Sunday, May 20, 2018

Vera Institute of Justice reports on "People in Prison 2017"

Via this web page and this document, the Vera institute of Justice has now providing a valuable new "up-to-date view of the number of people in state and federal prisons." Here is the summary of their efforts from the print document:

Effective advocacy and policy making require up-to-date information. Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) researchers collected data on the number of people in state and federal prisons on December 31, 2017 to provide timely information on how prison incarceration is changing in the United States.  This report fills a gap until the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) releases its next annual report — likely in late 2018 or early 2019 — which will include additional data, such as population breakdowns by race and sex.

At the end of 2017, there were an estimated 1,489,600 people in state and federal prisons, down 15,800 from yearend 2016 (1 percent decline).

There were 1,306,300 people under state prison jurisdiction, 9,900 fewer than in 2016 (0.7 percent decline); and 183,300 in the federal prison system, 5,900 fewer than in 2016 (3.1 percent decline).  The prison incarceration rate in the United States was 457 people in prison per 100,000 residents, down from 465 per 100,000 in the previous year, representing a 1.8 percent drop. (See Figure 1.)  This brings the rate of prison incarceration down 14 percent since its peak in 2007.

The overall decline in the national prison incarceration rate was driven by the large decrease in the number of people in federal prisons, as well as greater than 5 percent declines in several states with large prison populations, such as Illinois, Louisiana, and Maryland.  However, the declines were not universal.  Mass incarceration is still on the rise in some states, such as Kentucky and Tennessee.  (See Table 1 for a summary of the jurisdictions with the highest and lowest prison population counts, rates, and percent changes from 2016.)

In addition to this summery, this document has a bunch of clear and informative charts with total prison populations and rates and changes for every state and region from 2007 to 2017.

May 20, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Interesting discussions of new prison units dedicated to offenders who are veteran

The start of this local article, headlined "Allegheny County Jail designates cell block for inmates who are veterans," really struck me:

The new veterans pod at the Allegheny County Jail made David Francis feel welcome in a way he didn't experience when returning from Vietnam.  “(The pod) gives veterans hope where there hadn't been any,” Francis said.  “We were not liked when we came back from Vietnam.  We weren't welcomed in coming home.  It wasn't like other wars.  So this is a blessing.”

Here is more from the piece:

An American flag and other patriotic images are also painted near the pod's entrance — the work of three inmates over the weekend. The paintings are the only visual difference between the pod and others in the jail. It consists of two levels of cells in a circle surrounding a common area, where jail and county officials held a news conference Monday.

The difference, though, will be the specialized services offered to veterans, as well as a chance to interact with their fellow veterans on a daily basis. “We decided we need to do something for the veterans in our facility and prepare them for a successful re-entry into society,” said Warden Orlando Harper, an Army veteran himself.

At least 86 prisons and jails across the country have pods designated for veterans. Many of them have been created in the past five years, according to an Associated Press report in January. Nationally, veterans account for about 8 percent of all inmates....

Placing many of the jail's veterans all in one place makes it easier for organizations to serve them, as well as less costly for the county, officials said. “We want more veterans assistance programs,” Harper said. Many have already committed to participate.

The Allegheny Intermediate Unit will offer workforce literacy classes, including help with cover letter and resume writing, according to a county news release. Veterans Administration Veterans Justice Outreach will help the inmates apply for enrollment in the VA health care system, discuss treatment options and legal issues, along with presentations on post-traumatic stress, suicide prevention and job opportunities.

Organizations Soldier On; PAServes; the Veterans Leadership Program; the Duquesne School of Nursing; and Veterans Thinking for Change-Pittsburgh Mercy also have committed to providing services.

The AP article referenced above is available at this link and reports on some encouraging data emerging from this form of prison reform:

Inmates and officials say the Albany pod is cleaner and less troublesome than other tiers. When a guard was attacked here in 2016 by an inmate from another unit, the pod inmates ran from across the common area to the guard’s aid.

“We send all these young men and women overseas and when they come back, a lot of them with PTSD, domestic violence, drug issues,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, who started the veterans pod more than three years ago. “And I just felt we could have treated them better or done something for them.”

Apple said 6 percent of the roughly 331 participating veterans in Albany over the years have returned to jail, far better than the typical jail recidivism rates of more than 40 percent.

It helps that Soldier On also provides post-release services like housing.  So when Tommy Hartmann was released from the Albany jail last year after 90 days he had a place to go. The 29-year-old Army veteran moved into Soldier On’s transitional housing in Leeds, Massachusetts. He also got a job with Soldier On, on the resident staff.

When the group helped serve a holiday meal recently, Hartmann returned to his old block to chat up inmates he knew. This time he wore khakis and a tie. And he got to go home at the end of the night. “They set me up to succeed when I got out,” Hartmann said before his visit. “Rather than just sitting on the tier, playing cards, watching TV, doing pushups, whatever, I was doing positive stuff toward my recovery and becoming a better part in society.”

These stories lead me to want to call modern prison reform efforts another important way to support our troops.

May 19, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 18, 2018

Head of federal Bureau of Prisons abruptly resigns

As reported in this USA Today article, headlined "Federal prisons chief Mark Inch abruptly resigns from job he took over in September," while Prez Trump and others today at the White House were discussing federal prison reform, the head of the federal prison agency surprisingly resigned. Here is the story and possible backstory:

Mark Inch, the director of the embattled federal Bureau of Prisons, abruptly announced his resignation Friday, the Justice Department announced Friday. There was no immediate reason provided for the departure of Inch, who had just assumed leadership of the country's largest detention system in September.

In a brief statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions thanked Inch for his service wished him "luck in his future endeavors." The attorney general did not elaborate. As director, Inch oversaw 122 detention facilities, 39,000 staffers and 186,000 inmates.

Inch’s resignation also comes as the White House was staging a summit Friday on prison reform. There, White House senior adviser and President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner commended Inch for his work on the Federal Inter-agency Reentry Council, though it was not clear whether he was aware of Inch's resignation. "We're working on the reentry commission, where the new director of the Bureau of Prisons, General Inch, has been working with Attorney General Sessions to look at all the different changes they can make in the prisons,” he said.

Hugh J. Hurwitz, assistant director of the BOP’s Reentry Services Division, will serve as acting director, Sessions said.

For the last year, the Bureau of Prisons has been the focus of a review by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been examining allegations of sexual harassment, management retaliation against staffers and staffing shortages. Those shortages have routinely thrust nurses, teachers, food service workers and others to take up guard duty in under-staffed prison yards and solitary confinement wings.

Hundreds of non-custodial staffers were tapped last year to fill guard posts across the Bureau of Prisons because of acute officer shortages and overtime limits, according to prison records reviewed by USA TODAY and staff interviews. The moves were made despite repeated warnings that the assignments placed unprepared employees at risk. And the practice has continued for years even though the agency has been rebuked by Congress and federal labor arbitrators....

According to his Justice biography, Hurwitz began his career with the BOP as a law clerk in the Office of General Counsel in 1988. He went on to serve in three other agencies before returning to the BOP in 2015 as the senior deputy assistant director of the Information, Policy and Public Affairs Division.

May 18, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6)

Prez Trump pledges to sign prison reform that will be "best in the world"

As reported in this CBS News piece, both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence spoke at a prison reform summit the White House this morning. Here are some of the details:

Pence, taking to the podium, called prison reform a top priority for the Trump administration. Pence said the current prison system "too often" misses an opportunity to help improve people's lives, and instead just makes American communities more dangerous. Pence said the Trump administration will continue to hold accountable those who break the law, but also recognize that too many ex-offenders feel they have nowhere else to turn once they leave prison, and return to crime. "Prison reform is about changing lives, and about changing communities," Pence said.

The White House has hosted such discussions before, although not in such a large summit. But the reforms Mr. Trump's administration has floated before mostly entailed better preparing inmates for reentry and reducing recidivism rates, not the sentencing reform that liberals and some conservatives have hoped for in recent years. Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has made prison reform a top issue in his portfolio, said Mr. Trump is "all in" on prison reform, but explained why the White House's focus is narrow for now.

"Sentencing reform is something that people still have different opinions on," Kushner said, noting how Washington has been unable to come to a consensus on the matter for years. Kushner said he thinks the country's system of governance works well, and requires intense deliberation on pivotal issues like prison reform.

I was able to hear live a few of the comments by Prez Trump, and he pledged to sign the prison reform bill Congress delivered to him and he closed by asserting, in Trumpian fashion, that the prison reforms would be the "best in the world." People who know about prisons around the world, particularly in Scandinavia and other part of Europe, surely realize that Prez Trump is setting quite a high bar for US prison reform. But I was please to hear him make this commitment and continue to be hopeful that the energized support of the Trump Administration helps ensure that at least some form of federal criminal justice reform becomes a reality this year.

May 18, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Updated accounting of America's aging prison population

In this post four years ago, I spotlighted a notable white paper from The Osborne Association titled ""The High Costs of Low Risk: The Crisis of America’s Aging Prison Population." Today, via this Crime Report piece, I see that a new version of this paper is available at this link.  Here is the start of the Crime Report's review of its coverage:

At least one-third of the U.S. prison population will be over 50 by 2030, according to a white paper released Thursday by the Osborne Association.

The association, a New York-based advocacy group that works with justice-involved people and their families, cited figures showing that even as states are working to reduce prison populations, the number of older adults in prison and jail is projected to grow by a “staggering 4,400 percent” in the 50-year period between 1980 and 2030—to an estimated 400,000 people.

According to statistics quoted by the researchers, adults over 50 comprised just three percent of the total incarcerated population in 1993, representing 26,300 individuals.

“Justice isn’t served by keeping elderly people locked up as their bodies and minds fail them and they grow infirm and die,” said Elizabeth Gaynes, president and CEO of the Osborne Association, which advocates for improved conditions in prisons and jails, better discharge planning, and expanded compassionate release of the elderly and infirm. “It’s both inhumane and inefficient.”

According to the report, entitled “The High Cost of Low Risk: The Crisis of America’s Aging Prison Population,” extreme sentences doled out during the tough- on-crime era, as well as limited mechanisms for compassionate release, have driven what is now a costly and inhumane crisis that the corrections system is unequipped to manage.

The medical costs of caring for a burgeoning elderly population behind bars alone will add to the strains of resource-strapped corrections systems, many experts have said. According to data analyzed by the American Civil Liberties Union, it costs twice as much to incarcerate someone over 50; in some cases, it may cost up to five times more when medical costs are added.

Between 40 percent and 60 percent of prisoners over 50 have some type of mental illness or cognitive impairment, according to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Some prisons are setting up makeshift hospice wings and opening nursing wards for people with serious cognitive degeneration.

Elsewhere, inmates suffer from such pronounced dementia that they are unable to follow rules, and may not remember why they are incarcerated. For many with cognitive, visual, or hearing loss, a diminished capacity leads to behaviors that are mistaken for disobedience, subjecting them to punishments such as solitary confinement.

Prisons were never designed to be geriatric care facilities and this surging elder incarceration comes at a high cost,” wrote the authors of the Osborne report. At the same time, research by the Pew Center on the States shows that incarcerated people over 50 pose little public safety risk, and have the lowest recidivism rate as any other inmate demographic.

May 17, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (15)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"Will the Supreme Court Scrutinize Solitary Confinement? One Justice Offers a Map"

The title of this post was the headline of this Sidebar piece by Adam Liptak in yesterday's New York Times.  Here are excerpts:

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is a fierce critic of solitary confinement. “It drives men mad,” he said in 2015 at Harvard Law School.  He attacked the practice in a 2015 concurring opinion. “Years on end of near total isolation exact a terrible price,” he wrote, noting that “common side effects of solitary confinement include anxiety, panic, withdrawal, hallucinations, self-mutilation, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

Justice Kennedy concluded that opinion with an unusual request, inviting lawyers to file appeals challenging the constitutionality of prolonged isolation.  The requested appeals arrived, but the Supreme Court has so far turned them down.  The court, which typically moves in measured increments, may not want to take on a question as broad as whether extended solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment barred by the Eighth Amendment.

But the court will soon consider whether to hear appeals raising a much narrower question: Do prisoners held in solitary confinement have a right to regular outdoor exercise?

As it happens, Justice Kennedy has already answered that question.  Almost 40 years ago, not long after he became a federal appeals court judge, he wrote that prisoners held in solitary confinement have a constitutional right to a little fresh air once in a while.

“Some form of regular outdoor exercise is extremely important to the psychological and physical well being of the inmates,” he wrote in 1979 for a unanimous three-member panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco. “It was cruel and unusual punishment for a prisoner to be confined for a period of years without opportunity to go outside except for occasional court appearances, attorney interviews and hospital appointments.”

Justice Kennedy, who joined the Supreme Court in 1988, may now have the opportunity to establish that principle nationwide.  The new appeals were filed by several prisoners in Colorado. One of them, Donnie Lowe, 46, has spent almost his entire adult life in various prisons for various offenses.  He was held in solitary confinement for 11 of those years. Mr. Lowe’s lawsuit took issue with a decades-long blanket policy at the Colorado State Penitentiary that denied him outdoor exercise for the more than two years he was in solitary there....

The Supreme Court is not a fan of lawsuits seeking money from state officials for constitutional violations. But Mr. Lowe’s appeal, along with a companion case, present the court with the opportunity to tell the nation what the Constitution requires even if it rules in favor of the prison officials on the ground that the law used to be unclear. In a sign that the court might be interested in the cases, Lowe v. Raemisch, No. 17-1289, and Apodaca v. Raemisch, No. 17-1284, it ordered the officials to file responses to the plaintiffs’ petitions.

Justice Kennedy is nearing the end of a long judicial career, and he might think it fitting to return to an issue he considered just a few years after he first put on a robe. “Underlying the Eighth Amendment,” he wrote in 1979, “is a fundamental premise that prisoners are not to be treated as less than human beings.”

May 16, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Thoughtful BBC series of articles on "Criminal myths: Misconceptions about criminals and crime"

I just came across this series of special articles via BBC Future under the headine "Criminal Myths."  Here is how this introductory piece sets up what follows:

In both the UK and the US violent crime has recently been rising, records show. There are now also record numbers of individuals behind bars around the world, about 10.35 million, a figure that has increased by 20% in under two decades.  The highest number of these are in the United States, where those convicted are serving increasingly long sentences.

Among the prison population, 70,000 are women and girls, a figure that has been rising higher than for males.  A high proportion of women behind bars have mental health problems and have been victims of abuse.

Despite these rises, we are not living in the most violent era of history (in 1991 the violent crime figures in the US were about double those of today).  While in the UK, although police figures indicate that crime is rising, a national crime survey found that most crimes "either fell or were at a similar level".

Meanwhile in the Netherlands, prisons are closing due to a lack of inmates to fill cells, as our reporter discovered on a visit to a Dutch jail, though this does not necessarily mean that crime is dramatically falling. These examples show that statistics can be confusing, and there is often more going on than the numbers suggest, such as falling police officers, longer jail terms, to a rise in community sentencing.

That's why we are taking a look at some of these issues, to tackle the misconceptions about criminals and the factors that shape crime.

Here are the full headline of some of the articles in this series:

May 15, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (2)

Puzzling through the current politics of pursuing federal statutory criminal justice reforms

Rolling Stone has this notable new report on the latest politics surround federal criminal justice reform efforts under the headline "'We Don't Have to Worry About Senator Sessions': A look inside the Congressional battle for criminal justice reform." Here are excerpts:

Less than one month ago, there was no hope for any meaningful criminal justice reform to make its way out of this Republican-controlled Congress. But last week a large, bipartisan block of members of the House Judiciary Committee passed a narrow prison reform bill aimed at stemming the recidivism rate. That tees it up for a floor vote, even as many political watchers have predicted most major legislative efforts will be put on hold until after voters go to their polling booths in November.

"This is just a money and morals issue for me," Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who is one of the bill's lead authors, tells Rolling Stone.  "It's about money that we're saving by not only redirecting that in our prison system, but also the moral aspect that everybody deserves a second chance."

Collins was able to revive the effort by massaging the bill with his ally Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who represents Brooklyn and Queens and is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.  The legislation sailed through their House committee by a lopsided 25-5 vote, but it faces stiff opposition in the Senate from those who want it to go much further in overhauling the nation's system of mandatory minimum prison sentences that critics say constrain the nation's judges and have left prisons brimming with nonviolent drug offenders.

"I'm disappointed, but it doesn't change anything that we have to do over here," Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tells Rolling Stone. "[Senate Minority Whip Dick] Durbin and I are working together to make sure that if there's going to be anything done on criminal justice reform, it's going to contain sentencing reform."...

Collins says they were able to revive the bill in the House because they narrowed its scope to win over Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "We're not dealing with sentencing reform at this point, and he understood that," Collins said.

In response to reports that Sessions supported the measure, a DOJ official tells Rolling Stone that Sessions did not, in fact, sign off on the House bill, and that he opposes it.  The official refused to elaborate on reasons why.

But Grassley maintains the attorney general is irrelevant on the issue – even though he's the top law enforcement official in the nation. "We don't have to worry about Senator Sessions," Grassley tells Rolling Stone. "Why's that?"

"We don't have to worry about Senator Sessions," he repeated. "You don't have to know why. We just don't have to worry about him."  Grassley's staff refused to answer questions as to whether the senator has been assured that Trump would sign a mandatory minimum bill over Sessions' protest, or, on a more sinister note, whether Grassley believes Sessions will remain in his current position as attorney general.

Independent of Sessions, however, it's unclear whether there's enough support in Congress to pass criminal justice reform that leaves mandatory minimums untouched. Supporters of the House bill argue that doing anything to help current prisoners escape the incarceration cycle is better than not sitting idly by.

"[Sessions] is an impediment, and I'd suspect Trump's people are basically against sentencing reform," Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) tells Rolling Stone. "To get sentencing reform is probably going to necessitate a Democratic Congress, so that'll come next year. There's no reason to have people sit in a jail for another year when they don't need to be."

To review: it seems we do not know if AG Sessions is formally for or against the prison reform bill, the FIRST STEP Act, that passed the House Judiciary Committee last week, and we do not know if Senate Judiciary Committee leaders (or other Senators) may be willing to move forward with this FIRST STEP Act. I continue to fear AG Sessions' general opposition to any meaningful reforms and Senate leaders' eagerness for sentencing reforms may mean nothing gets done to bring any relief to any federal defendant anytime soon.

Some of many prior related posts:

May 15, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day review of moms in incarceration nation

Growing awareness and concern with incarceration levels in the US are reflected in the significant number of articles I have noticed this week discussing incarcerated mothers.  I figure Mother's Day is a fitting day to round-up some of these recent pieces:

From The Crime Report here, "Mother’s Day Behind Bars"

From Teen Vogue here, "Mother's Day Needs to Be Inclusive of Incarcerated Moms, and Here’s How You Can Help"

From USA Today here, "In remembering her own mother, activist and attorney makes Mother's Day plea for incarcerated women"

From Jezebel here, "Mothers Are Incarcerated at Record Rates, Yet Prison-Nursery Beds Go Empty"

From Leafy here, "9 Ways to Help Moms Jailed for Cannabis"

From Yahoo here, "Mom serving 16 years for marijuana pens Mother's Day letter to daughters: 'I'm dreaming of your sleepy faces'"

May 13, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sentencing Project reports on "Incarcerated Women and Girls, 1980-2016"

The Sentencing Project has this notable new fact sheet with details on modern trends in the incarceration of women and girls under the title ""Incarcerated Women and Girls, 1980-2016." Here is how it gets started:

Over the past quarter century, there has been a profound change in the involvement of women within the criminal justice system.  This is the result of more expansive law enforcement efforts, stiffer drug sentencing laws, and post-conviction barriers to reentry that uniquely affect women. The female prison population stands nearly eight times higher than in 1980.  More than 60% of women in state prisons have a child under the age of 18.  Between 1980 and 2016, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 213,722 in 2016.

May 10, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Mapping out the politics for the path forward for federal prison (and sentencing?) reform

I am unsure how big a deal to make out of the passage of the FIRST STEP Act out of the House Judiciary Committee today (discussed here) because I am not sure it create much more confidence about the chance of the Senate moving forward with a form of federal criminal justice reform that can actually become law.  This new Politico article discusses the political uncertainty that is now the reality:

Congress on Wednesday edged closer to a rare bipartisan achievement during a hotly contested election year after a House panel voted overwhelmingly to send a prison reform plan to the floor — despite persistent internal GOP tensions in the Senate over the White House-backed bill.

The prison legislation, a key priority of Jared Kushner, won easy approval in the House Judiciary Committee.  It was a striking turnabout after backers scrapped a vote on an earlier version two weeks ago amid waning support.  But the bill’s lopsided 25-5 vote masked ongoing disputes among Senate Republicans and House Democrats over its omission of sentencing reforms opposed by President Donald Trump. Critics of the measure say those sentencing reforms are crucial to any deal.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has allied with Democratic supporters of a broader criminal justice package that includes both sentencing and prison reform provisions. GOP leaders in both chambers want to instead move the narrower prison bill, which would authorize training for prisoners that’s aimed at reducing recidivism rates.

As the House panel moved to okay the bill, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) — a previous backer of the broader criminal justice overhaul who has narrowed his sights to prison reform — said he hoped to negotiate with Grassley on a path forward....

Grassley and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, his lead Democratic partner on the Senate criminal justice package, said Wednesday that they were “encouraged” by the House’s progress but giving no ground on their position. “For any criminal justice reform proposal to win approval in the Senate, it must include these sentencing reforms,” Grassley and Durbin said in a statement.

Lobbying on the House prison bill also has become contentious in recent weeks, pitting one of the legislation’s lead cosponsors, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), against the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, fellow New York Rep. Jerry Nadler. Jeffries has worked for months with Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) on the bill, omitting the sentencing provisions that are a nonstarter with the White House in part because of longstanding opposition from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Nadler took part in a Tuesday meeting with opponents of the legislation and made an impassioned plea to delay consideration of the bill during the markup. Jeffries, however, downplayed the tension after the bill sailed through the judiciary panel. He said everyone involved in the bill supports addressing sentencing laws; the disagreement is over when that should happen. “Mass incarceration has been with us for almost 40 years. It’s going to take more than one singular legislative magic wand to eradicate it,” Jeffries said in an interview.

“We all agree that sentencing reform should be a part of any broad criminal justice reform effort that takes place. The First Step Act represents the beginning of the end of overcriminalization in America.”

A House floor vote on the bill is possible before the Memorial Day recess, according to multiple sources. But the proposal still faces formidable foes, from powerful civil rights groups like the ACLU and key senators such as Grassley and Durbin. Dozens of advocacy groups, including the NAACP, sent another letter opposing the prison bill to House members on Tuesday.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), another supporter of the broader criminal justice package, reiterated in a Tuesday interview that “I want to see sentencing reform and prison reform move together, and I worry that this bill doesn’t” make that happen. Booker met Monday night to discuss strategy on the bill with Durbin, Jeffries, Nadler, Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). But supporters of the broader and narrower approaches to criminal justice left entrenched in their positions, according to a source with knowledge of the meeting.... The bill, if successful, would likely be the last major bipartisan effort to clear Congress before the election. And it would be a major victory for Kushner, who has failed to score any significant wins in the White House, despite a disparate policy portfolio that has included everything from bringing peace to the Middle East to tackling the nation’s opioid crisis.

“The key for this is a realization that perfect doesn’t exist on the Hill,” Collins said in an interview. “Although we want to have done some more, this is a very valid first step.” The White House "look[s] forward to a vote in the full House" on the legislation, deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said by email.

The bill would authorize $50 million annually for five years for educational and vocational programs for prisoners with the goal of equipping inmates for life after incarceration and reducing repeat offenses.

In a major win for progressives, the bill also includes a technical tweak to current law that would increase “good time” credit for prisoners from 47 days to 54 days per year. The change, which would be applied retroactively, would lead to the immediate release of 4,000 prisoners, according to the bill’s supporters.

Some of many prior related posts:

May 9, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

House Judiciary Committee approves FIRST STEP Act by a vote of 25-5 after lots of discussion of amendments

As reported in this article from The Hill, the House Judicial Committee "on Wednesday approved a new prison reform bill being pushed by the White House."  Here are some details:

The bill, called the First Step Act, seeks to offer more funding for prison programs in an attempt to reduce an inmate’s likelihood to re-offend after they’ve been released. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill, by a 25-5 vote, that Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) spent the last week negotiating after committee Democrats pushed back against a number of conservative provisions.

In the legislation now advancing to the House, lawmakers removed language that would have allowed certain law enforcement officials and correctional officers to carry a concealed firearm in all 50 states and created more opportunities for prisoners to earn time credits by completing prison programs. They can then use those credits to serve the remaining days of their sentence in a halfway house or home confinement.

The bill, which authorizes $50 million a year for five years for the Bureau of Prisons to spend on programs like job training and education that reduce recidivism, clarifies current law to allow prisoners up to 54 days of credit for good behavior annually. The law was previously interpreted as only allowing prisoners to earn 47 days a year.

The previous bill, known as the Prison Reform and Redemption Act, and the current compromise, however, have divided Democrats and liberal groups. While #cut50, a criminal justice reform advocacy group led by Van Jones, the CNN host and former adviser to President Obama, is now backing the new bill, the measure is still opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 73 other groups.

Democrats and progressive groups argue the criminal justice reform bill should include provisions that reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the committee’s ranking member, said the bill is well-intentioned but the committee should be working on legislation that includes sentencing reform. He offered a motion to postpone the markup by one month to give committee members time to negotiate and markup sentencing reform legislation.... Nadler’s motion was [after discussion] voted down by the committee.

Progressives were able to win language prohibiting female prisoners from being shackled during pregnancy, childbirth and up to 12 weeks after a baby is born. But the committee voted down an amendment Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) offered to create a pilot program in federal prisons to allow female inmates who give birth while behind bars to live with their child in a prison housing unit until the child is two-and-a-half years old.

The committee, however, approved an amendment from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to expand a pilot youth mentorship program and a pilot program that gives prisoners the skills to train rescue and abandoned dogs. The bill would take the programs from two years in 10 facilities to five years in at least 20 facilities.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) also had an amendment approved that would prevent faith-based organizations that want to offer prison programming from being discriminated against.

A bipartisan amendment from Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Collins, Jackson Lee, Jeffries and Val Demings (D-Fla.) was also approved to clarify that the legislative fix, which makes prisoners eligible for 54 days of good time instead of 47, applies to prisoners already serving sentences....

Collins said he’s confident there’s enough Democratic support to get the bill through the House and the Senate. “They have their own process to go through. There may be some issues that we can then work on later, but I do feel this is one of the pieces of legislation that will be signed into law this year,” he said.

The House Judiciary Committee has this press release about the vote and key provisions of the bill under the heading, "House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill to Reform the Federal Prison System."  Though not mentioned in these reports, I believe all the Republican votes coming from the committee were in favor of this FIRST STEP bill except for Rep. Steve King from Iowa, and also that a majority of the Democrats in the committee also voted for the bill (though Ranking Member Jerry Nadler and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee were among the notable "No"s).

All of this suggests to me a reason to be optimistic that there might really be some notable federal criminal justice reform getting done in 2018.  It is less than I would like to see, but I still think it would be MUCH better than nothing. 

Some of many prior related posts:

May 9, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Detailed review of Illinois juve offenders serving just barely "less than life"

Less-than-life-featureThe Chicago Sun-Times has published this extensive look by Injustice Watch at how the Illinois has sentenced (and largely failed to resentence) a set of juvenile offenders serving extreme long prison sentences . The full lengthy title of this piece sets forth its essential elements: "Less than life: Across the country, juvenile offenders are being released from prison based on recognition that human brains continue to develop for the first two and a half decades of life.  Nevertheless in Illinois, many who commit crimes as teenagers are likely destined to die in custody."  Here is an excerpt:

In Illinois, it is rare for juveniles who did not receive automatic life prison terms to win new chances at sentencing, leaving most of those with long sentences to languish in prison for decades, an Injustice Watch review found.

A review of custody data from the Illinois Department of Corrections revealed that, as of last December, at least 167 current inmates were arrested for crimes as juveniles and are set to serve 50 years or more in prison without parole eligibility, leaving them likely to die in custody but not eligible for resentencing under the dictates of Miller. (It is not possible to know the exact number of young offenders serving long sentences at the Illinois Department of Corrections because the agency does not specifically keep track of that information.)

The imposition of long sentences is especially harsh in Illinois, a state which does not afford parole to most prisoners and which requires offenders convicted of murder to serve 100 percent of their punishment, with no chance of early release based on factors like good conduct or rehabilitation. Such sentences almost certainly lead these inmates to either spend the rest of their lives incarcerated or be released with precious little life left.

Research indicates that incarceration has a jarring effect on life expectancy. In studying a group of inmates released from New York state correctional facilities over a 10-year period, Vanderbilt University Professor Evelyn Patterson found that the former prisoners could expect to shave two years off of their average life expectancy for every one year of incarceration. Furthermore, Patterson found, undoing the negative effect on longevity takes time. It took former inmates two-thirds of the time spent in custody back on the outside to recover from the harm of incarceration on life expectancy. The United States Sentencing Commission considers a 39-year prison sentence the equivalent of life.

Because Illinois almost entirely abolished parole in 1978, these juvenile offenders do not get the same chance to show rehabilitation and change that they might get in other states. About a third of states do not currently employ the traditional practice of parole for newly convicted inmates, according to a report published by the University of Minnesota’s Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice, but Illinois is one of three states nationwide that stopped utilizing parole four decades ago, making it nearly non-existent for the current prison population.

The approximately 80 juvenile offenders in Illinois who became eligible to have their sentences reconsidered [after Miller] all were convicted of killing more than one person — Illinois law mandates life for anyone convicted of multiple murders. By contrast, Illinois state appellate judges have mostly declined to find that the cases of other violent youthful offenders ... fall under the protections outlined in Miller.

There is no national legal standard on how many years is too many for a juvenile to serve. Courts across the country have differed on the issue, creating varied standards on what length of a prison term can legally be considered a life sentence. “Getting rid of formal life without parole was the tip of the iceberg,” said Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel for the Pennsylvania-based Juvenile Law Center, which has advocated for lesser sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes.

Across the country, about a dozen states have passed laws requiring that young defendants sentenced to long prison terms get a chance at parole. Legislators in Illinois have proposed a bill that would give periodic parole opportunities to newly convicted young offenders; so far those efforts have stalled.

May 9, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

On eve of House Committee consideration, distinct advice from criminal justice reform groups on latest federal prison reform proposal

As noted in this prior recent post, a new and improved version of a federal prison reform bill, the "Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act" or the "FIRST STEP Act, " is now slated for House Judiciary Committee markup the morning of Wednesday, May 9th.  The full text of this FIRST STEP bill is available at this link, and I am starting to wonder if this may be a significant criminal justice reform bill that ends up getting in committee even more votes from Republicans than from Democrats.  (For those keeping score, and as this official list details, there are 40 members of the House Judiciary Committee of which 23 are Republicans and 17 are Democrats.)

I do not know for sure if all 23 Republican members of the HJC will be voting for the FIRST STEP bill, but I surmise that some Democrats will be voting against it because the bill is too limited and lacks any sentencing reform elements.  Indeed, on Tuesday, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights along with 74 reform-oriented organizations sent this lengthy letter to House Judiciary Committee members titled "Vote 'No' on The FIRST STEP Act."  Here is how the letter gets started: 

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the 74 undersigned organizations, we urge you to vote “No” on the FIRST STEP Act that will be considered during the mark up.  Any effort to pass prison reform (or “back-end” reform) legislation without including sentencing reform (or “front-end” reform) will not meaningfully improve the federal system.  Across the country, states that have enacted legislation containing both front and back end reforms have reduced rates of incarceration and crime.  Any legislation that addresses only back end reforms is doomed to fail in achieving these goals.  Without changes to sentencing laws that eliminate mandatory minimums, restore judicial discretion, reduce the national prison population, and mitigate disparate impacts on communities of color, the FIRST STEP Act alone will have little impact.

Critically, though, not all leading criminal justice reform groups are urging a no vote on the FIRST STEP Act.  The President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums sent a short memo to the sponsors of the FIRST STEP Act, Representatives Doug Collins and Hakeem Jeffries, explaining why FAMM believe the bill "deserves the Judiciary Committee’s support."  That memo, which can be downloaded below, echoes many concerns of other advocacy groups, but explains why it is ultimately backing this bill in these terms: "FAMM is in contact with nearly 40,000 federal prisoners every week.  Far too many of them are serving excessive sentences.  This bill might be the only opportunity we have in the next few years to get them some overdue relief and justice."    Download FAMM Memo on First Step

Regular readers likely realize I am in the FAMM camp here, wishing that a more comprehensive bill was being considered, but resigned to the political reality that a prison reform bill looks like the only form of statutory criminal justice reform that has a serious chance of being enacted this year.  In this arena, something is always better than nothing, and Congress has delivered nothing on sentencing or prison reform for now nearly eight years despite so much talk from so many folks about a strong bipartisan interest in reform.

Some of many prior related posts:

May 9, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 07, 2018

New and improved version of federal prison reform bill to be considered by House Judiciary Committee

First-step-concept-cork-board-77226634In this post last night, I expressed my deep pessimism concerning Congress managing to pass any notable criminal justice reform.  So it is fitting kismet that this afternoon came the exciting news of a new and improved version of a prison reform bill known as the "Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act" or the "FIRST STEP Act." The full text of this bill is available at this link, and this House Judiciary Committee page indicates that this bill will be marked up this Wednesday.

This new Politico article, headlined "Kushner-backed prison reform bill finds new life," provides an account of the background politics and the critical new provisions of the new proposed legislation. Here are excerpts:

A group of bipartisan House lawmakers unveiled a new criminal justice bill Monday, with hopes it can overcome obstacles that derailed an earlier version of the legislation just two weeks ago. The House Judiciary Committee will vote on the prison reform bill Wednesday after its lead authors, Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.), spent the congressional recess working with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and others to tweak the proposal.

The bill would authorize funding for training programs to help rehabilitate prisoners. If approved by the Judiciary Committee, the bill could be on the House floor before the Memorial Day recess, according to several sources. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced a companion proposal Monday afternoon.

But while Jeffries and Collins have been working to build a bipartisan coalition of support, key lawmakers including Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), top Democrat on the House Judiciary panel, and Senate Judiciary Charmain Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) remain potential obstacles.

The House Judiciary Committee scrapped plans two weeks ago to mark up an earlier version of the bill after support waned — due in part, according to House sources, from Grassley and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) privately urging members to oppose the plan because it didn't include sentencing reforms. “What we’re disagreeing on right now is how far can we go right now,” Collins said in an interview Monday. “Do you want to actually make law or do you want to make press releases?”...

Collins and Jeffries said they hope the plan’s broad support — from liberal criminal justice group #cut50 to the Koch brothers to Kushner — is enough to ensure passage in the House. Kushner is meeting with the conservative House Freedom Caucus Monday evening to rally support for the bill.

But Nadler — who still has “a lot of concerns” a spokesman said Monday — isn’t alone in his opposition to the bill. Detractors argue the proposal doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t also tackle sentencing reform, an effort Grassley and Durbin have spent months negotiating. Grassley along with several key Senate Democrats and influential civil rights groups like the ACLU and NAACP want a comprehensive criminal justice overhaul that includes both sentencing and prison reforms....

Jeffries and Collins told POLITICO they hope the changes made over the last two weeks are enough to get reluctant House lawmakers on board. Jeffries is also hopeful that Sessions will refrain from trying to sink the effort as he has in the past. “At the moment, it appears that the Department of Justice is in a position of neutrality as it relates to the bill,” Jeffries said. “To the extent that changes, that could be a complicating factor once the bill gets on the House floor.”

The bill — which they are now calling the “First Step Act,” in part to signify it’s the initial step in a longer effort to reform the justice system, including sentencing laws — has several major changes from previous versions.

The bill would authorize $50 million annually for five years to provide education and vocational training programs to prisoners; the latest version would also allow nonviolent drug offenders to participate in the programs. Jeffries and Collins also agreed to language that would allow more prisoners to take advantage of credits that would allow inmates to serve part of their sentence in home confinement or at a halfway house.

The proposal also includes several wins that liberal groups had pushed for, including language codifying prohibitions on shackling pregnant female inmates, both during their pregnancy and for 12 weeks postpartum.

And in what progressive backers are touting as another major win, the bill includes a technical fix that would allow inmates to earn up to 54 days of “good time” credit a year, up from 47 days annually under current interpretation of the law.

“We also had concerns around whether or not this was a meaningful reform. Those have been answered by including the good time credit fix,” #cut50 co-founder Jessica Jackson Sloan said, noting roughly 4,000 prisoners would immediately be eligible for release. “We’re fully on board with this bill. We’ll continue to fight for sentencing reform,” she added.

To turn up pressure on House Judiciary Democrats, the Koch brother’s Freedom Partners launched a wave of digital ads Monday encouraging lawmakers to support the bill. The Facebook and Twitter ads will run in six Judiciary Democrats’ districts, including Jeffries, Nadler and Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). The White House is also expected to increase its outreach on the Hill this week, likely through Kushner, according to sources.

For the plans’ supporters, they say now is the best time to act with the goal of getting sentencing reform down the road. “There were some who took the position that we should wait on criminal justice reform until [Hillary] Clinton is president and Democrats were in control of the Senate. How did that work out?” Jeffries said.

I will not count any congressional chickens until they have hatched in the form of a Presidential signature on enacted legislation. But, after feeling distinctly pessimistic last night, now I am peculiarly optimistic that something pretty significant could get done in the coming months.

May 7, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Scrutinizing sex offender civil commitment schemes

Investigative reporter Barbara Koeppel has this extensive article in The Washington Spectator under the full headline "Sex Crimes and Criminal Justice: Formerly incarcerated sex offenders say civil commitment programs deny proper rehabilitation."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts from the start and end of the article:

Since the 1990s, 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that direct the attorneys general in these jurisdictions to appoint professionals to evaluate whether sex offenders who have served their time have a mental abnormality or illness that would make them likely to re-offend.  If the decision is yes, the men are re-incarcerated—not for past crimes but for ones they might yet commit — in prisonlike facilities with barbed wire, cells, guards, and watch towers. While institutionalized, they receive therapy that, theoretically, will help them control their sexual impulses.

The practice is known as civil commitment.... Supporters of the process argue it protects the public.  Critics, however, such as Dr. Richard Wollert, a psychologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, disagree. He says the facts simply don’t support it: “I’ve never seen data that show the 20 states with civil commitment laws have lower rates of sex offenses or re-offenses than the 30 states that don’t.”  Similarly, Dr. Fred Berlin, a psychologist who runs sex offender outpatient programs at Johns Hopkins Hospital, says, “They’re really a ruse to not put the men back in society.” The sex offenses range from obscene phone calls, lewd behavior in public, and sex with underage partners, all the way up to rape and murder.

Organizations and professionals familiar with the abuses of civil commitment are its harshest critics.  The American Psychiatric Association told its members to “vigorously oppose” it. Two judges, from Minnesota and Missouri, found the laws “punitive and unconstitutional.”  Tapatha Strickler, a clinical psychologist who worked at the civil commitment facility in Larned, Kansas, calls it “an abomination.”  But the practice persists at huge cost to individuals and taxpayers....

The men I interviewed frankly admitted to their offenses, but they asked to be treated as others who commit crimes and not be re-incarcerated after they serve their prison sentences.  Also, since most state and federal prisons run mental health therapy programs, the men said they’d already participated in them throughout their original sentences — which could be 20 or 25 years — yet were made to start from scratch in the civil commitment facilities.

Today, about 5,400 men are held in civil commitment. [Lawyer Donald] Anderson told me, “It’s hard to wrap my head around it.  I sympathize greatly with the men’s victims and their families because I have two daughters and I understand people’s fears.  But I’ve dealt with these guys for years and I’m very fond of some of them.  Their look of being utterly beaten, knowing they’ll be here until they die, is very sad.  The program is inhumane.”

May 5, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (16)

Monday, April 30, 2018

"Is There Such a Thing as 'Good' Prison Design?"

HMC%20Architects%20Las%20Colinas%202The question in the title of this post got me to thinking about the famous Panopticon building conceived by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham and also the historic debates over the Pennsylvania system and the Auburn system of prison design in the early Nineteenth Century.  But the title of this post references modern discussions, as it is from this new Architectural Digest article with this subheadline: "Architects working toward creating more livable prisons come up against challenges of epic — but not insurmountable — proportions."  Here are excerpts from a piece worth reading in full:

Some would argue that America’s prison problem is very much a design problem.  Facilities are usually built like fortresses — monoliths in rural locations ringed with razor wire and high walls. Interiors are detailed to withstand tremendous abuse, made with hard materials like concrete, linoleum, steel, and concrete block which mercilessly reflect the endless noise inside prisons, raising stress levels of both inmates and those who work with them.  There’s generally either too much or too little light — most of it fluorescent, and switched on 24/7 — which scrambles everyone’s circadian rhythms.  But due to security and cost concerns, access to natural light is a luxury.  Windows are expensive, and their size and location often determine a facility’s weakest security points. The typical interior color palette, meanwhile, is a study in sensory deprivation—just a few shades of monotonous, soul-crushing beige.

In fact, it just took one night inside a U.S. jail to move Frank Gehry to run a Spring 2017 semester course at Yale exploring the design of prison facilities.  He encouraged his students to rethink incarceration as an opportunity for rehabilitation rather than punishment and took them to Northern Europe and Scandinavia, where prisons look and perform more like college campuses than fortresses....

Perhaps the finest example of compassionate American prison design is the recently completed Las Colinas Women’s Detention and Reentry Facility, commissioned by the County of San Diego, designed by KMD/HMC Architects.  The complex sits on a 45-acre campus and features residentially scaled buildings clustered around exterior courtyards.  Research shows that isolation breeds violence and anger; the more normalized environment is meant to encourage socialization and to “minimize physical and psychological barriers” between inmates and staff.  In fact, the facility looks a lot like the college campuses Gehry’s students envisioned: Inside, the floors are a warm brown and sometimes playfully patterned; translucent green accent walls break down the scale of the cafeteria; and materials include not only concrete but also ashlar stone, cork, and wood.  Due to the facility’s podular layout, all public spaces feature large windows and an abundance of natural light.

Meanwhile, more and more designers are holding their peers accountable — at the very least for participating in the design of cells made for solitary confinement.  As Raphael Sperry, the president of Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR), puts it, “You can’t fix mass incarceration by putting prisoners in nicer cages.”  He unsuccessfully lobbied the AIA to establish a rule banning members from creating supermax prisons.  Sperry argues that the answer to the country’s prison problem is through justice reform — reconsidering the laws that send so many people to prison in the first place, and providing alternative sentences that focus on rehabilitation and responsibility rather than incarceration.  While that pursuit may be beyond the scope of the average designer, large architecture firms working in this space have shown that expert voices like theirs can at least start to shape how clients view the task of jailing human beings. In the end, good design is just the beginning.

April 30, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bureau of Justice Statistics reports 2016 declines in number incarcerated and subject to community supervision in United States

This press release from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports on the notable data appearing in two notable new BJS publications:

The number of adults supervised by the U.S. correctional system dropped for the ninth consecutive year in 2016. The correctional population includes persons supervised in the community on probation or parole and those incarcerated in prisons or local jails. This report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics is the latest official snapshot of the state of the U.S. correctional population.

From 2007 to 2016, the proportion of the adult population under the supervision of U.S. correctional authorities decreased by 18 percent, from 3,210 to 2,640 adults under correctional supervision per 100,000 residents. The number of adults under correctional supervision per 100,000 U.S. adult residents was lower in 2016 (2,640) than at any time since 1993 (2,550). Overall, about 1 in 38 adults were under some form of correctional supervision at year-end 2016.

An estimated 6,613,500 persons were under correctional supervision on December 31, 2016, about 62,700 fewer persons than on January 1. The total correctional population declined 0.9 percent during 2016 due to decreases in both the community supervision population (down 1.1 percent) and the incarcerated population (down 0.5 percent).

The incarcerated population decreased from 2,172,800 in 2015 to 2,162,400 in 2016. All of the decrease in the incarcerated population was due to a decline in the prison population (down 21,200), while the jail population remained relatively stable. The number of persons held in prison or local jail per 100,000 U.S. adult residents (incarceration rate) has declined since 2009 and is currently at its lowest rate (860 per 100,00 in 2016) since 1996 (830 per 100,000).

During 2016, the community supervision population fell from 4,586,900 on January 1 to 4,537,100 at year-end. All of the decrease in the community supervision population in 2016 was due to a decline in the probation population (down 52,500). The parole population increased 0.5 percent in 2016 (up 4,300 persons). More than two-thirds (69 percent) of the correctional population were supervised in the community at year-end 2016, similar to the percentage observed in 2007.

These data and a whole lot more appear in these two new BJS publications:

UPDATE: Keith Humphryes has here his typically sharp WonkBlog commentary here focused on these new data under the headline "The U.S. prisoner population continued to shrink in 2016, new data show." Here concludes this way (with links from the original):

A smaller correctional population is a dividend of lower crime rates combined with a national wave of sentencing and rehabilitation reforms at the state level.  Because the current generation of adolescents and adults is committing significantly less crime than did prior generations at their age, there will be ample opportunity to shrink the correctional system even further in the coming years.

April 26, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Federal criminal justice reform bogs down again in fight over whether prison reform or broader sentencing reform moves forward

Politico has this lengthy and discouraging article about the state of federal criminal justice reform under the headline "Kushner-backed prison reform bill stumbles in House."  Here are excerpts:

The House Judiciary Committee scrapped plans to vote on a prison reform proposal Wednesday, potentially dooming one of the few remaining prospects for significant bipartisan compromise this Congress.

The last-minute postponement of the measure came as President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner visited Capitol Hill to rally support for it.  But the delay also followed what multiple House sources described as a behind-the-scenes opposition campaign from two Senate heavyweights, one from each party.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have told House Judiciary panel members to oppose a narrower prison reform bill without the addition of a sentencing overhaul they spent months negotiating, House sources said.

The Trump administration and GOP leaders want to see a prison-only bill move, not the broader criminal justice bill, but that’s not stopping Grassley and Durbin from what one Republican portrayed as meddling in the House debate.  “Frankly, I respect the two senators, but they have enough problems in the Senate,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the House GOP’s lead author of the prison reform legislation, in a Wednesday interview. “I wish they would actually focus on passing bills over there. That would be nice.”

Durbin denied that he was telling the House to slow down on the prison-only approach: “We’re just saying that over here, the two need to be together.” But Durbin confirmed Wednesday that he has talked to the House Judiciary panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, about the importance of keeping the two bills together while Grassley has reached out to Republicans to pitch a comprehensive approach....

The Senate’s lobbying threatens to kill momentum for the Kushner-backed House bill, which would provide training programs to prisoners in hopes of discouraging repeat offenses.  The omission of sentencing changes is opposed not only by Grassley and Durbin but by dozens of powerful progressive groups including the ACLU and the NAACP. Those groups say the bill doesn’t go far enough and should also include language that would reduce sentences for some prisoners.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) blamed Wednesday’s delayed vote on “time constraints” and said the postponement will give negotiators more time to work out “minor issues.” The panel is now scheduled to consider the bill during the week of May 7.

But the impasse doesn’t show any signs of being resolved soon. In his statement at the beginning of the hearing Wednesday, Nadler said negotiators should consider including sentencing reform in their discussions.  “In my view, considering prison reform without consideration of sentencing reform has the process backward, and avoids the difficult but necessary legislating on that critical issue,” Nadler said.

Nadler later told POLITICO he would be "very reluctant” to support any bill that didn’t include sentencing reform but wouldn’t say whether his opposition, as the top Democrat on the panel, was enough to sink the proposal: “Never say never, but I’d be very reluctant."

But supporters of the narrower prison reform push say a comprehensive strategy is a futile effort and would nix the chances of any bipartisan bill getting to the president’s desk this year.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch critic of sentencing reform, opposed a similar proposal before Trump tapped him to lead DOJ and has publicly clashed with Grassley over the issue this year.

However, there’s lingering distrust among House Democrats that Sessions is operating in good faith. Democrats successfully nixed multiple “poison pill“ amendments they said were floated by DOJ during talks on the bill but said privately they’re concerned that Sessions does’'t actually want to see any criminal justice legislation come to fruition.

Grassley also acknowledged in an interview with POLITICO this week that he has yet to persuade Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to bring the comprehensive criminal justice bill to the floor.  “It’s my job to show McConnell that this bill has got plenty of support at the grass roots, that it’s got good bipartisan support,” Grassley said. “It’s something that a president needs a bipartisan bill to sign and there’s all kinds of reasons why this bipartisan bill should be brought up, whether the House passes a bill or not.”...

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), who supported Grassley’s efforts on a broader criminal justice package during the Obama administration but has narrowed his sights given the Trump administration’s opposition, delivered a floor speech Wednesday urging the two camps to come together on a prison-only approach. “I know other people have other ideas, perhaps about sentencing reform and the like,” Cornyn said, “but in this political environment, I’m for doing what we can do rather than spinning our wheels being frustrated about what we can’t do because there’s simply not the political support in the House and the Senate and at the White House to get it done.”

I am glad that Senators Grassley and Durbin remain deeply committed to getting a bigger criminal justice reform bill passed, but I continue to fear that Senate Majority Leader McConnell will continue to be unwilling to allow a floor vote on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.  Senator McConnell has shown in other settings his ability to be stubborn, and his enduring resistance to the SRCA leads me to be pessimistic about any sentencing reforms getting through Congress this year.

I surmise Senators Grassley and Durbin, and perhaps many reform advocates who have come out against a prison-reform-only bill, believe that passage of a broad bill through the House might make it more likely that Senator McConnell will allow a floor vote.  Perhaps so, and I hope they can get it done.  But I am not optimistic, and I continue to think that getting prison reform done ASAP can be a needed and useful first step toward an array of badly-needed statutory reform of our federal criminal justice system.

A few of many prior related posts:

April 26, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"The Prison Industrial Complex: Mapping Private Sector Players"

The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Corrections Accountability Project at the Urban Justice Center.  Here is its introduction:

In 1983, CoreCivic received its first contract to operate a correctional facility, marking the birth of the private prison industry.  The following year, The GEO Group also entered the private prison market.  Over the next 35 years, as the U.S. carceral population mounted from roughly 660,000 to more than 2.2 million, the competitors would grow to own and operate roughly 130 correctional facilities with over 150,000 beds.

By 2017, CoreCivic and The GEO Group were generating combined annual revenues of $4 billion on the more than 45 million individual nights that people spend incarcerated in their correctional facilities every year.

But CoreCivic and The GEO Group, the most recognized, discussed, and targeted for-profit entities operating in the prison industrial complex, are far from the only companies that recognized an opportunity in the prison boom that started in the1970s. In fact, they were not even the first.

Today, more than half of the $80 billion spent on incarceration annually in the U.S. is used to pay the thousands of vendors that serve the criminal legal system. They are healthcare providers, food suppliers, commissary merchants, and more. Focused on their bottom line and advantaged by an obscure and often monopolistic environment, the private, for-profit corporations that operate in the prison industrial complex raise particular concerns for the incarcerated population, vulnerable to corporate abuse.

This report exposes over 3,100 corporations that profit from the devastating mass incarceration of our nation’s marginalized communities. It serves as the largest lens into the prison industrial complex ever published. While this report still far from covers all the private sector companies in this space, it captures all the major players.

At the Corrections Accountability Project, our hope is that advocates, litigators, journalists, investors, and the public will use the report to further understand the expansive nature of the prison industrial complex and familiarize themselves with its players. This report should serve as a resource in the fight against the commercialization of our criminal legal system.

April 24, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, April 23, 2018

Law enforcement reform group urges Congress to tackle sentencing reform along with prison reforms

As reported in this press release, "over 60 police chiefs and prosecutors — all members of Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration — sent a letter to the Senate and House leadership calling on Congress to pass sentencing reform, as a part of the White House’s commitment to reduce recidivism." Here is more from the release:

The letter comes in advance of an expected House Judiciary Committee vote this week on a prison reform bill, which is opposed by both progressive groups and law enforcement alike because it does not address sentencing.  Just last week, Law Enforcement Leaders encouraged members of Congress to instead take action on Senate legislation that includes both sentencing and prison reform, in a series of meetings that included Jared Kushner, Law Enforcement Leaders member Timothy Heaphy, and other bi-partisan advocates.

“Improving prison conditions and reentry services, on their own, will not adequately solve our high rates of incarceration and recidivism,” the letter reads.  “Legislation like the Prison Reform and Redemption Act (H.R.3356) and the CORRECTIONS Act (S. 1994) are useful efforts to improve the lives of those in prison. But such efforts should be coupled with efforts to reduce unnecessary incarceration, as it is in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act... As law enforcement leaders, we want to make clear where we stand: Not only is passing federal mandatory minimum and reentry reform necessary to reduce incarceration, it is also necessary to help police and prosecutors continue to keep crime at its historic lows across the country. We believe the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act will accomplish this goal and respectfully urge Congress to swiftly pass it.”

The full text of the letter can be found at this link, and here are a few passages:

Legislation like the Prison Reform and Redemption Act (H.R.3356) and the CORRECTIONS Act (S. 1994) are useful efforts to improve the lives of those in prison. But such efforts should be coupled with efforts to reduce unnecessary incarceration, as it is in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act....

Lawmakers and Presidents of both parties have taken great strides to reform prison systems and develop more effective reentry programs. We are grateful to the White House for allocating resources towards reducing recidivism, through the creation of the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry, and for its support of similar legislative efforts. This concerted effort acknowledges the importance of setting an example of criminal justice reform on the federal level, and the impact federal policies have on state and local criminal justice practice.

However, improving prison conditions and reentry services, on their own, will not adequately solve our high rates of incarceration and recidivism.  It will not stop the overuse of incarceration for minor drug-related and low-level, non-violent offenses. To have meaningful reform, we must also address our sentencing laws.  As those fighting crime on the frontlines, we know from firsthand experience that it is ineffective to exhaust resources on reducing the rate of recidivism if there is no accompanying effort to reduce the rate at which people unnecessarily enter prison in the first place.  For this reason, 67 of our members wrote in support of a previous version of the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act in early 2016.

We ask the Senate, House, and White House to work together to pass the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act in addition to any reentry legislation.  The Act would shorten unnecessarily long sentences for lower-level offenders, a solution that has been shown in other parts of the country to successfully reduce crime and incarceration together.

April 23, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Effective (and depressing) report on compassionate release (or lack thereof) in Wisconsin and nationwide

Gina Barton of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has this terrific (and lengthy) piece on compassionate release programs titled "Release programs for sick and elderly prisoners could save millions.  But states rarely use them."  I recommend the full piece, and here is how it gets started:

A Wisconsin program that allows elderly and severely ill prisoners to be released early from prison could save state taxpayers millions of dollars a year.  But thousands of the state’s elderly prisoners — many of whom prison officials acknowledge pose little or no risk of committing new crimes — aren’t allowed to apply, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation found.

More than 1,200 people age 60 and older were serving time in Wisconsin prisons as of Dec. 31, 2016, the most recent count available.  By one estimate, the average cost to incarcerate each of them is $70,000 a year — for an annual total of $84 million.  Last year, just six inmates were freed under the program.  Among those who didn’t qualify were a blind quadriplegic and a 65-year-old breast cancer survivor who uses a breathing machine and needs a wheelchair to make it from her cell to the prison visiting room.

Around the country, early release provisions for elderly and infirm prisoners are billed as a way to address problems such as prison overcrowding, skyrocketing budgets and civil rights lawsuits alleging inadequate medical care. But throughout the U.S., they are used so infrequently that they aren’t having much impact.

Of the 47 states with processes to free such prisoners early or court rulings requiring them to do so, just three — Utah, Texas and Louisiana — released more than a dozen people in 2015, according to a Journal Sentinel survey.  The reasons for the low numbers, according to experts, are usually found in the statutes that created the programs, known as compassionate release, geriatric release and medical parole, among other things.

Some laws, like Wisconsin’s, exclude inmates based on the type of sentence or the crime committed. Some allow release only for people who are terminal — a definition that varies by medical provider and doesn’t apply to chronic conditions or disabilities.  Some lack an efficient process for application and approval, leaving sick prisoners to die before they can complete it.  It’s also hard to find care facilities willing to accept former prisoners.

Because many of these laws were written without input from doctors who specialize in aging and end-of-life care, they exclude the people who would benefit most, according to Brie Williams, a physician and professor of medicine at the University of California-San Francisco.  “We’ve taken health out of criminal justice policy to such a degree that the policies that have been developed do not have the geriatric and palliative care knowledge they need to make sense,” she said.

While these programs are presented as money savers, in 2015 a majority of states granted release to fewer than four applicants each.  Within states that have a compassionate release program and track the numbers, there were 3,030 people who applied, with only 216 being granted release.

April 20, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Lots of notable reporting and commentary as federal prison reform tries to move forward

As reported here last week, there was talk of a federal prison reform bill moving forward in the House of Representatives this week.  This article from The Hill, headlined "Prison reforms groups battle over strategy," highlights that folks on the left may be gumming up the works:

Progressive groups fighting for criminal justice reform are divided over legislation that would allow prisoners to finish their sentences in a halfway house, home confinement or under community supervision if they complete education, job training, drug treatment and other programs while behind bars.  The Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP are among the groups saying that legislation that fails to reduce mandatory minimum sentences isn’t worth their support....

But #cut50, a criminal justice reform advocacy group led by Van Jones, the CNN host and former adviser to President Obama, sees the bill sponsored by Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) that’s supported by the White House as an opportunity for positive change, even if it’s incremental. “It’s a bill that’s moving that we decided as a group we’ll hop in and try to make stronger because I think this is going to move with or without us,” said Jessica Sloan Jackson, the national director and co-founder of #cut50.

Instead of shooting it down, the group said it’s lobbying to make the Prison Reform and Redemption Act stronger.  Sloan Jackson acknowledged #cut50 would rather have the Collins–Jeffries bill include language that reduces mandatory minimum sentences, but recognized the criminal justice reform movement has shifted under Trump. She said #cut50 would like to at least win some changes to help people in prison.  “At this point in the process, I think it’s stupid not to even engage in conversations with folks on the right and in the White House just because you aren’t getting everything you want,” she said.

To supporters of broader reforms, however, the bill is a significant step down from legislation that nearly won approval in the last Congress.  That bill, sponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), has been reintroduced and would eliminate certain mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. It would also give judges more discretion in sentencing.

The Collins–Jeffries bill authorizes $50 million to be appropriated each year from 2018 to 2022 for the Bureau of Prisons to offer education, work training and other programming, but opponents say that’s not enough.  It also lists 48 different categories of crimes that make prisoners ineligible to earn time in pre-release custody for taking these programs, a provision groups backing broader reforms say excludes too many prisoners who are at a high risk of reoffending and need prison programming the most.  “By cutting out or limiting so many people to get incentives to programming you are missing the point,” said Kevin Ring, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

In a letter to members of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, dozens of groups opposed to the bill said it would do little good if it does not reduce mandatory minimum sentences.  “Only front-end reforms have the power to significantly stem the tide of incarceration, reduce the exorbitant cost of the prison system, and give redress to those inside who are serving sentences that are disproportionate to the severity of the offense,” the groups wrote.

The Collins–Jeffries bill has won support from groups on the right that have backed minimum sentencing reforms. “We’re big advocates for commonsense sentencing reform as well and we hope that happens, but we want to get the ball rolling and we think prison reform is a great place to start,” said Mark Holden, Koch Industries’s general counsel and senior vice president....

Advocates say Jeffries and Collins have been negotiating possible changes to their bill, and a markup that had been expected this week was pushed back to provide time for their work.  In a joint statement to The Hill, Jeffries and Collins said their bill will reunite families and help thousands of Americans get back on their feet.

Similar report on these debates and developments are in this Politico article, headlined "Kushner’s prison-reform push hits bipartisan resistance: The son-in-law of President Donald Trump is pressing for a criminal justice bill that’s narrower than a bipartisan one that has stalled in Congress."  And Van Jones has this new CNN commentary that highlights his work and his support for a prison-reform-only bill under the headlined "Prison reform is possible even in the Trump era."

As long-time readers likely know, I am a strong believer that the best should not be the enemy of the good.  In this setting, I am especially eager to urge federal criminal justice reform advocates to secure ASAP any and whatever improvements they can.  I still can recall, though it is now nearly five years ago, when commentators were asserting that "momentum for sentencing reform could be unstoppable."  But from 2013 through 2016, despite a President, Attorneys General and many members of both parties advocating all sorts of federal sentencing reforms, not a single statutory change could make it through Congress to the desk of the President.   Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of defendants have been (often over) sentenced to federal prison since 2013.  And while there, as Craig DeRoche highlights in a letter in the New York Times, these prisoners are stuck within a prison system that "offers drastically less opportunity for prisoners to transition to community corrections before the end of their sentence compared with almost all states."

Advocates are right to complain that a compromise bill with only prison reform is insufficient, but the fact that broader bills have been pushed and stalled for half-a-decade leads me to be more than ready to settle for half a loaf.  I have grow so tired of the reform talk that produces no result, though I am sure I am not as exhausted and frustrated as hundreds of thousands of federal prisoners, defendants and their families who have been clinging on to still empty promises of reform potential for year after year after year after year.  Van Jones has a couple of lines in his commentary that capture well my feelings here, as well as my desire to preserve some hope for this process:

My big heartache -- on this topic and so many others -- is how much common ground there is when you get people talking -- and yet how little we actually do about it.  Taking a small but meaningful step together now could allow us to take more steps together later.

April 19, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Federal prison reform bill reportedly moving forward in House of Representatives

This article in the Hill, headlined "Prison reform bill set for House markup next week," reports that there is some movement in Congress on the federal criminal justice reform bill that would seem to have a reasonable chance of passage this year.  Here are the details:

The House Judiciary Committee is expected next week to mark up a Republican proposal that aims to reduce prison recidivism rates, according to a senior Republican staffer who has been briefed on the plans.

Rep. Doug Collins’s (R-Ga.) Prison Reform and Redemption Act would allow prisoners to serve the final days of their sentences in a halfway house or home confinement if they complete evidence-based programs that have been shown to reduce recidivism rates. Prison programming could include everything from job and vocational skills training to education and drug treatment.

The White House announced in February it was throwing its support behind prison reform measures such as Collins's bill instead of measures to reduce mandatory minimum prison sentences. The announcement marked a major setback for Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who has been working to move his criminal justice reform bill through Congress after it stalled last session....

The senior Republican staffer said they feel confident Collins's bill will pass through the House Judiciary Committee. A committee spokesperson said only that the committee is working toward a markup as soon as possible.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have a bill in the Senate that mirrors Collins's proposal.

The full text of the Prison Reform and Redemption Act (PRRA) is available at this link, and its text is so dense I find it difficult to effectively summarize its provisions or assess its impact.  Helpfully, FAMM has this detailed summary of the PRRA that runs a full eight pages.  I am hopeful that this news that the PRRA is moving forward in the legislative process could lead more folks to focus more attention on what this bill would and would not do and how many offenders it could impact.

April 12, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Looking into the modern state of the private prison industry in the states

The New York Times has this new extended article on the private prison industry as it operates in the states under the headline "Escapes, Riots and Beatings. But States Can’t Seem to Ditch Private Prisons." Here are excerpts:

In Arizona in 2015, a riot broke out in a private prison where previously three inmates had escaped and murdered a vacationing couple. After order was restored, the state revoked the contract of Management & Training Corporation and hired another private prison firm, the GEO Group.

Three years earlier, the GEO Group had surrendered its contract to run a Mississippi prison after a federal judge ruled that the inmates had not been protected from gang violence. The replacement: Management & Training Corporation.

The staying power of the two companies shows how private prisons maintain their hold on the nation’s criminal justice system despite large-scale failures.  The field is dominated by a handful of companies who have swallowed the competition and entrenched their positions through aggressive lawyering, intricate financial arrangements and in some cases, according to lawsuits by the Mississippi attorney general, bribery and kickbacks....

Private prison companies can be found at every level of government, housing 9 percent of the nation’s prisoners.  They emerged in the 1980s, when the number of inmates was quickly outstripping capacity, and they have an outsize influence in certain states, including Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi and New Mexico.

Despite hundreds of lawsuits, findings that private prisons save taxpayers little to no money, and evidence of repeated constitutional violations, the number of privately housed inmates has risen faster since 2000 than the overall number of prisoners.  In 2016, the number rose by about 1.5 percent, according to Justice Department figures....

Even states that have sworn off private prisons, or tried to cut back on their use, have found it difficult to extricate themselves.  After the prisoners escaped in Arizona, the state tried to reduce the number of inmates held in that prison. But MTC claimed the state was violating its contract, which guaranteed a certain number of beds would be filled. Arizona had to pay the company $3 million. MTC still operates a facility in the state.

States that use private prisons can find themselves limited to a few big players. The largest are GEO Group, based in Florida; CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), based in Tennessee; and MTC, based in Utah. Two of the past four directors of the Federal Bureau of Prisons were later hired by CoreCivic.... The companies employ a variety of strategies, including hiring former corrections officials in high-level positions and giving what are sometimes enormous campaign contributions. GEO Group and CoreCivic gave close to half a million dollars to support Mr. Trump’s candidacy and inauguration. After he was elected, their stock prices soared.

Industry officials say they provide cost-effective ways to house inmates, and that they continue to expand into rehabilitation programs as more states seek alternatives to prison. CoreCivic says about 10,000 people in its facilities have obtained high school equivalency diplomas in the past five years, reflecting the company’s efforts to improve the ability of inmates to re-enter society.  But some lawmakers say the claims of cost savings and other benefits do not check out. “There is no convincing argument of why we should have private prisons,” said Mike Fasano, a former Republican state senator from Pasco County, Fla., who voted against a 2012 measure to privatize much of Florida’s prison system....

Much of the industry’s power, critics say, is linked to campaign donations. GEO Group and CoreCivic have given nearly $9 million over the past fifteen years to state candidates and parties across the United States, with the overwhelming majority to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.  The two companies have also spent between $3 million and $4 million annually on lobbying, according to data from the institute and from the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.  Steve Owen, a CoreCivic spokesman, said the magnitude of lobbying and campaign contributions was not unusual for an industry of its size.

The industry also promises savings.  But such claims have been disputed, partly because many contracts allow the private prisons to cherry-pick the healthiest inmates while leaving those who need more care to publicly run facilities, making private prisons appear to be cheaper to run, critics say.  The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in 2016 that it could not accurately compare costs, partly because of “the different nature of the inmate populations and programs offered in those facilities.”

The department ordered a phasing-out of private facilities that year, saying they “compare poorly” with government prisons and citing a lack of substantial cost savings. One month after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, the department rescinded the decision....

In some communities, private prisons have become such large taxpayers and employers that backers have forecast economic doom in arguing against their closing. Perhaps no town is now as dependent as Eloy, Ariz., where four private prisons pay $2 million of the town’s $12.5 million annual operating budget, according to the city manager, Harvey Krauss.

Last week the NY Times had this other article looking at private prison realities under the headline "Inside a Private Prison: Blood, Suicide and Poorly Paid Guards."

April 10, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, April 09, 2018

Two notable new accounts of Jared Kushner's push for criminal justice reforms inside Trump Administration

This weekend brought two notable new articles focused on Jared Kushner's efforts to help move forward criminal justice reform from within the Trump Administration.  Here are links to the articles and their starts:

"Inside Jared Kushner's personal crusade to reform America's prisons":

Amid the daily turmoil and intrigue of President Donald Trump’s West Wing, senior adviser Jared Kushner has been quietly pursuing a personal passion: seeking to improve the lives of roughly 6.7 million people in jail, prison, on parole or probation in the United States and sharply reducing the chances ex-convicts return behind bars.

Over the past 14 months, the president’s son-in-law has met with dozens of members of Congress, 11 governors and convened nine listening sessions, with experts and advocates developing initiatives to reduce the nation’s recidivism rate, an administration official said.

Kushner’s mission has so far been largely below-the-radar in a White House that’s branded itself as tough on crime, but sources familiar with the effort say he has persisted in elevating it as a legislative priority – even winning the president’s ear. His approach is somewhat novel — taking the reins on an issue that traditionally has not been at the forefront of the Republican platform.

Along the way, Kushner’s had to carve an acceptable path for reform within the Republican party and with an attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has long held tough on crime views. Kushner's "come in and provided a very good ‘let’s get it done’" attitude, said Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, a leading advocate on prison reform in the U.S. House.

President Trump has even come to see the effort as a way to help the “forgotten men and women” whose voices he vowed to represent with his historic 2016 campaign, according to several people close to the effort. One senior administration official went so far as to characterize the White House view of what they called unacceptable conditions of America’s prisons as being like warehouses for storing human trash.

“The Administration wants to assist long-time prison reform advocates with their initiative to create a prison system that will rehabilitate citizens who have made mistakes, paid the price and are deserving of a second chance — which will ultimately reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars,” Kushner told ABC News of the effort.

"For Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, prison reform is personal":

President Donald Trump wants to help federal inmates “who have served their time get a second chance.” That’s what he said in his 2018 State of the Union address. Thank Trump’s senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner, not his attorney general. For Kushner, prison reform is personal. In 2005, his real estate mogul father was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign donations.

“Like me, Jared understands because of dealing with the BOP (Bureau of Prisons) and his father,” observed Pat Nolan, director of the American Conservative Union Foundation’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform and a former California GOP state lawmaker who served 29 months in federal prison on a racketeering conviction.

Nolan has been at the forefront of a bipartisan movement to overhaul the federal criminal justice system spurred by the left’s aversion to big spending on prisons and the right’s support for smaller, less invasive government. The conservative side of the initiative calls itself “Right on Crime.” He lauded Kushner for quickly learning “what’s important to do and what we can’t do.”

April 9, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Are prisons and jail now, and should they be, our society's modern addiction treatment centers?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable new article in Stateline headlined "Addiction Treatment, for Jails and Prisons, Gains Momentum."  Here are excerpts:

From the moment they are arrested, people with an addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers and those who are taking medications to beat their addictions face the prospect of painful opioid withdrawal.

At least a quarter of the people in U.S. prisons and jails are addicted to opioids. Those who are released rejoin their communities with dangerously reduced tolerance and nothing to blunt their drug cravings, making them highly susceptible to a deadly overdose.

But new scientific evidence and a recently announced federal investigation may soften prison officials’ long-held opposition to medication-assisted treatment.

Rhode Island is the only state that provides all three FDA-approved addiction medications, methadone, buprenorphine and a long-acting, injectable form of naltrexone known as Vivitrol, to all inmates. A recent study in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry found that opioid overdose deaths dropped by nearly two-thirds among recently incarcerated people in the first year of a new program that screens and provides addiction medicines to all state inmates. According to the study by Brown University researchers, the program not only reduces overdose deaths after the inmates are released, but also increases the likelihood they will stay in treatment and avoid getting arrested again.

Meanwhile in Massachusetts, which doesn’t provide methadone or buprenorphine to inmates, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether corrections officials are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by forcing inmates who were taking those addiction medicines when they entered prison to stop taking them while incarcerated.

Massachusetts lawmakers are considering a corrections bill that would require the state’s prisons and jails to offer all three FDA-approved medications. A similar proposal is advancing in Connecticut, which has provided methadone to some inmates in some jails for six years. The bill there would expand the program to all medications for all inmates.

And at the federal level, President Donald Trump promised last month to screen every federal inmate — roughly 180,000 people — for opioid addiction and provide Vivitrol in residential treatment centers prior to release. Trump also called for more federal support for state, local and tribal drug courts to help provide “evidence-based treatment as an alternative to or in conjunction with incarceration, or as a condition of supervised release.”

Fewer than 1 percent of the more than 5,000 U.S. prisons and jails, housing more than 2 million inmates, allow access to the FDA-approved medication, even though medical societies, addiction experts and correctional health organizations support their use. Finding the money to fund correctional drug treatment programs is a challenge in many states. But research shows that the cost of providing addiction medications in correctional facilities is outweighed over time by savings in both future health care and incarceration costs....

Standing in the way are sheriffs and other prison officials, who argue that allowing treatment inside prisons with methadone or buprenorphine — both narcotics that can be abused — will lead to the drugs being diverted within the prison and possibly to illicit street markets.

In Barnstable County, Massachusetts, for example, Sheriff James Cummings said he would not allow buprenorphine to be dispensed in his jail because it is considered contraband. “We ruled out buprenorphine because it doesn’t work for the people we deal with,” Cummings said. “Inmates try to smuggle it into the facility every day. It’s a narcotic. They use it until they can get their next heroin fix so they don’t get sick and they sell it to get money to buy more heroin. It’s not a good fit.”

Instead, Barnstable in 2012 added Vivitrol to its re-entry program for opioid-addicted inmates who are scheduled to leave within the next two weeks. Cummings said the program has reduced overdose deaths and repeat offenses. In general, Vivitrol is an easier sell in most prisons and jails, said Andrew Klein, who runs a Justice Department program aimed at getting more drug treatment into correctional facilities. But it’s not the best medication for everyone, he said.

In fact, nearly all corrections officials reject the use of either methadone or buprenorphine behind prison walls. That’s despite a history of research showing both medicines are highly effective at eliminating cravings, preventing overdoses and keeping people in recovery from opioid addiction....

At least 1 in 5 incarcerated people are imprisoned because of drug charges, but in many states, even more inmates are addicted to heroin and other opioids. In Connecticut, for example, at least 30 percent of the state’s 14,000 inmates are addicted to opioids, according to Kathleen Maurer, the medical director for he state’s corrections department. Nationwide, a quarter of heroin addicts pass through the corrections system each year, according to a study in the Journal for Opioid Management....

Five states — Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Washington — offer both methadone and buprenorphine to some inmates at one or more prisons or jails. Only Rhode Island offers all three medications to all inmates in all of its prisons and jails.

April 4, 2018 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

A window into carceral concerns in incarceration nation: "build another prison" to deal with "loss of coal work"

A helpful reader sent me this AP story headlined "Federal prison project in Kentucky wins final approval," which highlights how the building of cages gets celebrated as a form of economic development (using federal tax dollars).  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Federal officials have approved a long-discussed plan to build another prison in eastern Kentucky, sealing a deal to bring hundreds of jobs to an area hard hit by the loss of coal work.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers said he was notified Friday by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Letcher County project had cleared a final hurdle with federal prisons officials.  The Republican congressman said the project will be a "long-term economic shot in the arm" for the region.

"With funding in place and the completion of environmental studies, today's announcement is a tremendous milestone for Letcher County and the surrounding area," Rogers said Friday.... The prison is expected to have 300 to 400 employees, Rogers said. A 700-acre site on reclaimed mine land in Roxana was selected for the facility by federal officials....

The announcement comes as the area's economy has been reeling from a big downturn in the coal sector.  "We certainly need the job growth around here since the coal industry has dried up," Letcher County Jailer Don McCall said Saturday in praising the announcement.  "I think it's going to be a real economic boost for our little area."...

It could take four to five years to build the prison, but an estimated 1,000 or more construction jobs will provide a quick boost for the area's economy, Letcher County Judge-Executive Jim Ward told the Lexington Herald-Leader.  The prison project had drawn resistance from some local residents uncomfortable about connecting the county's economy to a prison.

Rogers was the driving force behind landing federal money for the project.  He secured an initial $5 million in the federal budget in 2006 to search for potential sites.  The veteran congressman steered nearly $500 million needed to build the prison while he was the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The Letcher County project marks the fourth prison that Rogers had helped bring to his district during his time in Congress.  The others are in McCreary, Martin and Clay counties.

UPDATE: A helpful reader made sure I saw this terrific lengthy NBC News piece from last week covering this same story under the headline "DOES AMERICA NEED ANOTHER PRISON?"  Here is an excerpt from a piece that merits a full read:

Around the country, impoverished rural communities have pursued prisons in the hope that they will deliver them from economic hardship. This began three decades ago, when America’s rush to imprison coincided with the loss of farms, factories and other traditional sources of work that bolstered rural life. The need hasn’t diminished, as rural America still seeks a path out of the Great Recession. But the exchange of land is no longer as promising what it once was.

As incarceration rates have fallen, and the country re-evaluates whether locking people up is sound criminal justice policy, many states are closing prisons, forcing rural towns that invested their futures in bars and barbed wire to find new uses for the buildings, as well as new economic engines.

Letcher County, with 22,700 people in the southern Appalachian Mountains, appears stuck with no other solution.

“In much of rural America we get our identity from what we used to do: We used to be miners, farmers, loggers, we used to work at the plant. And as that work goes away, we want to feel like we’re part of the American story and we’re making a contribution,” said Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, a nonprofit based in Whitesburg that advocates for rural communities. “Politicians have just a few arrows in their quiver, and one of them is prisons, which, whether they work or not, they seem like they’re a big deal. It’s the one thing they give to rural.”

April 3, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (9)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Prez Trump declares April 2018 to be "Second Chance Month"

As reported in this official White House statement, President Donald Trump yesterday proclaimed April 2018 as "Second Chance Month." Here is the heart of the statement with a few lines stressed here that will become the basis for some commentary in a future post:

During Second Chance Month, our Nation emphasizes the need to prevent crime on our streets, to respect the rule of law by prosecuting individuals who break the law, and to provide opportunities for people with criminal records to earn an honest second chance. Affording those who have been held accountable for their crimes an opportunity to become contributing members of society is a critical element of criminal justice that can reduce our crime rates and prison populations, decrease burdens to the American taxpayer, and make America safer.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, each year, approximately 650,000 individuals complete prison sentences and rejoin society. Unfortunately, two-thirds of these individuals are re-arrested within 3 years of their release.  We must do more ‑‑ and use all the tools at our disposal ‑‑ to break this vicious cycle of crime and diminish the rate of recidivism.

For the millions of American citizens with criminal records, the keys to successful re-entry are becoming employable and securing employment. Beyond the income earned from a steady paycheck, gainful employment teaches responsibility and commitment and affirms human dignity. As a Nation, we are stronger when more individuals have stable jobs that allow them to provide for both themselves and their loved ones.

I am committed to advancing reform efforts to prevent crime, improve reentry, and reduce recidivism. I expressed this commitment in my 2018 State of the Union Address and reinforced it by signing an Executive Order to reinvigorate the “Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry.”  In the spirit of these efforts, I call on Federal, State, and local prison systems to implement evidence-based programs that will provide prisoners with the skills and preparation they need to succeed in society. This includes programs focused on mentorship and treatment for drug addiction and mental health issues, in addition to job training.

This month, we celebrate those who have exited the prison system and successfully reentered society.  We encourage expanded opportunities for those who have worked to overcome bad decisions earlier in life and emphasize our belief in second chances for all who are willing to work hard to turn their lives around.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 2018 as Second Chance Month.  I call on all Americans to commemorate this month with events and activities that raise public awareness about preventing crime and providing those who have completed their sentences an opportunity for an honest second chance.

A few prior recent related posts:

March 31, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Latest update on battles over criminal justice reform inside the Trump Administration

The New York Times has this lengthy new article under the headline "Sessions and Kushner Square Off, and Prisoners Hang in the Balance." It covers ground that will largely be familiar to regular readers, and here are a few excerpts:

In the final months of the Obama administration, the Justice Department announced a new approach to preparing prisoners for life beyond their cells. Officials created a prison school system, pledged money for technology training and promised to help prevent former inmates from returning to prison.

Almost immediately after taking office, Trump administration officials began undoing their work. Budgets were slashed, the school system was scrapped and studies were shelved as Attorney General Jeff Sessions brought to bear his tough-on-crime philosophy and deep skepticism of Obama-era crime-fighting policies.

Now, nearly a year and a half later, the White House has declared that reducing recidivism and improving prisoner education is a top priority — echoing some of the very policies it helped dismantle.

This whiplash approach to federal prison policy reflects the tension between Jared Kushner, the president’s reform-minded son-in-law and senior adviser, and Mr. Sessions, a hard-liner whose views on criminal justice were forged at the height of the drug war. It has left both Democratic and Republican lawmakers confused and has contributed to skepticism that the Trump administration is serious about its own proposals....

Mr. Kushner, administration officials say, supports such sweeping change. Mr. Sessions is adamantly opposed. The two men reached a compromise in recent months: Mr. Kushner could push for the prison changes, but Mr. Sessions would position the administration strongly against a broader overhaul.

“I do believe that Jared Kushner is earnest in his desire for criminal justice reform,” said Inimai M. Chettiar, of the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. “But Jeff Sessions is still stuck in 1980. He hasn’t moved along with everyone else, including top prosecutors and police chiefs, who realize that tough-on-crime doesn’t work.” Ms. Chettiar said she was not convinced that Mr. Kushner’s support was enough to get the administration behind real change — even in the narrow area of prisons.

The Justice Department said Mr. Sessions fully supported the White House principles and was committed to helping inmates develop the skills needed to return to society. But Mr. Sessions is not rushing to promote those efforts: Over two weeks, the Justice Department refused to make anyone available to discuss them and would not identify which prison education programs have been cut and which remain.  “They’re not going to talk to you about this,” said Joe Rojas, a teacher at the federal prison complex in Coleman, Fla.  He said the Justice Department could not answer those questions without acknowledging that the Trump administration had cut more than 6,000 prison jobs. Staffing is so short that teachers around the country are regularly reassigned to cover routine guard duties, he said.

One of the White House priorities is to offer incentives to encourage inmates to enroll in programs to prepare them for life outside prison.  Mr. Rojas and others are quick to note that incentives are not the problem: Educational programs are so popular that more than 15,000 federal inmates are on waiting lists for high school equivalency diploma and literacy programs, according to a 2016 Justice Department report. “It sounds pretty on paper,” said Mr. Rojas, who is the president of his American Federation of Government Employees union local. “But when you cut staff, you can’t do anything.”

Mr. Grassley said that he while appreciated Mr. Kushner’s desire to get something done, he did not support any effort to try to address prisons without fixing what he saw as fundamental unfairness in sentencing laws. And he believes Mr. Kushner shares his views.  “But he sees a chance of getting half a loaf, and he’s willing to settle for a half a loaf,” Mr. Grassley said. “I’m not going to.”

The White House argues that Mr. Grassley’s argument is moot because the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will not allow a vote on a broad criminal justice bill that divides Republicans. Mr. Grassley sees that as an excuse.  “If the president would start tweeting about it every other day like he tweets about everything else, McConnell would come along,” he said.

Mr. Kushner believes that the White House can forge consensus around prison reform. He wants the federal government to look to states for proven ideas to reduce recidivism. The White House recently hired Brooke Rollins, a conservative lawyer who advocated such changes in Texas, a state that is often held up by both conservatives and liberals as a leader in reducing recidivism.

Amy Lopez, a former teacher in the Texas prison system, agreed that the federal government could learn from states. More data exists than ever before, she said, and it shows that education reduces the chance that a former inmate will be arrested again.

The Justice Department hired Ms. Lopez in 2016 to replace the patchwork prison education system with a centralized school district that offered diplomas, technology training and vocational education. “It was interesting to have this focus at the federal level on education,” she said. “That was new.”

Within months, she was fired, the school system axed. She took a job overseeing education in Washington’s city corrections system. Trump administration officials say that, as part of the new focus on prisons, if the school idea turns out to have been a good one, they can always reconsider it.

March 28, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 26, 2018

"Deviancy, Disability, and Dependency: The Forgotten History of Eugenics and Mass Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Laura Appleman now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Racism, harsh drug laws, and prosecutorial overreach have formed three widely-discussed explanations of the punitive carceral state.  These three narratives, however, only partially explain where we are.  Neglected in our discussion of mass incarceration is our largely-forgotten history of the long-term, wholesale institutionalization of the disabled.  This form of mass detention, motivated by a continuing application of eugenics and persistent class-based discrimination, provides an important part of our history of imprisonment, shaping key contours of our current supersized correctional system.  Only by fully exploring this forgotten narrative of long-term detention and isolation will policy makers be able to understand, diagnose, and solve the crisis of mass incarceration.

March 26, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Prison Crime and the Economics of Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Ben Gifford now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

As America’s prison and jail populations have skyrocketed, a wealth of empirical scholarship has emerged to measure the benefits and costs of incarceration.  The benefits, from an empirical perspective, consist of the amount of crime prevented by locking people up, as well as the value of that prevented crime to society.  The costs consist of direct state expenditures, lost inmate productivity, and a host of other collateral harms.  Once these benefits and costs are quantified, empirical scholars are able to assess whether it “pays,” from an economic perspective, to incarcerate more or fewer criminals than we currently do.

Drawing on this academic literature, policymakers at all levels of government have begun using cost-benefit analysis to address a wide range of criminal justice issues. In addition to evaluating broader proposals to increase or decrease incarceration rates, policymakers are assessing the costs and benefits of myriad narrower reforms that implicate the economics of incarceration.  In each of these areas, policymakers rely heavily on empirical scholars’ work, whether by adopting their general methods or incorporating their specific results.

While these economic analyses of incarceration offer important insights, they suffer from a near-universal flaw: they fail to account for crime that occurs within prisons and jails. Instead, when scholars and policymakers measure the benefits of incarceration, they look only to crime prevented “in society.”  Similarly, when they measure the costs, they ignore the pains of victimization suffered by inmates and prison staff.  This exclusion is significant, as prison crime is rampant, both in relative and absolute terms.

To address this oversight, this Article makes several contributions: First, it provides a comprehensive review of the literature on the benefits and costs of incarceration, and it explores a range of ways in which policymakers are applying this economic framework.  Second, it makes a sustained normative argument for the inclusion of prison crime in our economic calculus.  Third, it draws on the scarce available data to estimate the impact that the inclusion of prison crime has on our cost-benefit analyses.  As might be expected, once prison crime is accounted for, the economics of incarceration become significantly less favorable.

March 25, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

"Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2018"

Pie2018The Prison Policy Initiative has an updated version of its terrific incarceration "pie" graphic and report now at this link. Here is part of the report's introductory text and subsequent discussion:

Can it really be true that most people in jail are being held before trial? And how much of mass incarceration is a result of the war on drugs? These questions are harder to answer than you might think, because our country’s systems of confinement are so fragmented. The various government agencies involved in the justice system collect a lot of critical data, but it is not designed to help policymakers or the public understand what’s going on. Meaningful criminal justice reform that reduces the massive scale of incarceration, however, requires that we start with the big picture.

This report offers some much needed clarity by piecing together this country’s disparate systems of confinement. The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 1,852 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories. And we go deeper to provide further detail on why people are locked up in all of those different types of facilities.

This big-picture view allows us to focus on the most important drivers of mass incarceration and identify important, but often ignored, systems of confinement. The detailed views bring these overlooked parts of the “pie” to light, from immigration detention to civil commitment and youth confinement. In particular, local jails often receive short shrift in larger discussions about criminal justice, but they play a critical role as “incarceration’s front door” and have a far greater impact than the daily number suggests.

While this pie chart provides a comprehensive snapshot of our correctional system, the graphic does not capture the enormous churn in and out of our correctional facilities and the far larger universe of people whose lives are affected by the criminal justice system. Every year, 626,000 people walk out of prison gates, but people go to jail 10.6 million times each year. Jail churn is particularly high because most people in jails have not been convicted. Some have just been arrested and will make bail in the next few hours or days, and others are too poor to make bail and must remain behind bars until their trial. Only a small number (150,000 on any given day) have been convicted, generally serving misdemeanors sentences under a year.

With a sense of the big picture, a common follow-up question might be: how many people are locked up for a drug offense? We know that almost half a million people are locked up because of a drug offense. The data confirms that nonviolent drug convictions are a defining characteristic of the federal prison system, but play only a supporting role at the state and local levels. While most people in state and local facilities are not locked up for drug offenses, most states’ continued practice of arresting people for drug possession destabilizes individual lives and communities. Drug arrests give residents of over-policed communities criminal records, which then reduce employment prospects and increase the likelihood of longer sentences for any future offenses....

While this “whole pie” provides the most inclusive view of the various systems of confinement in the U.S. justice system available, these snapshots can’t capture all of the important systemic issues. Once we have wrapped our minds around the “whole pie” of mass incarceration, for example, we should zoom out and note that being locked up is just one piece of the larger pie of correctional control. There are another 840,000 people on parole and a staggering 3.7 million people on probation. Particularly given the often onerous conditions of probation, policymakers should be cautious of “alternatives to incarceration” that can easily widen the net of criminalization to people who are not a threat to public safety.

Beyond identifying the parts of the criminal justice system that impact the most people, we should also focus on who is most impacted and who is left behind by policy change. For example, people of color are dramatically overrepresented in the nation’s prisons and jails. These racial disparities are particularly stark for Blacks, who make up 40% of the incarcerated population despite representing only 13% of U.S residents. Gender disparities matter too: rates of incarceration have grown even faster for women than for men. As policymakers continue to push for reforms that reduce incarceration, they should avoid changes that will widen disparities, as has happened with juvenile confinement and with women in state prisons....

[A]rmed with the big picture of how many people are locked up in the United States, where, and why, we have a better foundation for the long overdue conversation about criminal justice reform. For example, the data makes it clear that ending the War on Drugs will not alone end mass incarceration, but that the federal government and some states have effectively reduced their incarcerated populations by turning to drug policy reform. Looking at the “whole pie” also opens up other conversations about where we should focus our energies:

  • What is the role of the federal government in ending mass incarceration? The federal prison system is just a small slice of the total pie, but the federal government can certainly use its financial and ideological power to incentivize and illuminate better paths forward. At the same time, how can elected sheriffs, district attorneys, and judges slow the flow of people into the criminal justice system?
  • Are state officials and prosecutors willing to rethink both the War on Drugs and the reflexive policies that have served to increase both the odds of incarceration and length of stay for “violent” offenses?
  • Do policymakers and the public have the focus to confront the second largest slice of the pie: the thousands of locally administered jails? And does it even make sense to arrest millions of poor people each year for minor offenses, make them post money bail, and then lock them up when they can’t afford to pay it? Will our leaders be brave enough to redirect corrections spending to smarter investments like community-based drug treatment and job training?
  • Can we implement reforms that both reduce the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. and the well-known racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system?

March 17, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 12, 2018

"A Touchy Subject: The Eleventh Circuit's Tug-of-War Over What Constitutes Violent 'Physical Force'"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Conrad Kahn and Danli Song now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In a prosecution for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, a pivotal question is whether an individual is subject to a sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA).  If an individual has three or more prior convictions that qualify as “violent felonies” or “serious drug offenses,” the ACCA increases his statutory range of imprisonment from zero-to-ten years to fifteen years to life.

Historically, a prior conviction could qualify as a “violent felony” if it satisfied at least one of the three “violent felony” clauses—the elements clause, the enumerated-offenses clause, or the catch-all residual clause.  But on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court invalidated the residual clause in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015) (Johnson II).

Since Johnson II, substantial disagreements have emerged both within the Eleventh Circuit and among the other circuits regarding Johnson II’s reach and the proper application of the ACCA's elements clause.  This Article examines those disagreements, including three ways the Eleventh Circuit got it wrong — specifically, the court’s unusual conduct in ruling on requests to file second or successive post-conviction motions based on Johnson II and recent rulings on whether the Florida offenses of robbery and felony battery qualify as “violent felonies” under the elements clause.  This Article argues the ACCA’s elements-clause analysis should focus on the degree of force used in an act, and the Supreme Court should resolve these disagreements and provide guidance to the lower courts by reviewing whether one of these offenses satisfies the elements clause.

March 12, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Vagueness in Johnson and thereafter | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, March 09, 2018

"Can We Wait 75 Years to Cut the Prison Population in Half?"

The title of this post is the title of this short "Policy Brief" from The Sentencing Project.  Here is how it starts and concludes:

The U.S. prison population grew by more than 600% between 1973 and 2009 — from 200,000 people to 1.6 million.  Tough-on-crime policies expanded the number of imprisoned people even while crime rates plunged to 40% below their levels in the 1990s.  In recent years, policymakers and criminal justice professionals have implemented reforms to correct the punitive excesses of the past.  By yearend 2016 the number of people held in U.S. prisons had declined by 6% since a 2009 peak, and crime rates have continued to decline.

But the overall impact of reforms has been quite modest. With 1.5 million people in prison in 2016, the prison population remains larger than the total population of 11 states.3 If states and the federal government maintain their recent pace of decarceration, it will take 75 years — until 2093 — to cut the U.S. prison population by 50%.  Expediting the end of mass incarceration will require accelerating the end of the Drug War and scaling back sentences for serious crimes....

Just as mass incarceration was developed primarily as a result of changes in policy, not crime rates, so too has decarceration reflected changes in both policy and practice.  These have included such measures as drug policy sentencing reforms, reduced admissions to prison for technical parole violations, and diversion options for persons convicted of lower-level property and drug crimes.

The movement to end mass incarceration not only faces political reluctance to meaningfully reduce the U.S. prison population, it has also had to address renewed calls to further expand the prison population, including: increasing prison terms for immigration law violations, reversals of Obama-era reforms in federal sentencing, and punitive responses to the opioid crisis.  While defending the progress made in recent years, we must also strive for criminal justice reforms bold enough to tackle mass incarceration.

March 9, 2018 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, March 08, 2018

"Turn Prisons Into Colleges" ... and urging colleges to invest in prisoner education

The quoted portion title of this post is the headline of this recent New York Times commentary authored by Elizabeth Hinton.  Here are excerpts (with a little commentary at the end from me):

Imagine if prisons looked like the grounds of universities. Instead of languishing in cells, incarcerated people sat in classrooms and learned about climate science or poetry — just like college students.  Or even with them.

This would be a boon to prisoners across the country, a vast majority of whom do not have a high school diploma. And it could help shrink our prison population. While racial disparities in arrests and convictions are alarming, education level is a far stronger predictor of future incarceration than race.

The idea is rooted in history. In the 1920s, Howard Belding Gill, a criminologist and a Harvard alumnus, developed a college-like community at the Norfolk State Prison Colony in Massachusetts, where he was the superintendent. Prisoners wore normal clothing, participated in cooperative self-government with staff, and took academic courses with instructors from Emerson, Boston University and Harvard. They ran a newspaper, radio show and jazz orchestra, and they had access to an extensive library....

Researchers from the Bureau of Prisons emulated this model when they created a prison college project in the 1960s. It allowed incarcerated people throughout the country to serve their sentences at a single site, designed like a college campus, and take classes full-time. Although the project was never completed, San Quentin State Prison in California created a scaled-down version with support from the Ford Foundation, and it was one of the few prisons then that offered higher education classes.

Today, only a third of all prisons provide ways for incarcerated people to continue their educations beyond high school. But the San Quentin Prison University Project remains one of the country’s most vibrant educational programs for inmates, so much so President Barack Obama awarded it a National Humanities Medal in 2015 for the quality of its courses.

The idea of expanding educational opportunities to prisoners as a way to reduce recidivism and government spending has again gained momentum. That’s partly because of a study published in 2013 by the right-leaning RAND Corporation showing that inmates who took classes had a 43 percent lower likelihood of recidivism and a 13 percent higher likelihood of getting a job after leaving prison.

Lawmakers have rightly recognized the wisdom in turning prisons into colleges. In 2015, Mr. Obama created the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, which has enrolled more than 12,000 incarcerated students in higher education programs at 67 different schools. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is considering permanently reinstating Pell Grants for incarcerated students, who lost access to federal scholarships under the 1994 crime bill. Even Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calls providing prisoners with the chance to earn a degree “a very good and interesting possibility.”...

Mass incarceration is inextricably linked to mass undereducation in America. Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Georgetown, Wesleyan and New York University are among a handful of institutions that realize this and have begun to create ways for incarcerated people to take college classes.  These universities recognize that they have a moral responsibility to pursue educational justice for prisoners, a group that has disproportionately attended under-resourced public schools.

College presidents across the country emphasize the importance of “diversity, inclusion and belonging,” and they are reckoning with their institutions’ ties to slavery.  Expanding prison education programs would link those two ventures in a forward-thinking way.  It’s clear that education will continue to be a central part of criminal justice reform.  The question we should ask ourselves is not “Will incarcerated students transform the university?” The better question is, “Will colleges begin to address and reflect the world around them?”

I very much like that this commentary is not merely suggesting prisons ought to foster educational opportunities, but also that it calls upon "college presidents across the country" to commit to "expanding prison education programs."  I blogged here last month about the new program in New York through which the company JPay will provide all New York state prison inmates with a electronic tablet, through which prisoners can purchase programming. I know many colleges and universities have a range of on-line degree programs and ample on-line education content.  I would love to see some higher education institutions partnering with JPay or other like companies to provide education content to prisons for free or at the lowest possible cost. 

As I see it, lots of the needed infrastructure and substantive content already exists to make college-level educational opportunities available to more prisons, if university administrators and prison official are truly committed to making a difference in this way.  In other words, I think there already is a way, the only question is whether there is the will.

March 8, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Another sad account of how US Bureau of Prisons administers compassionate release program

The Marshall Project and the New York Times have this lengthy new piece about the ugly administration of the federal compassionate release program by the US Bureau of Prisons. At the Marshall Project, the piece has this full headline summarizing its content: "Old, Sick and Dying in Shackles: 'Compassionate release' has bipartisan support as a way to reduce the federal prison population and save taxpayer money. New data shows that it’s rarely used." Here are excerpts:

Congress created compassionate release as a way to free certain inmates, such as the terminally ill, when it becomes “inequitable” to keep them in prison any longer.  Supporters view the program as a humanitarian measure and a sensible way to reduce health care costs for ailing, elderly inmates who pose little risk to public safety.  But despite urging from lawmakers of both parties, numerous advocacy groups and even the Bureau of Prisons’ own watchdog, prison officials use it only sparingly.

Officials deny or delay the vast majority of requests, including that of one of the oldest federal prisoners, who was 94, according to new federal data analyzed by The Marshall Project and The New York Times.  From 2013 to 2017, the Bureau of Prisons approved 6 percent of the 5,400 applications received, while 266 inmates who requested compassionate release died in custody. The bureau’s denials, a review of dozens of cases shows, often override the opinions of those closest to the prisoners, like their doctors and wardens.

Advocates for the program say the bureau, which oversees roughly 183,000 inmates, denies thousands of deserving applicants. About half of those who died after applying were convicted of nonviolent fraud or drug crimes. “It makes sense to release prisoners who present very little danger to society. It’s the humane thing to do, and it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a Democrat. “The Bureau of Prisons has the theoretical authority to do this, but they basically do none of it.”

Case files show that prison officials reject many prisoners’ applications on the grounds that they pose a risk to public safety or that their crime was too serious to justify early release. In 2013, an inspector general reported that nearly 60 percent of inmates were denied based on the severity of their offense or criminal history. The United States Sentencing Commission has said that such considerations are better left to judges — but judges can rule on compassionate release requests only if the Bureau of Prisons approves them first.

Late last month, Schatz introduced legislation — co-sponsored with Senators Mike Lee of Utah, a Republican, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat — that would let prisoners petition the courts directly if the bureau denies or delays their requests.

Many are turned down for not meeting medical requirements. [Kevin] Zeich, who was serving 27 years for dealing methamphetamine, requested compassionate release three times, but was repeatedly told he was not sick enough. On his fourth try, his daughter, Kimberly Heraldez, finally received a phone call in March 2016 saying her father would soon be on a plane, headed to her home in California. Early the next morning, she was awakened by another call. Her father had died....

Compassionate release dates back to an overhaul of federal sentencing laws in the 1980s. While abolishing federal parole, Congress supplied a safety valve, giving judges the power to retroactively cut sentences short in “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. But a court could do so only if the Bureau of Prisons filed a motion on an inmate’s behalf. For years, the agency approved only prisoners who were near death or completely debilitated. While nonmedical releases were permitted, an inspector general report found in 2013, not a single one was approved over a six-year period.

The report said the program should be expanded beyond terminal illness cases and used more frequently as a low-risk way to reduce overcrowding and health care spending. The Bureau of Prisons widened the criteria to explicitly include inmates over 65 and those who are the sole possible caregiver for a family member.  Then Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., promoted the changes as part of his “Smart on Crime” initiative to “use our limited resources to house those who pose the greatest threat.

”But the bureau, which is part of the Justice Department, has yet to fully embrace those changes. Of those inmates who have applied for nonmedical reasons, 2 percent (50 cases) have been approved since 2013, according to an analysis of federal prison data.  And although overall approval numbers increased slightly between 2013 and 2015, they have since fallen.

At a 2016 sentencing commission hearing, Bureau of Prisons officials said they believed the program should not be used to reduce overcrowding.  And even the principal deputy assistant to Holder, Jonathan Wroblewski, said the program was not an “appropriate vehicle for a broad reduction” in the prison population.  “Every administration has taken the position that part of our responsibility is to ensure that public safety is not undermined,” he said.

After the hearing, the commission released new guidelines encouraging prison officials to determine only whether inmates fit the criteria for release — that is, if they are old enough, sick or disabled enough, or if they are the sole possible caregiver for someone on the outside. Whether the prisoner poses a risk to the public should be left to a judge to decide, the commission said.

Mark Inch, who was appointed director of the Bureau of Prisons by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last August, has made no public statements about the program. The bureau declined to make Inch available for an interview and did not respond to emailed questions.

As this article indicates, there are bills now pending in Congress that would in various ways address deficiencies in the current compassionate release mechanisms. This is on of many reasons I am hopeful (but not optimistic) that folks on both sides of the aisle in Congress will try hard in the coming weeks to get at least some form of prison reform legislation to Prez Trump's desk. A revised and expanded compassionate release mechanism could and should help hundreds, perhaps thousands, of federal prisoners, particularly those who have likely already served a very long time in federal prison and who pose little or no risk to public safety.

A few recent of many prior related posts:

March 7, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, March 02, 2018

"The State of Justice Reform 2017"

Download (11)The title of this post is the name of this terrific new resource created by the Vera Institute of Justice. The resource is packed with lots and lots of notable content and links, and here is how it is explained on its "About" page: 

Like many justice reform organizations, Vera is often asked, “What are the latest and most interesting developments in the field?” This question has grown more common as more and more people confront the need to improve the nation’s broken justice system and want to help.

We endeavor in this report to provide the beginning of an answer, limiting our scope (mostly) to 2017, the first year of a new administration — one pushing a “law and order” platform — and covering most, but not all, areas of justice reform.

Vera’s task was to determine which of the thousands of changes to policy, practice, and legislation should be covered in this annual recap.  To discern what should be included, we first asked Vera’s own internal experts to weigh in and identify what they felt was most important to cover in their subject areas. “Importance” was defined by the following criteria:

  • the potential impact of a reform;
  • the degree of change from past practice or norms; and/or
  • the degree to which the field or the media is looking to a reform as a promising or leading practice to improve systems.

Using this definition, “importance” can be positive or negative, supportive or hostile to reform. The report thus focuses on both the best and the worst of 2017.

After hearing from Vera’s own experts, we reached outward, crowdsourcing suggestions from Vera’s Facebook and Twitter followings.  Vera also invited 30 external experts to review drafts of specific sections, who are gratefully acknowledged under “Contributors.”  Finally, Vera is issuing this as a digital report to allow for ongoing feedback and contributions, with the hope that this dialogue will add even more to the collective knowledge base about the year that was.

All parts of this terrific resource are worth checking out, and these parts should be of particular interest to sentencing fans:

The State of Jails: Reformers Look to Jails as a Key to Ending Mass Incarceration

The State of Youth Justice: As Youth Incarceration Drops, Racial Disparities Persist

The State of Sentencing & Decriminalization: While Federal Sentencing Reform Efforts Look Bleak, States Push Ahead

The State of Prisons: States Take on Prison Reform

The State of Reentry: For Those Rejoining Society, a Multitude of Obstacles Persist

March 2, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

New Buried Alive Project taking on LWOP sentences for federal drug offenses

An important new effort to take a hard look and extreme federal sentences recent launched under a (great) fitting name: The Buried Alive Project.  Here is how the project's website explains its basic mission:

The Buried Alive Project works to raise awareness and help eliminate life without parole sentences for federal drug offenses through transformative legislation and litigation.  We use statistics and stories to educate the public and amplify the voices of those directly impacted.  The human element is rarely addressed but necessary to drive change needed to reform the criminal justice system.  By engaging people across the country, this project will harness America’s collective interest, passion, and direct experience of this issue into concrete change.

The Dallas Morning News has this Q&A with Brittany Barnett, a lawyer who help found the Buried Alive Project.  Here is an excerpt:

Who are some of the individuals who remain buried alive by this sentencing?

Alice Johnson, a 62-year-old grandmother and great-grandmother from Memphis, is serving her 21st year of a life without parole sentence for her role in a non-violent drug conspiracy.  Like Sharanda [Jones], this is Ms. Alice's first ever conviction — felony or otherwise. Absolutely no aspect of her offense was violent.

Ms. Alice, who has served one-third of her life in prison, has an outstanding record of achievement in prison and works diligently to prove she is deserving of a second chance at life. A life without parole sentence demands a special kind of courage — the ability to act with grace and dignity in a totally degrading situation. Ms. Alice epitomizes this special kind of courage.

Keeping Alice in prison for the rest of her life serves no useful purpose to her or society. We cannot barter human lives for sake of appearing tough on crime. It is an utter waste of human life and taxpayer dollars.

February 28, 2018 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

SCOTUS finally resolves Jennings v. Rodriguez, ruling Ninth Circuit erred when deciding detained aliens have a statutory right to periodic bond hearings

The Supreme Court granted cert in Jennings v. Rodriguez nearly two years ago, but the case got set for re-argument this Term and now has finally resulted in an opinion concerning certain procedural rights for detailed aliens.  The full Jennings opinion is lengthy and intricate, and the opinion for the Court authored by Justice Alito sets up the discussion this way:

In this case we are asked to interpret three provisions of U.S. immigration law that authorize the Government to detain aliens in the course of immigration proceedings.  All parties appear to agree that the text of these provisions, when read most naturally, does not give detained aliens the right to periodic bond hearings during the course of their detention.  But by relying on the constitutional-avoidance canon of statutory interpretation, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that detained aliens have a statutory right to periodic bond hearings under the provisions at issue.

Under the constitutional-avoidance canon, when statutory language is susceptible of multiple interpretations, a court may shun an interpretation that raises serious constitutional doubts and instead may adopt an alternative that avoids those problems.  But a court relying on that canon still must interpret the statute, not rewrite it.  Because the Court of Appeals in this case adopted implausible constructions of the three immigration provisions at issue, we reverse its judgment and remand for further proceedings.

I believe the context and content of the majority's ruling likely mean the Jennings decision will not have many big implications outside the immigration detention setting. But Justice Breyer's lengthy dissenting opinion discusses bail and due process more broadly, and his closing sentiments highlights why a ruling the other way in Jennings might have been significant for a broad array of criminal defendants:

The relevant constitutional language, purposes, history, traditions, context, and case law, taken together, make it likely that, where confinement of the noncitizens before us is prolonged (presumptively longer than six months), bail proceedings are constitutionally required.  Given this serious constitutional problem, I would interpret the statutory provisions before us as authorizing bail.  Their language permits that reading, it furthers their basic purposes, and it is consistent with the history, tradition, and constitutional values associated with bail proceedings.  I believe that those bail proceedings should take place in accordance with customary rules of procedure and burdens of proof rather than the special rules that the Ninth Circuit imposed.

The bail questions before us are technical but at heart they are simple.  We need only recall the words of the Declaration of Independence, in particular its insistence that all men and women have “certain unalienable Rights,” and that among them is the right to “Liberty.”  We need merely remember that the Constitution’s Due Process Clause protects each person’s liberty from arbitrary deprivation.  And we need just keep in mind the fact that, since Blackstone’s time and long before, liberty has included the right of a confined person to seek release on bail.  It is neither technical nor unusually difficult to read the words of these statutes as consistent with this basic right.  I would find it far more difficult, indeed, I would find it alarming, to believe that Congress wrote these statutory words in order to put thousands of individuals at risk of lengthy confinement all within the United States but all without hope of bail.  I would read the statutory words as consistent with, indeed as requiring protection of, the basic right to seek bail.

February 27, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, February 26, 2018

"Divided Justice: Trends in Black and White Jail Incarceration 1990-2013"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice.  This Vera webpage provides this overview and a key takeway:

Overview

Recent data analyses on jail incarceration — taken from Vera’s Incarceration Trends tool — reveal that although significant racial disparities still exist between black and white jail incarceration rates, incarceration rates for black people are declining, while rates for white people are rising.  This report dives into the data on black and white incarceration trends from 1990 to 2013, and poses several questions for further exploration that might explain why these rates are shifting.  However, the report also argues that we need more data to fully understand the causes and consequences of racial disparities in incarceration — and to begin enacting more race-conscious jail reduction efforts.

Key Takeaway

While black incarceration rates have declined — and white incarceration rates have risen — over the past several decades, the lack of complete and accurate data prevents effective analyses of the causes and drivers of these trends and on racial disparities more broadly in the justice system.

February 26, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

"Solitary Troubles"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Alex Reinert available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Solitary confinement is one of the most severe forms of punishment that can be inflicted on human beings. In recent years, the use of extreme isolation in our prisons and jails has been questioned by correctional officials, medical experts, and reform advocates alike.  Yet for nearly the entirety of American history, judicial regulation of the practice has been extremely limited.  This Article explains why judges hesitate to question the use of solitary confinement, while also providing a path forward for greater scrutiny of the practice.

February 25, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

SCOTUS issues opinions on fees for prisoner suits and the impact of guilty pleas

The Supreme Court this morning handed down four new opinions in argued cases, and these two should be of interest to criminal justice fans:

Murphy v. Smith: "GORSUCH, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., joined. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, and KAGAN, JJ., joined." From the start and end of the opinion for the Court:

This is a case about how much prevailing prisoners must pay their lawyers. When a prisoner wins a civil rights suit and the district court awards fees to the prisoner’s attorney, a federal statute says that “a portion of the [prisoner’s] judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded against the defendant. If the award of attorney’s fees is not greater than 150 percent of the judgment, the excess shall be paid by the defendant.” 42 U. S. C. §1997e(d)(2). Whatever else you might make of this, the first sentence pretty clearly tells us that the prisoner has to pay some part of the attorney’s fee award before financial responsibility shifts to the defendant. But how much is enough? Does the first sentence allow the district court discretion to take any amount it wishes from the plaintiff ’s judgment to pay the attorney, from 25% down to a penny? Or does the first sentence instead mean that the court must pay the attorney’s entire fee award from the plaintiff ’s judgment until it reaches the 25% cap and only then turn to the defendant? ....

At the end of the day, what may have begun as a close race turns out to have a clear winner. Now with a view of the full field of textual, contextual, and precedential evidence, we think the interpretation the court of appeals adopted prevails. In cases governed by §1997e(d), we hold that district courts must apply as much of the judgment as necessary, up to 25%, to satisfy an award of attorney’s fees.

Class v. United States: "BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C.J., and GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which KENNEDY and THOMAS, JJ., joined."  From the start of the opinion for the Court:

Does a guilty plea bar a criminal defendant from later appealing his conviction on the ground that the statute of conviction violates the Constitution?  In our view, a guilty plea by itself does not bar that appeal.

For a host of reasons, Class is much more consequential, and I hope to find some time to blog more about the opinion in the days ahead. In the meantime, I welcome comments on both the substance and division of the Justices in this latest SCOTUS activity.

February 21, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9)

Monday, February 19, 2018

Spotlighting disparities in jail stays over unpaid court fines in Pennsylvania

A helpful reader made sure I saw this impressive piece of reporting from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette under the headline "Modern-day debtors’ prisons? The system that sends Pennsylvanians to jail over unpaid court costs and fines."  I have probably not given as much attention here as I should to reporting and complaints about persons being incarcerated for failure to pay certain fines and fees, and this story caught my attention in its discussion of disparities in how judges justify sending folks to jail for failures to pay.  Here is an excerpt for that discussion:

U.S. Supreme Court and state court precedents forbid the government from locking up defendants too poor to pay.  District judges are supposed to jail only defendants who can afford to pay but “willfully” do not.  “The Constitution is very clear, the law is very clear, you cannot be jailed for failing to pay when you can’t pay,” said David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

But data show that is not always what happens.

People picked up on warrants for not paying court fees are brought before a district judge, who can hold an immediate payment determination hearing or postpone the proceeding. If the hearing is delayed, the district judge can set an amount that must be paid as collateral in order to allow the defendant to go free; that is supposed to ensure that the defendant will return for the hearing.  In many cases, that collateral equals the total payments owed.  Defendants who do not pay can be jailed until the first business day after 72 hours have passed.

District judges must fill out a Determination of Collateral form indicating why collateral is necessary and why the defendant can afford to pay it.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review of more than 4,500 cases covering everyone jailed in 2016 in Pennsylvania for failure to post collateral (about 2,500 individuals) shows that in fewer than one in five cases, district judges appear to meet the standard in explaining why payment can be made.  They use statements such as “defendant has bank account” or “defendant has been working” or “gainfully employed.”

But in over 10 percent of cases involving more than 200 people, the district judges’ explanations for why a defendant can pay collateral seem to indicate just the opposite — that they don’t have the wherewithal.  Among the rationales: “defendant has no income; “defendant is homeless unable to pay; and “defendant has been evicted.”

The data show the system for meting out jail stays over unpaid court fines is wildly inconsistent among the state’s 67 counties and varies from one district judge to another....

The ACLU has been taking up cases around the state where it believes the law is not being followed in regard to payment determination hearings. It also has reached out to judges and district judges in an effort to make systemic changes.  “[M]any judges on both the courts of Common Pleas and magisterial district courts fundamentally misunderstand what constitutes a defendant’s ability to pay,” Andrew Christy, an ACLU of Pennsylvania attorney wrote regarding payment determination hearings last year for a legal publication.  A “lack of clear and uniform standards on what constitutes ability to pay” has been problematic and has driven the system to be unconstitutional, he wrote.

In many cases, the district judge offers rationales that the ACLU claims do not pass legal muster as to why a defendant should be able to post collateral.  The explanations include that the defendant’s family can pay; that the defendant receives public benefits; or that they have spent money on other expenses, such as tattoos.  “Has money for cigarettes, cell phone and to drink in bars,” read one form.  “Has cell phone, smokes cigarettes and has an I pad [sic],” read another.

February 19, 2018 in Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Should jail inmates face tougher sentencing for applauding charged cop killer as he was brought into jail?

A helpful reader alerted me to this interesting AP story, headlined "Jail inmates applaud career criminal accused of killing Chicago police commander, may face reprisals," that provides the basis for the question that is the title of this post.  Here are the particulars:

Five Cook County Jail inmates who applauded as the man charged with the fatal shooting of a Chicago police commander was led by their cell could face reprisals for their actions, a jail official said Friday.

Cara Smith, the chief policy officer for Sheriff Tom Dart, said a security video shows them clapping as suspect Shomari Legghette was being led past a crowded holding cell on Thursday after his first court appearance.  The inmates were in the holding cell awaiting action on their cases.  Legghette is charged with first-degree murder in Tuesday's shooting death of Commander Paul Bauer.

She said the five inmates were transferred overnight from Chicago to a jail in southern Illinois, where it will be more difficult for family and friends to visit them while they are in custody.

The jail also is forwarding to prosecutors the video and reports of the incident Thursday afternoon so they can use the information if the inmates are convicted, she said. "The conduct that those detainees engaged in was disgraceful... and speaks to their character," Smith said.  "We feel it should be considered by prosecutors in connection with their sentencing."  The video could be a "factor of aggravation" considered by a judge in sentencing.

But Steve Greenberg, a prominent Chicago defense attorney, said there is no way the inmates should be penalized for what he said is a clear exercise of their right to free speech.  "These inmates ... no matter how vile or disgusting you may think their expression is, they have an absolute right under the First Amendment to express those feelings and it is a violation of their rights as citizens to penalize them or consider that as aggravation," said Greenberg, who is not representing any of the men.

The video was taken moments after the 44-year-old Legghette appeared in court on charges of first-degree murder of a peace officer, armed violence, unlawful use of a weapon by a felon and possession of a controlled substance.

Police say they wanted to question Legghette Tuesday when he took off running and Bauer pursued him on foot. He caught Legghette near the James R. Thompson Center, a government building, where the two struggled and Legghette fell down the stairs.  Bauer either fell or ran after him to a landing where, Legghette, wearing a bullet proof vest and armed with a semi-automatic handgun, allegedly shot the 53-year-old Bauer six times.

February 17, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (21)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"Reentry Court Research: An Overview of Findings from the National Institute of Justice’s Evaluation of Second Chance Act Adult Reentry Courts"

The title of this post is the title of this new report on findings about eight programs that received funding and technical assistance from the Bureau of Justice Assistance under the Second Chance Act of 2007.  Here is part of the report's abstract:

Background: There are myriad challenges associated with the reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals, coupled with a dearth of rigorous research examining reentry courts. It is well known that formerly incarcerated individuals face overwhelming obstacles, such as limited occupational or educational experiences to prepare them for employment, drug and alcohol addictions, mental and physical health challenges, strained family relations, and limited opportunities due to the stigma of a criminal record.  Reentry courts seek to address these challenges by assessing the individuals for risks and needs; linking them to appropriate community-based services; and overseeing the treatment process through ongoing court oversight, probation or parole supervision, and case management.  Under the Second Chance Act (SCA) of 2007 (Pub. L. 110-199), the Bureau of Justice Assistance funded reentry programs including the eight sites participating in this National Institute of Justice Evaluation of SCA Adult Reentry Courts.  This document provides a summary overview of the evaluation and complements three annual reports that provide more detailed information on the program processes and populations, research methods, and findings....

Results: Results were mixed across sites.  One site consistently demonstrated positive outcomes across the interview, recidivism, and cost analyses with the reentry court successfully delivering more substance abuse treatment and other services than what was received by the comparison group.  In addition, reentry court participants out-performed the comparison group in reduced recidivism (re-arrests and re-conviction) and reincarceration (revocation and time in jail or prison).  Two sites had neutral, trending toward positive, results with reduced participant re-arrests but with other outcomes (such as convictions and re-incarceration) not significantly different between the participants and the comparison group.  Two other sites had mixed results (e.g., participants had significantly fewer re-arrests but significantly increased re-incarceration) and two had negative results (e.g., participants had significantly more re-arrests and incarceration while other outcomes were no different between groups).  Cost findings were similarly mixed with two sites experiencing cost savings due mainly to lower recidivism costs and fewer victimization costs for reentry court participants ($2,512 and $6,710 saved per participant) and the remainder experiencing loss (ranging from just over -$1,000 to almost -$17,000 loss per participant). The research protocol and process evaluation findings are documented in three annual project reports; research caveats include a lack of detailed treatment service data. Also, reentry court program investment costs are described, but the comparison of cost estimates is limited to outcomes and does not include net benefits based on investment in non-reentry court case processing in the comparison group.

Conclusions: Key processes that set the one site with positive outcomes apart from the other sites was the high level of consistency and intensity of substance abuse treatment, wraparound services for multiple criminogenic needs, high intensity supervision, as well as an increased use of praise from the judge along with other incentives and sanctions.  In addition, the eligibility criteria for this site required that participants have a substance use disorder with risk levels ranging from moderate to high (based on their local risk assessment with a three point scale that ranged from low to high).  In contrast, other site eligibility criteria did not require a substance use disorder and participant risk levels were mostly high to very high (depending on the assessment tool used and their specific scoring and risk category criteria).  It is possible that the sites with less positive results did not have the appropriate level and type of services consistently available to best serve the varying risk levels of their participants.

This detailed report reinforces yet again the conclusion I often, somewhat depressingly, reach when looking at careful research on an important topic: many of our most pressing criminal justice problems are really complicated and lack simple solutions.

February 14, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Yes, Trump is embracing criminal justice reform"

The title of this post is the headline of this new opinion piece that struck me as notable for any number of reasons: the piece appears in the right-leaning Washington Examiner and is authored by well-known conservatives Ken Blackwell and Ken Cuccinelli.  The piece also ends with a call for Congress to catch up to states in the criminal justice reform arena.  Here are excerpts:

Throughout the last election cycle, there came fevered predictions from many commentators on the Left that, given candidate Donald Trump’s frank messaging about returning to "law and order" and confronting violent crime in American cities, criminal justice reform efforts were officially dead in the water.  Criminal justice reform appears “bleak in the age of Trump,” stated one article. “How Criminal Justice Reform Died,” intoned another.

Such fatalism was both misplaced and inaccurate. Misplaced, because the lion’s share of successful criminal justice reforms over the last ten years have advanced at the state and local levels, not in D.C.— mainly by southern red states. With oversight over roughly 90 percent of the country’s incarcerated population, the states will always be the primary mover of criminal justice policies, not the federal government.

But such predictions have now been proven inaccurate as well, given recent remarks made by now-President Trump about the need for federal prison reform....

Society is justified in expecting individuals to take ownership not just for their actions, but also for their reformation. This is hampered, however, when the weight of accumulated barriers to re-entry becomes a millstone. Research has been clear that getting a job upon release is among the most critical steps to reducing a person’s likelihood for recidivism. When President Trump and others say society has a “great interest” in helping ex-offenders get on the path of self-sufficiency, he’s speaking a well-established truism.

Fortunately, conservative states have long since begun helping ex-offenders land on their feet upon release. Chief among them: Texas, long known as a “tough on crime” stalwart. In 2007, state lawmakers passed a $241 million “justice reinvestment” package to increase capacity for substance abuse and mental health treatment and expand probation and parole services, as well as community-based diversion programs. This avoided the immediate need for $2.1 billion in spending just to meet their expected needs for new prison capacity.

More recently, Texas has passed indemnity laws to insulate employers and landlords from liability when they extend a job or lease to ex-offenders.  This makes it less likely that a criminal record will be an insuperable barrier to work or finding a place to live. Communities in Texas have been getting safer at the same time.  Crime rates have fallen by 31 percent, while incarceration rates have fallen by more than 20 percent. Eight prisons have been shuttered even as Texas’ population has soared, saving millions in annual operating costs.

In 2012, Georgia began investing in efforts aimed at reducing recidivism, including an expansion of in-prison educational resources.  They’ve since reduced their prison population and nearly eliminated its backlog of inmates awaiting transfer, all the while reducing crime by 8 percent and saving $25 million.  A large reform package passed in Louisiana last year has similar aims of steering less serious offenders away from incarceration and into more effective community-based programs. South Carolina, Utah, Alaska, Kentucky, and others have passed comprehensive reforms, as well.

As we mentioned above, the states are the natural gatekeepers for criminal justice reform.  But Congress has shortcomings within its own prison system to address, and is quickly running out of excuses for doing so.  President Trump, whom so many on the Left falsely assumed would spell the end of reform, has instead sounded a clarion call to advance it. He was right for doing so, as many conservative states have proved, and it's time Congress took up that challenge as well.

February 12, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, February 09, 2018

Lamenting latest data on how federal Bureau of Prisons administers its compassionate release program

This new press release from Families Against Mandatory Minimums, headlined "New Data Reveals BOP Still Neglecting Compassionate Release," reports on the release of new data about a notable piece of federal prison law and administration. Here is much of the full release (with links from the original):

FAMM (Families Against Mandatory Minimums) President Kevin Ring today commented on the release of new data related to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) compassionate release program. Last August, 12 U.S. senators wrote to the BOP seeking information on the number of individuals who were granted early release pursuant to the program. In its response dated January 16, the BOP revealed that the agency has granted a mere 306 petitions while denying more than 2,400 over the past four years.  Prisoners facing unimaginable circumstances wait an average of 4.7 to 6.5 months for a response, and 81 prisoners died while waiting for an answer.

“We are disappointed but not surprised,” Ring said. “Even as interest in prison reform grows, we find that the BOP is not using its authority to reduce the number of low-risk, high-cost individuals in federal prisons. This failure hurts families and taxpayers without improving public safety.

“The fact that 81 individuals died waiting for a response to their petitions for compassionate release is a moral outrage. We as a country can do better than this. Congress should act now to streamline the process and inject some common sense and dignity to this program,” Ring said.

FAMM has been a longtime advocate for expanding federal and state compassionate release programs, which authorize early release for prisoners facing extreme circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness. Last year, FAMM helped to establish the Campaign for Compassionate Release, a coalition of diverse organizations who support the creation, expansion, and robust use of compassionate release.

February 9, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9)

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 on the agenda for the Senate Judiciary Committee coming meeting

A helpful colleague made sure I saw the exciting news appearing at the very bottom of this agenda for an Executive Business Meeting of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary.  After a long list on nominees, we see on that agenda this item:


II. Bills
S.1917 Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017 (Grassley, Durbin, Graham, Feinstein, Lee, Leahy, Flake, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, Booker)   

I think this notice means that there is now some tangible movement (dare I say momentum) on one very significant federal criminal justice proposal.  Clicking though to the text of S.1917 Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2017, one discovers that this bill has a whole lot of stuff stuffed into its three big sections. For example, "TITLE I — SENTENCING REFORM" includes, inter alia:

Sec. 101. Reduce and restrict enhanced sentencing for prior drug felonies."

Sec. 102. Broadening of existing safety valve....

Sec. 106. Mandatory minimum sentences for domestic violence offenses....

Sec. 108. Inventory of Federal criminal offenses.

Sec. 109. Fentanyl.

And "TITLE II — CORRECTIONS ACT" includes, inter alia:

Sec. 202. Recidivism reduction programming and productive activities.

Sec. 203. Post-sentencing risk and needs assessment system....

Sec. 207. Promoting successful reentry.

Sec. 208. Parole for juveniles.

Sec. 209. Compassionate release initiative.  

And "TITLE III — NATIONAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE COMMISSION ACT" would create another notable federal criminal justice entity.

I can state with confidence that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is surely opposed to the provisions in Title I of this bill, but I he may be supportive of Title II and maybe even Title III. And, of course, since he is no longer in the Senate, Jeff Sessions does not get a vote on legislation, and it will be interesting to see (assuming there is a vote tomorrow of sometime soon) whether there are many (or any) strong opponents of this bill even in this huge form.

February 7, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Two notable and timely commentaries on prison reform

A couple of columns about prison reform caught my attention today. Here are headlines, links and excerpts:

From The Advocate, authored by Mark Holden and Brooke Rollins, "Ways to help failing prison system":

We are proud to be part of a new initiative, Safe Streets and Second Chances, which will work to combine policy reforms and evidence-based re-entry programs that will measure success not by incarceration rates but by whether former inmates are rehabilitated and capable of redemption.  Researchers will initially examine four states — Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas — and work to prepare people for re-entry beginning on day one of their prison sentence, and have an individualized plan in place within two months of incarceration.

The numbers indicate the scope of the challenge.  More than three out of four former inmates return to prison within five years of release, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  That is a moral crime and a fiscal disaster.  And, worst of all, it is an unforgivable waste of human potential.  Nationally, more than 600,000 former inmates re-enter society every year. More than 100,000 of those are in our four targeted states.

Safe Streets and Second Chances will work with states to institute substance abuse and psychiatric counseling for individuals with mental illnesses or drug addictions; educational and literacy programs; vocational programs that teach usable job skills, and mentoring capabilities.  Such programs should involve faith leaders and public-private partnerships, so the comparative advantages of these sectors can be brought to bear on the rehabilitation and redemption of individuals.  Emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation is costly — $80 billion a year for incarceration at last count, and an even higher cost in the diminution of the human spirit.

The system traps individuals in a soul-crushing cycle of poverty and prison, while doing next to nothing to make our streets safer.  Proposals to address these challenges are not pie-in-sky do-gooderism.  They are a clear-eyed assessment based on evidence and experience.  In 2007, Texas projected it would need 17,000 new prison beds over the next five years.  After implementing these and many other reforms, including expanded drug courts and mental health programs, crime dropped 31 percent — to levels not seen since the 1960s.  Texas closed four prisons with plans to close four more, and saved $3 billion in the process.

South Carolina enacted similar reforms and cut its prison population by 14 percent, closed six prisons and saved $491 million . Other states have seen the results and are instituting programs focusing on education and training that are showing success in rehabilitating individuals and reducing recidivism.  If three out of four patients were dying in our hospitals, or three out of four combat soldiers were ill-prepared to face the enemy, we’d do something about it. I n a hurry.

Three out of four people in jail today will probably be back there if we don’t do something about it. In a hurry.

From USA Today, authored by Francis Cullen and Erik Luna, "Evaluate corrections officials not just on the state of prisons, but on rate of recidivism":

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans agree it is important to try to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes and are in the correctional system.  The public also demonstrates high support for formal “rehabilitation ceremonies” that would restore full citizenship to offenders who completed treatment programs, apologized and stayed crime-free for several years. A growing readiness exists to reinvent corrections.  Bold thinking and experimentation are needed. And that experimental approach could appeal to criminal justice reformers and hard-line supporters of harsher sentencing alike.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has touted a return to "law and order" crackdowns, is right to be concerned about "a vicious cycle of crime, poverty and more crime."  But activists who believe in rehabilitation also support "smarter policies based on sound research."

So, how can prisons be improved? Here are three general ideas:

► Corrections officials should be evaluated more diligently not just on their ability to manage institutions but also to reform the inmates who are in them, and that must include inmates who have re-entered society and recidivated.  There's an expectation that wardens will maintain peace within their prisons.  They are held responsible if, for example, a riot breaks out.  Some aspects of police reform occurred because, among other things, law enforcement leadership was made responsible not only for solving cases but also for reducing crime.  Officials must be held equally responsible for recidivism rates.

► Prisons must be regarded as behavioral-change institutions, not warehouses for wrongdoers.  Being nasty to offenders by, for instance, exposing them to harsh prison conditions risks making them more criminal.  Prisons must be therapeutic and focus on rehabilitation.  This does not mean going easy on offenders, but instead insisting that they learn pro-social values and how to act responsibly.  Rehabilitative interventions require inmates to engage in the difficult work of changing their thinking and behavior.

► Corrections must become a true science.  If medical standards were applied, many correctional practices and programs would be seen as quackery worthy of malpractice lawsuits.  Evidence suggests that a therapeutic or human-service approach to corrections is most likely to reduce recidivism by helping offenders acquire the cognitive abilities, problem-solving and coping skills, and human capital needed to overcome the deficits that place them at risk of criminal conduct in the first place.  Sustained research is required — as is done in medicine — to give correctional workers more and better tools for inmate rehabilitation.

February 7, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)