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December 26, 2014

Pennsylvania chief justice blames federal public defenders for death penalty problems

I highlighted a few weeks ago in this post the first article in a local series about the high costs and low productivity of the Pennsylvania death penalty system. Thanks to a helpful reader, I just now noticed this interesting final piece in the series headlined "State's chief justice cites 'meddling, intrusion' in death penalty cases." Here are excerpts:

The state's top judge, speaking after a Reading Eagle series examined the dysfunctional Pennsylvania death penalty system, blamed its failings largely on what he described as unethical intrusions and meddling by a group of federally funded attorneys.

Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court made the comments in a telephone interview Thursday, the day after the newspaper's four-day series "When Death Means Life" ended. Also that day, state Sen. Daylin Leach, in a separate interview, said he believed the state was not getting its money's worth out of the death penalty and that there was momentum to abolish it.

The series delved into a system in which 429 death warrants have been signed since 1985 but only three people have been executed. Others who have extensive dealings with the system and read the newspaper stories spoke of the death penalty's expense and necessity, and of the need for caution in modifying its appeals process. The newspaper's research produced an estimate that the death penalty in Pennsylvania has cost more than $350 million, gave a glimpse of life on death row and detailed two death penalty cases....

[T]he Federal Community Defender Office [is] the group Castille singled out for criticism. The chief justice said the ... the organization prolongs death penalty proceedings, using unethical delaying tactics and summoning many experts.  

Beyond that, he said, the FCDO's mission is supposed to be federal in nature. Funded by $17 million a year in federal taxpayer funds, the federal office has injected itself into many Pennsylvania-jurisdiction death row cases, creating more costs for state taxpayers, Castille said. "Tremendous extra costs," Castille said....

Paid for by state taxes, the death penalty is essentially a government program, said Leach, a Montgomery County Democrat who plans to reintroduce a bill next legislative session to abolish capital punishment.  "Is this program getting us our money's worth? There's no way you can look at the death penalty and say that it is," Leach said.  "The death penalty is far more expensive than life in prison."...

Richard Long, executive director of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said he didn't think anyone disputed the fact that the system was expensive. "We have to be careful that we don't compromise public safety and doing the right thing strictly because of dollars and cents."...

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf said that when he takes office in January, he'll place a moratorium on executions until concerns about the state's death penalty system, voiced by the state Supreme Court and the American Bar Association, are properly addressed.

Three years ago Pennsylvania lawmakers ordered a government-run study of the state's death penalty system, and though that study was created with a two-year deadline, it's still not done.  Wolf said that once it's complete, he'll use the findings to help guide his actions regarding the death penalty....

Castille said it was up to the Legislature, not the courts, to change the system. But, he said,  "The only way you will be able to change the system is to get the Federal Community Defender Office out of the system."  Castille is nearing the end of his tenure as chief justice.  Having reached the high court's mandatory retirement age of 70, Castille will retire at the end of the month.

I am inclined to assert that Chief Justice Castille's criticisms of the public defenders amounts to "shooting the messenger." But given that Pennsylvania cannot find its way to carrying out any death sentences, I suppose I should just say that Chief Justice Castille is blaming the messenger.

December 26, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

South Dakota legislator suggests using drug war proceeds to fund public defenders

This local article, headlined "Hickey: Use seized drug money for public defender," reports on some notable public advocacy by a public official concerning public defenders in South Dakota.  Here are the details:

A Sioux Falls lawmaker wants to use seized drug money to help pay the legal defense bills of those who can't afford a lawyer, but the state's attorney general says counties should look elsewhere to save money on court-appointed attorney costs.

Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls, says the money in the state's Drug Control Fund is correctly used to tackle the problem of drug use, but he says he worries about the legal costs counties bear after the arrest. The fund is made up of money seized during drug investigations and money from the sale of seized property, such as vehicles.

"My thought is that we should put some of that money not just into catching more bad guys, but put some of it into the cost of defending them we're stuck with afterward," Hickey said. "We get excited about sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols, but after those tickets get written, someone has to pick up the tab."

Hickey's bill would ask for a more thorough accounting of the money seized by law enforcement from suspected drug dealers and direct between 25 percent and 50 percent of it toward the legal fees amassed by counties. The fund is administered by Attorney General Marty Jackley's Office, which decides where the seized money is spent. "It seems to me that there's very little oversight," Hickey said....

Counties are legally obligated to offer court-appointed lawyers to the indigent. Local governments can ask that legal fees be repaid, but many bills go unpaid, either because defendants don't earn enough or own enough to pay or because they go to prison or jail.

Hickey's proposal comes alongside growing concerns over court-appointed attorney fees in Minnehaha County. Commissioners want judges to consider income guidelines when deciding whether to appoint a public defender, and they've offered a county employee to check defendants' income statements.

The state's largest county has spent $3.8 million on indigent defense this year, but reimbursements from defendants stand at $824,000. The county also has more than $26 million in liens on defendants who haven't paid their bill.

Commissioner Cindy Heiberger hasn't seen Hickey's proposal, but says any discussion about helping the counties that shoulder the burden of legal defense is welcome. "It sounds really good on the surface. Anything we can use to pay for court-appointed attorneys or court costs is something we should talk about," Heiberger said. But, she cautioned, "when we're taking money from one pot and moving it to another, we need to make sure the logistics make sense for everyone."

The notion of using seized drug money to pay for criminal defense doesn't sit well with Attorney General Marty Jackley. The drug control fund consists of money seized from suspected drug sales and other cash collected from auctioning off seized vehicles and other property. "I do not support using the profits of criminals to defend their activities," Jackley said.

The money pays the drug testing bills for cities and counties, Jackley said, and the remaining money is used to buy vehicles, camera systems and other items for local police and sheriff's departments. Giving some of the money to counties for indigent defense could force local agencies to bear the cost of drug testing and reduce the availability of funds for equipment upgrades and replacements.

In 2013, $70,514 was awarded from the drug control fund for law enforcement and prosecution costs in Sioux Falls and Minnehaha County. Overall in 2013, $643,722 was awarded from the drug control fund to local agencies. Drug control money pays an average of $60,000 per month to local law enforcement for drug testing, according to DCI records.

December 26, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 25, 2014

Ohio officials (and taxpayers) get a lethal injection lawsuit for the holidays

On the last day of Hanukkah which happened also to be Christmas Eve, a group of lawyers for a quartet of Ohio condemned prisoners gave the state a very predictable present: a lawsuit challenging Ohio's new lethal injection law.  This local story, headlined "Death-row inmates challenge new execution-secrecy rules," provides the details (and this link to the suit):

Four death-row inmates are challenging the constitutionality of Ohio's new execution secrecy rules, their attorney announced Wednesday morning.  In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, the inmates claim the new law, which shields the identities of most participants in Ohio's execution process, violates their rights to free speech and due process.

Proponents of the rules, signed into law by Gov. John Kasich last week, say they are needed to protect individuals involved with Ohio executions from harassment and potential harm.

The lawsuit was filed Tuesday afternoon on behalf of death-row inmates Ronald Phillips, Raymond Tibbetts, Robert Van Hook and Grady Brinkley.  The first three are scheduled to be executed next year; Brinkley's execution date has not yet been set.

Under the new law, House Bill 663, Ohio must keep secret the names of people involved with executions, other than top officials.  The law also protects the identity of small-scale drug manufacturers called compounding pharmacies if they make lethal-injection drugs for the state.  The inmates' lawsuit claims these measures violate the First Amendment because they were passed to silence death-penalty critics and "foreclose all effective advocacy" against executions in Ohio.

The lawsuit also challenges other parts of the law that require courts to seal such information from the public and prevents the state's medical board from disciplining physicians who testify about Ohio's execution method.  "These laws violate some of the most basic principles upon which our democracy was founded," said Timothy Sweeney, the inmates' attorney, in a statement.  "Everyone should be deeply troubled by this bold piece of legislation which has been passed to artificially reduce public criticism of government actions in one of the most important areas in which it acts: the taking of a human life."

The defendants in the lawsuit are Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine, state prisons director Gary Mohr and Donald Morgan, warden of Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, where Ohio's executions are carried out.  DeWine spokeswoman Lisa Hackley said Wednesday that the attorney general's office is reviewing the lawsuit.  Spokesmen for the governor's office and the state's prisons agency declined comment.

HB 663 is an attempt to overcome problems that Ohio — like many other states — has had obtaining lethal-injection drugs in recent years. Ohio ran out of its preferred lethal-injection drug, pentobarbital, last year because European pharmaceutical companies refused to continue selling it for use in executions....

Supporters of HB 663 say that the state could turn to compounding pharmacies to make pentobarbital, but the companies are reluctant to make lethal-injection drugs unless they can remain anonymous, for fear of public reprisal.  DeWine and other proponents of the legislation have said the changes are needed if Ohio is to resume executions next February, once a court-ordered moratorium ends.

As long-time readers know, Ohio's execution problems, plans and procedures have been subject to extensive litigation over the last half-decade. Time will tell if this latest litigation will extend another half-decade. As the title of this post indicates, Ohio (and federal) taxpayers get the bill for all this litigation, and I cannot help but wonder how much Ohio costs its taxpayers by trying took keep its death penalty system alive and killing.

December 25, 2014 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 24, 2014

Some recent highlights from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform

It has been a few weeks since I have done a round up of notable new posts from Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform, so here goes: 

December 24, 2014 in Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Relief in Sight? States Rethink the Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction, 2009-2014"

States-rethink-collateral-consequences-infographic-v3The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from The Vera Institute of Justice. Here are excerpts from the report's summary:

Collateral consequences of criminal convictions are legion and present significant and often insurmountable barriers to housing, public benefits, employment, and even certain civil rights (e.g., voting rights) for people with criminal histories well after sentence completion.

Lessening the burden of post-punishment penalties has become a matter of significant bipartisan state-level legislative activity in recent years.  In this report, Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections provides (1) concise summaries of representative legislation, (2) an analysis of the limitations of current reforms, and (3) recommendations for making future efforts sustainable and comprehensive.

Since 2009, forty-one states and the District of Columbia, enacted 155 pieces of legislation to mitigate collateral consequences for people with certain criminal convictions.  In reviewing this legislative activity, Vera found that states have pursed one or a combination of seven broad approaches to reform.  They created or expanded expungement and sealing remedies; issued certificates of recovery; allowed for offense downgrades; built relief into the criminal justice process; ameliorated employment-related collateral consequences; improved access to information; and addressed discrete collateral consequences.

While efforts to remove or alleviate the impact of collateral consequences may indicate a broader shift in how the criminal justice system views law-breakers, vast numbers of post-punishment penalties remain in place and a closer look at recent legislation suggests that efforts do not go far enough.  In particular:

  • Reforms are narrow in scope;
  • Relief mechanisms are not easily accessible;
  • Waiting periods are long in many cases; and
  • New rules restricting third-party use of criminal history are difficult to enforce.

December 24, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 23, 2014

Is US Rep. Grimm likely to advocate for federal sentencing reform following his felony plea?

The question in the title of this post is my first thought after reading this interesting Reuters story in the wake of a high-profile federal tax fraud plea entered today.  The piece is headlined "U.S. Representative Grimm says will not resign after pleading guilty to tax fraud," and here are details:

U.S. Representative Michael Grimm of New York said he would not resign from Congress following his guilty plea on Tuesday to a federal felony tax charge.  "As long as I'm able to serve, I'm going to," said Grimm, who noted he easily won a third term in November despite a 20-count federal indictment unveiled in April.

Grimm, a Republican, pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court to aiding the preparation of a false tax return in connection with a health food restaurant, Healthalicious, that he co-owned before his political career.  "While operating a restaurant, we underestimated the gross receipts and used some of the money to pay employees off the books and some other expenses," Grimm said in court.

As part of a plea deal, Grimm, whose trial had been scheduled for February, also signed a statement of facts, admitting to concealing over $900,000 in gross receipts from 2007 to 2010 and lying during a 2013 deposition....

A Boehner spokesman said he would not comment until he has discussed the issue with Grimm. Grimm told reporters he has had "private discussions" with leadership but would not elaborate.

The 44-year-old former Marine and FBI agent, who represents Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn in New York City, faces a maximum of three years in prison when he is sentenced on June 8.  His lawyers indicated they would seek a more lenient sentence.

Grimm told reporters he was accepting responsibility for a "mistake" that occurred before he joined Congress.  "For the past four years, I've been a very effective, strong member of Congress," he said, adding that he had received many words of support from his constituents.

House members who plead guilty to a crime that carries two or more years in prison "should" refrain from voting on the floor or participating in committee business, according to House rules.  The House could also vote to reprimand, censure or even expel Grimm, as it did in the case of Democratic Representative James Traficant, who was found guilty of taking bribes and other crimes in 2002 but refused to resign.

Prosecutors had accused Grimm of hiring illegal immigrants, paying staffers under the table and under-reporting how much he spent in wages.  He was also charged with lying under oath about his practices while defending against a lawsuit brought by former Healthalicious employees.

The indictment grew out of a probe of Grimm's fundraising, morphing into one of the highest-profile prosecutions by the office of Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, who has since been nominated to become U.S. attorney general.  Lynch in a statement said the plea made clear that U.S. authorities "will vigorously investigate and prosecute fraud wherever we find it, and that no one is above the law."

Given that the last three US Presidents have all admitted violating federal drug laws and have all been (reasonably?) accused of violating many more federal laws, I am moved by Rep Grimm's claims that his admission of violating federal tax laws in the past should not require him to give up his current job making new laws.  Moreover, as the title of this post hints, I think there could be real value in having a member of Congress with personal experience with the federal criminal justice system as a defendant.

December 23, 2014 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Are Arizona and Oklahoma likely to have their machineries of death operational early in 2015?

I blogged here a few days ago about steps taken by the Ohio legislations to get its lethal injection drugs and protocols shored up so the state can get back in the business of executing condemned murderers in 2015.  Now I see from this New York Times report that Arizona and Oklahoma, two others states that had messy execution in 2014, now also appear poised to get their death chambers revved up again in the coming new year.  Here are the basic details why:

A federal judge in Oklahoma City on Monday said that the state can resume executing prisoners this winter, rejecting the argument by some medical experts that using the same sedative involved in the bungled execution of Clayton D. Lockett in April amounted to an illegal experiment on human subjects.

Judge Stephen P. Friot of Federal District Court, ruling against condemned prisoners who sought to delay new executions, said that lethal injection was more humane than historical methods like hanging, and that since the sedative in question, midazolam, had been successfully used in a dozen executions elsewhere, it should not be considered new or experimental.

“Federal courts should not sit as a board of inquiry as to best practices,” Judge Friot said, adding, “The plaintiffs have failed to present a known and available alternative.” An occasional isolated episode does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment, he said.

Also Monday, in a separate ruling on another prolonged execution by lethal injection, a report commissioned by corrections officials in Arizona said the killing of Joseph Wood in July had been conducted properly. Mr. Wood appeared to gasp for nearly two hours before dying, but the report concluded that he was unconscious during that time and did not feel pain.

The unusually protracted and, in the view of many witnesses, agonizing executions in the two states led to new questions about the reliability of lethal injection and whether it can be performed humanely. These states and others have also been forced to try new drugs and combinations as manufacturers have refused to supply the barbiturates traditionally used in lethal injections.

Dale A. Baich, a lawyer for the Oklahoma prisoners, said they would appeal Judge Friot’s decision. “We are still concerned about Oklahoma’s ability to carry out executions humanely using midazolam,” Mr. Baich said....

The Arizona report, by consultants hired by the State Department of Corrections, cited the Pima County medical examiner’s statement that Mr. Wood’s “gasps, snorting and body reflexes are the normal bodily responses to dying, even in someone highly sedated.” Arizona used midazolam in a different combination from Oklahoma, pairing it with the opiate hydromorphone. Medical experts cited in the report said they could not determine why it took so long for Mr. Wood to die.

Still, Arizona’s director of corrections, Charles L. Ryan, said Monday that the state would abandon that two-drug protocol. The state will continue to search for supplies of the barbiturates of choice, pentobarbital or sodium thiopental, Mr. Ryan said. But if they remain unavailable, Arizona will use midazolam in the same three-drug regimen planned in Oklahoma, with the sedative followed by a paralyzing agent and a caustic heart-stopping drug.

Oklahoma has had a moratorium on executions since April 29, when the lethal injection of Mr. Lockett went awry. Now, saying that improved procedures are in place and that they will boost the dosage of midazolam, they plan to execute four men in three months, starting with Charles F. Warner on Jan. 15.

December 23, 2014 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 22, 2014

Prez Obama to nominate Atlanta US Attorney Sally Yates to Deputy AG position

As reported in this Wall Street Journal article, President Obama is apparently going to make some more history with his nominee to take over the number two position at the US Department of Justice.  The headline and subheadline of the article explains: "Obama to Nominate Atlanta U.S. Attorney Yates to No. 2 Justice Department Job: Justice Set to Be Led by Two Women Elevated Directly From U.S. Attorneys’ Offices." Here is more on this notable news:

The expected nomination of Ms. Yates, 54 years old, to serve as deputy attorney general means the Justice Department is set to be led by two women who came straight from running powerful federal prosecutors’ offices outside of Washington. Mr. Obama has already nominated Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch to succeed Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Senate is expected to consider her early next year.

Ms. Yates, who must also be confirmed by the Senate, would succeed Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who has said he plans to leave the department after having served in the No. 2 role for most of the Obama administration. An official announcement of Ms. Yates’s nomination could come as soon as this week....

If Ms. Lynch and Ms. Yates are confirmed, the Justice Department would for the first time in history be run by two people elevated directly from U.S. attorneys’ offices. And though both were nominated by Mr. Obama to serve as U.S. attorney, neither is particularly close to the president. That marks a departure from Mr. Holder, a confidant of the president who worked on his 2008 campaign.

But like Ms. Lynch, Ms. Yates isn’t a stranger to Washington. Both held leadership positions on a committee of U.S. attorneys that advises Mr. Holder and have overseen major prosecutions that drew attention from the Justice Department. And both have won convictions of Democrats in high-profile public corruption cases. Ms. Yates led the prosecution of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell on charges related to corruption. He was acquitted of some of the charges, but convicted of tax evasion.

A graduate of the University of Georgia law school, Ms. Yates has 2½ decades of experience as a federal prosecutor. Her career includes the prosecution of Eric Rudolph, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to bombing the 1996 Atlanta Olympics....

But Ms. Yates’s career as a prosecutor could help her win confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate. ”I know Sally Yates well and she has been an outstanding U.S. Attorney,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Ms. Yates’s home state of Georgia. “She will have my full support.”

Ever the federal sentencing reform optimist, I am eager to assert that this nomination could provide still further help for getting serious sentencing reform moving forward in the final years of the Obama Administration. Assuming that nominees Lynch and Yates have been supporters of AG Holder's reform efforts to date, I expect that will (if confirmed) look to continue and expand upon his initiatives designed to reduce the federal system's reliance on lengthy terms of incarceration for most offenses.

UPDATE:  I just noticed this post at Crime & Consequences by Kent Scheidegger about this nomination, which adds this interesting point:

There is an important diversity aspect to this nomination.  Ms. Yates is breaking the "glass ceiling" that irrationally tends to keep people who went to non-big-name law schools from being considered top-tier lawyers throughout their career.  There is no rational basis for considering long-ago school attendance to be even a significant criterion, much less a primary one, once lawyers have a decade or more of performance in the profession to be judged on, yet people still do it.

December 22, 2014 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

"A Simple Model of Optimal Deterrence and Incapacitation"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper on SSRN authored by Steven Shavell (who taught me about law and economics over a score ago when I was in law school). Here is the abstract:

The deterrence of crime and its reduction through incapacitation are studied in a simple multiperiod model of crime and law enforcement.  Optimal imprisonment sanctions and the optimal probability of sanctions are determined.

A point of emphasis is that the incapacitation of individuals is often socially desirable even when they are potentially deterrable.  The reason is that successful deterrence may require a relatively high probability of sanctions and thus a relatively high enforcement expense.  In contrast, incapacitation may yield benefits no matter how low the probability of sanctions is — implying that incapacitation may be superior to deterrence.

December 22, 2014 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 21, 2014

With new drug secrecy law, just when is Ohio really likely to get its machinery of death operational?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Columbus Dispatch account of the new Ohio law enacted last week to foster procurement of needed execution drugs by state authorities.  The article is headlined "New law will keep lethal-injection drug supplier secret," and here are the details prompting my question:

A new Ohio law signed yesterday by Gov. John Kasich will shield from public disclosure the supplier of drugs used in future lethal injections effective on March 20. However, two executions are scheduled before that date: Ronald Phillips of Summit County on Feb. 11, and Raymond Tibbetts of Hamilton County on March 12.

There was no immediate word from Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine or the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction about how the Phillips and Tibbetts executions will be handled, or if they will be postponed. There are four additional executions scheduled for later next year.

A spokeswoman for Ohio Public Defender Tim Young said new drugs can’t be purchased until House Bill 663 takes effect. “Our assumption is if they go forward with those executions, they will have to do it under existing law,” Amy Borror said.

Existing law does not permit buying drugs from undisclosed sources. The two drugs used in the last Ohio execution on Jan. 16, appeared to cause Dennis McGuire to gasp, choke and struggle against his restraints for about 20 minutes before he died.

The lethal-injection measure ... will allow prison officials to buy drugs from some of the 61 compounding pharmacies in the state. Typically smaller, independent businesses, compounders mix drugs for specific customer needs. They can ask the state not to identify them as the provider of lethal drugs for 20 years. The law also will keep confidential forever the identities of execution-team members and physicians involved in the process, even in an advisory capacity.

Another provision of the law requires an overall review to be done of the state’s lethal-injection process.

As reported in this prior post, a federal district judge back in August extended his injunction precluding executions in Ohio through January 15, 2015. I expect that state officials will seek to formulate a new execution plan in light of this new law, and that defense attorneys will seek to preclude executions from starting again until such a new plan is fully formulated and fully examined through litigation.

In light of all these realities, I am inclined now to tentatively predict that we likely will not have another execution in Ohio until well into 2015. At the same time, if and when Ohio gets its machinery of death operational in 2015, it seems quite possible that the state will try to move forward with a new execution every six weeks.

December 21, 2014 in Baze and Glossip lethal injection cases, Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"U.S. Incarceration: Still Mass; The shrink-the-prisons movement hasn’t moved the numbers."

The title of this post is the headline of this basic analysis at The Marshall Report on the latest official BJS incarceration data (noted previously here).  Here are excerpts:

New Bureau of Justice Statistics figures out this morning measured a slight decrease — about half of a percent — in the number of adults incarcerated in the United States last year.  The decline comes from a drop in inmates of local jails. The number of people in local jails last year fell by almost 2 percent — to 731,200.  At the same time, despite a growing national concern with the costs and consequences of mass incarceration, the number in prisons grew a tiny bit, one-third of a percent from the previous year, to 1,574,700.

The increase in the prison population comes entirely from state facilities — reversing a three-year downward trend.  The number of inmates in federal prisons actually declined for the first time since 1980.

There are real lives behind these numbers: every percentage point accounts for approximately 22,200 people.  But the rate of change is almost negligible. If the nation’s incarcerated adult population continued to decrease at this pace, it would take 215 years — until 2228 — to drop below the number of adults incarcerated in 1985.

Looking at changes over the long term, the number of inmates in jails and prisons is down from 2010, but remains up more than 14 percent from what it was at the turn of the century.

Recent related post:

December 21, 2014 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Shouldn't every parole board (and sentencing commission) include a former inmate?

The question in the title of this post is promoted by this interesting and lengthy New York Times article headlined "Ex­-Inmate on Connecticut Parole Board Brings an Insider’s View to Hearings." Here are exceprts:

There was the usual grab bag of inmates preparing to be heard here, from the career offender with a heroin problem to the plotter of a jewel heist to the glum men with girlfriend trouble. All were former convicts who had landed back in prison on parole violations, and this was their chance to explain their conduct to the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles.

One by one, they were led to rooms at their prisons to participate via teleconference in hearings that dispensed assembly­line justice. Soon, they were offering reasons for their mistakes that ran from the fantastic (“Yes, I had a knife but only because I was cooking”) to the familiar (“My girlfriend made me do it”).

One cog in the machine was different, though: The two-­member panel weighing each inmate’s fate included a man who was himself a former inmate. The expertise that the former prisoner, Kenneth F. Ireland, brought to the task — intimate knowledge of the state’s criminal justice system — came in a way no one could envy: In 1989, a day after he turned 20, Mr. Ireland was convicted of raping and murdering Barbara Pelkey, a Wallingford factory worker.

The crime occurred when he was 16. He received a 50­-year sentence and spent nearly half his life, from the age of 18 until he was 39, in prison. Despite his assertions that he was innocent, friends stopped believing in him, and family drifted away. Then, in 2009, DNA testing performed at the insistence of the Connecticut Innocence Project exonerated him and identified the real culprit.

Rather than spurn further dealings with the authorities, Mr. Ireland, 45, allowed his name to be suggested for a seat on the parole board this year. “I’ve been on the inside, and I understand the programs, the issues confronting the inmates,” he said.

Nominated in October by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, Mr. Ireland is now serving provisionally, along with four other nominees, until state legislators vote on the appointments next year.

Timothy S. Fisher, dean of the University of Connecticut School of Law, got to know Mr. Ireland through work he does on behalf of the wrongfully convicted. Mr. Fisher championed the idea of adding Mr. Ireland to the board in a letter to Nancy Wyman, the lieutenant governor, in March.

“He has a very cleareyed understanding of the people in prison,” Mr. Fisher said. “How so many of them say ‘I didn’t do it,’ and yet he’s no fool. He’s been around them and he knows there’s injustice, but he also knows that there are people who will try to pull a fast one. I think he will be a more discerning judge of character on this board than almost anyone.”...

The idea of having Mr. Ireland on the board appears to have originated with Vivien Blackford, a member of the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, according to people who supported the appointment. “Having been in prison, he brings so much to the board because he understands the experience, the perspectives and the reasons that people do what they do,” Ms. Blackford said.

Mr. Ireland quit a steady job as a bookkeeper to accept the appointment, which comes with a salary — though that does not seem to be what motivates him

December 21, 2014 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack