Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Sentencing Project releases "Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America"

I received an email alerting me to an important new publication about life and LWOP sentence just released by The Sentencing Project.   Here is the text of the email, which includes links to the publication as well as a summry of its key findings: 

While serious crime rates in the U.S. have been declining for the last 20 years, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has more than quadrupled since 1984.  As documented in our new report, Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America, by senior research analyst Ashley Nellis, over 159,000 people were serving life sentences in 2012, with nearly 50,000 serving life without parole.

Key findings from the report include:

  • One of every nine individuals in prison is serving a life sentence.
  • The population of prisoners serving life without parole (LWOP) has risen more sharply than those with the possibility of parole: there has been a 22.2% increase in LWOP since just 2008.
  • Approximately 10,000 lifers have been convicted of nonviolent offenses.
  • Nearly half of lifers are African American and 1 in 6 are Latino. 
  • More than 10,000 life-sentenced inmates have been convicted of crimes that occurred before they turned 18 and nearly 1 in 4 of them were sentenced to LWOP.
  • More than 5,300 (3.4%) of the life-sentenced inmates are female.
In order to reshape our crime policies to facilitaterehabilation, promote public safety, and reduce the high cost of massincarceration, the report recommends eliminating life without parole,increasing the use of executive clemency, preparing persons sentenced to lifefor release from prison, and restoring the role of parole in prisoner release.

September 18, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, September 12, 2013

US Sentencing Commission releases more documents in its great new "Quick Facts" series

I am so very pleased to see and to be able to report that the US Sentencing Commission is continuing to produce a steady stream of documents as part of its terrific new series of reader-friendly "Quick Facts" publications.  (Regular readers may recall from this prior post that the USSC describes these publications as a way to "give readers basic facts about a single area of federal crime in an easy-to-read, two-page format.)

As I have said before, I think this is a very valuable new innovation coming from the USSC, and I have already learned a lot and benefited greatly from these latest two publications in the series:

September 12, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Pot Prohibition Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

How could and should folks view (or "spin") latest results from national survey on drug use and health?

Released today were the findings from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Helpfully, thanks to our modern digital world, everyone can look at the full reported results from HHS here and a collections of "highlights" at this link.  Or one can look at these headlines from some early major media reports:

As these headlines highlight, there are lots of ways to view the latest survey data.  (Moreover, because the stigma associated with marijuana use has declined with evolving laws and policy perspectives, I cannot help but wonder if the measured increase in reported use of marijuana might, at least to some degree, reflect an increase in the willingness of persons to admit to marijuana use rather than an actual increase in use.)

Usefully, because the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health also explores alcohol and tobacco use, as well as reported rates of "substantance dependence/abuse," there are a number of notable (though less reported) seemingly positive stories emerging from this latest government report concerning drug use and abuse over the last decade.  Specifically (and quoting now directly from the HHS highlights):

I am inclined to ultimately view the data emerging from 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health as evidence that, all things considered, Americans are somewhat healthier now than we were a year ago and a lot healthier now than we were a decade ago.  But most of the headlines I see from the media seem to be emphasizing reported increases in the use of certain substantances rather than reported decreases in the use of other substances.

September 4, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

"Evidence-Based Sentencing and the Scientific Rationalization of Discrimination"

The title of this post is the title of this provocative new paper by Sonja Starr now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This paper critiques, on legal and empirical grounds, the growing trend of basing criminal sentences on actuarial recidivism risk prediction instruments that include demographic and socioeconomic variables.  I argue that this practice violates the Equal Protection Clause and is bad policy: an explicit embrace of otherwise-condemned discrimination, sanitized by scientific language.

To demonstrate that this practice should be subject to heightened constitutional scrutiny, I comprehensively review the relevant case law, much of which has been ignored by existing literature.  To demonstrate that it cannot survive that scrutiny and is undesirable policy, I review the empirical evidence underlying the instruments.  I show that they provide wildly imprecise individual risk predictions, that there is no compelling evidence that they outperform judges’ informal predictions, that less discriminatory alternatives would likely perform as well, and that the instruments do not even address the right question: the effect of a given sentencing decision on recidivism risk.  Finally, I also present new, suggestive empirical evidence, based on a randomized experiment using fictional cases, that these instruments should not be expected merely to substitute actuarial predictions for less scientific risk assessments, but instead to increase the weight given to recidivism risk versus other sentencing considerations.

September 3, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In praise of the US Sentencing Commission's new "Quick Facts" series

I am very pelased to see and to be able to report that the US Sentencing Commission has launched a notable new series of reader-friendly publications.  This posting from the USSC's webpage explains:

NEW Quick Facts Publication Series Launched

The Commission presents a new publication series called "Quick Facts." These publications will give readers basic facts about a single area of federal crime in an easy-to-read, two-page format.

I think this is a terrific new innovation coming from the USSC, and I have already learned a few things from these first two publications in the series:

August 27, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Recommended reading, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 11, 2013

New National Academy of Sciences effort seeking to unpack the crime decline

As reported via this helpful piece at The Crime Report, some really important and smart folks are now hard at work trying to understand fully the modern US crime decline. Here are the basics of the effort as explained in the start of this linked report:

The crime level has dropped in the United States over the past two decades, but definitive explanations are lacking. With funding from the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice, the National Academy of Sciences has organized a project to address that important issue. In a chat with The Crime Report’s Washington Bureau Chief Ted Gest, criminologist Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis — who heads the effort — explains the project’s aims, reports on the topics covered at the first sessions in Washington in June, and explains why it would be a “bad bet” to assume the crime drop will continue indefinitely.

The Crime Report: How is this project organized?

Richard Rosenfeld: It is a so-called “roundtable” on crime trends.  The group met in June, and we plan to hold five more sessions over the next three years to hear from experts about various aspects of changes in crime rates over time, both in the United States and elsewhere.  We’re primarily focusing on changes in the United States over the last several decades, but at our first meeting we also talked about centuries-long changes in Europe and the U.S., going back to colonial America.  This is a broad and comprehensive look at changes over time in crime, and some of the factors connected with those changes.

TCR: Who is involved?

Rosenfeld: There are 16 members of the roundtable.  Twelve are academics, including nine criminologists: myself, Eric Baumer of Florida State University, Shawn Bushway of the University at Albany (SUNY), Manuel Eisner of the University of Cambridge, Susan Herman of Pace University, Dan Isom of the University of Missouri-St. Louis (a former police chief); Janet Lauritsen of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Maria Velez of the University of New Mexico, and David Weisburd of George Mason University and The Hebrew University.  The other academics are public health expert David Hemenway of Harvard; historian Randolph Roth of Ohio State University, and economist Jose Scheinkman of Princeton University.  Non-academics in the group are Jim Bueermann, a former police chief who now heads the Police Foundation, District Attorney George Gascon of San Francisco; Maxine Hayes, Washington State Health Officer, and Florida Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman.

TCR: Tell us about the first two sessions.

Rosenfeld: We met in Washington, D.C., for two days in June. The five public sessions covered these topics: U.S. crime trends in historical perspective, trends disaggregated by offense type, regional and local variations; gender, race and ethnicity of victims and offenders; and U.S. crime trends in international perspective. The content of the presentations, all of which were made by roundtable members, may be seen at this site.

At our next meeting, which will also be in Washington, at an early December date to be determined, we will focus on the “lead hypothesis,” that the removal of lead from paint and gasoline resulted in crime declines some years later and may largely explain the crime drop.  We’ll hear from people who have researched that topic.  We haven’t yet set the agendas for the four sessions that will follow that.

A few related posts on modern crime rates: 

August 11, 2013 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Friday, August 02, 2013

Could prison perhaps be helping to cause serious recidivism in Delaware?

The question in the title of this post is the first reaction I had upon seeing this lengthy local story, headlined "Study: 8 in 10 released inmates return to Del. prisons." Here are the details:

Nearly eight in 10 Delaware inmates sentenced to more than a year in prison are arrested again for a serious offense within three years of their release, according to a first-of-its-kind state study.  The 27-page report, Recidivism in Delaware, also found that 71% of released prisoners are convicted of a serious crime within three years, and that 68% return to prison for at least one day....

Conducted by the Delaware Criminal Justice Council, the report was a necessary initial step to evaluating the effectiveness of the state's justice system, including the programs available to prisoners while behind bars or after being freed. "These are people who have been sentenced to a year or more in prison, the more serious offenders, and we expected them to be the highest recidivists," said Drewry N. Fennell, the criminal justice council's executive director.

"It really gives us a baseline against which to measure our successes in the future. And our failures. And to know whether we are spending our time and money well in ways that really do enhance communities that people are going back to, as well as enhancing the lives of people who have been incarcerated. We don't want to invest in things that don't do that."

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said the information should be used to develop better strategies to prevent crime and reduce the number of criminals who re-offend. "Too many people released from our prisons go on to commit more crimes. We need to change that," he said in a statement.

Delaware officials haven't studied how effective the corrections system is in keeping offenders from returning to prison since 2000, and that study was limited to a one-time snapshot of prisoners returning after their release in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Delaware Public Defender Brendan O'Neill, whose taxpayer-funded agency represents about 85% of the state's defendants, said he was surprised the rates included in the new report are so high. "It raises more questions than it answers now," O'Neill said, while applauding officials for finally conducting the long-needed study....

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden said in a written statement that the report "highlights an alarming rate of recidivism that needs to be addressed by the criminal justice system." Biden said its findings underscore problems his office has been trying to address, such as prison sentences that don't "adequately reflect the seriousness of the crime" or deter future crimes, and the failure of judges to order pre-sentence reports for most serious felony cases.

Delaware embarked on the study on the orders of the General Assembly, which passed a bill in 2012 that required an annual report from the Criminal Justice Council's Statistical Analysis Center. The law, part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative that looks to spend corrections dollars more wisely, requires one-year, two-year and three-year rates of re-arrest, reconviction and recommitment of released offenders....

Researchers studied 1,167 prisoners released in 2008 and 1,091 freed in 2009. About 91% were men. Fifty-nine percent were black, and 41% white. Those released in 2008 had slightly higher rates of going back into the criminal justice system than those freed in 2009. Of the 2008 group, 56% got arrested for a "serious offense" within one year, compared to 53% in 2009. Fennell said serious crimes include all felonies and Class A and B misdemeanors. Class B misdemeanors include crimes such as marijuana possession, prostitution and criminal contempt....

Perry Phelps, head of the Bureau of Prisons, cautioned, however, that the deck is often stacked against former inmates because they have trouble getting public assistance, college financial aid or jobs. Lawmakers, educators and employers need to face that reality and remove some of the barriers for those who truly want to reform to help prevent them from returning to their criminal ways, he said.

"We tell people in this country we forgive and forget. You go to jail and do your time and you are set free. But that's not the reality of it," Phelps said. "Some people are ostracized as criminals for so long when they go back to society."

A press release concerning this recidivism report is available at this link, and the full report is available at this link. Among the notable findings from the detailed report is that property offenders serving significant prison terms the first time around still have the highest recidivism rate, which leads me to worry (as my post title suggests) that property offenders may be folks most likely to learn about new and improved ways to commit new offenses while inside prison.

August 2, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

New USSC data on implimentation and impact of retroactive crack guidelines after FSA

I just noticed on the US Sentencing Commission's website this new data report carrying the title "Preliminary Crack Retroactivity Data Report; Fair Sentencing Act."  This report, dated July 2013, appears to be the latest accounting of who has (and has not) received the benefit of retroactive application of the 2011 amendments to the federal sentencing guidelines for crack offenses which implemented the new 18-1 crack/powder ratio that Congress created via the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.

Based on the information reflected in Tables 1 amd 8 of this data report, it appears that just over 7300 defendants received, on average, a 29-month reduction in their crack sentences thanks to the new FSA-inspired crack guidelines being made retroactive.  Significantly, this average reduction merely lowered the average crack sentence from roughly 12.5 years to just over 10 years for the group receiving sentence reductions; this means that even the new-average-lowered sentence for crack offenses were still significantly higher that the average sentences imposed for any other federal drug crimes.

For those eager to gauge the potential economic impact of FSA retroactivity, it appears that the retroactive guidelines as implemented has now saved almost 16,000 cumulative years of federal imprisonment, with a consequent savings to federal taxpayers of approximately a half-billion dollars (based on a conservative estimate of a taxpayer cost of roughly $30,000 per prisoner for each year of federal incarceration).  And for those concerned about racial sentencing dynamics, Table 5 of this data reports that more than 85% of those benefiting from reduced crack sentences have been black prisoners, demonstrating once again the historically racialized reality of federal crack prosecutions.

As I have said in prior posts, if those defendants who received reduced sentences find ways to become productive (and tax-paying) citizens, the benefits to society will profoundly transcend the saved incarceration costs. And it those defendants do not learn the error of their law-breaking ways, I both expect and hope they will really get the sentencing book thrown at them if ever up for sentencing again.

July 30, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, New crack statute and the FSA's impact, New USSC crack guidelines and report, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, July 26, 2013

New BJS data show continued 2012 decline in state prison populations (and continued federal increase)

As detailed in this official press release from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which carries the heading "U.S. Prison Population Declined for Third Consecutive Year During 2012," the impact of tight budgets and state reforms continues to impact national prison populations in important and significant ways. Here are the basic details:

The U.S. prison population declined 1.7 percent (or by 27,770 inmates) from 2011 to 2012, falling to an estimated 1,571,013 prisoners.... Nine states had a decrease of over 1,000 prisoners in 2012: California, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, New York, Florida, Virginia and Maryland.

This is the third consecutive year of a decline in the number of state prisoners, which represents a shift in the direction of incarceration practice in the states over the past 30 years. The prison population grew every year between 1978 and 2009, from 307,276 prisoners in 1978 to a high of 1,615,487 prisoners in 2009....

California accounted for the majority (51 percent) of the decline in state prisoners with 15,035 fewer inmates in 2012 than 2011. The decline in California was due in part to its Public Safety Realignment policy, which was designed to reduce overcrowding in the state prisons by diverting new admissions of “nonserious, nonsex, nonviolent offenders” from state prisons to local jails.

The decline in the state prison population was offset by an increase in the number of federal inmates. The federal prison population grew by 0.7 percent (or 1,453 inmates) during 2012, a slower rate than the average annual increase of 3.2 percent each year over the past 10 years.

The U.S. imprisonment rate dropped to 480 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 residents in 2012, continuing a decline since 2007. The national imprisonment rate for males (910 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was over 14 times the imprisonment rate for females (63 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 female U.S. residents). The female imprisonment rate decreased 2.9 percent in 2012 from 65 per 100,000 female U.S. residents in 2011.

In 2012, states with the highest imprisonment rates included Louisiana (893 per 100,000 state residents), Mississippi (717 per 100,000 state residents), Alabama (650 per 100,000 state residents), Oklahoma (648 per 100,000 state residents), and Texas (601 per 100,000 state residents).

Maine had the lowest imprisonment rate among states (145 per 100,000 state residents), followed by Minnesota (184 per 100,000 state residents), and Rhode Island (190 per 100,000 state residents).

In 2011 (the most recent data available), the majority (53 percent) of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for a violent offense, including robbery (14 percent), murder or nonnegligent manslaughter (12 percent), rape or sexual assault (12 percent) and aggravated or simple assault (10 percent). About 18 percent were serving time for property offenses, 17 percent for drug crimes and 11 percent for public order offenses, such as weapon violations, drunk driving, commercialized vice and court offenses.

White prisoners comprised 35 percent of the 2011 state prison population, while black prisoners were 38 percent and Hispanics were 21 percent. The percentage of Hispanic inmates sentenced for violent offenses (58 percent) during 2011 exceeded that of non-Hispanic black (56 percent) and non-Hispanic white (49 percent) inmates, while the number of black inmates imprisoned for violent crimes (284,631) surpassed that of white (228,782) or Hispanic (162,489) inmates.

The number of white inmates sentenced for property crime (108,560) was larger than the number of black (78,197) and Hispanic (38,264) inmates sentenced for property crime, while more black inmates were sentenced for drug offenses than inmates of other races or Hispanic origin.

All of this data, and lots more of note, can be found via this 17-page BJS report, which carries the thrilling title "Prisoners in 2012 - Advance Counts."  Effective media coverage of this notable new prisoner data can be found via this New York Times article headlined "U.S. Prison Populations Decline, Reflecting New Approach to Crime."

July 26, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, July 08, 2013

Effective review of modern state clemency procedures as Kentucky's is challenged

This recent AP article, headlined "Kentucky Alone In Lack of Formal Clemency Procedure," provides an effective review of different states' different approaches to the clemency process.   Here are excerpts:

The power of kings to spare a condemned person's life lies solely with the governor in Kentucky, which is one of a select few states where the chief executive can spare death row inmates, shorten sentences and forgive crimes without oversight or having to explain his actions.

A review of clemency laws and policies across the country by The Associated Press shows nearly all other states have regulations to follow and oversight - including in some cases having to explain a decision to legislators. "The trend in states is to spread the power and make it a little more democratic," said P.S. Ruckman, a political science professor at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill., who blogs about clemency. "Kentucky is on the wrong side of that trend."

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, two condemned inmates in Kentucky have gotten reprieves and right now, the state is barred from executing anyone until a judge decides on the legality of the drugs used. The state has executed three people in that time.

Two death row inmates are challenging that power and the way the clemency system itself is set up. Robert Foley and Ralph Baze are awaiting execution for multiple killings. They filed suit in May in Franklin Circuit Court, asking a judge to halt executions until a new set of procedures will clearly spell out rules.

The attorney for the inmates, Meggan Smith, said if the clemency procedures were more open, inmates seeking a commutation or pardon may have a better chance and everyone involved would better understand how the decision is made. "What we are seeking is an open, transparent procedure, which will benefit the Commonwealth, victims' families, those seeking clemency, and the public in general," Smith said.

Kentucky's governor has absolute discretion in granting clemency - no recommendations, hearings or requests are needed for the state's top official to decide someone should not be put to death. It's a power similar to those available to governors in New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota and Missouri....

Ruckman found the challenge to the clemency process novel. While there have been suits in federal court and in Kentucky contesting the scope of the powers, those have generally reaffirmed the ability of governors and presidents to pardon as they choose. Ruckman noted few suits have attacked the method by which clemency is granted.

Thirteen states - Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Washington - mandate a hearing when a clemency petition is filed.

Fifteen states - California, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Texas and Utah - grant the governor or pardon board discretion to set a hearing when they determine one is necessary.

Two states - Alaska and Colorado - provide victims or others the opportunity to submit written comments on pending clemency petitions. Two states -Iowa and Kansas - permit a pardon board or governor to interview key witnesses concerning a petition.

Other states have a mix of processes, with the governor having to explain clemency decisions to lawmakers in some cases, while states such as South Carolina have an outside board make clemency decisions.

The president has almost unlimited discretion to grant clemency under the federal system. "When all is said and done, Kentucky leans toward the federal model," Ruckman said.

July 8, 2013 in Clemency and Pardons, Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

"Administrative Segregation, Degrees of Isolation, and Incarceration: A National Overview of State and Federal Correctional Policies"

The title of this post is the title of this important new report emerging from a group of researchers working at Yale Law School.  The report provides a soberly fitting and depressing way to launching into a holiday weekend celebration American freedoms.  Here is the abstract:

This report provides an overview of state and federal policies related to long-term isolation of inmates, a practice common in the United States and one that has drawn attention in recent years from many sectors. All jurisdictions in the United States provide for some form of separation of inmates from the general population. Prison administrators see the ability to separate inmates as central to protecting the safety of both inmates and staff. Yet many correctional systems are reviewing their use of segregated confinement; as controversy surrounds this form of control, its duration, and its effects.

The debates about these practices are reflected in the terms used, with different audiences taking exceptions to each. Much of the recent public discussion calls the practice “solitary confinement” or “isolation.” In contrast, correctional facility policies use terms such as “segregation,” “restricted housing,” or “special management,” and some corrections leaders prefer the term “separation.”

All agree that the practice entails separating inmates from the general population and restricting their participation in everyday activities; such as recreation, shared meals, and religious, educational, and other programs. The degree of contact permitted — with staff, other inmates, or volunteers — varies. Some jurisdictions provide single cells and others double; in some settings, inmates find ways to communicate with each other. The length of time spent in isolation can vary from a few days to many years.

This report provides a window into these practices. This overview describes rules promulgated by prison officials to structure decisions on the placement of persons in “administrative segregation,” which is one form of separation of inmates from the general population. Working with the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA), the Arthur Liman Program at Yale Law School launched an effort to review the written policies related to administrative segregation promulgated by correctional systems in the United States. With ASCA’s assistance, we obtained policies from 47 jurisdictions, including 46 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

This overview provides a national portrait of policies governing administrative segregation for individuals in prisons, outlines the commonalities and variations among jurisdictions, facilitates comparisons across jurisdictions, and enables consideration of how and when administrative segregation is and should be used. Because this review is of written policies, it raises many questions for research – about whether the policies are implemented as written, achieve the goals for which they are crafted, and at what costs. Information is needed on the demographic data on the populations held in various forms of segregated custody, the reasons for placement of individuals in and the duration of such confinement, the views of inmates, of staff on site, and of central office personnel; and the long-term effects of administrative segregation on prison management and on individuals. Without such insights, one cannot assess the experiences of segregation from the perspectives of those who run, those who work in, and those who live in these institutions.

July 3, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The great NYC homicide decline continues

As reported in this New York Times article, the "number of homicides on record in New York City has dropped significantly during the first half of the year — to 154 from 202 in the same period last year — surprising even police officials who have long been accustomed to trumpeting declining crime rates in the city." Here is more:

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly attributed much of the drop to a new antigang strategy meant to suppress retaliatory violence among neighborhood gangs. Police officials also credited their efforts at identifying and monitoring abusive husbands whose behavior seemed poised to turn lethal.

The recent decrease in violence is all the more striking because last year the department recorded the fewest homicides since it began a reliable method of compiling crime statistics half a century ago. The police recorded 419 murders in 2012.

“By far, it was the lowest, and guess what?” Commissioner Kelly said Friday morning before going on to announce that the number of murders this year was running about 25 percent below even that record year. “In my business, in our business, this is miraculous. These are lives that are being saved.”

The relationship between the drop in murders and the department’s controversial policy of stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking people on the street was hard to immediately divine.

On the one hand, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Mr. Kelly have cited the declining murder rate as a vindication of their policing strategies, which rely heavily on the stop-and-frisk tactic. On the other, stop-and-frisks have dropped off considerably in the last 15 months, suggesting that the drop in murders might have been a result of other factors.

In the first three months of 2012, police records indicate, there were 203,500 stops. But in the first three months of this year, the police recorded fewer than 100,000 stops.

Over the last two decades, the decline in murders in New York has been greater than in other parts of the country. (In the early 1990s, when Mr. Kelly spent a little more than a year as police commissioner, the first of his two stints in the job, the city was coping with about 2,000 murders annually.)...

Noting how the latest reduction of violence coincided with a diminishing number of street stops, some civil rights lawyers have grown more vocal in questioning not only the legality but also the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk tactics.

But police commanders point to what they say is the long half-life of the deterrent effect of stop-and-frisk, saying that criminals may decide to leave their guns at home because they have been stopped in the past, even if the odds of a stop have decreased in recent months. And the police say the decrease in violence has most likely led to a corresponding decrease in suspicious behavior, which results in fewer stops.

June 29, 2013 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Notable condemned and notable execution milestone in Texas this week

ALeqM5isr0UjoSbtDZB5JK5wuDkRMIj62wAs reported in this international news piece from AFP, headlined "Texas prepares to execute 500th prisoner," a scheduled execution in Texas this coming week is drawing more than the usual attention for a number of reasons. Here is some context:

The US state of Texas is preparing to execute its 500th convict since the death penalty was restored in 1976, a record in a country where capital punishment is in decline elsewhere.

On Wednesday, in the absence of a last minute pardon, 52-year-old Kimberly McCarthy will receive a lethal injection in Huntsville Penitentiary for the 1997 murder of 71-year-old retired college professor Dorothy Booth. "What we do is we carry out court orders," said Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "It's our obligation to carry this execution out."

Activists opposed to the death penalty are due to gather at the red brick state prison, known as the "Walls Unit," to mark the milestone with a protest against a punishment they regard as a holdover from another age.

In 1976, the US Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and since that date 1,336 have been executed across the country, more than a third of them in Texas alone. "It is obviously still the leader of executions in the nation, but it is limited to a handful of counties," said Steve Hall of the StandDown Texas Project, which has campaigns for a new moratorium....

Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, an academic watchdog, agreed. "Despite this major milestone, we expect the total number of executions to be less than last year and a new drop in death sentences," he said.

According to DPIC's figures, there are 3,125 convicts on death row in the United States and, if Wednesday's execution goes ahead, McCarthy will be the 17th prisoner put to death in the first six months of 2013.... American juries are also imposing capital punishment in fewer cases, with only 78 death sentences last year, down by around three-quarters since the 1990s -- although violent crime is also down.

And, while 32 of the 50 US states still have the death penalty on the books, many have imposed a de facto moratorium, with few or none of the executions carried out and convicts languishing on death row....

"By measurements like the number of executions, death sentences and states, the death penalty is in decline," admitted Robert Blecker, a professor at New York Law School. "But, in terms of the popular support, that is fairly constant. It is not in decline," he said, noting that the proportion of voters backing execution always increases in the wake of "egregious" crimes.

Opinion polls consistently show that between 60 and 65 percent of Americans back the death penalty, indicating that support goes beyond the roughly 50-50 left-right divide in US electoral politics.

This local piece from the Austin Chronicle discusses the specifics of the notable defendant now poised to be number 500 in Texas.  Here is how it begins:

With the execution of Kimberly McCarthy slated for June 26, Texas is on the eve of a historic first: The first state to have executed 500 individuals since reinstatement of the death penalty — an event that also extends Gov. Rick Perry's record as the U.S. governor presiding over the most executions ever carried out.  McCarthy is slated not only to be tagged with the infamous fate of 500, but will also become only the fifth woman — and the third black woman — executed in Texas since 1854.

McCarthy, who was previously married to New Black Panther Party founder Aaron Michaels, was sentenced to die for the 1997 robbery-murder of her 71-year-old neighbor, retired professor Dorothy Booth.  Accord­ing to the state, McCarthy's crack cocaine addiction led her to employ a ruse — she needed to borrow sugar, she told Booth — in order to get into Booth's house.  Booth was repeatedly stabbed, and her finger, with ring on it, was cut off. Booth's car and credit cards were also stolen; McCarthy told police she pawned the items to get money for drugs.

June 23, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, April 26, 2013

A data-based exploration of prison growth and the drug war

I am very pleased to see that John Pfaff is guest-blogging over at PrawfsBlawg about the modern growth in US prison populations and the role that the drug war may or may not have played in this story.  Here are his first three posts in a series that is a must-read for a number of reasons:

April 26, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, April 19, 2013

"How can a member of the US Sentencing Commission promote federalism?"

The question in the title of this post is one astute query by a commentor in response to my recent post here highlighting that Eleventh Circuit Judge William Pryor, whom President Obama nominated to the US Sentencing Commission earlier this week, has written about the need for the federal criminal justice system to be more attentive to federalism concerns.  There are lots of possible answer to this question, but the following passage from the article in the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Federalism and Sentencing Reform in the Post-Blakely/Booker Era, 8 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 515 (2011), provides an answer in Judge Pryor's own words:

One answer to the current challenges to sentencing reform is to add federalism to our national conversation.  A comprehensive report on sentencing by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, as the Department of Justice suggests, is a good idea, but one of the subjects of the report should be the balance of federal and state power.  The Commission should consider and evaluate to what extent the problems of disparities, complexity, and unpopularity of the post-Booker guidelines are related to the federalization of crime.  The Commission should evaluate to what extent federal prosecutions of certain types occur more frequently in states with failed indeterminate systems and less frequently in states with successful guideline systems.  It should ask to what extent federal judges disrespect guidelines where the underlying crimes are more local in nature and differences of opinion about punishment vary more by region.  It should consider whether sentencing disparities occur under the advisory guidelines either on a regional basis from one district to another or within districts from one judge to another, and should consider what those disparities mean with respect to federalism.  The Commission is in a better position than most institutions to ask what federal sentencing policies and practices tell us about the balance of federal and state powers.

Disappointingly, the US Sentencing Commission's recently released reports about post-Booker sentencing practices and about federal child porn sentencing, despite being massive and dense with data about all sorts of federal sentencing realities, included no focused exploration of the relationship between federal sentencing practices and state and local sentencing developments.  Perhaps if (and I hope when) Judge Pryor is confirmed to join the USSC, he can and will champion an effort to produce follow-up reports focused specifically on these kinds of federalism concerns.

Recent related posts:

April 19, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, March 25, 2013

New report assails Massachusetts sentencing and corrections policies and practices

CostofPrisonJPGThumb.ashxThis lengthy article from the Boston Globe discusses a big new forthcoming report highlighing failings in the sentencing and punishment systems in Massachusetts.  The article is headlined "Report slams state for lack of corrections reform: Crime down, prison costs up as study urges shorter sentences, focus on parole," and it gets started this way:

Despite steeply declining violent crime rates, the percentage of Massachusetts residents behind bars has tripled since the early 1980s, as the Commonwealth has clung to tough-on-crime laws that many other states have abandoned as ineffective, according to a study being released this week.

The 40-page report — endorsed by a coalition of prominent former prosecutors, defense attorneys, and justice officials — slams the state for focusing too much on prolonged incarceration, through measures such as mandatory minimum sentences, and for paying too little attention to successfully integrating prisoners back into society.

This is not just a social justice issue, the coalition argues, but a serious budgetary problem. The report estimated that policies that have led to more Draconian sentences and fewer paroles have extended prison stays by a third since 1990, costing the state an extra $150 million a year.

“It’s an odd set of numbers: crime going down while prison populations are still going up,” said Greg Torres, president of MassINC, the nonpartisan research group that commissioned the study. “What the report shows is that it’s a problem with the corrections systems front and back doors — sentencing and release.”

The study says Massachusetts, with its rising prison population, is heading in the opposite direction of several more traditionally law-and-order states — many of which have changed sentencing requirements, closed prisons, and cut costs. While other states have seen drops in incarceration in conjunction with falling crime rates, Massachusetts has seen the opposite.

In addition to the longer prison stays, Torres said, a reduction in post-release supervision has left Massachusetts with a recidivism rate higher than many other states, which in turn has sent more offenders back to prison. New data in the report show that six of every 10 inmates released from state and county prisons commit new crimes within six years. If the recidivism rate was cut by 5 percent, the report says, Massachusetts could cut $150 million from its more than $1 billion corrections budget.

Released in partnership with the newly formed grouping of law-enforcement officials, which is called Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, and Community Resources for Justice, a social justice nonprofit group, the report issues include a moratorium on the expansion of state prisons, reexamining sentencing guidelines, and expanding prerelease programs. “In the last 10 years we’ve learned a lot about what doesn’t work,” said John Larivee, chief executive of Community Resources for Justice and coauthor of the report.

One key to changing the state’s corrections system, the report’s authors stress, is building bipartisan consensus so neither side can later be accused of being soft on crime. “There’s more bipartisan common ground than you might expect,” said Wayne Budd, a Republican who is one of the reform coalition’s three co-chairmen.

In addition to Budd, the coalition is led by Kevin M. Burke, former state secretary of public safety, and Max D. Stern, president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

UPDATE:  The full 40-page report, which is titled "Crime, Cost, and Consequences: Is it Time to Get Smart on Crime?," is now available via this link.

March 25, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Sentencing Policy Adjudication and Empiricism" with a focus on federal child porn sentencing

The title of this post is drawn from the basic title of this notable new and timely article by Melissa Hamilton now on SSRN and just titled "Sentencing Policy Adjudication and Empiricism."  Here is the abstract, which highlights why this piece is especially a must-read for anyone working on federal child porn cases:

Federal sentencing is in disarray with a raging debate pitting Congress, the United States Sentencing Commission, and the federal judiciary against each other.  Ever since the Supreme Court rendered the federal guidelines as merely advisory in United States v. Booker, the rate of variances from guidelines’ recommendations has increased.  After the Supreme Court in Kimbrough v. United States ruled that a sentencing judge could reject the crack cocaine guideline for a policy dispute with a Commission guideline, the variance rate has risen further still.  While Booker/Kimbrough permits the judiciary some discretionary authority, it is threatening to the Commission and the legitimacy of its guidelines.

The downward variance rate is at its most extreme with a very controversial crime: child pornography offending.  The courts are in disagreement as to whether, as a matter of law, a sentencing judge has the authority to use a Kimbrough-type categorical rejection of the child pornography guideline. Through a comprehensive review of federal sentencing opinions, common policy objections to the child pornography guideline are identified. The guideline is viewed as not representing empirical study, being influenced by Congressional directives, recommending overly severe sentences, and resulting in both unwarranted similarities and unwarranted disparities. The issue has resulted in a circuit split. This article posits a three-way split with four circuit courts of appeal expressly approving a policy rejection to the child pornography guideline, four circuits explicitly repudiating a policy rejection, and three circuits opting for a more neutral position.  A comprehensive review of case law indicates that the circuit split is related to unwarranted disparities in sentencing child pornography offenders nationwide. This assessment was then corroborated by empirical study.

The Sentencing Commission’s dataset of fiscal year 2011 child pornography sentences were analyzed to explore what impacts policy rejections and the circuit split may have on actual sentences issued.  Bivariate measures showed statistically significant correlations among relevant measures.  The average mean sentence in pro-policy rejection circuits, for example, was significantly lower than in anti-policy rejection circuits.  A multivariate logistic regression analysis was employed using downward variances as the dependent variable.  Results showed that that several circuit differences existed after controlling for other relevant factors, and they were relatively consistent with the direction the circuit split might suggest.

The article concludes that the child pornography guideline suffers from a multitude of substantial flaws and deserves no deference.  It also concludes that there are no constitutional impediments to preventing a district judge from categorically rejecting the child pornography guideline.  Booker and its progeny stand for the proposition that there are no mandatory guidelines, even if a guideline is the result of Congressional directive.

Some recent related posts:

March 16, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Ohio completes its 50th execution in modern era

As reported in this new AP report, headlined "Ohio executes man who fatally shot security guard," my own great state of Ohio has this morning reach a notable modern death penalty milestone. Here are the basics:

A man who fatally shot an adult bookstore security guard in 1994 at the end of a multistate crime spree was executed on Wednesday.

Frederick Treesh received a single powerful dose of pentobarbital and was pronounced dead at 10:37 by Donald Morgan, warden of the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. Treesh was sentenced to die for killing Henry Dupree in Eastlake east of Cleveland on Aug. 27, 1994.

Treesh, in a last statement, apologized for the death of Dupree, but said he wouldn't say he was sorry to family members of a video store clerk killed in Michigan who were witnessing the execution. "I've never been tried, I've never been charged," he said. After a few more comments he said, "If you want me murdered, just say it."

Treesh was the 50th inmate put to death by the state since it resumed executions in 1999.

Gov. John Kasich denied Treesh clemency last week, following the recommendation of the state parole board, which ruled unanimously last month that the evidence showed Dupree was seated when shot and hadn't shown any sign of being a threat to Treesh. The board also said Treesh's decision to shoot a clerk in the face as he left the store suggests Treesh's "murderous intent" when coming to the store. Treesh and his co-defendant "gratuitously brutalized, humiliated and killed innocent people, most of whom, like Dupree, posed no real or perceived threat to them," the board said.

Prosecutors say Treesh, 48, and the co-defendant robbed banks and businesses, committed sexual assaults, stole cars, committed carjackings and shot someone to death in a Michigan robbery during a spree that also took them to Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Just a decade ago, Ohio was among a number of large industrial and western states with a fairly large death row but few actual executions. States still in that category include California, Nevada and Pennsylvania and used to include Illinois.

But now Ohio in among the ranks of mostly southern states that have completed more than 50 executions in the post-Furman modern death penalty era. Via this page at the Death Penalty Information Center, here is a list of the states that Ohio has now joined (with their total modern executions in parentheses):

Texas (493)

Virgina (110)

Oklahoma (102)

Florida (74)

Missouri (68)

Alabama (55)

Georgia (53)

March 6, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The many (impossible?) challenges of federal child pornography sentencing

The title of this post is inspired in part by the US Sentencing Commission's recent report, which highlights many of the flaws with the current child porn sentencing guidelines and set forth a number of ideas and needs for effective reform (basics here and here).  But what is really driving it is this new local article reporting on a federal sentencing in Maine, headlined "‘There will be no more victims,’ judge tells man at child pornography sentencing."  First, here are the basics of the sentencing story:

“There will be no more victims of Walter Mosher,” a federal judge told the 65-year-old convicted sex offender Monday in sentencing him to more than a dozen years in prison for possessing child pornography.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock sentenced Walter A. Mosher Jr. of Hampden to 12 years and seven months behind bars. The judge also ordered him to remain on supervised release for life when he is released.

Mosher is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday at the Penobscot Judicial Center on one count of gross sexual assault. Mosher reported to police through his attorney that he molested a boy under the age of 14 between Feb. 1, 2011 and March 1, 2012, according to the sentencing memorandum filed in federal court by his attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein of Bangor. Mosher pleaded guilty to the Class A crime Nov. 21 at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines, Woodcock was allowed to consider Mosher’s recent guilty plea as “relevant conduct” in connection with the possession of child pornography charge, even though the victim was not depicted in the images found on Mosher’s computer. The federal judge focused on the sexual abuse of the child as he directed his comments at Mosher.

“There are some cases in this court that cry out for justice and yours is one of them,” Woodcock told Mosher shortly before sentencing him. “This was an inexplicable and hideous violation of trust. What we’ve seen today is just the tip of the iceberg of pain you have caused.” A parent of the victim told the judge that Mosher needed “to go away, and go away for a very long time.”

Mosher was required to register as a sex offender because he was convicted in 1986 in Aroostook County Superior Court in Houlton in connection with the molestation or abuse of 15 minors, according to the sentencing memorandum. Since serving 11 years on the 1986 charges, Mosher was not charged with another crime until he was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 15, 2012, according to court documents.

In an emotional statement, Mosher described in graphic detail how he was sexually abused as a child by a female relative. He said that when he committed his earlier crimes, he was going through a divorce and drinking heavily. “I am deeply ashamed and sorry for what I have done,” he told Woodcock. “I don’t know why I have done these things. I have no idea how I got to a place to do these horrible things.”

Mosher has been held without bail since his arrest the day after he was indicted. Mosher pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in June in federal court. According to court documents, Mosher’s computer contained images of child pornography, specifically digital images and videos that were produced using minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct....

Because of his 1986 convictions, Mosher faced a minimum of 10 years in federal prison and a maximum of 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000. On the gross sexual assault charge, Mosher faces up to 30 years in state prison and a fine of up to $50,000.

Even without knowing any more that these most basic details about the defendant in this case or the particulars of his crime, it is easy to see all the tough questions facing Chief Judge Woodcock: e.g., should the defendant's federal child porn sentence here be longer (or shorter) given that he is surely soon to get a lengthy state sentence for gross sexual assault? should the defendant's recidivism at such an advanced age mean that a federal sentence now should try to ensure Mosher dies in prison, or should the sentence at least offer the defendant a glimmer of hope that he might be able to be free again in his 80s? With the facts of the criminal and the defendants criminal history so troublesome, should the defendant get much (if any) credit for pleading guilty and accepting responsibility?

I could go on and on highlighting all these challenges in this one case, but what really caught my attention when reviewing this article was these notably disparate headlines below the piece noting "similar articles":

In turn, a quick search for headlines from the same local Maine paper (the Bangor Daily News) revealed these additional sentencing headlines concerning the disposition of child porn charges over just the last 24 months:

A quick click through to a number of these article reveals that there are a number of striking parallels as well as a number of striking differences in the offenses and offenders in these cases.  Nevertheless, I still find notable and telling that even in a small and seemingly homogeous federal district like Maine, here is an accounting of the number of months in prison given to 10 child pornography offenders (going from lowest to highest sentence):

6 months; 12 months; 60 months; 84 months; 151 months; 192 months; 192 months; 240 months; 300 months; 340 months

The point of my post here is not to assert or even suggest that any of these referenced sentences is right or wrong or should be higher or lower.  Without spending a lot more time looking through the facts of all these cases, I think it is extremely hard to reach even a tentative conclusion about this pattern of sentencing result.  But that is my main broader point: there is, of course, a pressing interest and enduring goal for everyone involved to try to determine the "right" sentence in federal child pornography cases not only in each individual case, but also across a range of cases.  But, these cases all necessarily raise so many important and challenging issues, I wonder and worry if the goal to get federal child pornography sentencing "just right" is a kind of "fool's gold" that many will pursue at a great cost but ultimately with little of value to show from the pusuit.

Recent related posts:

March 5, 2013 in Booker in district courts, Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

US Sentencing Commission releases big new report on federal child porn sentencing

As reported in this official press release, this morning "the United States Sentencing Commission submitted to Congress its comprehensive report examining federal sentencing policy in child pornography cases." Here is more from the press release, which serves as a partial summary of the 468-page(!) report (which is available in full here):

Although still only a small percentage of the overall federal caseload, child pornography prosecutions have grown significantly during the past decade and now account for nearly 2,000 federal cases each year.  That growth reflects the increasing role of the Internet in child pornography offenses.  Before the Internet, law enforcement officers had significantly curtailed the child pornography market in the United States.

Significant technological changes in offenders’ conduct have occurred since the federal penal statutes and sentencing guidelines for child pornography offenses were last amended comprehensively a decade ago.  Child pornography offenders today typically use Internet technologies such as peer-to-peer file-sharing programs that enable offenders to distribute, receive, and collect child pornography images more easily and in greater quantities than when the current penalty structure was established.  Several penalty enhancements in the guidelines for child pornography offenses,such as use of a computer, now apply to typical offenders.  As a result, prison sentences for efendants convicted of federal child pornography offenses have almost doubled in the last decade to approximately five years for possession and 11 years for receipt and distribution.

Judge Saris concluded, “Because of changes in the use of Internet-based technologies, the existing penalty structure is in need of revision.  Child pornography offenders engage in a variety of behaviors reflecting different degrees of culpability and sexual dangerousness that are not currently accounted for in the guidelines.”

The Commission’s study found that approximately one in three federal child pornography offenders had a known history of engaging in illegal sexual misconduct prior to or in conjunction with their federal child pornography offenses.  Such illegal behavior ranged from sexual assaults against children to “non-contact” sex offenses such as soliciting self-produced sexual images from minors in on- line communication. The Commission’s recidivism study also concluded that approximately 7 percent engaged in illegal sexual misconduct after serving their sentences for federal child pornography offenses.  Both figures should be considered conservative because such offenses are underreported....

Judge Saris stated, “The Commission will continue to study child pornography sentencing practices, and looks forward to working with Congress on developing a sentencing scheme that serves to better distinguish offenders, thereby reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities in these serious crimes.”

All the pieces of this important new report are available via this link. The press release summary alone suggests there is considerable food for sentencing thought in this important new USSC report, and I am going to start my view by reading closely the 26-page executive summary available here.

I expect a lot more posts on this topic will following the days ahead. And in addition to digging into the substance of this report, I also will be keeping on eye on how federal officials in other branches and the media respond to what the USSC has to say.

February 27, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offense Characteristics, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 21, 2013

US Sentencing Commission website back in action with full Booker report and FY 2012 sentencing data

I am very pleased to have discovered tonight that the US Sentencing Commission, just less than a month after Anonymous hacked into its website (basic here), now has its website up and running again.  And not only is the USSC website back, but it is now better than ever with these two new big sets of materials:

NEW Report to Congress on the Continuing Impact of United States v. Booker on Federal Sentencing

This report assesses the continuing impact on the federal sentencing system of the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Booker.

NEW Final FY12 Quarterly Sentencing Update

This report includes an extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced during fiscal year 2012. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices.

Congrats to the USSC for getting its on-line house back in order. I for one truly missed the USSC website when it was gone.

Recent related posts:

February 21, 2013 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 17, 2013

If you are eager for access to all parts of the new US Sentencing Commission Booker report...

Federal practitioner Mark Allenbaugh has posted via this special page (which is part of his firm website) all the separate parts of the US Sentencing Commission's massive report on the post-Booker federal sentencing system. 

Regular readers will recall that I had the honor, via this post, of being the first website to post Part A of the new USSC Booker report (and an accompanying press release) due to the technical difficulties facing the USSC website thanks to the Anonymous scoundrals.  I has been hoping, now a full three weeks after the US Sentencing Commission's website was hacked up and taken down, that the USSC would have its on-line home back in working order.  But, as of this writing, the USSC's main webpage is still "under construction." 

Word among those in the know is that, within the next few weeks, the US Sentencing Commission will also be releasing a big new report about federal child porn sentencing.  I remain hopeful that the USSC's website will be back in action by the time the CP report is ready.  But I suppose only time will tell.

Recent related posts:

February 17, 2013 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wall Street Journal covers USSC's new Booker report (and its unusual coverage)

The Wall Street Journal has a pair of new pieces based on the US Sentencing Commission's recently released Booker report.  This main one has this provocative headline "Racial Gap in Men's Sentencing," and here are excerpts:

Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years, an analysis by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found.   That racial gap has widened since the Supreme Court restored judicial discretion in sentencing in 2005, according to the Sentencing Commission's findings, which were submitted to Congress last month and released publicly this week.

In its report, the commission recommended that federal judges give sentencing guidelines more weight, and that appeals courts more closely scrutinize sentences that fall beyond them.

The commission, which is part of the judicial branch, was careful to avoid the implication of racism among federal judges, acknowledging that they "make sentencing decisions based on many legitimate considerations that are not or cannot be measured."

Still, the findings drew criticism from advocacy groups and researchers, who said the commission's focus on the very end of the criminal-justice process ignored possible bias at earlier stages, such as when a person is arrested and charged, or enters into a plea deal with prosecutors.

"They've only got data on this final slice of the process, but they are still missing crucial parts of the criminal-justice process," said Sonja Starr, a law professor at the University of Michigan, who has analyzed sentencing and arrest data and found no marked increase in racial disparity since 2005....

In the two years after the Booker ruling, sentences of blacks were on average 15.2% longer than the sentences of similarly situated whites, according to the Sentencing Commission report.  Between December 2007 and September 2011, the most recent period covered in the report, sentences of black males were 19.5% longer than those for whites. The analysis also found that black males were 25% less likely than whites in the same period to receive a sentence below the guidelines' range.

The Sentencing Commission released a similar report in 2010. Researchers criticized its analysis for including sentences of probation, which they argued amplified the demographic differences.

In the new study, the Sentencing Commission conducted a separate analysis that excluded sentences of probation.  It yielded the same pattern, but the racial disparity was less pronounced. Sentences of black males were 14.5% longer than whites, rather than nearly 20%.

Jeff Ulmer, a sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, described the commission's latest report as an improvement but said it was "a long way from proving that [judicial discretion] has caused greater black-white federal sentencing disparity."

For reasons that will be obvious if you click through to the story, I especially enjoyed this companion piece appearing at the WSJ Law Blog under the headline "After 'Anonymous' Attack, Sentencing Body Seeks Blogger's Help."

Recent related post:

February 15, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, February 11, 2013

Disparate stories price out (some) costs of poorly functioning state criminal justice systems

How Appealing had links this morning to these two notable criminal justice stories that, on the surface, seem disparate in their settings and messages:

"Tab for wrongful convictions in Texas: $65 million and counting; State the most generous in compensating exonerees; legislators ponder changes to safeguard against future false convictions." Mike Ward has this article today in The Austin American-Statesman.

"AP Exclusive: Inmate lawsuits cost Calif. $200M." The Associated Press has a report that begins, "Gov. Jerry Brown has begun aggressively challenging federal court oversight of California's prison system by highlighting what he says is a costly conflict of interest: The private law firms representing inmates and the judges' own hand-picked authorities benefit financially by keeping the cases alive."

Much can and should be said about both of these interesting reports, but the title of this post is meant to highlight one commonality: for lots of different reasons and in lots of different ways, it can often become quite costly, even when measured just in pure economic terms, whenever any aspect of a state criminal justice system is run poorly. 

February 11, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, February 04, 2013

"Colorado Capital Punishment: An Empirical Study"

The title of this post is the title of this paper now up at SSRN by Justin F. Marceau, Sam Kamin and Wanda Foglia. Here is the abstract:

This article reports the conclusions of an empirical study of every murder conviction in Colorado between January 1, 1999 and December 31, 2010.  Our goal was to determine: 1) What percentage of first degree murderers in Colorado were eligible for the death penalty; and 2) How often the death penalty was sought against these killers.  More importantly, our broader purpose was to determine whether Colorado’s statutory aggravating factors meaningfully narrow the class of death eligible offenders as required by the Constitution.

We discovered that while the death penalty was an option in approximately ninety two percent of all first degree murders, it was sought by the prosecution initially in only three percent of those killings, pursued all the way through sentencing in only one percent of those killings, and obtained in only 0.6 percent of all cases.

These numbers compel the conclusion that Colorado’s capital sentencing system fails to satisfy the constitutional imperative of creating clear, statutory standards for distinguishing between the few who are executed and the many who commit murder.  The Eighth Amendment requires that these determinations of life and death be made at the level of reasoned legislative judgment, and not on an ad hoc basis by prosecutors.  The Supreme Court has emphasized that a State’s capital sentencing statute must serve the “constitutionally necessary function . . . [of] circumscrib[ing] the class of persons eligible for the death penalty” such that only the very worst killers are eligible for the law’s ultimate punishment.  Colorado’s system is unconstitutional under this standard because nearly all first degree murderers are statutorily eligible to be executed.

I do not think one needs to be a sophisticated empiricist to have an inkling, based on the quality and quantity of support for the death penalty expressed in some comments, that not all readers of this blog with feel compelled to reach the same constitutional conclusion reached by these authors concerning Colorado's modern experience with capital punishment.

February 4, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 03, 2013

"Why Police Lie Under Oath" and deeper challenges involving criminal justice metrics

03POLICE-articleInlineThe title of this post is the partially drawn from the headline of this opinion piece in today's New York Times, which was authored by my Ohio State College of Law colleague Michelle Alexander.  Here is how it starts:

Thousands of people plead guilty to crimes every year in the United States because they know that the odds of a jury’s believing their word over a police officer’s are slim to none. As a juror, whom are you likely to believe: the alleged criminal in an orange jumpsuit or two well-groomed police officers in uniforms who just swore to God they’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but?  As one of my colleagues recently put it, “Everyone knows you have to be crazy to accuse the police of lying.”

But are police officers necessarily more trustworthy than alleged criminals?  I think not. Not just because the police have a special inclination toward confabulation, but because, disturbingly, they have an incentive to lie.  In this era of mass incarceration, the police shouldn’t be trusted any more than any other witness, perhaps less so.

That may sound harsh, but numerous law enforcement officials have put the matter more bluntly. Peter Keane, a former San Francisco Police commissioner, wrote an article in The San Francisco Chronicle decrying a police culture that treats lying as the norm: “Police officer perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace. One of the dirty little not-so-secret secrets of the criminal justice system is undercover narcotics officers intentionally lying under oath.  It is a perversion of the American justice system that strikes directly at the rule of law.  Yet it is the routine way of doing business in courtrooms everywhere in America.”

Though focused on police practices, this piece goes on to touch upon the broader systemic problems that can result from "get tough" metrics (much too?) often being used by police and prosecutors and rewarded by legislatures:

Police departments have been rewarded in recent years for the sheer numbers of stops, searches and arrests. In the war on drugs, federal grant programs like the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program have encouraged state and local law enforcement agencies to boost drug arrests in order to compete for millions of dollars in funding.  Agencies receive cash rewards for arresting high numbers of people for drug offenses, no matter how minor the offenses or how weak the evidence.  Law enforcement has increasingly become a numbers game.  And as it has, police officers’ tendency to regard procedural rules as optional and to lie and distort the facts has grown as well. Numerous scandals involving police officers lying or planting drugs — in Tulia, Tex. and Oakland, Calif., for example — have been linked to federally funded drug task forces eager to keep the cash rolling in....

The natural tendency to lie makes quota systems and financial incentives that reward the police for the sheer numbers of people stopped, frisked or arrested especially dangerous. One lie can destroy a life, resulting in the loss of employment, a prison term and relegation to permanent second-class status. The fact that our legal system has become so tolerant of police lying indicates how corrupted our criminal justice system has become by declarations of war, “get tough” mantras, and a seemingly insatiable appetite for locking up and locking out the poorest and darkest among us.

And, no, I’m not crazy for thinking so.

As regular readers likely realize, I am a big fan of data and metrics in the operation of modern criminal justice systems (which is, surely, a by-product of the fact that I am much more drawn to consequentialist rather than retributivist theories of punishment). Thus, as a general matter, I am not opposed to the reality that law enforcement, as well as other parts of our modern criminal justice system, "has increasingly become a numbers game." But, as this opinion piece highlights, we need to be conscious and cautious about whether the metrics were are using are the right ones and about whether these metrics may be harmfully distorting the ways in which various criminal justice actors go about doing their jobs.

I have been giving extra thought to these issues lately in part because of this recent post noting a prosecutor taking with pride about extra long federal sentences and this recent post about the US Sentencing Commission's new Booker report noting that the number of federal offenders has substantially increased in recent years.  But all sort of other major criminal justice issues and debates can (and should) turn on debates over metrics.  For example, does more guns, as some contend, really result in less crime?  And what will and should be the metrics used to judge the success or failings of  modern marijuana reform efforts? 

Staying focused on sentencing issues, the nationwide movement toward so-called "evidence-based" reforms also has, hiding deep within, really hard questions concerning what kinds of "evidence" are most valid and most important in the continuing evolution of sentencing systems.  Is saving a lot of taxpayer money a marker of sentencing reform success if crime ticks up a bit?  How about simply having fewer persons with liberty restricted by being in prison or subject to criminal justice control? (Maybe now that Nate Silver has some free time until the next election cycle gets into full swing, perhaps he can focus his impressive data-crunching skill on these issues and all the challenges they present.)

Some recent and older related posts implicating metric challenges:

February 3, 2013 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (46) | TrackBack

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Should a US Attorney take pride in helping to "have produced the longest average prison sentences in the country"?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this interesting local article coming from Indiana which a kind reader sent my way today.  The article is headlined "U.S. attorney plans additional efforts in 2013," and here are some excerpts which provide context for the query above:

Since his appointment to the job in late 2010, U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of Indiana Joseph Hogsett has steadily grown the office’s footprint.

He has done so by refocusing on existing efforts like the U.S. Attorney Office’s anti-child exploitation campaign Project Safe Childhood, but also by expanding the office’s reach with a violent crime initiative and creation of an interagency group to find and prosecute corruption and white-collar crimes.  “I plan to continue many of those priorities and hopefully add a few more in 2013,” he said.  “I would like to see it continue to expand.”

With 60 counties in the district, Hogsett’s efforts affect nearly two-thirds of the state. The U.S. attorney’s office maintains offices in Indianapolis, Evansville, New Albany and Terre Haute — all of which are cities with federal courthouses.

In 2012, an additional full-time attorney was added to the Evansville office, as well as a part-time special deputy U.S. Attorney who also works part-time in the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor’s Office, and who serves as liaison between the two. In addition, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Brookman from the Evansville office was appointed to lead the district’s drug unit, supervising a team of attorneys both Evansville and Indianapolis.

Hogsett’s most recent effort has been the creation of a Civil Rights Task Force. The idea is to take a more active roll in investigating and pursuing legal actions on cases in which the civil rights of Indiana are endangered.

Hogsett said it will take a broad view of civil rights and include attorneys from the civil and criminal divisions of the office. “I am not talking just racial actions but also areas such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” he said, adding he would like to make a difference in the areas of fair housing and fair lending.

He pointed to recent cases from his office that involved service animals being allowed in restaurants and an agreement with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to comply with the ADA, as well as prosecuting multiple cases of intimidating acts based on race or ethnicity....

[H]e said pursuing civil rights violations will take more effort than other initiatives. “The others have largely depended on relationships with law enforcement. This Civil Rights Task Force is going to require us to do a lot of outreach to the community.”

Hogsett’s previous initiatives have brought measurable results.  Prosecutions in the Southern District of Indiana have produced the longest average prison sentences in the country over the last two years, according to an annual report compiled by the office. Hogsett attributes much of the office’s success to cooperation with local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies.

The question in the title of this post emerges from the penultimate sentence above that I have highlighted. I do not mean to suggest an answer to the question, but I sense of the context of this laudatory press report that Mr. Hogsett and those within his office are (1) keeping close track of sentencing outcomes, and (2) seem to consider it an accomplishment worth noting to the press that recent prosecutions in Southern District of Indiana have resulted in the harshest average prison sentences over the last 24 months among all 90+ federal districts.

Having never been a federal prosecutor, I am not sure if it is unusual or common for a US Attorney's office to keep very close account of sentencing outcomes and to use those outcomes as a metric of importance in the work of that office. But I am sure I would not like to hear that US Attorneys and their assistants in other federal districts would be likely to react to this story by deciding they need to try to best Mr. Hogsett's efforts to produce the longest average federal prison sentences in the country. More broadly, I sure hope at both the federal and state levels that many more prosecutors look for decreases in local crime rates, rather than increases in the severity of sentencing outcomes, as the preferred metric for evaluating their accomplishments as prosecutors.

February 2, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, February 01, 2013

Summary of key USSC findings in its big new Booker report

6141708385_8dedf68f37As explained here, unfortunately, wascally on-line wabbits have so far managed to allow only the first big part of US Sentencing Commission super-sized new Booker report to be available on-line only via this SL&P link.  Fortunately, because others are primarily in charge of chasing down the annoying anonymous hackers (and because the NRA is primarily in charge of making sure all the rest of us have a right to use maximum firepower when hunting other forms of wabbits), I can spend my time trying to take stock of all the incredible effort and research reflected in the part of the new USSC Booker report now available for general consumption.

Though I am still just start to scratch the massive surface of the mass of information in just the first part of the new USSC Bookerreport, I can begin some assessment of what's in there by first praising the Commission for having a handy list of bolded "key findings" summarized in the first chapter.  Here, in full text, are all the bolded key findings set out in the report's Overview chapter [with my own numbers added]:

[1] The number of federal offenders has substantially increased, and most federal offenders have continued to receive substantial sentences of imprisonment.

[2] The guidelines have remained the essential starting point for all federal sentences and have continued to influence sentences significantly.

[3] The influence of the guidelines, as measured by the relationship between the average guideline minimum and the average sentence, has generally remained stable in drug trafficking, firearms, and immigration offenses, but has diminished in fraud and child pornography offenses.

[4] For most offense types, the rate of within range sentences has decreased while the rate of below range sentences (both government sponsored and non-government sponsored) has increased over time.

[5] The influence of the guidelines, as measured by the relationship between the average guideline minimum and the average sentence, and as measured by within range rates, has varied by circuit.

[6] The rates of non-government sponsored below range sentences have increased in most districts and the variation in such rates across districts for most offenses was greatest in the Gall period, indicating that sentencing outcomes increasingly depend upon the district in which the defendant is sentenced.

[7] For offenses in the aggregate, the average extent of the reduction for non-government sponsored below range sentences has been approximately 40 percent below the guideline minimum during all periods (amounting to average reductions of 17 to 21 months); however, the extent of the reduction has varied by offense type.

