to get too moved by year-to-year variations in these crime statistics, but long-term patterns are always worth noting.  And the violent crime data reported here (and via the graph reprinted above), remain encouraging: "When considering 5- and 10-year trends, the 2012 estimated violent crime total was 12.9 percent below the 2008 level and 12.2 below the 2003 level."

September 16, 2013 in National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Two new commentaries on California's enduring need for enduring sentencing and corrections reform

Commentators in California soundly and sensibly recognize that last week's "deal" to deal with the state's overcrowded prisons (basics here) is not a long-term solution to the range of issues that helped lead to the state's problems in the first place.  For example, this new Los Angeles Times op-ed by Lois Davis, a policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, stresses the need for better prison programming to reduce recidivism. Here are excerpts:

If California is serious about reducing its prison population, one crucial component will have to be reducing recidivism. Currently, a lot of the state's inmates are men and women who've been in prison more than once.  They get out, they have little training or education, they can't get jobs and, in many cases, they return to lives of crime and find themselves back behind bars.

But a major new study of correctional education in U.S. state prisons suggests there are things California could do to slow that revolving door.  Our research demonstrates that ex-offenders' futures may depend on what, if anything, they learn while behind bars....

My Rand Corp. colleagues and I recently completed a national study examining all the evidence on the effect of correctional education on recidivism and employment.  We found that inmates who participated in correctional education programs — remedial education to develop reading and math skills, GED preparation, postsecondary education or vocational training — were 43% less likely to return to prison within three years of release in comparison to those who did not participate. That's a 13-percentage-point reduction in the risk of reoffending.

Inmates who receive correctional education behind bars are not just significantly less likely to return to prison; they are also more likely to find jobs after being released.  Prisoners who participated in academic or vocational education programs had a 13% better chance of finding employment than those who did not. And prisoners who participated specifically in vocational training programs were 28% more likely to be employed after release from prison than those who were left out.

With times being tough and budgets tight, state policymakers, corrections officials and correctional education administrators will rightly ask whether the cost of providing such programs are worth the gains in lower recidivism. Our research shows that it is....

Failing to invest properly in education and training programs carries real risks, thrusting more uneducated and ill-equipped ex-cons onto the streets. And in California, that investment needs to be made not just in state prisons but in county jails too, since realignment has meant that many offenders who would have served their terms in prison are incarcerated in jails instead. The benefits of inmate education can extend far beyond prison walls. When former inmates are able to land jobs and stay out of prison, their families and communities gain too.

Similarly, though with a distinct reform focus, this local editorial stresses the need for broader sentencing changes in California.  Here is an excerpt:

California has spent the past two decades learning a harsh, expensive lesson: The state does not have the financial resources to keep pace with the consequences of the hard-line sentencing laws imposed in the 1990s....

Politicians have long known that comprehensive sentencing reform is the solution, but have largely balked for fear of being labeled soft on crime. Until now. The compromise between Gov. Jerry Brown and Republican and Democratic legislative leaders on prison overcrowding creates a rare opportunity for California to seriously address the issue....

The challenge will be crafting new sentencing laws that deter crime, provide a fair punishment for criminal transgressions and reduce the state's 65 percent recidivism rate -- the highest in the nation. The national average is about 45 percent....

Comprehensive sentencing reform is the logical next step for California to create a sustainable, efficient and just state prison system. Maybe we can leave politics out of it.

September 16, 2013 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 15, 2013

Notable review of Kentucky's (now-ending) experiences with private prisons

The (Louisville) Courier-Journal has this intriguing review of Kentucky's modern experiences with private prisons. The extended piece is headlined "Private prisons' legacy in Kentucky is mixed," and it gets started this way:

For decades, Kentucky officials looked at private prisons as a cost-effective solution to an inmate population that exploded under “tough on crime” policies in the 1980s and ’90s.

Even some critics of the industry acknowledged a need for private facilities as Kentucky’s incarceration rates soared past most other states’ and consumed an increasingly larger share of the state budget — more than $487 million in 2012.

But this month, as the Department of Corrections cuts ties with the largest prison company in the country and moves all remaining inmates to publicly run institutions, Kentucky’s 28-year venture with for-profit prisons is ending with a mixed legacy.

Officials say recent penal reforms and declining prisoner counts are behind the state’s decision not to renew its contract with Corrections Corp.of America, a Nashville-based firm that has operated three private prisons and held thousands of inmates in Kentucky since 1998, most recently at the Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary. “Our decision wasn’t based on an opinion of private prisons,” said Kentucky Justice Secretary J. Michael Brown. “CCA was a great partner. We could not have operated without that partnership while our (inmate) population was trending up.”

CCA estimates that it has saved the state millions of dollars — 12 percent to 24 percent in corrections costs, according to an industry-backed study — while employing hundreds of workers and boosting local economies.

Still, critics argue that outsourcing a key function of government to a private company raised significant issues, including criminal charges of sexual misconduct, poor health care and lawsuits at the CCA-run Otter Creek Correctional Center in Eastern Kentucky.

And they say those concerns have defined Kentucky’s partnership with private prisons in ways that a cost analysis cannot show. “I think it became a blight on the state,” said Dr. Mark Hovee, a clinical psychologist who worked at Otter Creek for about six years before resigning in 2007. “I think it was like a stain, allowing a prison to come in from the outside and run things the way they did.”

Some related posts: 

September 15, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Do deterrence concerns justify four death sentences in India for gang rape or is it retributive justice?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this New York Times review of the recent sentencing for four rapist and the broader problems of sexual violence in India.  The piece is headlined "Many Doubt Death Sentences Will Stem India Sexual Attacks," and here are excerpts:

There was no mistaking the whoop of joy that rose outside Saket District Court on Friday, when word got out that four men convicted in last December’s horrific gang rape and murder had been sentenced to death by hanging. People burst into applause. They hugged whoever was beside them. They pumped the air with their fists....

But some of India’s most ardent women’s rights advocates hung back from Friday’s celebration, skeptical that four hangings would do anything to stem violence against women, a problem whose proportions are gradually coming into focus. “I think a lot of people were hugging each other because they thought this evil is localized, and it will be wiped out, and that is not the case,” said Karuna Nundy, a litigator who has argued before India’s Supreme Court. “The sad truth is that it is not a deterrent.”

From the moment it broke, the story of the 23-year-old woman who became known as “Nirbhaya,” or “fearless,” awoke real rage in the population. Hoping for a ride home from a movie theater, she and a male companion boarded a private bus, not realizing that the six men aboard had been cruising Delhi in search of a victim. After knocking her friend unconscious, they took her to the back of the bus and raped her, then penetrated her with a metal rod, inflicting grave internal injuries. An hour later, they dumped the pair out on the road, bleeding and naked. She died two weeks later of her injuries....

After intensive public discussion of the case, some changes followed with extraordinary speed. Reports of rape have skyrocketed; in the first eight months of this year, Delhi’s police force registered 1,121 cases, more than double the number from the same period in 2011 and the highest number since 2000. The number of reported molestations has increased sixfold in the same period.

The government created a fast-track court for rape cases and introduced new laws, criminalizing acts like voyeurism and stalking and making especially brutal rapes into a capital crime. Scholars have delved into the social changes that may be contributing to the problem, as new arrivals in India’s huge cities find themselves unemployed and hopeless, stuck in “the space below the working class,” as the writer Rajrishi Singhal recently put it in an editorial in The Hindu.

But many were thinking of something more basic — punishing the six (one, a juvenile, got a three-year sentence in August, and the driver was found dead in his cell in March) who attacked the woman in the bus. It was those people who found their way to the Saket courthouse on Friday. Many came like pilgrims, hoping to find closure in a case that had haunted them. Kiran Khullar arrived in a wheelchair, accompanied by her daughter, 17. “I have come here as a mother,” she said. “I came here only to see these men get the death penalty.”

A 62-year-old grandmother, Arun Puri, had scribbled the words “Hang them! Hang them!” on her dupatta, a traditional scarf. Asked whether she felt sorry for the defendants’ parents, she did not flinch. “If these men were my children,” she said, “I would have strangled them to death myself.”

Rosy John, 62, a homemaker watching the furor outside the courtroom, said her only objection to the death sentence was that it was too humane a punishment. “After death, they will get freedom,” she said. “They should be tortured and given shocks their whole life.”

In fact, it is unlikely the four men will be executed swiftly. The order must be confirmed by India’s High Court, and all four defendants may appeal to the High Court, the Supreme Court and the president for clemency. Some 477 people are on death row, inching through a process that often drags on for five or six years. Three people have been executed since 2004, and there were no executions for eight years before that.

Sadashiv Gupta, who defended one of the men, a fruit seller named Pawan Gupta, said he had assured his client that the sentence was likely to be commuted to life in prison, as most are. “I told him: ‘You are going to get the death penalty. Take it in stride, and don’t panic,’ ” said Mr. Gupta, sweating in his stiff white collar outside the courthouse. “I think he shall not be hanged.”

Polls show that Indians remain ambivalent about using the death penalty, with 40 percent saying it should be abolished, according to a survey by CNN, IBN and The Hindu, a respected daily newspaper. For many months already, advocates for women have questioned whether death sentences in the December case would distract people from the more difficult question of why Indian girls and women are so vulnerable to sexual violence.

September 15, 2013 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack