Friday, December 15, 2017

Looking at the changing demographics of modern mass incarceration

The Marshall Project has this notable new piece headlined "A Mass Incarceration Mystery: Why are black imprisonment rates going down? Four theories." Here is the start of the extended analysis along with the basics of the propounded "four theories":

One of the most damning features of the U.S. criminal justice system is its vast racial inequity. Black people in this country are imprisoned at more than 5 times the rate of whites; one in 10 black children has a parent behind bars, compared with about one in 60 white kids, according to the Stanford Center on Poverty & Inequality.  The crisis has persisted for so long that it has nearly become an accepted norm.

So it may come as a surprise to learn that for the last 15 years, racial disparities in the American prison system have actually been on the decline, according to a Marshall Project analysis of yearly reports by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting system.  Between 2000 and 2015, the imprisonment rate of black men dropped by more than 24 percent. At the same time, the white male rate increased slightly, the BJS numbers indicate.

Among women, the trend is even more dramatic. From 2000 to 2015, the black female imprisonment rate dropped by nearly 50 percent; during the same period, the white female rate shot upward by 53 percent. As the nonprofit Sentencing Project has pointed out, the racial disparity between black and white women’s incarceration was once 6 to 1. Now it’s 2 to 1.

Similar patterns appear to hold for local jails, although the data are less reliable given the “churn” of inmates into and out of those facilities. Since 2000, the total number of black people in local detention has decreased from 256,300 to 243,400, according to BJS; meanwhile, the number of whites rose from 260,500 to 335,100. The charts below from the Vera Institute of Justicealso reveal significant drops in the jailing of blacks from New York to Los Angeles, coinciding with little change for whites.  (In both the prison and jail data, the total number of incarcerated Latinos has increased, but their actual incarceration rate has remained steady or also fallen, attributable to their increasing numbers in the U.S. population generally.)

Taken together, these statistics change the narrative of mass incarceration, and that may be one reason why the data has been widely overlooked in policy debates. The narrowing of the gap between white and black incarceration rates is “definitely optimistic news," said John Pfaff, a law professor at Fordham University and an expert on trends in prison statistics. "But the racial disparity remains so vast that it’s pretty hard to celebrate.  How exactly do you talk about ‘less horrific?'”

According to Pfaff, “Our inability to explain it suggests how poorly we understand the mechanics behind incarceration in general.”  In other words, how much of any shift in the imprisonment rate can be attributed to changes in demographics, crime rates, policing, prosecutors, sentencing laws and jail admissions versus lengths of stay? And is it even possible to know, empirically, whether specific reforms, such as implicit bias training, are having an effect on the trend line?....

[H]ere are four (not mutually exclusive or exhaustive) theories, compiled from our research and interviews with prison system experts, to explain the nearly two-decades-long narrowing of the racial gap in incarceration.

1) Crime, arrests and incarceration are declining overall....

2) The war on drugs has shifted its focus from crack and marijuana to meth and opioids....

3) White people have also faced declining socioeconomic prospects, leading to more criminal justice involvement....

4) Criminal justice reform has been happening in cities, where more black people live, but not in rural areas....

Even with all of these factors at work, the racial inequity of the American prison system remains vast and continues to wreak devastation on black and Latino communities nationwide. At the current rate, the disparities would not fully disappear for many decades.

I think a lot of other possible factors may be at least marginally contributing to the changing demographics of prison populations between 2000 and 2015, factors ranging from more diversity in the ranks of police, prosecutors and the judiciary to greater concerns with sentencing decision-making (and advocacy) by courts (and lawyers).  And perhaps readers have some additional (sensible?) theories on this front that could be shared in the comments.

December 15, 2017 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Notable new push to push for expanded use of compassionate release programs

As reported in this press release from Families Against Mandatory Minimums, "a coalition of criminal justice reform, health policy, human rights, and faith-based organizations launched a new public education and advocacy campaign to urge the creation, expansion, and robust use of federal and state programs that grant early release to prisoners with compelling circumstances, such as a terminal or age-related illness."  Here is more from the release (with links from the source):

The Campaign for Compassionate Release” comprises a diverse group of organizations, including Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), American Conservative Union Foundation, Human Rights Watch, National Council of Churches, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and National Disability Rights Network.  “It is cruel and senseless to prisoners and families alike to abandon an individual to suffer or die alone in prison, separated from loved ones. These prisoners are the least dangerous and most expensive to lock up, yet compassionate release often exists in name only. It often fails the people it is intended to help. And we’re fed up,” said Mary Price, general counsel of FAMM.

To kick off the Campaign, 36 organizations and individuals endorsed a statement of principles. The principles focus on the humanitarian, public safety, and economic benefits of granting early release to elderly prisoners, those with disabilities, or prisoners facing extreme family changes. While the Campaign will target both federal and state policies, the first stages of the launch focus on reforms to the federal compassionate release program.

The federal compassionate release program, created by Congress, has existed for decades but is rarely used.  The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) must decide if prisoners meet program criteria and then seek their release in the courts, but in reality, the BOP only brings a trickle of release motions to the courts annually. Delays also plague the program; prisoners commonly die awaiting a decision.  Congressional appropriators, government watchdogs, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and outside advocates all have questioned the BOP’s failure to use the program as Congress intended, especially since sick, dying, and elderly prisoners are the least likely to re-offend and the most expensive to house.

Today, many Campaign members and others sent a letter to BOP Director Mark Inch, urging him to expand the program’s use. The letter echoes a similar letter signed by a bipartisan group of senators in August.

December 9, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

"Envisioning an Alternative Future for the Corrections Sector Within the U.S. Criminal Justice System"

The title of this post is the title of this notable Rand research report that I just came across authored by Joe Russo, George Drake, John Shaffer and Brian Jackson. Here is a summary with some points from the report in via this Rand webpage:

Challenged by high costs and concerns that the U.S. corrections sector is not achieving its goals, there has been a growing focus on approaches to reform and improve the sector's performance.  Policies initiated during the tough-on-crime era led to aggressive prosecution, lengthier sentences, and an exploding correctional population.  In recent years, the corrections sector has been gradually shifting toward efforts to provide treatment, alternatives to incarceration, and enhanced programs to facilitate offender reentry.  Although judicial and policy decisions and public attitudes toward crime and sentencing determine the corrections population and the resources available for staffing and reform, the sector has a unique perspective and therefore can provide critical insight regarding what is working, what is not, and how things should be.

To contribute to the policy debate on the future of the corrections sector, researchers interviewed a group of prominent correctional practitioners, consultants, and academics. This report outlines their perspectives on the current state of corrections and their vision for the future.  These experts were specifically asked how they would redesign the corrections sector to better serve the country's needs.  The findings offer both an assessment of what is and is not working now and potential solutions to better achieve justice policy goals going forward.

Key Findings

The Corrections Sector Has Little Control Over the Many Factors That Affect Its Operations

  • Judicial and policy decisions and public attitudes toward crime and sentencing determine the corrections population and the resources available for staffing and reform.
  • The sector does have some control over how offenders are treated once they enter the system.

A Panel of Experts Agreed That the Sector's Primary Role Should Be to Facilitate Positive Offender Behavioral Change, but This Is a Complex Task

  • Three broad types of changes would be necessary for the sector to support this mission and help ensure offenders' successful reintegration into society: new programs and improved education and training for corrections staff, the elimination of revenue-generating correctional operations, and cultural change to prioritize rehabilitation over punishment.
  • There are many opportunities for the sector to leverage the latest developments in science, technology, and evidence-based practices to create alternatives to incarceration, guide the investment of scarce resources, and engage communities in initiatives to reduce recidivism and support offender reentry.

Recommendations

  • Panelists put forward several solutions to support the corrections sector's mission of facilitating positive offender behavior change, including diverting low-risk offenders and those with mental health or substance use problems to specialty facilities while reserving prisons for violent and dangerous offenders; shortening sentences and ensuring that offenders have a clear, attainable path to release; and creating smaller and safer facilities that are closer to cities with programs to support reentry.
  • In the near term, panelists recommended expanding and adequately funding probation, parole, and community-based resources to support offenders' reentry into their communities.

December 6, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tennessee judge formally reprimanded for offering reduced jail time for defendants agreeing to vasectomy or birth control implant

I almost did not believe the story from earlier this year, blogged here, about a Tennessee judge giving 30 days credit off imposed jail time if an inmate were to voluntarily agree to have a vasectomy or birth control implant. But the tale was true, and this new Washington Post piece reports on the latest chapters of this remarkable local imprisonment tale:

When Judge Sam Benningfield of White County, Tenn., offered to shave off jail time for inmates who volunteered for sterilization, a chorus of attorneys, advocates and public officials reacted with horror.

Benningfield said his goal was to break a “vicious cycle” of repeat drug offenders with children. But many argued that the proposal, outlined in a May order, was nothing short of eugenics. Not to mention it seemed unconstitutional on its face. Civil rights lawyers brought legal actions and a local prosecutor told his staff to avoid the judge’s program at all costs.

Now, after the wave of backlash and amid multiple lawsuits, state judicial regulators have formally reprimanded Benningfield for promising 30-day sentence reductions to inmates who agreed to receive vasectomies or birth control implants.

In a letter filed Monday, the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct found that Benningfield violated rules regarding judicial independence, integrity and propriety. “You have acknowledged that even though you were trying to accomplish a worthy goal in preventing the birth of substance addicted babies,” the board wrote, “you now realize that this order could unduly coerce inmates into undergoing a surgical procedure which would cause at least a temporary sterilization, and it was therefore improper.”...

The judicial board’s letter says the program is no longer available to any inmate and that Benningfield ran afoul of rules requiring judges to “act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence.” It noted that Benningfield didn’t object to the reprimand. The letter also reprimanded Benningfield for threatening to end an unrelated house arrest program if a defense attorney refused to withdraw a valid objection regarding a client’s probation....

Several inmates who were jailed when the orders were in effect sued the judge and White County Sheriff Oddie Shoupe, claiming their constitutional rights were violated. The judge and the sheriff have denied liability.

Daniel Horwitz, who represents a group of male inmates, said the judicial board should have gone further than reprimanding Benningfield and instead should have recommended he be removed from the bench. “A public reprimand is serious, but as far as I’m concerned, nothing short of removal is acceptable,” Horwitz told The Post....

Horwitz filed court papers in September on behalf of three male inmates, who called Benningfield’s program “both illegal and profoundly coercive.”  Two of the plaintiffs declined the offer for vasectomies in exchange for a sentence reduction. Another plaintiff agreed to the procedure in hopes of being released in time to watch the birth of his first grandchild. He enrolled in the judge’s early release program but didn’t receive the reduction.

Dozens of their fellow inmates, male and female, agreed to undergo birth control procedures, which can be irreversible in some cases.  Horwitz’s lawsuit describes one female White County inmate who received a hormonal birth control implant and later tried to cut it out of her arm with a razor blade.  She is not listed as a plaintiff....

District Attorney Bryant Dunaway, whose district includes White County and Benningfield’s court, was among those who criticized the sterilization program. Dunaway, who vowed during his election campaign to crack down on repeat offenders, told NewsChannel 5 in July that he had instructed his staff not to take part in Benningfield’s order “in any way.”

“Those decisions are personal in nature,” he said, “and I think that’s just something that the court system should not encourage nor mandate.”

Prior related post:

November 21, 2017 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, November 17, 2017

"The Criminal Justice System Stalks Black People Like Meek Mill"

The title of this post is the headline of this New York Times op-ed authored by Jay-Z. Here are excerpts:

This month Meek Mill was sentenced to two to four years in prison for violating his probation. #FreeMeek hashtags have sprung up, and hundreds of his fans rallied near City Hall in Philadelphia to protest the ruling.

On the surface, this may look like the story of yet another criminal rapper who didn’t smarten up and is back where he started. But consider this: Meek was around 19 when he was convicted on charges relating to drug and gun possession, and he served an eight-month sentence.  Now he’s 30, so he has been on probation for basically his entire adult life. For about a decade, he’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside.

What’s happening to Meek Mill is just one example of how our criminal justice system entraps and harasses hundreds of thousands of black people every day.  I saw this up close when I was growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of a second chance, probation ends up being a land mine, with a random misstep bringing consequences greater than the crime. A person on probation can end up in jail over a technical violation like missing a curfew.

Taxpayers in Philadelphia, Meek Mill’s hometown, will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to keep him locked up, and I bet none of them would tell you his imprisonment is helping to keep them safer. He’s there because of arrests for a parole violation, and because a judge overruled recommendations by a prosecutor and his probation officer that he doesn’t deserve more jail time....

Look at what he’s being punished for now: In March, he was arrested after an altercation in a St. Louis airport. After video of what had actually happened was released, all charges were dropped against Meek. In August, he was arrested for popping a wheelie on a motorcycle on his video set in New York.  Those charges were dismissed after he agreed to attend traffic school. Think about that.  The charges were either dropped or dismissed, but the judge sent him to prison anyway....

[I]t’s time we highlight the random ways people trapped in the criminal justice system are punished every day. The system treats them as a danger to society, consistently monitors and follows them for any minor infraction — with the goal of putting them back in prison.

As of 2015, one-third of the 4.65 million Americans who were on some form of parole or probation were black. Black people are sent to prison for probation and parole violations at much higher rates than white people.  In Pennsylvania, hundreds of thousands of people are on probation or parole.  About half of the people in city jails in Philadelphia are there for probation or parole violations.  We could literally shut down jails if we treated people on parole or probation more fairly....  Probation is a trap and we must fight for Meek and everyone else unjustly sent to prison.

Prior related post:

November 17, 2017 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

"Justice reform is real and conservative governors are leading the way"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent Fox News commentary authored by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin.  Here are excerpts:

During the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I participated in a national panel on criminal justice reform with like-minded, conservative governors Nathan Deal of Georgia and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma.  It was an honor for me to discuss how best to create second chance opportunities with these two veterans of criminal justice reform.

When I was elected as governor in 2015, it was my intention that Kentucky would also be making significant changes to our criminal justice system. That is exactly what we have been doing.  With a rising prison population, severely depleted workforce participation rates, and the highest percentage in the nation of children with at least one incarcerated parent, we unfortunately had plenty of room for improvement. For years Kentucky had maintained an outdated, “lock-em-up and throw away the key” approach. That was unsustainable from both a societal and financial cost and we were determined to shake up the status quo.

Transforming our justice systems, supporting policies that safely reduce our jail and prison populations, putting ex-offenders back to work, creating safer communities—doing what is right for the people we represent is not a political statement. We began by making it easier for formerly incarcerated people to get back to work, passing a comprehensive felony expungement bill that allows certain former offenders, who have been crime-free for five years, to wipe their slates clean.  We also passed a bold reentry initiative that provides for more job training and eliminates regulatory barriers to employment for people with criminal records.

Our administration implemented “ban the box” for state government agencies to give ex-offenders a fair shot at employment, and launched the “Justice to Journeyman” initiative, which paves a pathway for inmates and detained youth to earn nationally recognized credentials in a skilled trade.  Kentucky’s success as the center for engineering and manufacturing excellence in America is only being enhanced as we pioneer changes in criminal justice policy....

I ... encourage ... all governors to tackle criminal justice reform policy with a sense of urgency and purpose. Some political advisors still speak passionately about being “tough on crime”, and caution that supporting criminal justice reform policy could be politically dangerous at election time.

This is a ridiculous notion. After all, more than 90 percent of those now incarcerated will eventually re-enter society.  We either pave a path towards second opportunities or we settle for recidivism. Which is better for our communities?

If we want voters to continue electing conservatives, we must offer serious solutions. We can no longer afford to cling to the outdated idea that prison alone is the only way to hold people accountable for their crimes.  Instead, we need to take a smarter, more measured approach to criminal justice.  More than simply removing lawbreakers from society, we must also rehabilitate and re-assimilate them back into society.

In the midst of national division in many fronts, a community of conservative governors are uniting to build trust and offer real solutions to some of our country’s greatest problems.  Transforming our justice systems, supporting policies that safely reduce our jail and prison populations, putting ex-offenders back to work, creating safer communities — doing what is right for the people we represent is not a political statement.

America has always been a land of opportunity and second chances.  When we hold individuals fully accountable for their actions while treating them with respect in the process, all of society benefits.

November 16, 2017 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

New report asserts California could and should cut its prison population by another 30,000

SquarelogoThis notable report by Californians for Safety and Justice, titled "Safe and Sound: Strategies to Save a Billion in Prison Costs and Build New Safety Solutions," makes the case that California could and should reduce its prison population by another 30,000 in order to close prisons and free up resources to spend on drug rehabilitation, mental health, job training and other programs. Here is an excerpt from the long report's executive summary:

Between 2006 and 2016, California has seen: A 25% drop in state prison incarceration.  A 10% statewide average drop in county jail populations.  A 64% drop in the number of people on state parole and a 22% drop in the number of felony filings in criminal courts annually.  Today more than 1.5 million Californians are eligible to remove nonviolent felony convictions from their old conviction records — opening the door to new opportunities for stability and empowerment. Rehabilitation programs are becoming more available to people in the justice system to help stop the cycle of crime. Trauma recovery centers are expanding across the state — from just one five years ago to eleven centers today—providing crisis care and help for underserved survivors of violent crime.  And, with the incarceration declines, hundreds of millions of dollars are finally being reallocated from bloated, costly prisons to community-based treatment and prevention....

Despite this progress, the Golden State’s incarceration rate is still so high that it remains a historic anomaly. California still spends more than $11 billion a year on state prisons.  That’s a 500% increase in prison spending since 1981.  In fact, California spends as much today on prisons as every state in the United States combined spent on prisons in 1981 and it has increased annual prison spending at a rate that has significantly outpaced other states.  When local crime response costs in California are factored in, such as the cost of county jails, that figure is nearly doubled from $11 billion to $20 billion annually....

In the next five years, California leaders must commit to further reducing state incarceration and prison spending to finally achieve a balanced approach to public safety.  If California leaders can continue to rightsize the state’s incarceration rate — and substantially reduce prison spending — the state would have increased capacity to invest in new safety solutions that more effectively support people vulnerable to crime, prevent crime from happening in the first place and stop the cycle from continuing.

This report outlines the strategies available to local jurisdictions to reduce the flow of people into the justice system and the burdens local criminal justice systems face. It also describes the sentencing and prison length of stay reforms that can continue to safely reduce the number of people in state prison, strategies that are supported by data on what works to reduce recidivism.

If state leaders implement the sentencing and prison length of stay reforms outlined in this report, the state could safely reduce the length of prison terms for the majority of people in prison by 20%, and reduce the number of people in state prison by about 30,000.

November 16, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Should life in jail be worse than life outside?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new commentary authored by Chris Barker in The Week. Here are excerpts:

The crucial concept governing carceral practices is something called "less eligibility." The idea dates back to the English Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, which codified English practices of dealing with the indigent. In 1832, the economist Nassau William Senior described how the "first and most essential of all conditions" in administering relief to the poor (often by moving them into a workhouse) is that the indigent's "situation on the whole shall not be made really or apparently so eligible as the situation of the independent laborer of the lowest class."  That is, the conditions in the workhouse should be awful: worse even than the poorest of the poor.

But even before Senior's famous line, a different carceral ideal was afoot: equality. In 1791, writing specifically about criminal offenders, the English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that "the ordinary condition of a convict doomed to a punishment that few or none but the individuals of the poorest class are apt to incur, ought not to be made more eligible than that of the poorest class of subjects in a state of innocence and liberty."  As the historian Janet Semple observed in Bentham's Prison (1993), his rule of severity is not "less eligibility" but a more commonsense equality principle — offenders should have access to no more resources than they had while free. "Bentham," Semple wrote, "did not envisage grinding his convicts down to below the level of the poorest of the poor."

Other countries do not run their jails and prisons according to a principle of less eligibility. German prisons operate under an "approximation" principle, wherein offenders' rights to privacy, dignity and property are protected.  Norwegian prisons use a similar "normality principle," which holds that daily prison life should be, as far as possible, no different from ordinary life.  Fellow Englishman and Bentham disciple James Mill embraced the normality principle in 1825 by arguing that inmates in pre-trial incarceration should be allowed to lead the same life that they enjoyed prior to arrest, including access to employment and freedom to make small purchases with their own money.  Today, U.S. jails and prisons have rejected these examples in thrall to "less eligibility," and not just for the poorest of the poor....

If, as I think, the aim of punishment is rehabilitation, it is hard to justify less rather than equal eligibility.  But not all agree that rehabilitation is the primary aim of punishment. Deterrence theorists think that controlling crime is the most important aim of punishment. Retributivists hold that punishment should repay the harm done to another in a like manner: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth....

Too often, the U.S. conversation about criminal justice is about principles and theories of punishment: rehabilitation, retribution, deterrence. What I am arguing here is that these theories amount to little if we ignore less eligibility, or how we punish.  Visiting a jail without an outdoor yard, where offenders have no physical contact with friends and family during their incarceration, or a prison where life unfolds within coils of obtrusive razor wire, is not a normal life, and doesn't prepare you to return to normal life.  As opinion in the U.S. starts to move away from some punitive strategies such as solitary confinement, we should reconsider which of our other carceral practices meet or violate the crucial secondary principles (leniency, proportionality, egalitarianism) of a just criminal justice system....

It is a tragedy if the attempt to have a just society with a suitable criminal justice system has been transformed into criminogenic warehousing, based on surveillance and discipline, which achieves few or none of the goals of punishment.  It is foolishness to countenance such a system merely because it has not yet touched you.  The road to the present state of affairs leads through less eligibility, which, on the surface, is a principle that makes sense: treat offenders to a life that is worse than life on the outside.  After all, why should offenders have air conditioning if the farmer "living in innocence and liberty" does not?  But the answer is that it is too easy to forget the other constraints on the dignity, privacy, and autonomy of those incarcerated in jails and prisons.

Our present system is costly and ineffective; it creates aberrant economies and empowers prison gangs that in turn influence street gangs.  Prisons reproduce the cultural inadequacy of life on the inside on our streets and in popular culture, and when offenders are released into communities, their lack of rehabilitation justifies further segregation and other collateral consequences, such as employment and housing discrimination.

November 15, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Notable protests and legal appeals as rapper Meek Mill's harsh sentence for probation violation shines light on back-end of justice system

ImagesKMOOADW6Because I do not know Pennsylvania's procedures, I have been a bit unsure how best to cover controversy over the 2-4 year prison sentence given to rapper Meek Mill for violating his probation from a 2008 gun and drug case.  This new CNN article, headlined "Outrage mounts over Meek Mill's prison sentence," provides some useful background on the case while reporting on the protest that took place at Philadelphia's Criminal Justice Center on Monday and highlighting that the "case has sparked outrage not just from the hip-hop community but from activists for criminal justice reform around the nation." 

Now this lengthy new Philadelphia Inquirer article, headlined "Meek Mill appeals sentence, asks city judge Brinkley to step down," provides a useful accounting of legal issues and related stories swirling around this case. Here are excerpts:

Lawyers for imprisoned Philadelphia-born rapper Meek Mill have launched what one lawyer called a “flurry of legal filings” to try to get the 30-year-old hip-hop star released from his 2- to 4-year prison term for violating the terms of his 10-year-old probation.

The first filing Tuesday — a day after hundreds of supporters met outside the city Criminal Justice Center demanding Mill’s release — asked Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Genece E. Brinkley to disqualify herself from further involvement his case and allow a new judge to reconsider Mill’s prison sentence. The 14-page motion, buttressed by 143 pages of court transcripts, maintains that Brinkley, 61, a judge since 1993, had “assumed a non-judicial, essentially prosecutorial role in the revocation process,” and ignored the recommendations of the probation officer and prosecutor, neither of whom sought imprisonment.

The motion contends that Brinkley has gone beyond “the proper bounds of the judicial role, even as supervisor of a probationary sentence. Judge Brinkley has repeatedly offered inappropriate personal and professional advice to the defendant, who had become a successful professional entertainer during the pendency of this case. On some occasions, Judge Brinkley has done so off the record, or on the record while attempting inappropriately to keep that record secret from the defendant and his counsel.”

“Last week’s hearing was a farce,” said defense attorney Brian J. McMonagle. “It was a miscarriage of justice that lacked even the semblance of fairness. Today, we have asked this Judge to step aside so that a fair minded jurist can right this terrible wrong.”

McMonagle said he would file a motion seeking bail for Mill, who was taken into custody following the Nov. 6 hearing before Brinkley for violating his probation from a 2008 drug and gun case. McMonagle said Brinkley has 30 days to respond to the motions filed Tuesday. If she does not respond, Mill’s lawyers can take the case to Superior Court. For Mill, the problem with a Superior Court appeal is that, unless he is allowed bail pending appeal, he could serve his minimum sentence before a decision.

Nor does the Superior Court have a reputation for disturbing lower court sentences in such cases. An article in Sunday’s Inquirer reviewed seven Superior Court appeals of probation violation sentences imposed by Brinkley over the last four years. All were affirmed.

Mill, born Robert Williams, is now in the state prison at Camp Hill near Harrisburg undergoing evaluation before his permanent prison assignment. “He’s holding up OK,” said McMonagle, adding that Mill is in “protective custody” – in a single cell for 23 hours a day with one hour out for exercise.

A motion to reconsider the sentence is the first step in any criminal appeal to the state Superior Court, the intermediate appeals court between the trial courts and the state Supreme Court. Unless she modifies or vacates Mill’s sentence, Brinkley will be required to write an opinion for the appeals court explaining her reasons for sending him to prison.

At the Nov. 6 hearing during which Brinkley sentenced Mill, the veteran judge recounted almost 10 years of court proceedings in which he had violated his probation, and she had sentenced him to short periods in jail and then had extended his probation.

Mill’s most recent “technical violations” were testing positive for the prescription narcotic Percocet earlier this year and two misdemeanor arrests, for an altercation at the St. Louis airport and a traffic violation in Manhattan involving a motorbike.

Brinkley also reminded Mill of the night she actually tried to verify that he was feeding the homeless, part of the community service she ordered. She went to a Center City soup kitchen run by the Broad Street Ministry – and found him instead sorting clothes. “It was only when you realized that I came there to check on you that you decided to serve meals,” Brinkley told the rapper.

Mill’s lawyers contend the judge’s surreptitious visit was also questionable: “Judge Brinkley thereby made herself a fact witness on the question of whether Mr. Williams was in compliance on that occasion, as well as to any statements he may have made. Judge Brinkley then relied on her own version of this incident … among the reasons for imposing a state prison sentence.”

Mill’s lawyers contend that Brinkley also demonstrated a personal bias involving Mill in a private in-chambers meeting during a Feb. 5, 2016, probation-violation hearing. At that hearing, Mill’s then-attorney Frank DeSimone told Brinkley that Mill wanted to discuss his experiences performing community service but “would feel more comfortable relaying some of his thoughts and experiences” to the judge in private....

Joe Tacopina, a lawyer for Mill based in New York City – who was not in the private meeting – has said Brinkley asked Mill last year to record a version of a Boyz II Men ballad, “On Bended Knee,” and to mention the judge in it. Tacopina said Mill laughed off the request and told Brinkley: “I can’t do that. It’s not my music. I don’t sing that stuff. And I don’t do, like, you know, shout-outs to people in my songs.” Brinkley replied, “’OK, suit yourself,’” according to Tacopina.

Tacopina also alleged that Brinkley asked Mill to drop his current management, Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, and to return to Philadelphia-based Charles “Charlie Mack” Alston, who worked with Mill early in his career....

In a related development Tuesday, authorities dismissed a New York Post internet report that the FBI was investigating Brinkley’s role in recommending Mill return to Mack’s management. An FBI spokeswoman in Philadelphia said that, per Justice Department policies, her office could not confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation. However, a federal law enforcement official in the city said that he was not aware of any active probe into the matter.

November 14, 2017 in Celebrity sentencings, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

New report explores "Florida Criminal Justice Reform: Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities"

This press release provides highlights regarding this big new report from the Project on Accountable Justice examining Florida's criminal justice system and relatively high levels of incarceration. Here are excerpts from the press release:

The Project on Accountable Justice (PAJ) [has] released an interactive, web-based research report focused on the Florida prison system.  The report, entitled “Florida Criminal Justice Reform: Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities,” is an effort to help citizens and policy makers understand some of the dynamics that make Florida’s prison system large, dangerous, and expensive.

The report shows how short-sighted policies and practices drove the state’s prison population to higher than one hundred thousand people, and how Florida’s experience differs from those of other states like New York.  In discussing the underlying dynamics of Florida’s prison system — who is going to prison and why, who is in prison and for how long — the report demonstrates a trifecta of ineffective and expensive strategies: 1) too many people are sent to prison for minor and nonviolent offenses; 2) overly punitive sentencing policies — like mandatory minimum sentences — keep people in prison for exceptionally long terms that are too often incongruous with the nature of their crime; and 3) the unavailability of prisoner review systems and incentive structures to reward prisoners for good behavior prevent state officials from introducing release strategies that could safely reduce the prison population while also making it more manageable....

“Florida Criminal Justice Reform” argues that policy makers should know how the state’s criminal justice system measures up, and suggests some key metrics: Is the system fair and unbiased?  Are prison sentences reserved for dangerous people who pose a threat to public safety? What are the costs and benefits of the prison system, in terms of rehabilitation and public safety, or recidivism and expense?  As former Florida Attorney General and PAJ Chairman Richard Doran asks, “Do the current investments, practices, and policy strategies employed by our state’s criminal justice and correctional systems result in the returns Floridians expect and deserve?”

“Florida Criminal Justice Reform” is an accessible and interactive introduction to these questions. Among its findings are the following:

  • Nonviolent offenses drive prison admissions. Seventy-two percent of people admitted to prison in FY2015 were sentenced for a nonviolent offense.

  • In FY2015, the state spent $300 million to incarcerate people for drug offenses, and $107 million to incarcerate people for probation violations.  The vast majority — more than 70 percent — of people sentenced to prison for a violation of probation were on probation for a nonviolent offense.

  • Florida’s mandatory minimum drug laws cost Florida taxpayers $106 million in FY2015.

  • Florida’s criminal justice system does not adhere to basic notions of fairness: your ZIP code and the color of your skin can sometimes matter more than your behavior.

  • Statewide, black Floridians are 5.5 times more likely to be imprisoned than white Floridians.

  • Residents of Panama City (14th Circuit) are 32 times more likely to be sent to prison for a VOP than people who live in Palm Beach (15th Circuit).

  • Statewide, black adults are almost twice as likely to be in prison for a drug offense than residents of the UK are to be in prison for any reason.

The report’s authors conclude with six recommendations, with guidance from previous research:

  • Enhance external oversight to improve transparency and effectiveness of Florida’s correctional facilities.

  • Build a risk-based system of pretrial practices to replace the current money-based bail system.

  • Keep youth out of confinement and the adult criminal justice system.

  • Review and modernize sentencing practices and policies.

  • Encourage local, community-driven solutions to crime through incentive funding.

  • Measure criminal justice success with better data collection and reporting.

“These reforms are possible and will make Florida a safer place to live and visit,” said the report’s lead author, Cyrus O’Brien. “A smaller system that judiciously reserved incarceration only for the purpose of incapacitating dangerous individuals would face fewer challenges and accomplish better results. Achieving a better system will require sustained, purposeful, and systemic reform.”

November 14, 2017 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"Roughly one in 12 people in America’s prisons and jails is a veteran"

Veterans-day-thank-you-quotesThe title of this post is one of a number of notable facts reviewed in this new webpage up at Families Against Mandatory Minimums. The page carries the simple heading "Veterans Day," and here are excerpts:

Kenny. Ronald. Warren. Michael. All of these men served in our country’s Armed Forces.  Between them, their service extended to all branches of the military and earned them several Purple Hearts and other distinctions. They served bravely and with courage, and we honor them and all veterans today.

Ronald, Michael, Warren, and Kenny are also prisoners and former prisoners.  Roughly one in 12 people in America’s prisons and jails is a veteran.  Often, they’ve ended up in prison because of behavior resulting from injuries and trauma sustained during service.  Many are serving absurdly long sentences for low-level drug offenses, having turned to drugs as a way of coping with PTSD and adjusting to life after tours of duty.  And almost always, they are forgotten on this solemn day.

Our message today is simple:

  • Judges need discretion at sentencing to consider the reasons our country’s veterans ended up on the wrong side of the law.
  • The evidence of America’s failed war on drugs is in heartbreaking relief when you consider the lives of veterans— who put their lives on the line for our country — now serving inhumane mandatory minimum sentences.
  • The service to our country of incarcerated veterans is no less appreciated because of your incarceration. You are not forgotten. Thank you for your service.

Some sobering facts to think about today:

  • More than 75 percent of incarcerated veterans received honorable discharges from the military.
  • An estimated two thirds of those serving prison sentences discharged from service between 1974 and 2000, a period spanning several wars including Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
  • Of the total number of persons incarcerated, about half were diagnosed with a mental disorder, frequently Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • Sixty-four percent of incarcerated veterans have been sentenced for violent offenses, as opposed to only 48 percent of other prisoners. (That single fact has resulted in both longer and harsher sentences for veterans.)

Some good news:

  • Overall, the veteran prison population has shrunk.
  • As both the Veterans Administration and the courts have begun to understand this particular issue, the situation for veterans has improved. The veteran prison population has dropped as the Veterans Administration works to provide outreach and support to returning vets, including the provision of Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist.
  • Probation officers and corrections staff are being trained to immediately identify veterans upon sentencing, and then to connect the veteran with a Veterans Justice Outreach Specialist who can advise and support the veteran.

November 11, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

House members reintroduce the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act

As reported in this press release, yesterday "Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Jason Lewis (R-MN) introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at safely reining in the size and associated costs of the federal criminal code and prison system."  Here is more from the press release about the reintroduction of one of the most progressive federal statutory sentencing reform proposals to make the rounds recently:

H.R. 4261, the Safe, Accountable, Fair, and Effective (SAFE) Justice Act takes a broad-based approach to improving the federal sentencing and corrections system, spanning from sentencing reform to release policies.  The legislation, which is inspired by the successes of states across the country, will break the cycle of recidivism, concentrate prison space on violent and career criminals, increase the use of evidence-based alternatives to incarceration, curtail over-criminalization, reduce crime, and save money....

Similar to the successful reform packages enacted in many states, the SAFE Justice Act aligns the federal prison system with the science about what works to reform criminal behavior.  It reflects the growing consensus among researchers that, for many offenders, adding more months and years onto long prison terms is a high-cost, low-return approach to public safety.  It also looks to the growing number of practices in correctional supervision that are shown to reduce recidivism. 

The SAFE Justice Act will:

  • Reduce recidivism by –
    • incentivizing completion of evidence-based prison programming and activities through expanded earned time credits;
    • implementing swift, certain, and proportionate sanctions for violations of supervision; and
    • offering credits for compliance with the conditions of supervision.
  • Concentrate prison space on violent and career criminals by  –
    • focusing mandatory minimum sentences on leaders and supervisors of drug trafficking organizations;
    • safely expanding the drug trafficking safety valve (an exception to mandatory minimums) for qualified offenders; and
    • creating release valves for lower-risk geriatric and terminally-ill offenders.
  • Increase use of evidence-based sentencing alternatives by  –
    • encouraging greater use of probation and problem-solving courts for appropriate offenders; and
    • creating a performance-incentive funding program to better align the interests of the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Probation Offices. 
  • Curtail overcriminalization by –
    • requiring regulatory criminal offenses to be compiled and published for the public;
    • ensuring fiscal impact statements are attached to all future sentencing and corrections proposals; and
    • charging the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Administrative Office of the Courts with collecting key outcome performance measures.
  • Reduce crime by –
    • investing in evidence-based crime prevention initiatives; and
    • increasing funding for community based policing and public safety initiatives.

Original cosponsors of the SAFE Justice Act: Reps. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Mia Love (R-UT), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA).

Additional information about the SAFE Justice Act:

Prior related post from June 2015:

November 8, 2017 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Lots more impressive work in Teen Vogue's "Kids Incarcerated" series

In this post a few weeks ago I noted that Teen Vogue has been giving sustained attention to the issues of juvenile incarceration in this "Kids Incarcerated" series of articles.  This series now has dozens of articles that are work checking out, and these recent articles especially caught my attention and seemed worthy of additional promotion (though every article in the series looks great):

November 2, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Notable defense of prison labor from a former prisoner

Chandra Bozelko, a former prisoner and author of the blog Prison Diaries, has this interesting Los Angeles Times commentary headlined "Think prison labor is a form of slavery? Think again."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

When a prison inmate prays for release from her cell, prison industries can be her first salvation. I couldn’t wait to head to work in the kitchen of the maximum-security women’s prison in Connecticut where I did six years for identity theft and related crimes. I was paid 75 cents to $1.75 a day to make and serve a lot of casserole.  Yet I consider most of the criticism lobbed at prison labor — that it’s a form of slavery, a capitalist horror show — unfair, and even counterproductive in the effort to reform the justice system.

Among the firefighters on California’s fire lines this fall, 30% to 40% are inmates, paid $1 an hour to work side by side with crews making a lot more money. Some inmate firefighters have gone on the record saying they feel the same way I do about prison jobs.  It’s people on the outside who rail against prison work assignments, particularly hiring prisoners to fight fires.

“We don’t want prison policy driven by a desire for cheap labor,” says David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. He worries that a captive labor force incentivizes mass incarceration. Fathi can point to some unfortunate remarks made by prison administrators.  Last month, the sheriff of Caddo Parish, La., lamented the loss of the “good” prisoners who washed prison cars.  In 2014, the office of the attorney general of California balked at reducing prison overcrowding because it would deplete the prison workforce.

Still, less than half of America’s prison population works.  The most recent available Bureau of Justice statistics come from 2005, when 800,000 to 900,000 inmates, out of a population of about 2.3 million, had jobs within their facilities.  That left at least 1.3 million prisoners for the government to house, clothe and feed without getting anything in return.  It doesn’t seem likely that captive labor is the reason our prisons are overcrowded.

Most labor in prison is menial work for the state. Inmates sew hems on jackets for municipal employees; they do laundry duty or janitorial work.  These are also normal, outside-world activities and jobs. When a prisoner is cooking, mopping floors or folding clothes, she knows somewhere, an unincarcerated person is doing the same thing.  When a prisoner is working, she is the closest to free she can be, until she gets out.

My prison job made me feel like I was fulfilling my existential duty to society: I was contributing. It doesn’t surprise me that prison work assignments are credited with reducing recidivism. Any change for good that happened within me while I was incarcerated grew out of my job. If I feel that way about my time making chicken a la king, an inmate who’s saving lives fighting fires must feel it 10 times over.

Some call prison labor the new Jim Crow because of the outsized number of black and brown inmates in U.S. prisons.  It’s a facile charge, and worse, it may be keeping progressive companies away from prison projects.  Socially conscious businesses and agencies are likely to pay inmates higher wages, train them for better jobs and do more to prepare them for life after prison — if those companies aren’t scared away by vociferous critics of prison labor.

Whole Foods used to sell goat cheese made from milk produced on a prison farm in Colorado. “We felt supporting suppliers who found a way to be part of paid, rehabilitative work being done by inmates would help people get back on their feet and eventually become contributing members of society,” a company spokesman said. Whole Foods ended the program in 2015, after consumer protests I can only assume came from people who’ve never been incarcerated. Anyone who’s done time wouldn’t deny a fellow prisoner that kind of lifeline....

Don’t get me wrong, prison labor is by no means problem-free. Two inmate firefighters died in work-related accidents in California this year. It’s unclear whether a lack of training or the inherent danger of firefighting contributed to those deaths. We may never know because there is too little investigation of worker safety in all prisoner occupations. If safety and worker empowerment were the focus of prison labor reform, rather than dismantling the system, the movement would get my support.

The way to protect workers is the same inside and outside: unionization. It’s a misconception that inmate unions are against the law. The Supreme Court held 40 years ago that wardens don’t violate prisoners’ 1st Amendment rights when they bust inmate unions, but at the same time, nothing prohibits prison administrators from allowing unions to form. That’s where the pushback against prison labor should be aimed, toward persuading wardens to allow physical and organizational safeguards for inmate workers, protections they can negotiate for themselves.

October 22, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

"Women’s Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017"

Women_pie_2017The title of this post is the title of this great new report authored by Aleks Kajstura and released by the Prison Policy Initiative jointly with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice. In the tradition of other great "whole pie" efforts (see, e.g., here), this latest report details the number of women who are locked up by various correctional systems and why.  Here is part of the text of the report:

With growing public attention to the problem of mass incarceration, people want to know about women’s experience with incarceration. How many women are held in prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities in the United States? And why are they there? While these are important questions, finding those answers requires not only disentangling the country’s decentralized and overlapping criminal justice systems, but also unearthing the frustratingly hard to find and often altogether missing data on gender.

This report provides a first-of-its-kind detailed view of the 219,000 women incarcerated in the United States, and how they fit into the even larger picture of correctional control.  Since 2014, the Prison Policy Initiative has quantified the number of people incarcerated in the United States, and calculated the breakdown of people held by each correctional system by offense in an annual Whole Pie: Mass Incarceration report.  This report, done in collaboration with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice, finally provides similar data on women incarcerated in the Unites States....

In stark contrast to the total incarcerated population, where the state prison systems hold twice as many people as are held in jails, incarcerated women are nearly evenly split between state prisons and local jails.

The explanation for exactly what happened, when, and why does not yet exist because the data on women has long been obscured by the larger picture of men’s incarceration. The disaggregated numbers presented here are an important first step to ensuring that women are not left behind in the effort to end mass incarceration.

A staggering number of women who are incarcerated are not even convicted: more than a quarter of women who are behind bars have not yet had a trial.  Moreover, 60% of women in jail have not been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial.

Avoiding pre-trial incarceration is uniquely challenging for women.  The number of unconvicted women stuck in jail is surely not because courts are considering women, who are generally the primary caregivers of children, to be a flight risk.  The far more likely answer is that incarcerated women, who have lower incomes than incarcerated men, have an even harder time affording cash bail.  A previous study found that women who could not make bail had an annual median income of just $11,071.  And among those women, Black women had a median annual income of only $9,083 (just 20% that of a white non-incarcerated man). When the typical $10,000 bail amounts to a full year’s income, it’s no wonder that women are stuck in jail awaiting trial.

Even once convicted, the system funnels women into jails: About a quarter of convicted incarcerated women are held in jails, compared to about 10% of all people incarcerated with a conviction.

So what does it mean that large numbers of women are held in jail - for them, and for their families? While stays in jail are generally shorter than in stays in prison, jails make it harder to stay in touch with family than prisons do.  Phone calls are more expensive, up to $1.50 per minute, and other forms of communication are more restricted - some jails don’t even allow real letters, limiting mail to postcards.  This is especially troubling given that 80% of women in jails are mothers, and most of them are primary caretakers of their children.  Thus children are particularly susceptible to the domino effect of burdens placed on incarcerated women.  Women in jails are also more likely to suffer from mental health problems and experience serious psychological distress than either women in prisons or men in either correctional setting.

The numbers revealed by this report enable a national conversation about the policies that impact incarcerated women held in various facilities, and also serve as the foundation for discussions to change the policies that lead to incarcerating women in the first place.  All too often, the conversation about criminal justice reform starts and stops with the question of non-violent drug and property offenses.  While drug and property offenses make up more than half of the offenses for which women are incarcerated, the chart reveals that all offenses, including violent offenses that account for roughly a quarter of all incarcerated women, must be considered in the effort to reduce the number of incarcerated women in this country.  This new data on women underlines the need for reform discussions to focus not just on the easier choices but on choices that can lead to impactful policy changes.

October 19, 2017 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

What may be the future of federal halfway houses in the Trump Administration?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Reuters article from last week that a helpful reader made sure I did not miss.  The article is headlined "Trump administration reduces support for prisoner halfway houses," and here are excerpts:

The administration of President Donald Trump has been quietly cutting support for halfway houses for federal prisoners, severing contracts with as many

The Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Justin Long confirmed the cuts in response to an email inquiry from Reuters, and said they only affect areas with small populations or underutilized centers. “The Bureau remains firmly committed to these practices, but has had to make some modifications to our programs due to our fiscal environment,” Long said.

Halfway houses have been a part of the justice system since the 1960s, with thousands of people moving through them each year. For-profit prison companies such as Geo Group Inc have moved into the halfway house market, though many houses are run directly by government agencies or non-profit organizations. A Geo spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.

The bureau, which falls under the U.S. Department of Justice, last year had about 180 competitive contracts with “residential reentry centers” run by non-profit and for-profit companies, such as Geo. The International Community Corrections Association says on its website there were about 249 separate halfway houses in communities nationwide that are covered by the 180 contracts.

Federal judges who spoke to Reuters said the cuts are having an impact in their districts, particularly in states with fewer facilities or larger geographic areas where the nearest center might be several hundred miles away. Judge Edmund Sargus of the Southern District of Ohio said it was a real “stumper” when in July the government ended its contract with the Alvis facility serving the Dayton area.

Long said that the cuts have not reduced referral rates or placements, and only impact “about 1% of the total number of beds under contract.”...

In 2016, of the 43,000 inmates released from federal prison, 79 percent were released into a halfway house or home confinement, according to the trade association.

“We need to improve re-entry services ... This move flies in the face of that consensus,” said Kevin Ring, whose non-profit Families Against Mandatory Minimums has recently launched a Twitter campaign to raise awareness of the problem....

For Kymjetta Carr, the cuts have had a personal impact. The 30-year-old from Cincinnati said she had expected her fiance Anthony Lamar to get out of prison and go to a halfway house in November, after serving seven years on a drug charge. But she now has to tell their 10-year-old son his father won’t be out for Christmas or his birthday because Lamar’s release to a halfway house will not come until late July. “It seems like the rug has been pulled out from under us,” she said, in an interview arranged through Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Halfway houses are low-security residences for thousands of convicted prisoners serving alternative sentences or on release from prison into partial freedom programs on the outside. The facilities are meant to help prisoners reenter their communities, find a job and get their lives back on track. A study commissioned last year by the Justice Department found that centers have come under greater strain in recent years, as more people have been released from prison.

Blair Campmier, executive director of Reality House in Columbia, Missouri, said he was notified in early June that the center’s eight-year-old contract would be terminated. Some of his clients were sent to halfway houses in Kansas City and Springfield, more than two hours away. “They were not happy, and their families were not happy,” said Campmier.

Ricardo Martinez, the Chief U.S. District Judge in the Western District of Washington and Chairman of the Committee on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the United States, told Reuters he has sent a letter to the Bureau of Prisons’ new Director Mark Inch requesting discussions. “From our perspective, these facilities are not only useful - they are essential,” Martinez said.

October 19, 2017 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Reviewing how federal prisons deny rehabilitative programming to undocumented prisoners

Jacob Schuman, a federal public defender, has this new Marshall Project commentary examining federal Bureau of Prisons policies that deny access to rehabilitative programs to a certain notable prison population.  The piece provides a review of policies that are scattered in complicated program statements that can often escape scrutiny.  The piece is fully headlined "Federal Prisons Don’t Even Try to Rehabilitate the Undocumented: The Bureau of Prisons fails to provide basic resources to undocumented prisoners." Here is how it starts:

The federal Bureau of Prisons claims its mission is to “provide work and self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens.” When it comes to undocumented offenders, that’s a lie.

The truth is that the BOP discriminates against undocumented people by denying them access to essential drug counseling and job training in prison.

As President Trump threatens to lock up even more undocumented immigrants, it’s time for the BOP to reform these exclusionary policies, which are both ineffective and inhumane.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission reports that about one-third of all the people sent to federal prison each year are “illegal aliens.” In 2016, more than half of all federal criminal prosecutions involved immigration-related offenses.

Despite the BOP’s rehabilitative promises, the agency excludes these prisoners from its best addiction and vocational programs. The BOP officially bars any prisoner subject to an order of deportation from participating in its “most intensive,” nine-month Residential Drug Abuse Program, as well as from its compensated job-training program, Federal Prison Industries.The BOP similarly shuts out undocumented prisoners from its reentry-focused Release Preparation Program and even from its faith-based Life Connections Program.

The BOP strictly limits the access of undocumented prisoners to its other rehabilitative services. For example, some prisons offer occupational education programs intended to teach inmates marketable skills, but regulations specify that undocumented prisoners may only participate if resources permit after “meeting the needs of other eligible inmates.”

The BOP’s three-month Nonresidential Drug Abuse Program doesn’t officially exclude undocumented prisoners, but officials still sometimes prevent prisoners from participating if they’re subject to deportation.

The only remaining rehabilitative programs are a short drug abuse education course as well as a few literacy and English classes. (Unlike other incarcerated people, however, prisoners subject to deportation aren’t required to attend.)

Even the few programs theoretically open to undocumented people are, in practice, denied to many because the government primarily incarcerates them in for-profit facilities that aren’t required to offer rehabilitative services.

October 18, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, October 16, 2017

"Racial Disparity in U.S. Imprisonment Across States and over Time"

The title of this post is the title of this new empirical article now available via SSRN authored by Walter Enders, Paul Pecorino and Anne-Charlotte Souto.  Here is the abstract:

The overall incarceration rate in the United States is extremely high by international standards. Moreover, there are large racial disparities, with the black male rate of imprisonment being 5.5 times the white male rate in 2014.  This paper focus on how this black-white imprisonment ratio has behaved over time within and across states. We show that the large increase in black imprisonment between 1978 and 1999 was driven by increases in the overall rate of imprisonment, while the smaller decrease which occurred between 1999 and 2014 was driven by reductions in the black-white ratio.

For many states, the black-white ratio turned upward in the mid-1980s, where this upturn may have been linked to the crack epidemic.  Many states experienced a downturn in the black-white ratio starting in the 1990s.  Whatever its other effects, this suggests that the 1994 crime bill did not aggravate the preexisting racial disparity in imprisonment. California’s experience has been strongly counter to national trends with a large increase in the racial disparity beginning in the early 1990s and continuing until near the end of our sample.

October 16, 2017 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

"Attorney hopes to import the best practices of European prisons to the United States"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy ABA Journal article from the October 2017 issue. Here is how it starts:

Attorney Donald Specter spent more than three decades working to protect the rights of incarcerated people before he finally saw a prison he believed in.

He was in Europe, having just won perhaps the biggest ruling of his career — a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Plata that required California to reduce its inmate population by more than 40,000. But Specter, executive director of the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, wasn’t there to celebrate.  He was a co-instructor on a study-abroad trip about correctional practices with University of Maryland students.

This trip included visits to prisons in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Specter says he was blown away. The prisons were nothing like those he had spent his career trying to change in the United States.  For starters, they were physically different — built to resemble life on the outside. Inmates had their own rooms and, in some cases, were allowed to cook in communal kitchens.  But what struck Specter most was that the prisoners were treated differently, too.  “They still regarded the people in prison as members of the community who were going to return to the community,” he says. “That has a whole bunch of implications.”

Specter, who began his legal career as a volunteer at the Prison Law Office, had long been frustrated by the limits of litigation to bring about meaningful change.  In Europe, he began to wonder whether there might be a different way to approach his life’s work.  “By the end of the trip, [the students’] basic question was: Why do we have such lousy prisons when they can be so much better?” he says.  “I started thinking about whether the same kind of transformation could happen with people who were a little older and more experienced — hardened correctional officers and the like.”

In 2013, Specter launched the U.S.-European Criminal Justice Innovation Program, sponsoring weeklong tours of European prisons for U.S. corrections officials, judges and lawmakers. He funds the trips using fees from his lawsuits, including some of the $2.2 million his office was awarded after the high court’s ruling in Brown.  In that case, Specter represented prisoners who challenged the delivery of health care in the California prison system.  The high court affirmed an earlier appeals court ruling that overcrowding was the primary cause of the deficient system and ordered the state to reduce its inmate population.

Specter’s first overseas trip was with representatives from Colorado, Georgia and Pennsylvania and included stops in Germany and the Netherlands. Subsequent tours, including one this fall with officials from Alaska, have focused on Norway, which is known for the freedoms it grants eligible inmates.  So far, officials from eight states have participated, including the executive director, president and vice president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators, which has members who oversee 400,000 correctional personnel and 8 million inmates or former inmates.

Although the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world — 676 inmates per 100,000 people, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime — Specter thinks Americans still have a lot to learn about how to prepare prisoners for life on the outside.  (Norway’s incarceration rate is 80 inmates per 100,000 people.)

October 15, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, October 13, 2017

"The Federal Rules of Inmate Appeals"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Catherine Struve now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure turn fifty in 2018. During the Rules’ half-century of existence, the number of federal appeals by self-represented, incarcerated litigants has grown dramatically.  This article surveys ways in which the procedure for inmate appeals has evolved over the past 50 years, and examines the challenges of designing procedures with confined litigants in mind. 

In the initial decades under the Appellate Rules, the most visible developments concerning the procedure for inmate appeals arose from the interplay between court decisions and the federal rulemaking process. But, as court dockets swelled, the circuits also developed local case management practices that significantly affect inmate appeals.  And, in the 1990s, Congress enacted legislation that produced major changes in inmate litigation, including inmate appeals.

In the coming years, the most notable new driver of change in the procedure for inmate appeals may be the advent of opportunities for electronic court filing within prisons. That nascent development illustrates the ways in which the particulars of procedure in inmate appeals are shaped by systems in prisons, jails, and other facilities -- and underscores the salience of local court practices and institutional partnerships.

October 13, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

New Sentencing Project fact sheets on disparities in youth incarceration and comments to USSC on incarceration alternatives

Via email I learned of these two new fact sheets from The Sentencing Project highlighting incarceration disparities among youth of color:

In addition, the folks at the Sentencing Project have recently posted here public comment submitted to the US Sentencing Commission on the USSC's "First Offenders/Alternatives to Incarceration" proposed amendment.  The comments to the USSC starts this way:

The undersigned applaud the Sentencing Commission’s consideration of an amendment to increase the availability of sentences of alternatives to incarceration within the federal sentencing guidelines.  The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 which created the guideline system wisely recognized the appropriateness of non-incarceration sentences in certain cases.  Since that time criminological research has underscored Congress’s assumptions, and evidence suggests that a broader cohort of people than at present could be sentenced within the federal system more efficiently without incarceration. Doing so would not compromise public safety, but would save tax dollars, preserve families and enhance rehabilitation.

October 12, 2017 in Data on sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"'Cooking Them to Death': The Lethal Toll of Hot Prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this remarkable new Marshall Project reporting discussing the modern practical problems one finds at the intersection of climate change and modern incarceration practices. The reporting includes this 20-minute documentary put together by the Weather Channel, the Marshall Project and Divided Films. And here is a bit of the written piece:

Most Americans have felt the effects of an increasingly hotter planet. In recent decades, changes in climate have brought higher average temperatures and longer heat waves. But few are as vulnerable to weather trends as incarcerated people, a point underscored in August when thousands were evacuated from Texas prisons ahead of Hurricane Harvey. While some state prison systems — plus federal prisons and military detention facilities, including Guantanamo Bay — keep temperatures within a liveable range, many do not, according to a 2015 Columbia Law School report. Prisoners often live without air-conditioning in areas where temperatures exceed 100 degrees for days at a time and the heat index, which records how hot it feels with humidity, has hit 150 degrees.

The human body is built to cool itself by sweating and dilating blood vessels, but those self-cooling mechanisms can break down. “When the humidity is really high, the sweat can’t evaporate,” said Susi Vassallo, M.D., a New York University professor in emergency medicine who studies thermoregulation. “It just rolls off your body, without cooling it.” Heat stroke victims may become delirious and start seizing and convulsing. “The cells of the body start to cook and fall apart,” said Vassallo, who has testified against prison agencies in lawsuits over heat conditions.

Although there are no national figures on how many prisoners die of heat illness, horror stories emerge every summer: inmates screaming “Help us!” out of the windows of a St. Louis jail; New Hampshire men flooding their scorching cells to cool them down; Arizona prisoners whose shoes melt in the sun.  A growing segment of the incarcerated population is especially heat-sensitive. Jails and prisons house an increasing number of people with mental illness; as many as one in five Texas prisoners are prescribed psychotropic medications, which make the body more vulnerable to heat. A similar number receive blood pressure drugs, which can cause the same problem. And the rise of longer sentences in the 1980s and 90s has produced a surge of older prisoners, who are particularly susceptible to heat illnesses.

There is a way to prevent heat stroke in prison, of course: cooling the facilities during the hottest months. But in most states, there’s little political will to do so.  On its corrections department website, Florida lists the availability of air-conditioning as one of many “misconceptions” about its prison system, along with cable television. “We couldn’t afford to do it if we wanted to,” State Sen. John Whitmire, who chairs the Texas Senate’s criminal justice committee, told an interviewer in 2011 about air-conditioning in prisons. “But number one we just don’t want to.”  Whitmire, a Democrat, did not respond to a request for comment.

Among roughly 150,000 people in Texas prisons, about four in five have no access to air-conditioning in their cells. “The retort was always that if our soldiers in Iraq could manage in un-air conditioned tents, that was good enough for prisoners,” recalls Michele Deitch, former general counsel for the state senate’s criminal justice committee. (The military now provides air-conditioning in many tents in Iraq and Afghanistan.)  But unlike soldiers, prisoners have limited ability to adapt to heat; they can’t always catch a breeze outside or access cool water.

Unable to sway policymakers or corrections officials, inmates and their families are taking their complaints to the courtroom. In the past several years, courts in Arizona, Mississippi, and Wisconsin have sided with prisoners suing officials over extreme heat. In 2012, a federal judge ordered the Louisiana State Penitentiary to lower temperatures on death row to 88 degrees; at times, the heat index had reached 109.

But Texas is the center of the legal battle.  More than 20 state prisoners have died from the heat since 1998. It’s unknown how many more succumbed to heart attacks and other ailments in which heat was a contributing factor.  The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is facing numerous wrongful death lawsuits, one of them mounted by Robert Allen Webb’s family, along with a class action suit to force cooler conditions at the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, about 70 miles northwest of Houston.

October 11, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Inside Private Prisons: An American Dilemma in the Age of Mass Incarceration"

9780231179706The title of this post is the title of this notable new book about to be published and authored by Lauren-Brooke Eisen.  Here is the book description from the press's webpage:

When the tough-on-crime politics of the 1980s overcrowded state prisons, private companies saw potential profit in building and operating correctional facilities.  Today more than a hundred thousand of the 1.5 million incarcerated Americans are held in private prisons in twenty-nine states and federal corrections.  Private prisons are criticized for making money off mass incarceration — to the tune of $5 billion in annual revenue.  Based on Lauren-Brooke Eisen’s work as a prosecutor, journalist, and attorney at policy think tanks, Inside Private Prisons blends investigative reportage and quantitative and historical research to analyze privatized corrections in America.

From divestment campaigns to boardrooms to private immigration-detention centers across the Southwest, Eisen examines private prisons through the eyes of inmates, their families, correctional staff, policymakers, activists, Immigration and Customs Enforcement employees, undocumented immigrants, and the executives of America’s largest private prison corporations. Private prisons have become ground zero in the anti-mass-incarceration movement.  Universities have divested from these companies, political candidates hesitate to accept their campaign donations, and the Department of Justice tried to phase out its contracts with them.  On the other side, impoverished rural towns often try to lure the for-profit prison industry to build facilities and create new jobs. 

Neither an endorsement or a demonization, Inside Private Prisons details the complicated and perverse incentives rooted in the industry, from mandatory bed occupancy to vested interests in mass incarceration. If private prisons are here to stay, how can we fix them?  This book is a blueprint for policymakers to reform practices and for concerned citizens to understand our changing carceral landscape.

October 10, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Notable new series in Teen Vogue on youth incarceration

I have to admit that I am not a regular reader of Teen Vogue, no doubt in part because it has been a long time since I have been either a teen or in any way vogue. But I may become a regular reader if the magazine keeps covering the issues of juvenile incarceration, as it has been doing in this "Kids Incarcerated" series of article:

October 5, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Terrific series of postings looking at empirics of the drug war and mass incarceration

Over at Medium, Xenocrypt is working on "five-part series on the effects of 'The War On Drugs' on 'mass incarceration'." Two posts into this series makes it clear that serious folks should spend some serious time looking at this analysis. Here are links to the first two lengthy postings:

Why The War On Drugs Matters In Mass Incarceration, Part 1: Who Goes To Prison.

Why The War On Drugs Matters In Mass Incarceration, Part 2: The Two Dimensions Of Prison Populations.

Here is part of the conclusion of this second post:

Why do different offenses seem important when looking at “prison sentences” as when looking at “prison populations”? To try to understand that, visualize “prison populations” as two-dimensional figures. Different parts of the figure might grow in different ways — and looking at height might tell you something different than looking at area.

According to these visualizations, the 2011 state prison system had more prison terms for drugs, “public order/other”, and lower-level violent and property offenses than the 1980 state prison system, but these were mostly short. Some prison terms did grow longer, but on average mostly for murder/non-negligent manslaughter, rape/sexual assault, robbery, and burglary....

Decomposing prison population growth into admissions and time served isn’t just an intellectual or visualization exercise. As I keep saying in this series, focusing on one statistic glosses over real human consequences. Violent offenders serving longer prison terms, along with additional prison terms for “rape/sexual assault” and “other violent” offenses, really did contribute more to “the incarceration rate” per se than the War on Drugs did.

That doesn’t mean the War on Drugs didn’t happen, or that all those extra prison terms for drugs and other lower-level offenses had no effects.  By placing admissions and time served in different dimensions, we might make that distinction clearer, and more fully understand what mass incarceration has really meant.

October 4, 2017 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

"Most Women in Prison Are Victims of Domestic Violence. That's Nothing New."

The title of this post is the title of this new Time commentary authored by history Prof Karen Cox. Here are excerpts:

While the mass incarceration of men has dominated the discussion of policing and prisons over the past few years — and rightly so — there’s been a recent shift in thinking about incarcerated women, and not a moment too soon. According to a report by the Vera Institute, women’s incarceration has increased a startling 14-fold since 1970. Like their male counterparts, these women are also overwhelmingly women of color.

Despite the shocking increase in their numbers, however, the specific issues and needs of female prisoners have largely gone ignored. In particular, as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month begins in the U.S., it’s worth noting that the vast majority of women in prison are single mothers who have been victims of domestic and/or sexual violence.

These concerns have rarely been part of prison-reform discussions, and yet this fact is typical of the history of women’s incarceration in our country.... [T]hanks to a unique historical record created by women in a Mississippi prison in the 1930s, it’s possible to see that the similarities between women’s incarceration then and now is significant.  In both periods, women were more likely to be incarcerated for nonviolent crimes than for violent ones. Likewise, many of the incarcerated women in both cases were victims of domestic and sexual violence whose income was vital to their family household....

Nationally, as the Vera Institute Report shows, the overwhelming majority of female prisoners are held for nonviolent offenses and most are women of color. Among them, 86% are victims of sexual violence.

The difficulties faced by female prisoners are now attracting the attention of politicians.  On July 11 of this year, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, or the “Dignity Act,” on behalf of himself and Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Richard Durbin. The bill aims “To improve the treatment of Federal prisoners who are primary caretaker parents.” To that end, the Dignity Act calls for a more generous visitation policy for incarcerated mothers.  If passed, it would also prevent restraining pregnant women by shackling them or placing them in strait jackets, among other forms of restraint.  Prisons would provide parenting classes and trauma-informed care for those who need it, as well as make basic healthcare products like tampons available.  Gynecological care would also be mandatory.

Since July, the Dignity Act has only advanced as far as the Senate Judiciary Committee where no further action has been taken. Given the stark realities of life for incarcerated women, action cannot come soon enough. Our nation can and should do better than to allow Jim Crow-like prison policies to continue unchecked.

October 3, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Interesting look at what prison consultants advise as elites head to prison

This MarketWatch article, headlined "When the rich get sent to prison, they call these wise guys first," provides an interesting little looking into an interesting little segment of the "prison-industrial complex." Here is how the article gets started:

Former congressman Anthony Weiner cried when a judge sentenced him to 21 months in prison last week for sexting with a 15-year-old girl. Prison is tough and most felons have no idea what to expect. For a few thousand dollars, however, high-profile felons like Weiner can hire a “prison consultant” to help smooth the transition to life behind bars.

For non-violent criminals like Weiner and “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli — who’s now behind bars in a Brooklyn jail — prison “is a totally different environment than they’ve ever been, it’s crazy in there,” said Michael Frantz, director of Jail Time Consulting, who served 36 months in a federal facility for tax evasion.

“They come from a world where there’s order,” Frantz said. “They have people under them and tell them what to do. When you get into federal prison, you have no control whatsoever. In the real world, there’s order and rational thinking. In the Bureau of Prisons there’s absolutely no rational thinking.”

Weiner’s attorney didn’t respond to a question on whether he’s using a prison consultant, and neither did the lawyer for Shkreli, who was recently sent to a Brooklyn detention center while he awaits sentencing on fraud charges. But Weiner and Shkreli are just the type of convicts who typically use prison consultants. They’ve already helped the likes of Bernie Madoff and Martha Stewart.

What do these prison preppers do? A combination hand-holder, shoulder-to-cry-on, and red tape slicer, prison consultants prep future inmates for life behind bars, teach them how to make the best use of their time “on the inside,” and can even help inmates shave time off their sentences. Many of the consultants have been to prison themselves and know from personal experience how to navigate the Bureau of Prisons bureaucracy.

Prices for their services range from $500 for advocating for better medical care in prison to $20,000 for comprehensive post-prison consulting to help ex-inmates rebuild their lives by starting new businesses — in fields they’re not legally barred from working in — or writing books.

Marketwatch talked to prison consultants to find out how they would advise Weiner and Shkreli. The best part? Many of these tips work for non-criminals too.

For what it is worth, I think "absolutely no rational thinking" is big part of the reason Anthony Weiner is headed to prison.

October 1, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

"South Dakota Swaps Lawyers for Tablets in Prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this Courthouse News Service article that struck me as linguistically and conceptually amusing on a number of levels. Substantively, however, I am not sure anyone should be amused by what the body of the story reports:

Sometime in the next few days, inmates in South Dakota prisons will start counting on tablet computers – not a state-funded, in-prison attorney or paralegal – to help them with their cases.  The South Dakota Department of Corrections did not renew a contract for attorney Delmar “Sonny” Walter and his paralegals, who since the early 2000s have assisted the state’s prison population with research and filing of legal documents ranging from habeas petitions to child support documents.

Corrections secretary Denny Kaemingk told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader the move will save taxpayers money. But one prisoner’s rights attorney has concerns.  “What’s someone who can’t read or write or can’t do so fully effectively or without mental illness supposed to do with a tablet?” said David M. Shapiro, clinical assistant professor of law at Northwestern University’s Roderick MacArthur Justice Center. “It’s a pennywise, pound-foolish approach.”

This past May, the state announced every one South Dakota’s approximately 3,000 inmates would receive a free tablet computer.  This allows the inmates longer phone calls, subscriptions to online movies and music, and text messaging with loved ones. Inmates also now have access to law-references websites such as Westlaw and LexisNexis. It was a change supported by Walter, the on-site attorney, but he’s doubtful the technical upgrade is a substitute for legal insight from professionals.

“The things we did made the institution run smoother,” Walter said, noting his staff did everything to help inmates -- most legal novices unfamiliar with complex documents -- with everything from knowledgeably preparing appeals to making copies to helping inmates with medication requests.  “We helped the inmates get into court in a number of ways, and now they won’t have that stuff.”

In 1999, a state judge ruled the prisons must provide “legal assistance” for inmates.  The program -- which cost the state $276,000 in 2017 -- has never been luxurious.  “In Springfield (the Mike Durfee State Prison) we were basically in a closet,” Walter said. “These inmates had maybe two to four hours a week. They often had to choose between a doctor’s appointment or researching their case.”...

He predicts the state will soon see another access lawsuit. “A book isn’t going to make you a lawyer. These people need legal assistance.”...

In the past year, falling revenue has forced South Dakota to cut back on projects and revise spending goals. In part, providing inmates with tablets was an effort to lower re-offense rates and reduce taxpayers’ burden.  Shapiro, the Northwestern law professor, argues this nickel-and-dime cost-cutting distracts from a bigger problem.  “At the end of the day, America has more people locked up than any other country on earth,” he said in a phone interview. “A reduction in incarceration would lead to genuine savings.”

October 1, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Another look at the realities of more offenders aging and dying in prison

Long-time readers surely recall a number of articles in this space about the aging US prison population. Here is another via the Philadelphia Inquirer under the headline "More people than ever are dying in prison. Their caregivers? Other inmates."  Here is how it gets started:

“The death squad.” Or, “the executioners.” That’s what many inmates used to call the inmate-volunteers who work the Graterford state prison hospice unit, a bleak row of isolation rooms — each one-part hospital room, one-part jail cell— where inmates with terminal illnesses are placed to die.

Then, they saw how the inmates cared for dying men in shifts, undertaking the intimate tasks of feeding, cleaning and comforting them. For many, it is a calling. Over time, attitudes changed, said James, a 51-year-old inmate who volunteers to do this work. “There’s a lot of progress in this place. There is more humanity here now.”

It’s needed, given that far more people are dying in prison than ever before. In Pennsylvania, 483 state inmates have died since January 2015. That’s about 180 deaths in prison each year. From 2005 to 2014, the average was 150 deaths per year.

That increase is a byproduct, officials say, of the extraordinarily fast-growing elderly population in prison. In 2001, there were 1,892 geriatric inmates in Pennsylvania (ages 55 or older). Today, that’s more than tripled to 6,458. The leading causes of death in the state’s prisons are heart disease, cancer and liver disease. Caring for this population is extraordinarily expensive: It’s estimated that elderly inmates cost three to nine times more than young ones. Compassionate release, meanwhile, is granted to just a few inmates each year.

But since 2004, families of dying inmates at Graterford have had the small comfort of knowing they will not die alone. There is just one nurse on staff at the 23-bed infirmary, and visitors are allowed only an hour a day, but volunteers man the hospice on 24-hour vigils, sometimes caring for two or three inmates at once.

A year ago, a statewide memo ordered that all Pennsylvania prisons establish hospice programs, but there’s no set format for those programs to follow, said Annette Kowalewski, who runs the hospice program at Laurel Highlands state prison, which contains a skilled-nursing facility. Staff at five or six institutions have contacted her for guidance.

According to Brie Williams, a professor at University of California-San Francisco who studies geriatric care in prison, some type of hospice care is offered at around 80 prisons nationwide. “Hospices in the correctional setting are a critically needed response to the extraordinarily long sentences and minimum mandatory sentences that were handed down over the past decades,” she said.

September 29, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"When ‘Not Guilty’ Is a Life Sentence"

The title of this post is the headline of this extended New York Times Magazine article with this summary subheadline: "What happens after a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity? Often the answer is involuntary confinement in a state psychiatric hospital — with no end in sight." Here is an excerpt:

James’s insanity acquittal placed him in an obscure, multibillion-dollar segment of domestic detention.  According to a 2017 study conducted by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, more than 10,000 mentally ill Americans who haven’t been convicted of a crime — people who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or who have been arrested but found incompetent to stand trial — are involuntarily confined to psychiatric hospitals.  Even a contributor to the study concedes that no one knows the exact number.  While seemingly every conceivable data point in America’s prison system is meticulously compiled, not much is known about the confinement of “forensic” patients, people committed to psychiatric hospitals by the criminal-justice system. No federal agency is charged with monitoring them. No national registry or organization tracks how long they have been incarcerated or why.

In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled, in Foucha v. Louisiana, that a forensic patient must be both mentally ill and dangerous in order to be hospitalized against his will. But in practice, “states have ignored Foucha to a pretty substantial degree,” says W. Lawrence Fitch, a consultant to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and former director of forensic services for Maryland’s Mental Hygiene Administration. “People are kept not because their dangerousness is because of mental illness. People stay in too long, and for the wrong reasons.”

Michael Bien, a lawyer who helped bring a successful lawsuit against the California prison system on behalf of prisoners with psychiatric illnesses, concurs. “Under constitutional law, they’re supposed to be incarcerated only if they’re getting treatment, and only if the treatment is likely to restore sanity,” he says. “You can’t just punish someone for having mental illness. But that’s happening.”...

[D]espite its reputation as a “get out of jail free” card, the insanity defense has never been an easy way out — or easy to get. After a defendant is charged, the defendant, her lawyer or a judge can request evaluation by a psychiatrist.  A defendant may be found incompetent to stand trial and committed for rehabilitation if she isn’t stable enough or intellectually capable of participating in the proceedings. If she is rehabilitated, she may be tried; if she cannot be, she may languish in a psychiatric hospital for years or decades. But mental illness is not exculpatory in itself: A defendant may be found mentally ill and still competent enough to stand trial.  At that point, the district attorney may offer an insanity plea — some 90 percent of N.G.R.I. verdicts are plea deals.  If the district attorney doesn’t offer a plea, or the defendant doesn’t take it, the case goes to trial. The defendant may still choose insanity as a defense, but then her case will be decided by a jury....

And when an N.G.R.I. defense does succeed, it tends to resemble a conviction more than an acquittal.  N.G.R.I. patients can wind up with longer, not shorter, periods of incarceration, as they are pulled into a mental-health system that can be harder to leave than prison. In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled, in Jones v. the United States, that it wasn’t a violation of due process to commit N.G.R.I. defendants automatically and indefinitely, for the safety of the public.  (Michael Jones, who was a paranoid schizophrenic, had been hospitalized since 1975, after pleading N.G.R.I. to petty larceny for trying to steal a jacket.)  In almost all states, N.G.R.I. means automatic commitment to a psychiatric facility.  In most states, like New York, there is no limit to the duration of that commitment.  In the states that do have limits, like California, the limits are based on the maximum prison sentence for the offense, a model that belies the idea of hospitalization as treatment rather than punishment.  As Suzanna Gee, an attorney with Disability Rights California (a protection and advocacy agency with counterparts in every state), points out, the law allows two-year extensions as patients approach a “top date,” the limit set on their confinement.  And so, she says, “it can be extended in perpetuity.”

September 28, 2017 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Should New Jersey be more regularly championed for its profound success in reducing prison populations and crime rates?

New-jersey-clipart-toonvectors-5159-140The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article, headlined "Why is the N.J. prison population shrinking? (It's not just about less crime...)," which highlights how and how successful the Garden State has been in reducing its prison population.  Here are excerpts from the article:

The big house is getting smaller. Fewer people are going to prison in New Jersey these days and the numbers continue to drop, according to an analysis of state Department of Corrections data over the past five years.

Those incarcerated in New Jersey — including men and women in prison, juveniles in detention, and detainees still in halfway houses — dropped this year to 19,619, from 21,123 in 2013. That marked a decline of more than 15 percent.

In fact, the state's inmate population has fallen more from its peak in the 1990s than any other state in the country, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based criminal justice reform group. Since 1999 — when more than 31,000 people were behind bars in New Jersey — the number of inmates has plunged by more than a third. "New Jersey leads the nation in prison population reduction," said Todd Clear, a prison policy expert at the Rutgers School of Criminal Justice.

Crime has been going down in New Jersey in recent years. But that doesn’t really tell the story of what's happening in the state's prisons, according to Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project. "It's not necessarily one shift that can produce a shift of this magnitude," he said, attributing much of it to the creation of the state's drug courts that focus on diverting people from prison, as well as changes in the parole system that make it less likely someone will be put back behind bars for minor technical violations of their parole.

The corrections department data underscores the impact on how the state treats drug crime. The percentage of those serving time for drug crime is down more significantly than for inmates convicted of any other offense.... According to corrections department officials, a five-year phase-in under Gov. Chris Christie of mandatory drug courts for non-violent offenders, which was expanded to all 21 counties across the state, redirected thousands from state prison and into drug treatment programs.

At the same time, they credited the so-called "ban the box" legislation prohibiting employers from discriminating against people with expunged criminal records, as well as accelerating some expungements, increasing the type of convictions that can be expunged and reducing the waiting period to expunge an entire juvenile record, have given some inmates a better opportunity of finding a job and staying out of prison....

Department of Corrections officials said with the decline in inmate population, they have consolidated facilities and closed some units, reducing overtime costs. "This practice allowed us to undertake much-needed renovations in our facilities," said spokesman Matthew Schuman. "In fact, as part of our consolidation program, we closed Mid-State Correctional Facility in June 2014."

Mid-State reopened in April 2017 as the first licensed, clinically driven drug treatment program provided by the NJDOC. At the same time, a similar substance use disorder program for female offenders became operational at Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women.

Unfortunately, this new article does not address what has become of crime rates and recidivism rates during this period in which New Jersey has been shrinking its prison population, but I think the data is also encouraging.  Specifically, crime data for New Jersey here and here suggests crime has gone down as much if not more in NJ than elsewhere in the country and the state even seems to be largely avoiding the crime spikes that a number of other regions have seen in the last two years.  And this local article from last years reports that the state's corrections "Chief of Staff Judith Lang ... said New Jersey’s recidivism rate has lowered from 48 percent to 32 percent" thanks in part to state investment in reentry services.

Though outgoing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will be leaving office with very low approval ratings, the citizens of New Jersey and all those interested in criminal justice reform should praise his efforts in this arena and the broader achievements of all New Jersey policymakers and officials in recent years.  Especially if New Jersey continues to keep crime rates and prison populations low, the state will continue to be an important success story for modern criminal justice reforms that other jurisdictions should aspire to emulate.

September 27, 2017 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Grover Norquist calls criminal justice reform one of the "conservative movement’s most important recent accomplishments"

Anti-tax icon Grover Norquist has this notable Wall Street Journal commentary under the headline "Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform: You don’t hear about it much, but 31 mostly red states have reduced both crime and imprisonment." Here is how it starts:

Every so often I’m asked to list the conservative movement’s most important recent accomplishments.  One always ranks near the top: criminal justice reform.

With leadership from Republican governors and legislators and groups such as Right on Crime, conservatives have pushed to rein in runaway prison spending and adopt cost-conscious correctional policies that improve public safety.  Starting 10 years ago in Texas, more than half of all states have now shifted course, changing laws to ensure that violent offenders serve hard time while those who are not a danger are steered toward less expensive alternatives that can help alter the paths of their lives and make communities safer.

Taxpayers benefit.  In 2007 the Pew Charitable Trusts projected that state prisons would grow 14% over five years, costing states $27.5 billion more.  Instead, the reforms have bent the curve.  The state prison population is down 5%.  Between 2010 and 2015, 31 states reduced both crime and imprisonment, proving that fiscal discipline and safe streets can go hand in hand.

September 27, 2017 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Thoughtful new Vox commentaries on modern incarceration and its contexts

Regular readers likely already know that they ought to be regularly reading Vox for its sharp coverage of a number of criminal justice issues.  And this week, there have already been these two must-read pieces:

September 26, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Retributive Justifications for Jail Diversion of Individuals with Mental Disorder"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper posted to SSRN authored by E. Lea Johnston. Here is the abstract:

Jail diversion programs have proliferated across the United States as a means to decrease the incarceration of individuals with mental illnesses.  These programs include pre-adjudication initiatives, such as Crisis Intervention Teams, as well as post-adjudication programs, such as mental health courts and specialized probationary services.  Post-adjudication programs often operate at the point of sentencing, so their comportment with criminal justice norms is crucial.

This article investigates whether and under what circumstances post-adjudication diversion for offenders with serious mental illnesses may cohere with principles of retributive justice.  Key tenets of retributive theory are that punishments must not be inhumane and that their severity must be proportionate to an offender’s desert.  Three retributive rationales could justify jail diversion for offenders with serious mental illnesses: reduced culpability, the avoidance of inhumane punishment, and the achievement of punishment of equal impact with similarly situated offenders.  The article explores current proposals to effectuate these rationales, their manifestations in law, and how these considerations may impact decisions to divert individuals with serious mental illnesses from jail to punishment in the community.

September 26, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, September 23, 2017

"Mitigating America’s Mass Incarceration Crisis Without Compromising Community Protection: Expanding the Role of Rehabilitation in Sentencing"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper posted to SSRN authored by Mirko Bagaric, Gabrielle Wolf and William Rininger. Here is the abstract:

The United States is in the midst of an unprecedented mass incarceration crisis.  Financially, this is no longer readily sustainable, even for the world’s largest economy.  Further, the human suffering that prison causes is no longer tolerable from the normative perspective.  Nevertheless, lawmakers have failed to propose or adopt coherent or wide-ranging reforms to mitigate this crisis.  The crisis has emerged over the past forty years largely as a result of the emphasis on community protection as the most important objective of sentencing and the fact that the primary means of pursuing community protection during this period has been incapacitation in the form of imprisonment.

In this Article, we argue that policy makers and courts took a profoundly wrong turn by equating community protection almost solely with incapacitation.  A more progressive and often effective means of protecting the community is by rehabilitating offenders.  In theory, rehabilitation is a widely endorsed sentencing objective, so it should already influence many sentencing outcomes, but the reality is otherwise.  Rehabilitation is rarely a dominant or even weighty consideration when courts sentence offenders.  This is attributable, at least in part, to skepticism regarding the capacity of criminal sanctions to reform offenders.  This approach is flawed.  Empirical data establishes that many offenders can be rehabilitated.

In this Article, we argue that sentencing courts should place greater weight on the objective of rehabilitation and that such a change would significantly ameliorate the incarceration crisis, while enhancing community safety. We make three key recommendations in order to implement our proposal.  First, it is necessary to promulgate rehabilitation as a means of protecting the community.  Second, we propose that the role of rehabilitation in sentencing should be expanded.  In particular, and contrary to current orthodoxy, rehabilitation should have a meaningful role even in relation to very serious offenses.  In indicating the role that rehabilitation has played in their decisions, courts should clearly articulate how they have adjusted penalties in light of assessments of offenders’ potential for rehabilitation. Third, it is necessary to ensure that decisions by courts relating to the prospects of rehabilitation are made on the basis of more rigorous, empirically-grounded and transparent criteria.

To this end, we examine the under-researched topic of the role that instruments that predict the likelihood of an offender’s recidivism should play in guiding sentencing decisions.  The solutions advanced in this Article will provide the catalyst for rehabilitation to assume a much larger role in sentencing and thereby significantly ameliorate the incarceration crisis.

September 23, 2017 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Interesting account of gender discrimination in Wyoming alternative sentencing boot camp program

In part because women are a disproportionately small share of criminal offenders, they can experience a disproportionately large share of discriminatory treatment in the operation of criminal justice systems.  An interesting example of this reality comes from this new BuzzFeed News article headlined "Women Are Spending Years In Prison Because Wyoming Won’t Let Them Into Its All-Male Boot Camp."  The piece's subheadline provide a summary of the story: "Taylor Blanchard faced up to 10 years in prison for a crime that would’ve sent men to boot camp for six months to a year. Her fight could change the fate of countless women in Wyoming."  Here are excerpts:

For the past three months, 23-year-old Blanchard had been trying to get into [boot camp] programs.  The one in her home state, Wyoming, lasts six months to a year.  People who finish it successfully can then ask a judge to transfer them into probation, a halfway house, or placement with a family member, effectively shaving years of prison time off their sentences.

Blanchard ticked all the boxes for acceptance, except for one.  The Wyoming Department of Corrections has never housed a woman in boot camp, and it wasn’t going to start with her. Which is how Blanchard ended up in Florida, shipped out of state instead of accommodated in her own. And it’s how she became the central figure in a federal lawsuit accusing the WDOC of discriminating against female inmates.

Across the country, women in prisons and jails are often housed in different conditions than their male peers.  The criminal justice system was built for men, and prison activists say that little thought has been given to providing equal services — much less special considerations — for women, even as their population has ballooned in recent decades....

Wyoming’s boot camp, formally called the Youthful Offenders Program at the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp, is known widely among public defenders. Open to first-time offenders under 25, the program is made up of “physical training, drill and ceremony, and a paramilitary base program focusing on appearance, life skills, and behavior,” according to the state; about half of those who enter boot camp complete the program successfully.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, [Blanchard’s court-appointed attorney, John] LaBuda called it a “really good program,” one that teaches discipline but also allows inmates to get their GED or drug and alcohol counseling, or sometimes learn a trade. But when the state first offered the program in 1987, it only housed men; that has continued for 30 years. No attorney or judge, to the state or anyone else’s knowledge, has ever tried to place a female client into the boot camp....

In July, [Blanchard’s civil] lawyers filed suit in federal court, alleging the WDOC was violating her constitutional rights by denying her an opportunity offered to men. [John Robinson and Stephen] Pevar also had the idea to turn Blanchard’s case into a class-action lawsuit. As Pevar wrote in a July email to WDOC lawyers, “Wyoming was not only violating Ms Blanchard’s rights but has been violating the rights of women for many years now who are in her situation. We needed to do something about it.” (In 2013, the ACLU settled a similar lawsuit that opened up a Montana prison boot camp to women, though the program is now ending for both men and women.)

The lawsuit’s proposed class includes current inmates at Lusk’s women’s prison who were first-time offenders under 25 at the time of their sentencing — women who were eligible to be recommended to the Youthful Offenders Program but weren’t given the chance because of the boot camp’s men-only tradition. The proposed class also includes young Wyoming women who will face the same situation in the future. But Pevar doesn’t yet know how many women actually fall under this umbrella, if a judge does approve the lawsuit as a class action. He and Robinson have requested the WDOC reveal the names of eligible women currently at Lusk, a prison with a capacity of 293 women. WDOC has not yet provided these names. Blanchard’s attorneys are also trying to get referrals from public defenders like LaBuda currently representing eligible young women.

The class could end up being 20 people or it could be 200, Pevar said, but the goal is for each woman to get put into boot camp, either immediately or by going back in front of their sentencing judges. (The WDOC would provide each woman with an independent attorney for the latter proposed process.) “We feel that's the only fair way to vindicate the Constitutional rights of the women whose lawyers didn't ask for the recommendation,” Pevar said. No monetary award for the women is involved.

In late August, the WDOC filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that women have never been denied the opportunity to go to bootcamp. It’s just that they’ve never tried to go to bootcamp, it said, until Blanchard. The corrections department also argued Blanchard hadn’t exhausted all of remedies before filing suit, and that her complaint is moot because she’s already been placed in boot camp elsewhere.

September 21, 2017 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Parental Arrest, Incarceration and the Outcomes of Their Children"

The title of this post is the title of this paper recently posted to SSRN authored by Stephen Billings. Here is the abstract:

Parental arrest and incarceration represents a profound and traumatic experience for almost 3 million children in the U.S. and scholars in sociology and criminology consistently find negative impacts of parental incarceration on children across a range of academic and behavioral outcomes.  Unfortunately, the challenge of disentangling parental incarceration from other parenting attributes has limited causal inference in this literature.

The research presented here provides compelling evidence that parental arrest coincides with negative outcomes for children, but that the incarceration of a parent may have short term benefits for the child.  Results suggest that incarceration removes negative role models and leads to changes in a child's home environment.

September 16, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Advocacy for the "the smart way to get 'tough' about crime"

Brandon Garrett has this new CNN commentary discussing some of the themes in his new book titled "End of Its Rope: How Killing the Death Penalty Can Revive Criminal Justice." Here is hoe it starts and ends:

It is time to retire the phrase "tough on crime."  There is nothing tough about the harsh punishments that contributed to mass incarceration in this country.  In fact, the opposite is true; as the latest data show, a nationwide push in the past decade to move away from these failed approaches has coincided with a remarkable decline in crime.  Instead of being "tough," we need to be smart.

Multiple states have passed laws to end cash bail, reduce mandatory sentences, invest in addiction and mental health treatment, and divert convicts toward alternatives to incarceration.  Even states such as Louisiana, with the highest incarceration rate in the world, just passed reforms and is currently reviewing 16,000 sentences for possible reduction.  Cities such as Oklahoma City and Houston have taken new steps to reduce jail populations.

And crime continues to fall.  According to a Brennan Center report released on Wednesday, violent crime is back down again so far in 2017, after a spike in 2015-16 in certain cities.  This year is projected to be the year with the second-lowest crime rate in 25 years.  Murder rates are down 2.5%, with declines in cities such as Chicago that accounted for the blip in 2015 and 2016.

So contrary to what some politicians say, there is no national crime wave; it is more like a lake drying up.  Even the localized crime bumps in a handful of cities seem to be subsiding.  We don't need a new war on crime when we are winning the peace....

Now is the time to redouble efforts to focus on deeper reductions in imprisonment, charging, sentencing and release and reentry of prisoners.  Even if the President and the attorney general are trying to redouble the war on drugs, as if we were still living in the 1980s, those days are far behind us.  Reform is working and crime is still falling.  We need to push it farther to shrink our bloated criminal justice system.  That is the smart way to get "tough" about crime.

September 15, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jared Kushner convening White House meeting on federal prison programming and reentry issues

As reported in this Washington Post piece, headlined "Kushner to gather bipartisan group to come up with ideas for federal prisons," an event scheduled for today in the White House suggests criminal justice reform issues are not completely dormant at the federal level. Here are the details:

President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, will convene a roundtable Thursday at the White House to gather recommendations for improving mentoring and job training in federal prisons, a departure from the administration’s focus on more punitive crime-fighting measures.  A bipartisan group of about two dozen elected officials, religious leaders and business leaders were invited to the first major criminal justice-related event held by the Kushner-led Office of American Innovation, which in recent months has brought together technology executives to search for ways to make government more efficient.

Kushner’s interest in corrections policy is personal: His father, Charles Kushner, a real estate executive, was sentenced in 2005 to two years in federal prison after pleading guilty to tax evasion. Jared Kushner has said the experience gave him a glimpse of the challenges inmates and their families face in and outside of prison.  “There is a lot of agreement from the left and the center and the right that once a person has committed a crime we should make sure we give them the best opportunities to try to live a productive life after serving their time,” Kushner told The Washington Post in a telephone interview.  “We’re not looking to train better criminals.”

The event, which had not been officially announced as of Wednesday morning, comes after a months-long push by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions for more aggressive prosecution of drug offenders and illegal immigrants.  In May, Sessions jettisoned an Obama administration policy that instructed federal prosecutors to avoid charging low-level criminals with drug offenses that would trigger severe mandatory-minimum sentences, a shift projected to boost the prison population.  Those efforts are at odds with a growing consensus that the mandatory-minimum sentences that proliferated during the “war on drugs” fueled crowded, costly prisons that unduly burden taxpayers and do not improve public safety.  A number of states, including several led by Republicans, are curbing their inmate populations and even closing prisons by reducing mandatory-minimum sentences and expanding parole and probation.

Kushner’s private discussions in recent months with members of Congress and outside groups have included sentencing reform, according to participants, but Thursday’s meeting is more narrowly focused on preparing inmates to reenter society.  Neither Sessions nor his newly appointed Bureau of Prisons director, retired Army Gen. Mark S. Inch, will attend, although some Justice Department officials are expected to participate.

Criminal justice advocates invited to the roundtable said the gathering is a positive first step, and they called for expanding drug and mental health treatment, vocational training, mentoring programs and placement in halfway houses. “Regardless of what you think about who goes to prison or how long they need to be there, most people come out eventually, so let’s make sure they are better off than when they came in,” said Mark Holden, general counsel for Koch Industries, a leading conservative proponent of reducing incarceration levels.  “Of course I want to see the dialogue on criminal justice issues continue and looked at comprehensively.  We need a holistic solution.”

The federal prison population is expected to grow by 2 percent over the coming year, rising by 4,171 inmates, to a total of 191,493, and reversing the downward trend of the past four years, according to the Trump administration’s proposed budget.  Yet the proposal calls for a 14 percent reduction in federal prison jobs, including 1,850 fewer corrections officers.  Many of those positions are vacant.  The Justice Department is seeking $10 million to cover the costs of food, health care, transportation and programs for the additional inmates, but it’s unclear how much money would be allocated to education and vocational training....

Asked about federal funding, Kushner said, “We’re not at a place where we are prescribing solutions. We’re bringing people together and generating ideas. If prisoner reentry programs are successfully executed, it’s usually a good investment.”  A request for recommendations from participants before the conference said, “While suggestions for the investment of Federal resources are appreciated, please also be sure to highlight opportunities that do not require Federal funding.”

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) has introduced a bill that would require federal prisons to assess inmates’ needs and offer rehabilitation programs. Co-sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the measure requests $250 million over the next five years for prison education programs.

Among the elected officials slated to participate in Thursday’s program are Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Republican Govs. Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Sam Brownback of Kansas.

September 14, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

"Black Disparities in Youth Incarceration: African Americans 5X More Likely than Whites to be Held"

The title of this post is the title of this new fact sheet produced by The Sentencing Project. Here is some of the text to go along with its state-by-state charts:

Black youth were more than five times as likely to be detained or committed compared to white youth, according to data from the Department of Justice collected in October 2015 and recently released.  Racial and ethnic disparities have long-plagued juvenile justice systems nationwide, and the new data show the problem is increasing.  In 2001, black youth were four times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.

Juvenile facilities, including 1,800 residential treatment centers, detention centers, training schools, and juvenile jails and prisons held 48,043 youth as of October 2015.  Forty-four percent of these youth were African American, despite the fact that African Americans comprise only 16 percent of all youth in the United States.  African American youth are more likely to be in custody than white youth in every state but one, Hawaii.

Between 2001 and 2015, overall juvenile placements fell by 54 percent.  However, white youth placements have declined faster than black youth placements, resulting in a worsening of already significant racial disparity.

Nationally, the youth rate of incarceration was 152 per 100,000.  Black youth placement rate was 433 per 100,000, compared to a white youth placement rate of 86 per 100,000. Overall, the racial disparity between black and white youth in custody increased 22 percent since 2001.  Racial disparities grew in 37 states and decreased in 13.

In six states, African American youth are at least 10 times as likely to be held in placement as are white youth: New Jersey, Wisconsin, Montana, Delaware, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

September 12, 2017 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 11, 2017

"Guideposts for the Era of Smart Decarceration"

Download (5)The title of this post is the title of this notable document produced by the Smart Decarceration Initiative and authored by Carrie Pettus-Davis, Matthew Epperson and Annie Grier. (The document was released earlier this year, but was just recently brought to my attention.)  Here is part of its executive summary:

Reducing the United States’ overreliance on incarceration requires deliberate action. Proponents of smart decarceration recognize the need for clearly articulated areas of targeted intervention — or guideposts — to inform the multifaceted nature of criminal justice reform.  An important first step as we enter the era of decarceration is to merge the collective goals and strategies of diverse and highly invested stakeholders.

Despite the expansion of efforts to reduce jail and prison populations and reform criminal justice policy and practice, a comprehensive, inclusive, and actionable approach has been relatively absent from the conversation.  Such an approach is only possible if criminal justice stakeholders agree upon the foundational objectives that can generate lasting decarceration. In this report, we offer guideposts and actionable strategies for the era of smart decarceration in America.

This document was written by leaders of the Smart Decarceration Initiative (SDI). SDI is a joint initiative of Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Chicago and is located at the Center for Social Development at Washington University’s Brown School of Social Work. SDI’s mission is to build social capacity to reduce incarceration rates in ways that are effective, sustainable, and socially just.  Smart decarceration will only be achieved when three simultaneous goals are accomplished:

• Substantially reduce the incarcerated population in jails and prisons;

• Redress race, economic, and behavioral health disparities of those involved in the criminal justice system;

• Maximize public well-being and public safety.

SDI is grounded in four guiding concepts:

1. Changing the narrative on incarceration and the incarcerated. A smart decarceration approach must soberly question the utility and function of incarceration and actively welcome currently and formerly incarcerated individuals as leaders in decarceration efforts.

2. Making criminal justice systemwide innovations. Criminal justice transformation that leads to smart decarceration will require advances in all sectors of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, court systems, jails and prisons, and probation and parole.

3. Implementing transdisciplinary policy and practice interventions. Smart decarceration will be complex and comprehensive and will require integrating perspectives from multiple disciplines to produce substantive policy reforms and practice innovations.

4. Employing evidence-driven strategies. A smart decarceration approach must both generate new evidence for optimal reforms and use existing evidence to guide decision-making and program development. Methods must be integrated to continuously examine and assess the effects of policy and practice interventions, thus developing further evidence from which to act.

This report, Guideposts for the Era of Smart Decarceration, is a result of our efforts to build consensus and articulate priorities that stakeholders have identified as feasible and likely to produce meaningful impact in the era of decarceration. Integral to ensuring that smart decarceration is achieved is that the ideas and needs of multiple stakeholders are represented.

This report contains a set of guideposts and action steps for stakeholders identified over a three-stage process of soliciting input from 307 advocates, practitioners, reformers, and researchers. Stakeholders were engaged in this process between September 2014 and September 2016. The purpose of Phase 1 was to show where to focus decarceration efforts. Phase 2 was used to reveal the prioritization of specific action steps that could be taken to promote decarceration in ways that are consistent with smart decarceration goals and guiding concepts. Phase 3 articulated universal policy strategies to facilitate decarcerative change....

Twelve priority areas for decarceration were generated during Phase 1. These priorities included: (1) sharing data and resource allocation; (2) incorporating assessments of risks and needs; (3) implementing evidence-driven innovations; (4) reorienting responses to severity of the crime; (5) resetting norms and narratives; (6) incorporating multiple and new perspectives; (7) responding to behavioral and physical health needs; (8) improving reentry; (9) reducing collateral consequences; (10) building diversionary systems; (11) curtailing sentencing; and (12) narrowing the funnel to incarceration....

September 11, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 09, 2017

"America must listen to its prisoners before we make a major mistake"

The title of this post is the title of this extended Washington Post op-ed authored by Heather Ann Thompson. Here is how it starts and ends:  

Forty-six years ago, on Sept. 9, 1971, almost 1,300 men erupted in one of the 20th century’s most dramatic prison protests. Their goal? To be treated as human beings even as they served their time in one of New York state’s most notorious penal institutions, the Attica Correctional Facility.  These were men being fed on 63 cents a day, treated brutally by prison doctors and forced to labor whether they were sick or well.  They finally had reached the breaking point.

One year ago, on Sept. 9, 2016, thousands of prisoners, this time men and women from across the United States, marked the anniversary of Attica by engaging in another dramatic series of protests for the very same reasons that Attica’s incarcerated had rebelled in 1971.  Conditions were terrible.  Overcrowding was severe, food was maggot-ridden, and prisoners were still being forced to labor....

On this 46th anniversary of that day when almost 1300 men stood together to tell the nation of the horrors of their confinement at Attica, and this first anniversary of that day when thousands of men and women again stood together, at equally enormous risk, to remind us all that conditions are still brutal in our nation’s penal institutions, we must listen to what they were trying to tell us: Everyone behind bars remains a human being and, therefore, no crime committed, nor punishment rendered, justifies abuse.

And should we forget this basic truth — one that was understood, accepted and stands as the very foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 — the men and women who endure our nation’s penal facilities will, inevitably, remind us again.

As those who struggled for better conditions and suffered so much in Upstate New York in 1971 oft said, “Attica is all of us.” Indeed it is.

September 9, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Just how should California implement Prop 57's call for prison releases?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article headlined "Prop 57: Debate rages on about which inmates should be released early." Here are excerpts:

Ten months after California voters approved a proposition allowing thousands of prison inmates to apply for early release, a debate is still raging over who ought to be freed.

Proposition 57 left it to prison officials to clearly identify which crimes deemed nonviolent would qualify and how an inmate’s criminal history would affect eligibility. The public could weigh in during a 45-day comment period this summer — and boy, did they. More than 8,500 people threw in their two cents, in writing and at a public hearing in Sacramento last week. Now, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is sorting through bulging email boxes and stacks of letters from crime victims, inmates, prosecutors and reformers.

Meanwhile, under emergency regulations, prison officials have already notified prosecutors across California of more than 1,800 inmates who have applied for early parole. No figures are available until later this month on the number of inmates whose applications have been denied, approved or have actually been released. But a snapshot of the situation in two urban counties in Northern California shows relatively few people are being granted early parole, though it is impossible to tell if the trend will continue....

Ken Scheidegger, legal director of the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Foundation, ... opposed Proposition 57 and is concerned about the early releases. “People got the idea a few years ago that prisons were full of harmless people,” Scheidegger said. “That is a widespread popular misconception.”

But proponents note that Proposition 57 was the third time since 2012 that voters overwhelmingly opted to ease California’s tough-on-crime laws to enhance rehabilitation, stop the revolving door of crime and prevent federal courts from indiscriminately releasing inmates to reduce prison crowding. “Prop. 57 is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” said Benee Vejar, an organizer with the civil rights group Silicon Valley De-Bug. “It’s asking for an early parole hearing and another chance.”...

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has until Sept. 20th to develop the regulations, but it can ask for a 90-day extension. The debate over the Proposition 57 regulations is being fought along similar battle lines as the fight over the initiative itself.

Advocates, including Human Rights Watch, want prison officials to consider as many people as possible for early release. Law enforcement officials want to restrict who is eligible and change how the decisions are made. Both sides are calling for more rehabilitation programs. The state recently boosted the prison system’s rehab budget by $137 million. “We cannot repair the criminal justice system on the cheap,” said Rosen, the Santa Clara County district attorney. “If we want to improve the outcomes from prison, then we will need to change the experience of being in prison.”

The ... opponents’ chief complaint is that the initiative promised voters that only nonviolent inmates would be eligible for release. But under the existing regulations, certain violent offenders are eligible once they have completed their prison term for the violent felony, but are still serving time for a nonviolent felony they were also convicted of. The Legislative Analyst’s Office also raised questions about the provision. On the other hand, Proponents want to expand the pool of inmates. Currently, about 4,000 inmates with third strikes whose last offense was nonviolent are barred from applying for early parole. Yet according to the CDCR’s own public safety risk evaluations, nonviolent third-strikers are more than three times more likely to qualify as low risk than the currently eligible prisoners.

But opponents claim crime will rise under Proposition 57, a warning they have sounded since 2011 when Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature began scaling back the emphasis on incarceration in response to a federal court order about prison crowding and inhumane health care. Opponents point to the fact that violent crime in 2016 rose in the state — by 4.1 percent — unlike in the country as a whole. However, proponents note California’s violent crime rate remains comparable to levels seen in the late 1960s. And property crime was down 2.9 percent and remained lower than it was in 2010, before the reforms began....

Law enforcement officials also complain about the process. Among their concerns: Early parole applications are subject to a paper review, rather than a parole hearing; prosecutors only have 30 days to prepare a recommendation; only inmates may appeal the board’s decision; and police are cut out entirely. “My rank and file are on the front lines — they’re the ones who have to encounter these individuals once they’re on the streets,” San Jose police Chief Eddie Garcia said.

September 7, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Helpful new Sentencing Project fact sheet on "Private Prisons in the United States"

The fine folks at The Sentencing Project have this fine new two-page fact sheet providing state-by-state data on the use of private prisons.  Here is some of the text that accompanies the charts in the publication:

Private prisons in the United States incarcerated 126,272 people in 2015, representing 8% of the total state and federal prison population.  Since 2000, the number of people housed in private prisons has increased 45%.

States show significant variation in their use of private correctional facilities.  For example, New Mexico and Montana incarcerate over 40% of their prison populations in private facilities, while states such as Illinois and New York do not employ for-profit prisons.

Data compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) show that in 2015, 28 states and the federal government incarcerated people in private facilities run by corporations including GEO Group, Core Civic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), and Management and Training Corporation.

According to BJS data, 21 of the states with private prison contracts incarcerate more than 500 people in for-profit prisons.  Texas, the first state to adopt private prisons in 1985, incarcerated the largest number of people under state jurisdiction, 14,293.

Since 2000, the number of people in private prisons has increased 45%, compared to an overall rise in the prison population of 10%. In five states, the private prison population has increased 100% or more during this period.  The federal prison system experienced a 125% increase in use of private prisons since 2000 reaching 34,934 people in private facilities in 2015.

Despite the significant growth in private prisons since 2000, the number of people housed in these facilities has declined 8% since reaching a national peak population of 137,220 in 2012.  Since 2000 six states — Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Utah and Wisconsin — have eliminated their use of private prisons due to concerns about safety and cost-cutting.  An additional six states saw reductions of 40% or more in the use of private prisons during this period.

August 28, 2017 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

SCOTUS fills out Fall docket with little prisoner lawsuit fee-award case

As reported here by Amy Howe via SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court this past Friday issued an unusual mid-summer cert grant a full month before their usual late September "long conference."  Here are the basics:

[I]n a relatively unusual summer order, the justices [on August 25] added a new case, involving the interpretation of a federal law governing the award of attorney’s fees to prisoners who prevail in civil rights cases, to their docket for the fall.   [This] grant came in a case filed by an Illinois prisoner, Charles Murphy, who was awarded over $300,000 after he prevailed in a lawsuit alleging that corrections officers had badly beaten him, causing permanent damage to his eye.  A provision in the Prison Litigation Reform Act indicates that, when a prisoner like Murphy is awarded money in a civil rights lawsuit, “a portion of the judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded against the defendants.”  The dispute now before the Supreme Court centers on exactly what the phrase “not to exceed 25 percent” means: Does 25 percent of the money awarded to the prisoner have to go toward his attorney’s fees, before the defendants must also contribute to the fees, or can the district court require a smaller portion of the attorney’s fees to come out of the prisoner’s award?

In Murphy’s case, the district court awarded attorney’s fees of approximately $108,000. It ordered Murphy to pay 10 percent of his award — approximately $30,000 — to his attorney, with the roughly $78,000 remaining to come from the corrections officers. But on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling on the attorney’s fees award.  It interpreted the phrase “not to exceed 25 percent” to mean that 25 percent of the prisoner’s award was required to go to attorney’s fees; under this construction, the corrections officials would have to pitch in only if the prisoners’ attorneys were still owed money after that.  The court of appeals therefore ordered Murphy to contribute approximately $77,000 (rather than roughly $30,000) of his award to his attorneys; this left corrections officials on the hook for only approximately $31,000 (rather than the $78,000 that they owed under the district court’s order).

Murphy took his case to the Supreme Court, where he urged the justices to step in and resolve a conflict between the 7th Circuit’s interpretation and those of several other circuits that would give district courts discretion to decide how much of a prisoner’s award should go to his attorneys.  The 7th Circuit’s rule, he argued, “leaves prisoners whose constitutional rights have been violated with smaller net recoveries than Congress intended them to receive.”

Opposing review, the corrections officers ... effectively conceded that the courts of appeals are divided on how to interpret the phrase “not to exceed 25 percent.”  But, they emphasized, the conflict is not as widespread as Murphy suggests, because only two courts of appeals “have squarely held that the PLRA gives district courts discretion to choose any portion of the judgment up to 25% to apply to a fee award.”  And in any event, they added, the issue arises relatively rarely, because virtually no prisoners in PLRA cases are even represented by attorneys, much less prevail and receive money damages....

The [SCOTUS] calendar for October arguments is full, bolstered by two cases in which the justices are hearing oral arguments for the second time and two other cases — involving the Trump administration’s “travel ban” and a challenge to Wisconsin’s redistricting maps — that are being argued earlier than they might normally have been. But the court still has 12 days of arguments (for a total of up to 24 arguments) to fill in the November and December sittings, with only 17 hours’ worth of arguments before today’s grant.  [This] grant should allow Murphy’s case to be briefed in time for oral argument in December, bringing the total of November and December arguments to 18.

Though I suppose it is useful for SCOTUS to settle a circuit split on this little fee issue, I find it more than a bit intriguing and ultimately frustrating that a rare dispute over how much a prisoner must pay his lawyer is now going to get more SCOTUS attention than far-more-common disputes over, say, how much time a juve offender can gets under Graham and Miller Eighth Amendment precedents or whether and how guideline enhancements based on acquitted conduct may be problematic in some cases given Apprendi/Booker Sixth Amendment jurisprudence.  It seems a clear circuit split on a little issue that impacts a handful of prisoners still has a better chance of garnering SCOTUS review than challenging sentencing issues that can impact thousands of cases every year.

August 27, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"Can a General Conquer the Federal Prison System?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new extended Marshall Project piece looking at the challenges facing the newly appointed head of the federal Bureau of Prisons. Here is how it gets started:

The federal Bureau of Prisons faces a sea of troubles: Escalating medical costs, a prison population with little access to job training programs or computers, an institutional culture averse to change. In steps Mark S. Inch, the retired two-star general selected by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month to run the Bureau of Prisons.

Inch retired from the Army in May after more than three decades in the military, mostly as a police officer. While some prison advocates are wary of a leader from an organization disgraced by the abuses at Abu Ghraib, others say a military man may have the courage and discipline to move a stodgy federal prison system toward reforms that have been stalled for years.

“He would provide strong leadership, demand accountability, transparency, and I believe he would be a general who has the ability to think outside the box,” said federal prison consultant Jack Donson, who does not know Inch but worked for the Bureau of Prisons for more than two decades.

In a statement after appointing Inch, Sessions called the retired general “uniquely qualified” because of his policing background and his time overseeing Army Corrections over the past two years.  He replaces Thomas Kane, a 40-year veteran of the federal prison system who had been acting director since early 2016.

The Bureau of Prisons houses more than 187,000 inmates and employs more than 39,000 workers spread out across 122 correctional facilities, six regional offices, a headquarters, two training centers, and 25 residential reentry management offices.  The BOP also has contracts with 11 private prisons.

Outside the military, not much is known about Inch, especially among those who have worked in the federal prison system, prisoner advocates and corrections officials.  Will Inch be an ally for better prisoner education? Will he limit the amount of time prisoners are held in isolation?  Will he rely on controversial for-profit prisons to house new inmates?Inch hasn’t said.

Prisoner advocacy groups have asked Justice officials if any hearings will be held to examine Inch’s background and priorities.  They were told no.

August 23, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Looking at US prison history while charting "How to End Mass Incarceration"

The quoted title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Jacobin commentary authored by Roger Lancaster, which starts with an extended review of prison history in the United States.  I recommend the full piece, and here is a how it gets started:

The United States has not always been the world’s leading jailer, the only affluent democracy to make “incapacitation” its criminal justice system’s goal.  Once upon a time, it fashioned itself as the very model of what Michel Foucault called “the disciplinary society.”  That is, it took an enlightened approach to punishment, progressively tethering it to rehabilitative ideals.  Today, it is a carceral state, plain and simple.  It posts the highest incarceration rate in the world — as well as the highest violent crime rate among high-income countries.

Politicians, reporters, and activists from across the political spectrum have analyzed the ongoing crisis of mass incarceration.  Their accounts sometimes depict our current plight as an expression of puritanism, as an extension of slavery or Jim Crow, or as an exigency of capitalism.  But these approaches fail to address the question that ought to be foremost in front of us: what was the nature of the punitive turn that pushed the US off the path of reform and turned its correctional system into a rogue institution?

While the state-sanctioned brutality that now marks the American criminal justice system has motivated many activists to call for the complete abolition of prisons, we must begin with a clearer understanding of the complex institutional shifts that created and reproduce the phenomenon of mass incarceration.  Only then will we be able to see a clear path out of the current impasse.

August 22, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eleventh Circuit upholds a 57-year sentence for federal juve offender for non-homicide crimes based in part of possibility of good-time credits

I just came across the interesting opinion handed down late last week by an Eleventh Circuit panel in US v. Mathurin, No. 14-12239 (11th Cir. Aug. 18, 2017) (available here), which rejects an Eighth Amendment challenge (and other challenges) to a 685-month sentence imposed for multiple armed robbery and carjacking crimes committed by the defendant just before he reached age 18.  The underlying facts and the sentencing dynamics in Mathurin are interesting, in part because an older defendant would have gotten a 300-year(!) prison sentence based on many applicable consecutive mandatory-minimum terms that went with the convictions in this case.  The defendant argued that his long prison term was still a functional LWOP term that violated the Supreme Court's Graham Eighth Amendment ruling, and the Eleventh Circuit had a lot of interesting things to say in response.  Here are snippets:

For purposes of this appeal, we will assume that Graham does apply to a non-parolable term-of-years sentence that extends beyond a defendant’s expected life span.  Applying Graham to a term-of-years sentence, however, then gives rise to another question: how does one measure the life expectancy of an individual....  [I]n resolving this case, we do not need to decide whether Defendant’s granular approach to calculating life expectancy should carry the day for purposes of a Graham analysis because even assuming the accuracy of his proffered lower life expectancy for black males in their mid-twenties, as opposed to the life expectancy of all males in their mid-twenties, we conclude that Defendant’s Graham challenge fails....

[A]lthough there is no parole for federal sentences, Defendant has it within his power to shorten his sentence by earning good-time credit. Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3624, Defendant can earn up to 54 days of credit towards his sentence for each year he serves in prison, “subject to determination by the Bureau of Prisons that, during that year, [he] has displayed exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations.” 18 U.S.C. § 3624(b)(1). The Government has calculated that if Defendant earns the maximum good-time credit available, Defendant can reduce his total sentence by over 7 years and be released when he is 67 years old.  Defendant has never disputed this calculation. Earning this credit means that Defendant would serve a remaining sentence of about 43.4 years, which is more than five years shorter than his own proffered life span for black males and almost ten years shorter than the projected life span for all males his age.  Thus, Defendant’s sentence provides him with a realistic opportunity to obtain release before the end of his life, as required by Graham.

It is true that Defendant may not receive all of the above good-time credit if he misbehaves and thereby forfeits some of that credit.  But it is totally within Defendant’s own power to shorten the sentence imposed.  Graham does not require that a sentence “guarantee eventual freedom to a juvenile offender convicted of a nonhomicide crime.” Graham, 560 U.S. at 75.  It just requires that the offender have a chance to show that he has earned the right to be given a second chance at liberty.

August 20, 2017 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (25)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Huge portion of Louisiana prison population could benefit from state's recent reform of nonviolent sentences

As reported in this local article, headlined "Louisiana to review 16,000 prison sentences as criminal justice reform takes effect," recent sentencing reform in the Pelican state could have a huge impact on current prisoners. Here are the details:

Louisiana's Public Safety and Corrections officials are reviewing the sentences of 16,000 inmates who could have their prison time shortened as criminal law changes take effect Nov. 1. That's around 45 percent of the 35,500 people the state has locked up now.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state Legislature overhauled the criminal justice system this past spring, aiming to reduce Louisiana's highest-in-the-world incarceration rate. Some law changes have already taken place, but changes that mostly retroactively affect low-level offenders in prison go into place in November -- driving the review.

The 16,000 prison terms being reconsidered are for nonviolent offenses only and many will likely remain unchanged, said Jimmy LeBlanc, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. For example, some inmates who are serving sentences for multiple offenses won't be affected. Also, the majority of people whose sentences are affected won't necessarily be getting out anytime soon, LeBlanc said.

Still, there will be an initial surge in releases from prison right after Nov. 1. About 3,000 to 4,000 of the 16,000 sentences being reviewed could be changed to make inmates eligible for release before the end of the year. In the end, LeBlanc estimates about 1,500 to 2,000 of that cohort will actually get out in the weeks following Nov. 1. Others will probably have to wait. Some inmates may not have completed all the rehabilitation work required to get out at an earlier date.

Prior to the criminal justice changes passing, the number of inmates in the state's corrections system was expected to reach 36,300 by November, according to the prisons system's own projections. If 2,000 additional people were released in November, that would amount to a five percent decrease compared to those projections. In a normal month, the prison system releases about 1,500 people. The 1,500 to 2,000 people who get out shortly after Nov. 1 would be in addition to those normally discharged....

The bulk of Louisiana's states inmates are actually not housed in state prisons at all. About 55 percent of them -- 19,500 inmates -- are kept in local parish jails by sheriffs that get paid by the prison system to house them.

It's not clear how many inmates who will get earlier releases -- including those who will leave in November -- will come from local jails or state prisons at this point. However, local jails tend to house lower-level offenders that are less of a public safety risk. Those in state prisons are more likely to be serving longer prison sentences for violent offenses, most of which weren't changed recently.

August 18, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

"Let Prisoners Learn While They Serve"

The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times editorial.  Here are excerpts:

Criminal justice officials across the country are struggling to break the recidivism cycle in which prisoners are released only to land right back behind bars.  These prisoners are among the most poorly educated people in the country, and that fact holds the key to a solution.  Decades of research has shown that inmates who participate in prison education programs — even if they fail to earn degrees — are far more likely to stay out of prison once they are freed.

That prison education programs are highly cost effective is confirmed by a 2013 RAND Corporation study that covered 30 years of prison education research.  Among other things, the study found that every dollar spent on prison education translated into savings of $4 to $5 on imprisonment costs down the line.  Other studies suggest that prisons with education programs have fewer violent incidents, making it easier for officials to keep order, and that the children of people who complete college are more likely to do so themselves, disrupting the typical pattern of poverty and incarceration.

Findings like these have persuaded corrections officials in both Democratic and Republican states to embrace education as a cost-effective way of cutting recidivism. But Republican legislators in New York — which spends about $60,000 per inmate per year — remain mired in know-nothingism and argue that spending public money on inmates insults taxpayers.  They have steadfastly resisted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s common-sense proposal for making a modest investment in prison education programs that have already proved highly successful on a small scale in New York’s prisons....

Prison education programs were largely dismantled during the “tough on crime” 1990s, when Congress stripped inmates of the right to get the federal Pell grants that were used to pay tuition.  The decision bankrupted many prison education programs across the country and left private donors and foundations to foot the bill for those that survived.

Despite limited and unreliable funding, these programs have more than proved their value.  New York lawmakers who continue to block funding for them are putting ideology ahead of the public interest.

August 16, 2017 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)