[8]Prosecutorial practices have contributed to disparities in federal sentencing.

[9] Variation in the rates of non-government sponsored below range sentences among judges within the same district has increased in most districts since Booker, indicating that sentencing outcomes increasingly depend upon the judge to whom the case is assigned.

[10] Appellate review has not promoted uniformity in sentencing to the extent the Supreme Court anticipated in Booker.

[11] Demographic factors (such as race, gender, and citizenship) have been associated with sentence length at higher rates in the Gall period than in previous periods.

I do not think any of these key findings are especially surprising, though I suspect some (many?) will still prove to be somewhat controversial.  Most fundamentally, I am certain that all of these findings could be "spun" in any number of ways in any number of settings.  For example, I think one might reasonably wonder whether finding 8 concerning prosecutors contributing to disparties best explains finding 11 concerning increased demographic disparities.  (Also, it is especially interesting to consider how one might spin findings 2 and 5 and 6 in the on-going Supreme Court litigation concerning the application of ex post facto doctrines in the post-Booker advisory guideline system.)

All these key findings should and likely will engender lots of discussion and debate in the weeks ahead.  For now, though, I am eager to hear from readers about which particular finding they consider most important or least important (or, perhaps, least likely to get enough attention or most likely to get too much attention).   As one who has long been concerned that federal sentencing severity and the overall growth in the total number federal defendants gets too little attention while disparity gets too much attention, I will assert that finding 1 above and the realities it reflects is really the most important big-picture take-away point.  I have a feeling, though, that others may have distinct views.

Recent related post:

February 1, 2013 in Booker and Fanfan Commentary, Booker in district courts, Booker in the Circuits, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Sentencing Project report on 2012 state statutory sentencing developments

I just received an e-mail promoting a notable new report just released by The Sentencing Project.  Here is the full text of the e-mail, signed by Marc Mauer, which includes a link to the report:

I am pleased to share with you a new report from The Sentencing Project, The State of Sentencing 2012: Developments in Policy and Practice, by Nicole D. Porter.  The report highlights reforms in 24 states that demonstrate a continued trend to reform sentencing policies and scale back the use of imprisonment without compromising public safety.  The report provides an overview of recent policy reforms in the areas of sentencing, probation and parole, collateral consequences, and juvenile justice.  Highlights include:

  • Mandatory minimums:  Seven states — Alabama, California, Missouri, Massachusetts, Kanas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania — revised mandatory penalties for certain offenses,  including crack cocaine offenses and drug offense enhancements.
  • Death penalty: Connecticut abolished the death penalty, becoming the 17th state to do so.
  • Parole and probation reforms:  Seven states — Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, and Pennsylvania — expanded the use of earned time for eligible prisoners and limited the use of incarceration for probation and parole violations.
  • Juvenile life without parole:  Three states — California, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania — authorized sentencing relief for certain individuals sentenced to juvenile life without parole.
I hope you find this publication useful in your work.  The full report, which includes a comprehensive chart on criminal justice reform legislation, details on sentencing, probation and parole, collateral consequences of conviction, juvenile justice and policy recommendations, can be found online here.  I’d encourage you to be in touch with Nicole D. Porter, Director of Advocacy, at nporter@sentencingproject.org to discuss how we can support your efforts in the area of state policy reform.

January 29, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"David Baldus and the Legacy of McCleskey v. Kemp"

The title of this post is the title of this article by Samuel Gross, which I just came across via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

In McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987), the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to racial discrimination in the use of the death penalty.  That challenge was based on a landmark study of race and capital sentencing in the state of Georgia by the late Professor David Baldus and colleagues.  The legal holding in McCleskey stands, despite the fact that the author of the opinion, Justice Lewis Powell, later renounced it in retirement.  It is sometimes described as the Dred Scott decision of the twentieth century.  But on the empirical question that was as stake in McCleskey, Baldus has prevailed.  Neither the Court in McCleskey, nor any justice at the time or since, has disputed his factual conclusion that many defendants in Georgia were sentenced to death because of their race, and especially because of the race of the victims of the crimes for which they were convicted.  This was a remarkable achievement.  It fundamentally changed our understanding of the role of race in criminal justice in the United States.

January 23, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Mass Incarceration in Three Midwestern States: Origins and Trends"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper now on SSRN authored by the ever-prolific Professor Michael O'Hear. Here is the abstract:

This Article considers how the mass incarceration story has played out over the past forty years in three medium-sized, Midwestern states, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  The three stories are similar in many respects, but notable differences are also apparent.  For instance, Minnesota’s imprisonment rate is less than half that of the other two states, while Indiana imprisons more than twice as many drug offenders as either of its peers.

The Article seeks to unpack these and other imprisonment trends and to relate them to crime and arrest data over time, focusing particularly on the relative importance of violent crime and drug enforcement as drivers of imprisonment growth.

January 15, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, January 12, 2013

New resource on location of death sentences handed down in 2012

I was intrigued to see this new information and resource on the top of the Death Penalty Information Center website:

The Death Penalty Information Center is pleased to offer a new resource page on death sentences in 2012.  Seventy-seven (77) people were sentenced to death in 2012, the second lowest number of sentences since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  Of those sentenced, 3 were women; 48% were black; 40% were white.  Four states (FL, CA, TX, and PA) were responsible for 66% of the death sentences, and only 9 counties produced over a third of the death sentences in the country.  Information is provided on the name, race, state, and county for each defendant.  A downloadablle spreadsheet enables sorting by each of these categories.  Click here for our Death Sentences in 2012 page.

January 12, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Should we thank unleaded gas and the EPA for the great modern crime decline?

Lead_Crime_325The provocative question in the title of this post comes from this new provocative Mother Jones article by Kevin Drum headlined "America's Real Criminal Element: Lead." The lengthy piece is probably the first "must read" of 2013 for crime and punishment fans, and here are a few excerpts which highlight why:

[I]t's not just New York that has seen a big drop in crime. In city after city, violent crime peaked in the early '90s and then began a steady and spectacular decline. Washington, DC, didn't have either Giuliani or Bratton, but its violent crime rate has dropped 58 percent since its peak. Dallas' has fallen 70 percent. Newark: 74 percent. Los Angeles: 78 percent. There must be more going on here than just a change in policing tactics in one city. But what?

There are, it turns out, plenty of theories.  When I started research for this story, I worked my way through a pair of thick criminology tomes. One chapter regaled me with the "exciting possibility" that it's mostly a matter of economics: Crime goes down when the economy is booming and goes up when it's in a slump. Unfortunately, the theory doesn't seem to hold water — for example, crime rates have continued to drop recently despite our prolonged downturn.

Another chapter suggested that crime drops in big cities were mostly a reflection of the crack epidemic of the '80s finally burning itself out. A trio of authors identified three major "drug eras" in New York City, the first dominated by heroin, which produced limited violence, and the second by crack, which generated spectacular levels of it. In the early '90s, these researchers proposed, the children of CrackGen switched to marijuana, choosing a less violent and more law-abiding lifestyle. As they did, crime rates in New York and other cities went down.

Another chapter told a story of demographics: As the number of young men increases, so does crime. Unfortunately for this theory, the number of young men increased during the '90s, but crime dropped anyway. There were chapters in my tomes on the effect of prison expansion. On guns and gun control. On family. On race. On parole and probation. On the raw number of police officers. It seemed as if everyone had a pet theory. In 1999, economist Steven Levitt, later famous as the coauthor of Freakonomics, teamed up with John Donohue to suggest that crime dropped because of Roe v. Wade; legalized abortion, they argued, led to fewer unwanted babies, which meant fewer maladjusted and violent young men two decades later.

But there's a problem common to all of these theories: It's hard to tease out actual proof. Maybe the end of the crack epidemic contributed to a decline in inner-city crime, but then again, maybe it was really the effect of increased incarceration, more cops on the beat, broken-windows policing, and a rise in abortion rates 20 years earlier.  After all, they all happened at the same time....

Even low levels have a significant effect. So we're back to square one. More prisons might help control crime, more cops might help, and better policing might help. But the evidence is thin for any of these as the main cause.  What are we missing?...

A molecule? That sounds crazy.  What molecule could be responsible for a steep and sudden decline in violent crime?  Well, here's one possibility: Pb(CH2CH3)4....

The biggest source of lead in the postwar era, it turns out, wasn't paint. It was leaded gasoline.  And if you chart the rise and fall of atmospheric lead caused by the rise and fall of leaded gasoline consumption, you get a pretty simple upside-down U: Lead emissions from tailpipes rose steadily from the early '40s through the early '70s, nearly quadrupling over that period.  Then, as unleaded gasoline began to replace leaded gasoline, emissions plummeted....

During the '70s and '80s, the introduction of the catalytic converter, combined with increasingly stringent Environmental Protection Agency rules, steadily reduced the amount of leaded gasoline used in America, but [researcher Jessica Wolpaw] Reyes discovered that this reduction wasn't uniform.  In fact, use of leaded gasoline varied widely among states, and this gave Reyes the opening she needed.  If childhood lead exposure really did produce criminal behavior in adults, you'd expect that in states where consumption of leaded gasoline declined slowly, crime would decline slowly too.  Conversely, in states where it declined quickly, crime would decline quickly.  And that's exactly what she found.

Meanwhile, [researcher Rick] Nevin ... in 2007 he published a new paper looking at crime trends around the world. This way, he could make sure the close match he'd found between the lead curve and the crime curve wasn't just a coincidence. Sure, maybe the real culprit in the United States was something else happening at the exact same time, but what are the odds of that same something happening at several different times in several different countries?

Nevin collected lead data and crime data for Australia and found a close match.  Ditto for Canada. And Great Britain and Finland and France and Italy and New Zealand and West Germany.  Every time, the two curves fit each other astonishingly well. When I spoke to Nevin about this, I asked him if he had ever found a country that didn't fit the theory. "No," he replied. "Not one."

We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

Like many good theories, the gasoline lead hypothesis helps explain some things we might not have realized even needed explaining. For example, murder rates have always been higher in big cities than in towns and small cities. We're so used to this that it seems unsurprising, but Nevin points out that it might actually have a surprising explanation—because big cities have lots of cars in a small area, they also had high densities of atmospheric lead during the postwar era. But as lead levels in gasoline decreased, the differences between big and small cities largely went away. And guess what? The difference in murder rates went away too. Today, homicide rates are similar in cities of all sizes. It may be that violent crime isn't an inevitable consequence of being a big city after all.

The gasoline lead story has another virtue too: It's the only hypothesis that persuasively explains both the rise of crime in the '60s and '70s and its fall beginning in the '90s. Two other theories — the baby boom demographic bulge and the drug explosion of the '60s — at least have the potential to explain both, but neither one fully fits the known data. Only gasoline lead, with its dramatic rise and fall following World War II, can explain the equally dramatic rise and fall in violent crime.

Some related posts on the great modern crime decline: 

January 3, 2013 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Monday, December 31, 2012

Chief Justice John Roberts defends costs of federal judiciary in year-end report

Proof I am a true law geek comes from the peculiar joy I get around this time each year from blogging about the traditional "Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary" authored the Chief Justice of the United States.  This Wall Street Journal piece has a summary of this year's report, which is available at this link and starts with a great tale about the USS Constitution and the War of 1812.  Here is an overview based in the WSJ summary:

Chief Justice John Roberts, acknowledging the "fiscal cliff," avoided again lobbying for a judicial pay raise in his annual report on the U.S. court system but sought to defend the courts against future cutbacks....

This year, the chief justice explicitly acknowledged "the much publicized 'fiscal cliff'" consuming the executive and legislative branches, as well as "the longer term problem of a truly extravagant and burgeoning national debt." Rather than seek a bigger slice of the pie, the chief justice, who serves as administrative head of the federal judiciary in addition to presiding over the Supreme Court, argued that the judicial system already offers Americans good value and doesn't deserve to be cut.

This year's report also includes the usual accounting of caseloads in the federal courts, including these notable criminal justice caseload statistics:

Filings in the regional courts of appeals rose four percent to 57,501. Growth occurred in all types of appeals except civil appeals, which decreased one percent. Criminal appeals climbed 12 percent.

Filings for criminal defendants (including those transferred from other districts), which had reached an all-time high in 2011, dropped nine percent this year to 94,121. Excluding transfers, reductions occurred in the number of defendants charged with nearly every major offense, including drug crimes. Filings for defendants charged with immigration violations decreased 10 percent. The southwestern border districts once again accounted for 74 percent of the nation’s total immigration defendant filings.

Growth was reported for defendants accused of firearms offenses.  Filings for defendants prosecuted for regulatory offenses also increased.

December 31, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Friday, December 28, 2012

Is Florida becoming, in place of Texas, the new capital for capital punishment in the US?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this recent local article, which is headlined "Report: Florida leads nation in new death penalty case."  Here are excerpts:

As capital punishment declines in use and support nationwide, Florida leads the country in the number of death sentences handed down this year, according to a report by a group that advocates against the death penalty.

Florida judges sentenced 21 killers to death in 2012, followed by California with death sentences for 14 murderers, Texas with 9 and Pennsylvania with seven, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.  The four states accounted for 65 percent of the death sentences handed out in the United States....

Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober said seeking capital punishment is a scrupulous process. "We understand the consequences of these decisions," Ober said....

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, in a written statement to The Tampa Tribune, defended the state's use of the death penalty.  "As attorney general and a former prosecutor, I firmly believe the death penalty is the appropriate sentence for those convicted of the most heinous murders," Bondi said.  "Thanks to Florida's dedicated prosecutors, the most atrocious murderers are on death row, where they belong, for violently taking innocent lives."...

Ober's office, like most state attorney's offices in Florida, has a committee that measures cases against specific legal criteria in determining whether a death sentence should be pursued in court.

But in West Palm Beach, State Attorney Peter Antonacci, appointed to the post in March, seeks the death penalty in all first-degree murder cases, according to a report in the Palm Beach Post. The process has doubled the number of death penalty cases there and outraged defense attorneys.

Florida executed three killers this year, well behind Texas, which led the nation in that category with 15 executions.  Florida has the second highest population of death-row inmates, with 406, behind California's death row with 724 inmates, according to the report.  Texas has 308 inmates on death row, the report says.

According to information from the Florida Department of Corrections, the average stay on death row is 13.22 years prior to execution, with a little more than 14 years between the date of offense and execution. The average age of executed inmates is 44.4 years old.

With so many more death sentences now being handed out in Florida as compared to Texas, and with a death row in Florida now 25% bigger than in Texas, Florida perhaps should now be viewed as an even tougher state than Texas when it comes to application of capital punishment. That said, Texas remains far ahead of all other states in total and yearly numbers of executions, which is perhaps a more critical metric for assessing a state's affinity for and pursuit of the death penalty for certain murders.

December 28, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

DPIC reports slight uptick in number of death sentences imposed in 2012

YERgraphic3The Death Penalty Information Center released its year-end report on death penalty developments today, and the full eight-page report is available at this linkThis press release from DPIC about the report echoes its theme of the death penalty in decline by making these points at the outset:

Only nine states carried out executions this year, equaling the fewest number of states to do so in 20 years, according to a new report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).  More than half of the states (29) either have no death penalty or have not carried out an execution in five years. The number of executions in 2012 (43) was 56 percent less than the peak in 1999 and equal to last year’s total.

The number of new death sentences in 2012 was the second lowest since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.  Seventy-eight people were sentenced to death in 2012, representing a 75 percent decline since 1996 when there were 315 sentences.

Many death penalty states with histories of high use had no new death sentences or no executions in 2012. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia (which is second to Texas in total executions since 1976) had no death sentences and no executions.  No executions were carried out in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, or Missouri.

“Capital punishment is becoming marginalized and meaningless in most of the country,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the author of the report. “In 2012, fewer states have the death penalty, fewer carried out executions, and death sentences and executions were clustered in a small number of states.  It is very likely that more states will take up the question of death penalty repeal in the years ahead.”

Especially as compared to death penalty's modern heyday in the United States (which roughly corresponds to the half-decade following the oklahoma City bombing and President Bill Clinton's second term in office), this basic narrative of the capital punishment in decline is accurate.  But as my post headline and the graphic above notes, the very latest developments suggest a flattening out of the declining trend. 

Despite the controversy over the Troy Davis execution and the initiative repeal effort in California this year, there was still apparently a slight uptick in the total number of death sentences imposed throughout the United States.  And, as the data from DPIC here reveal, the 43 executions in 2012 is right around the average number of yearly executions throughout the United States over the past half-decade.  Thus, assuming recent capital past is prologue, we can and should reasonably predict on average six or seven death sentences and three or four executions every month in the United States for the foreseeable future.

On a related front, I wonder if anyone has any good data on the number of LWOP sentences imposed in 2012 or before.  I have long worried that a small reduction in death sentences imposed within a jurisdiction might sometimes result in disproportionately large increase in the number of LWOP sentences in that jurisdiction.  I do not have rigorous data to back up my concerns here, and I would be grateful for any information anyone may have about relationships between death sentencing trends and imprisonment trends in 2012 or before. 

December 18, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Detailed sentencing data, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, 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

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Does the last decade add support for "more guns, less crime" claims?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new USA Today story, which is headlined "Federal gun checks surge as violent crime ebbs."  Here is how the piece starts:

The number of federally required background checks of prospective gun purchasers has nearly doubled in the past decade — a time when violent crime has been in long decline in many places across the USA, according to FBI records.

The bureau's National Instant Check System (NICS) does not track actual firearms sales — multiple guns can be included in one purchase.  But the steady rise in background checks — from 8.5 million in 2002 to 16.8 million in 2012 — tracks other indicators that signal escalating gun sales.

Advocates on both sides of the gun-rights debate disagree over what is driving the trend. Gun-rights groups attribute the steady increase to the growing popularity of hunting and other gun-recreation uses, the impact of state laws allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns and concerns that the Obama administration will push for laws restricting weapons purchases.

Gun-control advocates, led by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, say existing gun owners are responsible for most new purchases (about 20% of gun owners possess 65% of the nation's guns, according to a 2006 Harvard study).  Brady Campaign President Dan Gross said concerns about new gun-control laws are part of a "marketing ploy" to keep firearms moving.

No gun-control legislation was passed in President Obama's first term and no major proposal was offered during the 2012 presidential election campaign.  Still, there is an "expectation" that new gun-control proposals will surface in Obama's second term, said National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.  "People expect a siege on the Second Amendment (right to bear arms).''

Larry Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said gun-related recreation — from hunting to target shooting on the range — is growing, too.  From 2006 through 2011, spending on hunting equipment grew by nearly 30%, according to a national survey published in August by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Keane said the overall firearms industry has thrived despite the sputtering economy and the decline in violent crime. "Personal safety still is a big reason people purchase firearms," Keane said.  "The economic downturn, I think, raised fears that crime would eventually go back up."

December 13, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Gun policy and sentencing, Second Amendment issues | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

New report on the state of capital punishment in Texas at year end

This new piece in the Texas Tribune, headlined "Death Row Population at Its Lowest Since 1989," reports on a few of the highlights from a new report concerning the administration of capital punishment in Texas.  Here is how the piece starts:

The population on Texas' death row is at its lowest in more than 20 years, and the number of new death sentences, though slightly up in 2012, continues a downward trend even in the nation's busiest death penalty state, according to a report released Wednesday by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

As they have nationally, death sentences in Texas have declined over the last decade. The state has seen a 75 percent drop in death sentences since 2002. And according to the coalition, the Texas death row population, at 289, is at its lowest point since 1989. According to the coalition's report, juries in the state issued nine new death sentences in 2012, a slight increase from the number issued in each of the two previous years.

But the distribution of new death sentences is uneven, the coalition reported.  For the third time in five years, there were no new death sentences out of Harris County, which once sent more people to death row than any other Texas county.  Meanwhile, the Dallas-Fort Worth area accounted for four of the new death sentences in 2012, and Dallas County alone contributed nearly 20 percent of death sentences in the last five years, according to the report.  Dallas County also led the state in executions: Five of the 15 Texans executed in 2012 were from there.

The full 16-page new report by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is available at this link. The report is titled "Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2012: The Year in Review."

December 13, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Latest BJS data report 2011 decline in US prison and overall correction populations

According the latest, greatest official numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the total population subject to criminal justice control in the US declined (again) in 2011. This press release from BJS sets out the basics:

About 6.98 million people were under some form of adult correctional supervision in the U.S. at yearend 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. This was the equivalent of about one in 34 U.S. adults (or about 2.9 percent of the adult population) in prison or jail or on probation or parole, the lowest rate of adults under correctional supervision observed since 2000.

The adult correctional population declined by 1.4 percent or 98,900 offenders during 2011. This was the third consecutive year of decline in the number of offenders under the supervision of adult correctional authorities....

At yearend 2011, about 4,814,200 offenders were supervised in the community on probation or parole, and 2,239,800 were incarcerated in state or federal prisons or local jails. About one in 50 adults was under community supervision while about one in 107 adults was in prison or jail.

While both the community supervision population (down 1.5 percent) and the incarcerated population (down 1.3 percent) decreased during 2011, the majority of the decline (83 percent) in the total number of adults under correctional supervision during the year was due to a drop in the probation population. The probation population declined two percent or by 81,800 offenders during 2011, falling below four million for the first time since 2002.

For the third consecutive year, the number of offenders discharged from probation supervision (about 2.2 million offenders) exceeded the number who entered probation (about 2.1 million) during 2011, contributing to the decrease in the probation population....

An increase in the parole population partially offset declines in all other components of the adult correctional population. The parole population increased 1.6 percent or by 13,300 offenders during 2011. The state parole population increased 1.1 percent and the federal parole population grew 5.1 percent during the year....

The failure rate of parolees (defined as the percentage of parolees who were returned to jail or prison out of all parolees who could have been incarcerated at any point during the year) decreased for the fifth consecutive year. During 2011, about 12 percent of parolees at risk of reincarceration were incarcerated at some time during the year, down from about 15 percent during 2006.

All these data and so much more can be found in these two official new reports from BJS: Correctional Populations in the United States, 2011; and Probation and Parole in the United States, 2011

November 29, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"The Micro and Macro Causes of Prison Growth"

The title of this post is the title of this very interesting paper on prison growth now on SSRN and authored by the always astute John Pfaff.  Here is the abstract:

This paper explores both "who" has driven up US prison populations in recent years and "why" this growth has occurred.  At least since the early 1990s, the "who" appears to primarily be prosecutors.  Crime and arrests have fallen, and the percent of felony cases resulting in admissions and time served once admitted have been flat.  But the probability that an arrest results in a felony charge has gone up significantly.  (Limitations in data prevent us from examining the role of filing decisions before 1994.)

As for the "why," this paper provides some evidence that, at least since the crime drop began, increases in prison spending appear to track increases in state budgets fairly closely, suggesting that increased fiscal capacity is an important causal factor.  It also looks at the politics-of-crime theories and explains that all previous efforts are unsatisfactory because they have focused on state and federal actors.  Prosecutors, who are driving prison growth, are county officials, and it is unclear that state- and national-level political theories explain more-local outcomes.

November 28, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Monday, November 12, 2012

TRAC documents "striking judge-to-judge differences" in federal criminal caseloads

This new release from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) reports on new research that "has found wide variations in the criminal caseloads of individual federal district court judges, in some instances even among the judges serving in the same courthouse."  I doubt many federal practitioners will be surprised by this story, though some of the data is truly "striking":

TRAC's latest judge-by-judge analysis — using newly updated sentencing records on over 400,000 defendants — followed the criminal caseloads of 909 federal district court judges for the past 70 months.... Among the 909 district court judges whose records were examined, however, about half had not actively served during the entire 70-month study period. Thus, in the interest of better comparability, this report focuses on the 430 judges who had actively served for the entire 70 months....

[E]ven when the analysis was limited to the active judges who had served for the entire study period, the data disclosed surprising workload variations.  In ninety separate courthouses there were two or more active judges, allowing for a comparison of the variation in caseloads within the courthouse.  Among these ninety, there were four courthouses where the criminal caseload for one or more of the judges serving in them was twice the caseload of their colleague(s)....

There was also enormous variation in the volume of criminal cases a judge was required to handle that depended upon the courthouse at which the judge served.  While on average active judges sentenced 615 defendants during the study period, this average caseload level varied from a low of 147 criminal defendants in the District of Columbia federal court to a high of 7,020 in the Las Cruces, New Mexico district courthouse.

November 12, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Friday, November 09, 2012

New Vera Institute report looks at performance funding for criminal justice reform

Pif-slideAs detailed in this helpful post by Alison Shames, headlined "Performance Incentive Funding Focus of New Vera Report," the Vera Institute of Justice has just released a terrific new research report on a notable new structure for developing criminal justice reform and helping to ensure a cost-effective criminal justice system.  Here is an explanation of the report (along with a link to the full report and an executive summary and additional resources):

The idea that our tax dollars should be directed towards programs that deliver positive outcomes to the community is neither novel nor radical — but there are some interesting and innovative “pay for success” strategies for achieving this.  Social impact bonds, which are being piloted in the United Kingdom, New York City, and Massachusetts, are perhaps among the best known of these.  In the field of criminal justice, performance incentive funding (PIF) is another promising approach being tried in the United States.

PIF programs encourage local jurisdictions to supervise more offenders in the community and achieve better outcomes, namely lower recidivism and fewer prison commitments. They are premised on the idea that if the supervision agency or locality succeeds in sending fewer low-level offenders to prison — thereby causing the state to incur fewer costs—some portion of the state savings should be shared with the agency or locality.  By delivering fewer prison commitments, agencies or localities receive a financial reward, which is reinvested into evidence-based supervision programs.

A new report from Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections — Performance Incentive Funding: Aligning Fiscal and Operational Responsibility to Produce More Safety at Less Cost — details how PIF programs can lead to better offender outcomes while reducing overall corrections costs.  It presents the findings of a summit held in September 2011, which was convened by Vera, the Pew Center on the States, and Metropolis Strategies, to discuss the key challenges and tasks that states must address to develop and implement a PIF program.

Achieving positive outcomes, such as reduced recidivism and revocations and safer and stronger communities, is a goal that tax payers, policymakers, and criminal justice professionals can all agree on.  By emphasizing the use of evidence-based practices, reporting on outcomes, and paying for success, PIF programs can help states reduce their corrections costs, strengthen their community supervision programs, and build safer neighborhoods.

November 9, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, November 04, 2012

"Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice Process: Prosecutors, Judges, and the Effects of United States v. Booker"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper by Professors Sonja Starr and M. Marit Rehavi now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Current empirical estimates of racial and other unwarranted disparities in sentencing suffer from two pervasive flaws.  The first is a focus on the sentencing stage in isolation. Studies control for the “presumptive sentence” or closely related measures that are themselves the product of discretionary charging, plea-bargaining, and fact-finding processes.  Any disparities in these earlier processes are built into the control variable, which leads to misleading sentencing-disparity estimates.  The second problem is specific to studies of sentencing reforms: they use loose methods of causal inference that do not disentangle the effects of reform from surrounding events and trends.

This Article explains these problems and presents an analysis that corrects them and reaches very different results from the existing literature.  We address the first problem by using a dataset that traces cases from arrest to sentencing and by examining disparities across all post-arrest stages.  We find that most of the otherwise-unexplained racial disparities in sentencing can be explained by prosecutors’ choices to bring mandatory minimum charges.  We address the problem of disentangling trends using a rigorous method called regression discontinuity design.  We apply it to assess the effects of the loosening of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines in United States v. Booker.  Contrary to prominent recent studies, we find that Booker did not increase disparity, and may have reduced it.

November 4, 2012 in Booker in district courts, Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, November 02, 2012

Record-high government-sponsored departure rate in latest quarter of post-Booker data

Late yesterday, I got this e-mail alert via the US Sentencing Commission:

The United States Sentencing Commission's Preliminary Quarterly Data Report for the third quarter of fiscal year 2012 is now available on the Commission's website [at this link]. The report includes an extensive set of tables and charts presenting fiscal year quarterly data on cases in which the offender was sentenced during the first three quarters of fiscal year 2012. The report also provides an analysis of sentencing trends over five years for several key sentencing practices.

Only late today did I finally get a chance to look through these new numbers and the only big story within is what I highlighted via the title of this post coming from Table 4 of this big quarterly data report: during the third quarter of FY 2012 (which runs from April 1 to June 30), the rate of government-sponsored departures hit a record high of 28.7%. For some statistical context, the average rate of government-sponsored departures post-Gall has generally been under 26% (although the last six quarters all show rates above that modern historical average).

Interestingly, though the rate of non-government-sponsored below-guideline sentences has actaully declined each of the last three quarter, the rate of within-guideline sentencing hit a modern record low of 53.1% in the third quarter of FY 2012 because of the record-high rate of government-sponsored departures during this period. 

The first sensible explanation I can devise for this latest data is that they reflect the impact of the Justice Department's decision way back in January (reported here and here) to authorize so-called "fast-track" departures in all districts, not just in a select few pre-authorized fast-track districts. I suspect that this decision may have led not only to an uptick in government-sponsored fast-track departures, but perhaps also some other types of "government-sponsored" departures in plea agreements for those who might not quite fit the standard fast-track criteria.

November 2, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Don't some horror movies start with an execution on Halloween?

The silly question in the title of this post is prompted by the fact that two states had executions go forward over the last few spooky days: as reported here by the AP, "Donnie Lee Roberts, convicted in his girlfriend's 2003 slaying in Texas, was executed Wednesday for fatally shooting the woman and taking items from her home to sell or trade to support his drug habit"; as reported here by Reuters, a "man convicted of the 1990 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl was put to death on Tuesday night in a South Dakota execution witnessed by the victim's parents, who drove 1,400 miles from their New York home to watch him die."

I believe that there have now been 36 executions throughout the United States in 2012, and DPIC indicates here that eight more serious execution dates are on the scheduled for the next two months.  If all these executions go forward, there could be a slight uptick (from 43 to 44) in the number of executions this year compared to 2011.

November 1, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Prosecutorial Discretion, Hidden Costs, and the Death Penalty: The Case of Los Angeles County"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper with interesting data and an interesting perspective on the operation of the death penalty in California. The paper is authored by Nicholas Petersen and Mona Lynch, and here is the abstract:

This article analyzes the processing of homicide cases in Los Angeles County from 1996 to 2008 to measure the time-costs of pursuing cases capitally and to examine how prosecutorial discretion in homicide charging is exercised in this jurisdiction.

To answer these questions, we explore two related outcomes: (1) the odds of a “death-notice” filing and (2) time-to-resolution.  According to Model 1, death-eligible cases with multiple special circumstances are significantly more likely to be prosecuted capitally than those with only one special circumstance. In light of the limited financial information regarding capital punishment at the county level, Models 2-4 utilize Cox Proportional Hazard regression to investigate the time-costs associated with death-eligibility. Estimates indicate that capital cases take significantly longer to reach resolution than noncapital cases.  Furthermore, the filing of special circumstances increases survival time in noncapital cases. In addition to highlighting the time-costs of trying cases capitally, these findings reveal those associated with the prosecution of special circumstance cases, even when the death penalty is not ultimately sought.

By examining capital costs at the county level, this analysis contributes to the ongoing policy reform debate in California that aims to address the state’s “dysfunctional” death penalty system.

October 24, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Death Penalty Reforms, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

NACDL launches extraordinary new resource: on-line state-by-state "Restoration of Rights Database"

Us_map_legaledAs detailed in this news release, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) has rolled out a amazing new on-line resource. I will let part of the text of the release explain:

NACDL is pleased to offer as both a resource for its members and as a service to the general public, a collection of individual downloadable documents that profile the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction relating to relief from the numerous civil rights and other consequences of criminal conviction.  NACDL today launches this new section of its online Resource Center to house NACDL member and former U.S. Pardon Attorney (1990-97) Margaret Colgate Love’s comprehensive work on this topic in a user-friendly format.  It promises to be an indispensable guide for defense lawyers as well as members of the public affected by the collateral consequences of a conviction and those re-entering society or the workforce after a conviction.

As a result of the twin crises of overcriminalization and mass imprisonment in the United States, the population that can be served by this tremendous new resource is, sadly, enormous.... [because] is reported that some 65 million people, or one in four Americans, have an arrest or conviction record.

This new resource offers free assistance to those tens of millions of people and their lawyers, offering an interactive map with individual profiles summarizing the law and practice in each U.S. jurisdiction and the federal system regarding relief from the collateral consequences of conviction, including obtaining a pardon, expungement and the restoration of civil rights.  Click on a jurisdiction and you will get a short summary and a full profile detailing that jurisdiction’s law relating to both the loss and restoration of civil rights and firearms privileges and discussing any provisions on non-discrimination in employment and licensing.  These materials will be an enormous aid to lawyers in minimizing the collateral consequences suffered by clients and in restoring their rights and privileges.

In addition to the jurisdictional profiles, there is a set of charts covering all 50 states plus territories and the federal system, that provide a side by side comparison that makes it possible to see national patterns in restoration laws and policies....

A team of pro bono attorneys at the firm of Crowell & Moring LLP, led by partner Harry P. Cohen, provided significant assistance with this project, as did a number of law students from the Washington College of Law at American University and the University of Toledo School of law. Detailed acknowledgements are provided on the project’s home page, which is now live and publicly available at www.nacdl.org/rightsrestoration.

I have now already spent more than an hour clicking around these NACDL pages to discover a stunning amount of valuable and user-friendly materials assembled via this project.  Kudos to everyone involved in this important and productive endeavor.

October 24, 2012 in Clemency and Pardons, Collateral consequences, Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is the great US crime decline now finally over?: BJS reports crime up in 2011

As reported in this AP article, the "number of violent crimes rose by 18% in the U.S. last year while property crimes went up by 11%, the government reported Wednesday."  Here is more on this notable crime data news:

It was the first year-to-year increase for violent crime since 1993, marking the end of a long string of declines.  Violent crime fell by 65% since 1993, from 16.8 million to 5.8 million last year.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics' annual national crime victimization survey, the size of the percentage increases in both violent crime and property crime for last year was driven in large part by the historically low levels seen in 2010.

The increase in violent crime was the result of an upward swing in assaults, which rose 22%, from four million in 2010 to five million last year.  But the incidence of rape, sexual assault and robbery remained largely unchanged, as did serious violent crime involving weapons or injury.

"While it's cause for concern, I would caution against forecasting future crime trends based on a one-year fluctuation," said Chris Melde, an assistant professor at Michigan State University's school of criminal justice.  "You can have percentage changes that seem quite large, but unless you put them in a longer-term perspective you can sometimes misinterpret the overall seriousness of the problem," Mr. Melde added.

The increases in violent crime experienced by whites, Hispanics, younger people and men accounted for the majority of the increase in violent crime.

In the latest survey, property crime was up for the first time in a decade, from 15.4 million in 2010 to 17 million last year.  Household burglaries rose 14%, from 3.2 million to 3.6 million.  The number of thefts jumped by 10%, from 11.6 million to 12.8 million.

The victimization figures are based on surveys by the Census Bureau of a large sample of people in order to gather data from those who are victims of crime.  They are considered the government's most comprehensive crime statistics because they count both crimes that never are reported to the police as well as those reported.

Last May, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's preliminary crime report for 2011, which counts only crimes reported to police, concluded that crime dropped again last year, down 4% for violent crime and 3.7% for property crime.  The declines slowed in the second half of last year, a sign to academic experts that the many years of lowering crime levels might be nearing an end.  Historically, less than half of all crimes, including violent crimes, are reported to police.

The full BJS report, excitingly titled "Criminal Victimization, 2011, is available at this link.  Because there are so many different ways to interpret ad spin this BJS data, I am not even going to try.  But I welcome commenters to go at it.

Some related posts on the great modern crime decline: 

October 17, 2012 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack