Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"The Right Way to Shrink Prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new New York Times op-ed authored by Shima Baradaran, who is a BYU law prof and chairwoman of the ABA's Pretrial Release Task Force.  Here are excerpts:

Last week the Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population after finding that the state’s penal system was so overcrowded that it constituted cruel and unusual punishment.  What the court didn’t do, however, was provide any guidance about how to do it, giving rise to fears of violent convicts being set free and increasing crime rates.

Rather than seek major criminal justice reforms to reduce the prisoner numbers, including scrapping California’s harsh “three strikes” sentencing laws, Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed simply moving the surplus state prisoners to county jails. This does nothing to reduce California’s disproportionately high incarceration rates and could just transfer the overcrowding to local jails.

Fortunately, there is a more lasting solution to overcrowding, one that gets to the heart of exploding inmate populations nationwide: reform the rules governing pretrial detention, in part by using formulas to help judges better determine which defendants are unlikely to commit crimes while on bail.  Doing so not only would make the system more fair, but also would significantly reduce the number of people who are unnecessarily jailed and even reduce crime rates.

Every year America spends close to $66 billion to keep people behind bars. But almost 500,000 of the 2.3 million prisoners aren’t convicts; rather, they are accused individuals awaiting trial.  While some defendants are able to pay their bail and go free, most cannot, because many judges, lacking firm insight into what types of prisoners are too dangerous to release, set high bail amounts knowing the accused can’t afford them.  Though some of these defendants will eventually be found not guilty and go free, keeping them incarcerated before their trials creates a burden on the prison system.

What’s more, detention begets more detention.  Defendants detained before trial are more likely to be convicted if they go to trial, more likely to receive prison sentences rather than probation when sentenced, and, given their weak bargaining power with prosecutors while locked up, are more likely to have longer sentences....

The risk of release can be largely reduced by arming judges with more data to inform their decisions. Frank McIntyre, an economist, and I recently examined data from over 100,000 felony defendants over a 15-year period, and we found very clear trends regarding which defendants are more likely to commit crimes while free on bail.

For example, judges often detain too many older defendants (people over 30), defendants with clean records and defendants charged with fraud or public order offenses — in other words, people who are less likely to commit crimes while out on bail.  On the other hand, judges release too many young defendants with extensive records, people who are more likely to break the law while awaiting trial.... [O]ur models indicate that such guidelines could safely lead to the release of up to 25 percent more defendants — and a significant reduction in prison costs and crime rates.

Given eye-popping local, state and federal deficits, it’s unlikely that California will be the only state to face the tough choices involved in reducing its prison population.  With the right data on pretrial defendants, though, judges can help make that task a lot easier.

May 31, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Monday, May 30, 2011

Could SCOTUS Plata ruling grease path to reform of California's tough 3-strikes law?

The question in the title of this post is inspired by this new local piece headlined "Opponents of three-strikes law see hope in prison ruling." Here are excerpts:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week requiring California to cut its prison population by more than 33,000 inmates within two years could boost efforts to modify or repeal the state’s three-strikes law, which some say keeps nonviolent offenders in prison for far too long. The law, approved by voters and the Legislature in 1994, significantly increased prison terms for repeat offenders with previous convictions for violent or serious felonies as defined by state law, putting some behind bars for life.

Opponents of the three-strikes law have argued for years that it is overly harsh and keeps people in prison decades after they stop being dangerous — because of age, medical problems or both — exacerbating the state’s prison overcrowding problem.

A main argument against the law has been that a person with two strikes can be sentenced to 25 years to life for a nonviolent offense, such as petty theft. “We over incarcerate in California, and this U.S. Supreme Court decision is an impetus to change that,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean at the University of California Irvine Law School....

Supporters of the three-strikes law, including San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, insist it’s a good law, if applied correctly. They note that judges and prosecutors now have the discretion to decide when it should be applied, which wasn’t the case immediately after the law was approved. “Most district attorneys aren’t sending people to prison for 25 years to life on a nonviolent offense,” Dumanis said.

She acknowledges that the three-strikes law has affected prison overcrowding but it wasn’t a major factor. A bigger contributor, she said, is California’s 70 percent recidivism rate. The people convicted under the three-strikes law “weren’t the large numbers that everybody was anticipating,” Dumanis said.

According to a report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, roughly 41,000 inmates — about 25 percent of the total prison population — were serving time in prison under the three-strikes law as of Dec. 31. Of those, more than 32,000 were second-strikers and about 8,700 were third-strikers.

The report says that although the population of inmates incarcerated under the three-strikes law grew quickly in the first years it existed, the rate of growth has slowed significantly over the past decade as second-strikers finished their prison terms and were released on parole....

“The reality is that California has to release some inmates,” [Chemerinsky] said, noting that it would be wise to look at nonviolent second- and third-strikers as candidates. “We are paying ($40,000) to $50,000 a year on average to incarcerate people,” he said. “When they get older, the cost increases dramatically.”

Members of Families to Amend California’s Three-Strikes have talked about getting a measure on the 2012 ballot that would modify the law. But such an effort requires money and it’s not clear where that might come from.

Alan Mobley, an assistant professor of public affairs and criminal justice at San Diego State University, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, and the attention it has generated, could help. “It provides a good argument for activists to approach funders and say the tide is on our side,” Mobley said.

Still, any measure to repeal or revise the three-strikes law is likely to be met with resistance. “No elected official wants to touch it,” said Paul Pfingst, who was the county’s district attorney from 1994 to 2002 and is now a criminal defense lawyer....

In 2004, California voters rejected an initiative that would have required an offenders’ third strike to be a violent or serious felony and eliminate second-strike sentences for most offenders. Only 47 percent of the state’s voters supported the measure.

May 30, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Lots more talk about Plata and its consequences a week later

It has now been about week since the Supreme Court's major California prison ruling in Plata (basics here), and there justifiably continues to be a lot of important and interesting post-Plata commentary in the MSM and in new media.  This op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, headlined "Don't fear the prison decision: California won't have to free dangerous criminals to meet the Supreme Court's mandate," highlights why the ruling is not cataclysmic for California. Here is how the op-ed begins:

In his dissent from the majority in the recent Supreme Court decision requiring California to reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates, Justice Antonin Scalia warned that "terrible things are sure to happen as a consequence of this outrageous order." But Californians shouldn't panic. The state won't have to throw open the prison doors to meet the court's order if it embraces very modest sentencing reforms.

Prudent ideas for reducing the prison population have been advocated by various task forces, including ones led by former Gov. George Deukmejian, by former Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp and by a national panel of corrections experts convened by the Legislature. The California Department of Corrections has already submitted a plan to the federal courts detailing how it expects to make the necessary prison population reductions.

Even without the Supreme Court decision, about 250,000 inmates who have served their time will be released from California prisons over the next two years. In addition, since the late 1990s, jails in 22 counties have been releasing nearly 100,000 inmates a year to meet court-ordered caps on the number of people their facilities can accommodate.

Despite all those releases, crime rates are at the lowest levels since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Serious crime and arrests have been dropping in California and across the nation for years. While criminologists do not have an easy explanation for the huge crime decline, the evidence points to more effective policing, improved prevention programs for at-risk families and an influx of immigrants, who traditionally have very low crime rates.

Not surprisingly, not every agrees with this sober assessment.  The folks at Crime & Consequences, for example, have a more pessimistic assessment of Plata as demonstrated in a pair of recent posts titled "Lies, Damned Lies, and Lazy Falsehoods" and "The Leftist Arsenal: Lying and Smearing."  And, for a still different set of perspectives, there are a bunch of Plata posts at  California Corrections Crisis and Prison Law Blog worth checking out.

Prior posts on the Plata ruling:

May 29, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, May 27, 2011

"China used prisoners in lucrative internet gaming work"

Images The title of this post is the headline of this recent report from the Guardian, which starts this way:

As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali would slog through tough days breaking rocks and digging trenches in the open cast coalmines of north-east China. By night, he would slay demons, battle goblins and cast spells.

Liu says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for "illegally petitioning" the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.

"Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour," Liu told the Guardian. "There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn't see any of the money. The computers were never turned off."

Memories from his detention at Jixi re-education-through-labour camp in Heilongjiang province from 2004 still haunt Liu. As well as backbreaking mining toil, he carved chopsticks and toothpicks out of planks of wood until his hands were raw and assembled car seat covers that the prison exported to South Korea and Japan. He was also made to memorise communist literature to pay off his debt to society.

But it was the forced online gaming that was the most surreal part of his imprisonment. The hard slog may have been virtual, but the punishment for falling behind was real. "If I couldn't complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things," he said.

It is known as "gold farming", the practice of building up credits and online value through the monotonous repetition of basic tasks in online games such as World of Warcraft. The trade in virtual assets is very real, and outside the control of the games' makers. Millions of gamers around the world are prepared to pay real money for such online credits, which they can use to progress in the online games.

Especially because it is late Friday before a holiday weekend, readers are welcome (and even encouraged) to respond to this post with jokes about sentencing prisoners to play Angry Birds or about what kinds of required on-line activities might be deemed cruel and unusual punishment.

May 27, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is California so dysfunctional that doom and gloom is the right reaction to Plata?

Cal prison population Regular readers likely realize that I see much of the doom and gloom coming from the Plata dissenters and from some commentators to be overheated reactions to the Supreme Court's decision to affirm the prisoner release order requiring California to significantly reduce its prison population.  Experiences in Texas and New York and a number of other states show that astute sentencing and correction reforms can allow a significant reduction in a state's prison population without a severe adverse impact on public safety.  Thus, I do not believe a huge Golden State crime spike is a necessary (or even likely) consequence of the Plata ruling if California responds reasonably and effectively to the population reduction order.

That said, two new pieces appearing in today's Los Angeles Times has me fearing that California's politics and practices may be so dysfunctional that perhaps the state will fail to be able to respond reasonably and effectively to the Plata population reduction order.  For starters, consider this piece headlined "No easy fix for California's prison crisis; Even if a court order to ease crowding can be met, sentencing laws could fill lockups again, analysts say," which reports on these on-going realities:

[W]ithout sweeping policy changes, the state will still send high numbers of offenders to prison under "three-strikes" sentencing laws, put about 70% of parolees back behind bars for violations within three years of their release and keep ambitious prison construction plans on hold for lack of money, according to experts and inmates' advocates....

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to ease crowding would move inmates convicted of low-level and nonviolent crimes into the custody of county officials. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that as many as 32,500 such inmates could be transferred in time to meet the court's two-year deadline.

But Brown's plan requires the state to pay local officials hundreds of millions of dollars to help them cope with the influx, and the money would come from tax increases or extensions that are politically controversial. So far, there's no guarantee the state will come up with the money or would continue to provide it indefinitely, although Brown wants a constitutional guarantee that Sacramento could not cut funding to the counties....

Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and veteran criminal law scholar, points to the high recidivism rate and past cuts in funding for prison rehabilitation and education programs as a formula for continued — even worse — crowding. "We have to stop the insanity of sending nonviolent drug offenders and low-level theft offenders to prison for life," Levenson said. "Nobody is saying we should let murderers out.... We have to stop the revolving door of parolees being returned for minor violations."

Compounding the situation is Jessica's Law, the 2006 initiative barring sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or parks, making it difficult for California's 92,000 released sex offenders to comply with that parole condition, especially in large cities.

In 2009, the most recent year for which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has statistics, almost 85,000 parolees were sent back to prison, most of them for two- and three-month sentences. That forced the state to erect three-tier bunks in sports halls, where parole violators spend their terms in the company of hardened criminals and without access to the minimal educational and rehabilitative programs that the corrections system retains after years of budget cuts.

With the average number of parolees in California at 127,383 on any given day, the state's overcrowding problem is bound to reemerge unless substantial changes are made to sentencing laws, parole conditions and in-prison rehabilitation programs, Levenson said.

Drug counseling and education have been severely hampered by overcrowding that has spilled into gymnasiums and meeting rooms. "There's no space and no money" for those programs, said [Michael Bien, whose law firm launched a 1990 case addressing poor mental healthcare in California prisons that ultimately led to Monday's ruling].

Even more distressing than these chronic challenges facing California are more acute problems such as the one reported in this piece, headlined "Computer errors let violent California prisoners go free; A computer system that lacked key information about inmates factored in the release of an estimated 450 prisoners with a "high risk of violence," according to the California inspector general." Here are the worrisome details:

Computer errors prompted California prison officials to mistakenly release an estimated 450 inmates with "a high risk for violence" as unsupervised parolees in a program meant to ease overcrowding, according to the state's inspector general. More than 1,000 additional prisoners presenting a high risk of committing drug crimes, property crimes and other offenses were also let out, officials said.  No attempt was made to return any of the offenders to state lockups or place them on supervised parole, said inspector general spokeswoman Renee Hansen.

All of the prisoners were placed on "non-revocable parole," whose participants are not required to report to parole officers and can be sent back to prison only if caught committing a crime.  The program was started in January 2010 for inmates judged to be at very low risk of reoffending, leaving parole agents free to focus on supervising higher-risk parolees.

The revelations come two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California's prisons are dangerously overcrowded and upheld an earlier order that state officials find a way to reduce the 143,335-inmate population by roughly 33,000.  The state has two years to comply. State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), a former prosecutor who requested an investigation of the unsupervised-parole program, said the inspector general's report "confirms my worst fears" about it.

Investigators reviewed case files for 200 of the 10,134 former inmates who were on non-revocable parole in July of last year. They found that 31 were not eligible, and nine of those were determined likely to commit violent crimes.  The inspector general and corrections officials refused to identify the inmates who were released erroneously. They also would not specify what their original offenses had been.

Using the 15% error rate they found in their sample, investigators estimated that more than 450 violent inmates had been released during the first seven months of the program, the time period they reviewed.  Prison officials have disputed the findings, saying they had corrected some of the computer problems discovered by the inspector general.  The error rate is now 8%, the inspector general report says.

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to address overcrowding would shift tens of thousands of low-level offenders from prison to county custody.  Counties would also supervise most low-risk parolees, like those in the non-revocable program.

But if the state can't properly identify which inmates qualify for an unsupervised parole program, Lieu said on Wednesday, "how can the public have confidence they can release 33,000 felons safely?"

Under the law that created non-revocable parole, inmates are excluded if they are gang members, have committed sex crimes or violent felonies or have been determined to pose a high risk to reoffend based on an assessment of their records behind bars.  That's where the problems begin, according to the inspector general.  The computer program prison officials used to make that assessment does not access an inmate's disciplinary history.

Prior posts on the Plata ruling:

May 26, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A simple take on Plata: Congress asked for this in the PLRA

I am still working my way through the various opinions in Plata, but I keep coming back to one simple idea when considering the case and the Supreme Court's ruling: when enacting the Prison Litigation Reform Act in 1996, Congress clearly contemplated and clearly authorized federal courts to enter a "prisoner release order" under the PLRA.  See 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(3) (setting forth in detail the requirements for court issuance of a "prisoner release order").  Given that Congress envisioned the possibility of such an order, combined with the extraordinary record of constitutional problems in California's operation of its prison system and the extraordinarily long period in which California has been unable to correct these problems, the Plata case seems to be "perfect storm" fact pattern that would require a federal court to issue such an order.

In other words, anyone who does not like the idea of federal courts ordering a state to release prisoners really should be complaining about the fact that Congress in 1996 clearly contemplated and clearly authorized federal courts to enter such an order through the enactment of the PLRA.  And especially given the reality that Republicans controlled both houses of Congress when the PLRA was enacted, there is a certain irony to any complaints by Republicans now about the seemingly straight-forward application of the PLRA in Plata.

Prior posts on the Plata ruling:

May 24, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Lots and lots of interesting commentary on SCOTUS Plata prison ruling

At lots of old and new media outlets, I am already seeing lots of interesting commentary on the Supreme Court's major California prison ruling yesterday in Plata (basics here).  Here are just a few of the interesting and diverse pieces I have seen:

May 24, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Prison advocates in Illinois pointing to Plata to help their case for reform

It will be interesting to watch whether and how the Supreme Court's major California prison ruling yesterday in Plata (basics here) will impact sentencing and prison reform debates in other states.  This local article, headlined "Call made for sentencing standards reform in Ill.," shows that folks in Illinois are already hearing echoes from the ruling: 

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling ordering California to release tens of thousands of prisoners to ease overcrowding should serve as a warning bell about the need to overhaul sentencing standards in Illinois, a prison watchdog group said today.

“We don’t want to become California,” said John Maki, executive director of the Chicago-based John Howard Association.  “We need to be talking about ways to have a more effective justice system, and heavy sentencing is not the best way of preventing crime.”

The number of inmates in state custody has soared in recent months after Gov. Pat Quinn suspended early release programs after a botched attempt to speed up the rate at which inmates could receive good-time credit.

There are currently 48,661 inmates in state custody, and while that is higher than in recent years, the state is capable of properly housing 50,000, said Cara Smith, chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Corrections.  Smith said the department is engaged in discussions about ways to reform sentencing standards.  She noted 5,000 inmates a year enter the system on relatively minor crimes, such as drug possession and retail theft.

May 24, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Monday, May 23, 2011

Early press coverage and reactions to SCOTUS California prison ruling in Plata

Thanks to this post at How Appealing, everyone can quickly jump to some of the early press coverage of the Supreme Court work in the Plata prison ruling this morning (basics here).  Here are some of the highlights:

Today's main posts on the Plata ruling:

May 23, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Some big-time rhetoric in big-time SCOTUS Plata prison ruling

Based on my very quick first pass through the majority and dissenting opinions in the Plata prison ruling this morning (basics here), there appears to be a lot of rhetoric flying in all directions.  Here are just a few of the lines from each opinion that caught my eye at the outset:

From Justice Kennedy's opinion for the Court (with quotes/cited left out):

For years the medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners’ basic health needs.  Needless suffering and death have been the well-documented result....

As a consequence of their own actions, prisoners may be deprived of rights that are fundamental to liberty.  Yet the law and the Constitution demand recognition of certain other rights.  Prisoners retain the essence of human dignity inherent in all persons. Respect for that dignity animates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.  The basic concept underlying the Eighth Amendment is nothing less than the dignity of man....

From the start of Justice Scalia's dissent:

Today the Court affirms what is perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our Nation’s history: an order requiring California to release the staggering number of 46,000 convicted criminals.

There comes before us, now and then, a case whose proper outcome is so clearly indicated by tradition and common sense, that its decision ought to shape the law, rather than vice versa.  One would think that, before allowing the decree of a federal district court to release 46,000 convicted felons, this Court would bend every effort to read the law in such a way as to avoid that outrageous result.  Today, quite to the contrary, the Court disregards stringently drawn provisions of the governing statute, and traditional constitutional limitations upon the power of a federal judge, in order to uphold the absurd.

The proceedings that led to this result were a judicial travesty.  I dissent because the institutional reform the District Court has undertaken violates the terms of the governing statute, ignores bedrock limitations on the power of Article III judges, and takes federal courts wildly beyond their institutional capacity.

From the end of Justice Alito's dissent:

The prisoner release ordered in this case is unprecedented, improvident, and contrary to the PLRA.  In largely sustaining the decision below, the majority is gambling with the safety of the people of California.  Before putting public safety at risk, every reasonable precaution should be taken.  The decision below should be reversed, and the case should be remanded for this to be done.

I fear that today’s decision, like prior prisoner release orders, will lead to a grim roster of victims.  I hope that I am wrong.

In a few years, we will see.

May 23, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (41) | TrackBack

In 5-4 split, SCOTUS (per Justice Kennedy) affirms California prison reduction order

Here is the early blog report from the SCOTUSblog folks on the big California prison overcrowding ruling handed down this morning by the Supeme Court:

The first opinion is Brown v. Plata (prisons). The opinion is by Justice Kennedy. The Court has affirmed the decision of a three-judge district court in California.  The vote is 5-4; Justice Scalia dissents, joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Alito dissents, joined by the Chief Justice.

The Court rules first that the plaintiffs properly convened a three-judge panel to hear the case; that court did not err in concluding that overcrowding was the primary cause of the violations of the inmates' rights to medical and mental health care.

Plata opinion is here.

The injunction was narrowly drawn and extended no further than necessary to correct the violation and was the least intrusive means.

Very interesting and potentially very important.  Bloggy commentary will follow when I get a chance to review the opinions, though others should not wait for me to weigh in on what might be the biggest sentencing and corrections ruling of the Term.

May 23, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Might private prisons actually cost taxpayers more than public prisons?

The important question in the title of this post is prompted by this new piece in the New York Times, which is headlined "Private Prisons Found to Offer Little in Savings."  Here is how the piece starts:

The conviction that private prisons save money helped drive more than 30 states to turn to them for housing inmates. But Arizona shows that popular wisdom might be wrong: Data there suggest that privately operated prisons can cost more to operate than state-run prisons — even though they often steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates.

The state’s experience has particular relevance now, as many politicians have promised to ease budget problems by trimming state agencies. Florida and Ohio are planning major shifts toward private prisons, and Arizona is expected to sign deals doubling its private-inmate population.

The measures would be a shot in the arm for an industry that has struggled, in some places, to fill prison beds as the number of inmates nationwide has leveled off. But hopes of big taxpayer benefits might end in disappointment, independent experts say. “There’s a perception that the private sector is always going to do it more efficiently and less costly,” said Russ Van Vleet, a former co-director of the University of Utah Criminal Justice Center. “But there really isn’t much out there that says that’s correct.”

Such has been the case lately in Arizona. Despite a state law stipulating that private prisons must create “cost savings,” the state’s own data indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state-run prisons.

Some recent related posts on private prison sale plans in Ohio and Florida:

May 19, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SCOTUS taking up private prison Bivens issue

As detailed in this lengthy new SCOTUSblog post, titled "New curb on Bivens remedy?", the SUpreme Court yesterday granted cert "on a case involving a damages lawsuit against private individuals working for a private contractor as guards at a federal prison."  Here is the basic backstory:

Last June, the Ninth Circuit Court added a new Bivens-type claim: it ruled that a prison inmate, Richard Lee Pollard, could sue a group of private individuals working under contract as prison guards for Wackenhut Corrections Corp., the operator of the federal prison in Taft, Calif.  Pollard contended that he broke his elbow in a fall after tripping over a cart left in a hallway, but that prison guards required him to make use of the arm in painful ways in taking him to and from an outside clinic for treatment, refused to provide a splint for the injury though a doctor had prescribed one, and was required to return to work at a prison job before he had healed fully.  (Wackenhut has since become a part of GEO Corp.)

The Circuit Court remarked that “neither the Supreme Court nor our court has squarely addressed whether employees of a private corporation operating a prison under contract with the federal government act under color of federal law.”  It went on to rule that their actions were as if they had been federal employees, and the fact that the prisoner could have sued under California state law did not deprive him of a federal constitutional remedy.  Over the dissent of eight judges, the Circuit Court refused to reconsider the ruling en banc.

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to review the decision, in the case of Minneci, et al., v. Pollard (docket 10-1104).

At this stage, the Court does not explain why it will hear a case, but the ruling by the Ninth Circuit conflicts directly with decisions of two other Circuit Courts (the Fourth and the Eleventh), and involves the creation of a perhaps wide expansion of the Bivens decision.  The private organization, DRI, which seeks to curb civil liability in general, told the Court in a separate amicus brief that the Ninth Circuit ruling “takes Bivens into uncharted territory by exposing private employees to an unprecedented form of personal liability,” and potentially may extend Bivens-type liability well beyond the prison setting, given how common it is for private employees to work under contract for federal agencies.

As this SCOTUSblog post spotlights, this new case would seem to be of interest to the Justices primarily because of its concern about Bivens jurisprudence rather than a distinctive interest in the workings of private prisons.  Nevertheless, especially at a time when a number of states are talking about privatizing prison services, it seems likely that this case might prompt some useful discussion and briefing on the operations, regulations and litigation surrounding the private prison industry.

May 17, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Rose (and others) deserve our forgiveness"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent commentary in Cincinnati Enquirer authored by David Singleton, the Executive Director of the Cincinnati-based Ohio Justice & Policy Center.  Here is how the commentary links baseball and criminal justice policy through the notion of forgiveness:

In the words of philosopher Jacques Barzun, "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."  Barzun's quote implies, as several scholars have argued, that baseball is a prism reflecting core American values, such as hard work, fair play, high aspirations and pulling together for the common good.

Forgiveness and redemption are essential to these ideals -- our dedication to them is shown not when the going is easy, but when circumstances test our commitment.  The case of Pete Rose, the all-time Major League Baseball hits leader banned from the sport for betting on baseball, gives America's game the opportunity to send a powerful message to society about the necessity of giving second (and, if necessary, third, fourth and fifth chances) to those who break the rules.

Forgiveness and redemption have always been at the heart of America's identity.  These concepts are central to all major religious traditions, including those upon which our country was founded.  Former President George W. Bush acknowledged as much when he said during his 2004 State of the Union Address: "America is the land of second chance --and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life."

President Bush's words resonate with us because we've all made mistakes, some, of course, more serious than others.  And we all hope not to be judged forever by the worst we have done but instead by the best we have to offer.

But when it comes to the transgressions of others, too frequently we withhold the forgiveness we seek for ourselves, especially when the wrong committed is serious.  We are quick to judge, condemn and ostracize people who have committed felonies or otherwise broken the social contract in significant ways.  We call those who have done wrong "criminals," "felons" and "convicts" -- labels we use to dehumanize people to justify our denial to them of full membership in the community.  With those labels, we cut people off from America's most distinguishing value: aspiration to better oneself and make life better for those around us.

Each year approximately 700,000 people return from prison to communities across the United States.  For most, job prospects are bleak.  Not only are employers reluctant to hire someone with a felony record, but state and local laws limit the types of jobs those with criminal records can pursue.  In Ohio alone there are more than 400 state laws that restrict employment options for ex-offenders.  And without employment, ex-offenders are severely limited in their ability to get back on their feet and productively rejoin society. In recognition of this fact, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder of the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent a letter to each state on April 18, asking each to review its laws that prevent people with criminal records from obtaining jobs....

So what does any of this have to do with Pete Rose and Major League Baseball? If baseball truly reflects our core values, including forgiveness and redemption, then Major League Baseball should reinstate Rose and make him eligible for the Hall of Fame....

Lifting Rose's lifetime ban would not only benefit baseball -- the Hall of Fame is diminished by the Hit King's absence -- but it would also reinforce the broader social importance of not writing off forever people who have made serious mistakes.  America has always taken pride in fostering the highest aspirations of its citizens, regardless of their past deeds or present circumstances.  Major League Baseball has a golden opportunity to truly promote forgiveness and redemption, the values inherent in the game itself.

May 16, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

"A growing burden: As more elderly prisoners serve time, state officials struggle to pay their medical costs"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Houston Chronicle piece, which gets started this way:

A growing population of elderly inmates is driving up prison medical care costs to the point that some Texas lawmakers would like to see more of those who are feeble and chronically ill released early.  In the last decade, the number of inmates 55 and older has spiked as much as 8 percent each year, growing to about 12,500, while the general inmate population has remained fairly flat.

In prisons across the country, inmates grow old serving longer sentences and enter prison at an older age. Between 1999 and 2008, the number of inmates 55 and older in state and federal prisons increased by 76 percent to 76,400 inmates, according to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.  The general population grew by 18 percent.  

With rising medical care costs and dwindling state budgets, policy-makers and prison officials have struggled to keep pace.  Elderly inmates in Texas make up 8 percent of the state's prison population, yet they account for more than 30 percent of prison hospitalization costs.

In fiscal 2010, the state spent more than $545 million on inmate health care. It paid $4,853 per elderly offender for care compared with $795 for inmates under 55, according to the Correctional Managed Health Care Committee.

Some older posts on older inmates:

May 16, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Federal appointment news and notes from inside the Beltway

The BLT has these two new entries providing updates on two important open federal positions that should be of interesting to sentencing fans:

The Prison Director story has the most sentencing bite, as the new head of BOP could potentially really shake up the back end of the federal criminal justice system.  Here is more from that story:

Representatives from the American Bar Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Human Rights Watch wrote Holder this month about the department’s search to replace Harley Lappin, who retired effective May 7.

NACDL president Jim Lavine said Holder should not focus exclusively on promoting from within.  Thomas Kane, an assistant BOP director since 1991, is now serving as acting director, overseeing more than 100 federal prisons.  “Since 1964, BOP’s director has been promoted from within its career ranks, with no evident attempt to recruit outside candidates,” Lavine said in a May 5 letter (PDF).  “We believe that developments in the past two decades, notably changes in BOP’s size and correctional mandate, argue for a broader search.”

Lavine of Zimmermann, Lavine, Zimmermann, & Sampson, in Houston, said the increase in BOP’s size “has not been accompanied by corresponding changes in management philosophy and institutional culture.”

“If agency size alone were the measure of importance, the search for a new BOP director would be as rigorous as the search for a new FBI director,” Lavine said.  “Quite apart from their comparable size, however, these two organizations are equally responsible in their respective spheres for keeping the American public safe and secure.”...

Bruce Green, chair of the ABA’s criminal justice section, urged Holder in a May 6 letter (PDF) to “cast a wide net in choosing a new director, and to make clear that professional independence will be the central and prized qualification.”

May 12, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Are more video court appearances (and eventually cyber-courts) inevitable as cost-cutting innovation?

This new AP article, headlined "Courts nationwide hold hearings with video," highlights how tight budgets are leading to new types of court appearances.  Here are some of the specifics:

George Villanueva, charged with first-degree murder in the death of an NYPD officer, will not leave jail for months of pretrial hearings.  Instead, he'll be beamed into the courtroom via video as lawyers discuss his case in front of the judge.

Villanueva's case is part of a surge in court appearances done by video in New York and around the country, as cash-strapped communities look for ways to boost efficiency and cut costs. The tools are used in courts large and small, and the savings for some are staggering: $30 million in Pennsylvania so far, $600,000 in Georgia, and $50,000 per year in transportation costs in Ohio....

Advocates say the virtual hearing is easier on defendants, who don't have to get up at 4 a.m. to be shuttled with other criminal suspects to court, only to wait hours standing and handcuffed for an appearance.  Judges say their cases are moving faster.  And civil liberties groups say the practice raises no red flags.

"The technology is really exploding. It's gotten much cheaper and easier to run, and states are reporting a huge range of savings," said Jim McMillan of the National Center for State Courts, which studied the use of video in courts in the U.S.

About 166 court systems — or more than half the country's — responded to the group's survey six months ago.  The survey found that video use has vastly increased in the past five years. Initial appearances, mental health hearings and status conferences are among the most frequently conducted via video, according to the survey.

The video systems vary in cost but are all built on the same principles: A webcam or video camera is used in the courtroom, and a station is set up at the jail or detention center where suspects are held.  Defendants go to a secure room and appear via a secure Internet connection....

In 2008, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts began a three-year initiative to provide video conferencing equipment, and more than 400 courts have it.  Court officials estimate that it will save about $20 million annually statewide on security and transportation costs.  Philadelphia alone has reported a savings of more than $30 million over five years.

It's not just about the savings.  In Oregon's Multnomah County, which includes Portland, court officials have set up a closed-link system at a domestic violence shelter where women can apply for a protective order from their abusers without having to risk leaving the safe house.  Utah uses the video to deliver classroom training for clerk staff and to hold meetings, saving some employees five-hour drives.

At least 750 statutes govern the practice.  In some places, like New York, the defendant must consent to holding hearings this way.  Others don't require consent but need a judge's ruling.

May 10, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Prison guards in Ohio protesting plans to sell prisons

As detailed in this local piece, in Ohio a group of prison guards "picketed the Grafton Correctional Institution from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to protest the possible sale of five Ohio prisons, including Grafton Correctional, to private companies."  Here is more:

Trucks and cars passing by the prisons on state Route 83 honked in apparent support as picketers carried signs such as “fire sale” and “Open House Today Kasich Realty” protesting the proposed sale.  Two state representatives who joined corrections officers said the state should call off the proposal because of new state revenue projections....

The sale of the prisons, which goes to the state Senate this week, is expected to bring in $200 million and save $6.6 million in operating costs a year.  “My hope is that the Senate slows down and looks at it,” said [Dan] Ramos, D-Lorain.  “This is a thankless job and you have to be willing to risk your life every day, and if you risk your life you should be able to afford your mortgage.”...

While acknowledging they face an uphill battle, corrections officers and other staff manning the picket line said they hope the state hangs onto the prisons instead of turning them over to private companies.  None of the companies are from Ohio, so any profits would be going out of state, said James Adkins, who works at the Ohio Reformatory for Women and serves as a representative of the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association.

The state will be losing valuable workers if Grafton Correctional and other prisons are sold and guards move to other professions because they can’t work at the wages offered at the private prisons, according to union members.  Dan Sablack, chief steward at Lorain Correctional Institution, which is also in Grafton, said there’s a chance that Grafton Correctional’s officer of the year, 57-year-old former minister David Partlow, might be among those out of a job because he only has four years of seniority.

Some recent related posts on Ohio's prison sale plans:

May 10, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, May 09, 2011

"In the Pew Instead of Prison"

The title of this post is the headline of this book review in the Wall Street Journal authored by James Q. Wilson, which reviews a new book by Byron R. Johnson, titled "More God, Less Crime."  Here is the start of the review:

This book has two messages. First, religion reduces crime. Second, look what happens to scholars who say this is true.

The first argument rests on the work of Byron R. Johnson, a professor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, who compiled a survey of every study between 1944 and 2010 that measured the possible effect of religion on crime.  He found 273 such studies. As he reports in "More God, Less Crime," even though their authors used different methods and assessed different groups of people, 90% of these studies found that more religiosity resulted in less crime. Only 2% found that religion produced more crime.  (The remaining 8% found no relationship either way.)

Does this prove that religion reduces crime?  Not precisely, for these are all quasi-experimental studies.  If they were truly experimental and thus carried greater intellectual weight, the researchers would direct people, none of whom had any religion, either to acquire and practice one or to remain godless and thereby stay in the control group.  We would then compare the groups' crime rates.  Doing this would be immoral, illegal and impractical, and so we are left with studies that compare religious and nonreligious people and try to control statistically for other factors that might explain away the religion-and-crime link.

How much confidence, then, should we have in nonexperimental studies?  Not a lot, as none of the studies that Mr. Johnson cites show the statistical controls necessary to evaluate them.  But offsetting this weakness is the number of studies showing a religious effect.  And we can look at a few of the best ones, such as that by Richard Freeman.  A Harvard professor of economics, he arranged for 2,358 young black men living in downtown Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia to be interviewed.  He found that, other things (such as family and economic background) being equal, going to church is associated with substantial differences in how young men behave.  More churchgoing, less crime, less alcohol and fewer drugs.  As Mr. Freeman puts it: "The effect of churchgoing is not the result of churchgoing youth having 'good attitudes.' "  If you want to see his reasons, look at his book "The Black Youth Employment Crisis" (1986).

The interesting question is whether society can make religion more important in the lives of convicted offenders.

May 9, 2011 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Does Norway's success with a "cushy prison" suggest we ought to get softer on criminals?

The question in the title of this post is inspired by this fascinating article a helpful reader sent me from the Daily Mail across the pond.  The piece is titled "Norway's controversial 'cushy prison' experiment -- could it catch on in the UK?" and it carries this sub-heading: "Can a prison possibly justify treating its inmates with saunas, sunbeds and deckchairs if that prison has the lowest reoffending rate in Europe?  Live reports from Norway on the penal system that runs contrary to all our instincts -- but achieves everything we could wish for."  Here is one excerpt from an interesting read:

A recent opinion poll showed the British public wants harsher prison conditions; they don't agree with the Government's response to over-population and reoffending by pushing through far-reaching reforms which emphasise shorter sentences while placing prisoners in a working environment.

And yet, an extensive new study undertaken by researchers across all the Nordic countries reveals that the reoffending average across Europe is about 70-75 per cent. In Denmark, Sweden and Finland, the average is 30 per cent. In Norway it is 20 per cent. Thus Bastoy, at just 16 per cent, has the lowest reoffending rate in Europe.

Of course, Norway is one of the wealthiest, most sparsely populated and most stable countries in the world, with a population of just five million, and a prison population fluctuating around 3,500 inmates, the lowest percentage in Europe apart from Iceland; surely a special case.

Even so, whatever is happening here may be condemned, but cannot be ignored. Indeed, it is being positively embraced here - Norway is planning to build more prisons like Bastoy. At the expense of our own deep-seated unease, and with the possible benefits of safer streets, dare we ever contemplate such a prison regime in the UK?

May 9, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

"In Prison, College Courses Are Few"

The title of this post is the headline of this Wall Street Journal article, which gets started this way:

While serving more than 12 years for robbery, Carlos Rosado completed the requirements for a bachelor of arts degree from Bard College, helping him land a job after his release last spring from a New York state prison.  "Most inmates never have the opportunity to get a college degree," said Mr. Rosado, 36 years old, who works as a field engineer for a recycling firm.

The rarity of that opportunity was underscored in a survey to be released Wednesday by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a nonprofit devoted to increasing access to post-secondary education around the world.

Based on data provided by correctional officers in 43 states, the survey found only 6% of prisoners were enrolled in vocational or academic post-secondary programs during the 2009-2010 school year.  Of those who were enrolled, 86% were serving time in 13 states, suggesting other states provide little access to inmate education.

The survey, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, argued for giving inmates greater access to education — including Internet-based programs — on grounds that doing so could reduce the overall cost of incarceration by limiting recidivism.  About 2.3 million prisoners in the U.S. cost about $52 billion a year, the survey said.  At a time of severe budget constraints, any plan to increase funding for prisoner education could face political difficulties.

Here is another excerpt which highlights the impact of some Clinton-era punishment policies:

Inmate education in America plummeted after President Bill Clinton's crime bill of 1994 rendered federal and state prisoners ineligible for Pell Grants, a form of federal financial aid for college.   Since then, the educational opportunities for state inmates have varied dramatically from state to state.  According to the study, 13 states have made it a priority: Washington, Idaho, California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and New York.

"Keeping someone in prison costs about the same per year as sending them to Harvard," said Max Kenner, founder of the Bard Prison Initiative, a privately funded nonprofit that brings Bard College classes to prisoners in five facilities in New York.  Published research shows that prisoners who obtain post-secondary degrees are much less likely than others to return to crime upon release, Mr. Kenner said.

A policy statement from the American Correctional Association, a trade group for correctional professionals, says that "public and private agencies should develop, expand, adequately fund and improve delivery systems for academic, occupational and other educational programs for charged and adjudicated juvenile and adult offenders."

May 4, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Private providers seeking piece of prison health care pie in Texas

The Austin American-Statesmen has this fascinating new piece on prison health care cost debates in Texas. The piece is headlined "Lawmakers chafe as push continues to privatize prison health care," and here are excerpts:

Efforts by private companies to get a piece of Texas' nearly $1 billion prisoner health care system are quietly continuing behind the scenes as company representatives make sales pitches to lawmakers and seek changes in state law to authorize privatization.

Some legislative leaders and others are chafing about the continued privatization push, saying the idea has not been studied or vetted publicly — and is being advanced by outside interests even though neither the House nor the Senate has embraced it.... The American-Statesman first reported the privatization efforts in March and that top aides to Gov. Rick Perry have been involved in some of the meetings with vendors and lobbyists....

Under current law, the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center are in charge of providing health care to Texas' 154,000 imprisoned felons.  Skeptics say Texas could be embarking on the next privatization boondoggle.

"Privatization usually means significantly higher costs and poorer care," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group.  "This should be done in the open, not in the dark, after a full-blown analysis ... or it will end up just being another corporate giveaway."...   Ana Yanez Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, also opposes the idea.... "It's a horrible idea. The only way to save money is to minimize the care that's provided."

Under the House-approved budget, correctional health programs would receive more than $700 million over the next two years.  The Senate version, not yet voted on, would allocate about $900 million.  At either amount, it's a big prize for private vendors.  Though officials with the various companies decline to discuss their lobbying or their proposals, lawmakers confirm that the sell is on.

In a written proposal circulated to lawmakers, Correctional Medical Services Inc. — which provides prison medical services to 277,000 inmates in 330 lockups in 18 states — says it could save Texas $30 million to $50 million annually.

Company officials could not be reached to elaborate, but its written proposal says it would cut costs by reducing admissions of prisoners to hospitals and by reducing the number of inpatient days that prisoners are there — a rate that the company says is 300 percent higher in Texas than the average at its locations.  It would also enhance medical treatment in prison clinics, as a way to keep convicts from being sent to a hospital, where the costs would be higher. Reducing annual admissions by 140 percent would yield a potential savings of $34 million, the proposal states....

Though state prison officials have indicated that they will probably seek information from potential bidders to determine whether privatization would provide savings, they and legislative veterans say they are wary of pushing ahead for privatization based on experiences with past prison outsourcing projects.

For example, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has several times hired private companies to provide substance-abuse treatment programs in state prisons, only to face rising costs after the contracts started because the companies lowballed their bids and could not continue providing the services at the low prices....

Despite the concerns, members of the Board of Criminal Justice, which governs the prison system, say the potential savings are worth exploring, as a start....  Board members Tom Mechler of Amarillo and David Nelson of Lubbock said the continuing losses of the two university health care providers, and the state's tight budget, are driving interest in alternatives.  "We should be considering every option — to reduce the cost to taxpayers, to improve the quality of care, to make the system better," said Nelson, who until last month headed the board's health care committee. "In my view, everything is on the table."

May 1, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

"Sheriff's Program Teaches Prisoners To Get Out Of Jail"

The title of this post is the headline of this new NPR piece.  Here are excerpts from the provided text:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has a big job. He's responsible for the country's largest local jail jurisdiction, which held more than 160,000 inmates last year alone. But Baca isn't interested in locking up criminals and throwing away the key; he wants to give them an education.

His Education-Based Incarceration initiative focuses on promoting intellectual growth in prisoner... Menial jobs aren't the best way for inmates to spend their time in prison, Baca says, because "that's not what gets you a job outside the jail." What does is reliability, he says, and proving "you're smart enough to be trained in a new job."

The program launched this year and has about 2,000 inmates participating in the beta phase. Once incarcerated, individuals are given academic evaluations. Correctional personnel then create a personalized curriculum, which ranges from basic reading and writing skills to core subjects like science and history. It's a mixture of classes and reading materials, plus newer learning tools like MP3 players with pre-loaded lectures.

Baca wants his prisoners to accomplish more than academic achievement. He wants the program to equip inmates for a better life outside prison walls. Courses in life skills like leadership and decision making give time in prison a constructive purpose. "They are learning a different way of how to assess their time as they are serving time in jail," he says....

Right now, only Los Angeles County uses Education-Based Incarceration, but Baca knows for the program to truly be a success, the state jails will have to follow suit. "My belief is that you can incarcerate a body, but you should never incarcerate a brain," Baca says. "The brain must develop regardless of what the environment is."

May 1, 2011 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tackling the challenges of prisoner fathers who owe child support

This new AP piece, headlined "Conn. to help inmates pare child-support bills," discusses a new state programs dealing with an enduring prisoner problem:

[For] incarcerated parents across the country, the vast majority of them fathers, [being] in prison does not mean they won't have to pay child support or repay the state for welfare paid to their families in lieu of child support.  Experts say the debt can make overwhelmed parents less likely to pay when they are released, and potentially damage relationships with their children.

Jessica Pearson, director of the Center for Policy Research in Denver, said her studies of state programs for the federal government show that more than half the inmates in both state and federal prisons are parents with children under 18, and half of those have active child-support cases. "In general, inmates seem to go in owing about $10,000 in child support and come out owing about $20,000," she said.

In several states, such as Tennessee, incarceration is considered "voluntary unemployment," and inmates cannot get child support obligation amended while in prison.  Those laws are designed to ensure inmates are not being rewarded for committing a crime, and children don't get penalized, Pearson said....

States such as Massachusetts and Texas allow inmates to have child-support orders modified to a minimum payment, which can range from $20 to $80 a month depending on the state, according to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement.  Others, including Connecticut, allow a judge to eliminate the payments entirely while a parent has no income....

Several states, including Illinois and Maryland, have begun programs that will forgive any debt owed to the state, if a former inmate makes regular child-support payments for a specified amount of time, as little as six months in the case of Illinois, Pearson said.  Federal grants have been made available from the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement to states for programs to help inmates become better fathers, access state services and get jobs.  But Pearson said there is little incentive for states to pass legislation to forgive child-support debts.

"It's a land mine for politicians," she said.  "To be soft on prisoners, and cut them deals, and forgive state debt for prisoners? T hey also don't want to make the poor chap who is doing the right thing and working two or three jobs to pay off his debt feel like a fool."

May 1, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, April 29, 2011

Governor Jerry Brown cancels plan for fancy new death row in California

As explained in this local article, headlined "Jerry Brown cancels plan for $356-million death row," budget austerity in California has killed plans for a new death row facility.  Here are the details:

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday canceled construction of a $356-million death row at San Quentin prison, saying it would be "unconscionable" to spend so much on condemned inmates as the state is slashing budgets for education and other social services.

"At a time when children, the disabled and seniors face painful cuts to essential programs, the state of California cannot justify a massive expenditure of public dollars for the worst criminals," Brown said in a statement.

The cancellation will save the state's general fund $28.5 million a year for 25 years, the cost of financing the construction loan, said Brown spokesman Gil Duran. Previous administrations spent about $20 million on planning and design for a two-building complex, Duran said. The project was approved in 2003, before the global financial crisis opened a gaping hole in the state budget....

Construction of a death row to accommodate the growing population of condemned prisoners has been fiercely debated. California taxpayers spend more on prisons than any other service except education, and the cost of keeping an inmate on death row is more than three times the annual upkeep of other prisoners, according to research conducted for the bipartisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice.

The corrections department puts the figure for each inmate's incarceration at $44,500 a year, but Hidalgo said there was no breakdown for death row prisoners.

The new facility would have had room for 1,152 condemned inmates and housed visitor, medical and mental health facilities to cut down on the cumbersome and costly need to escort death row prisoners around the wider institution, Hidalgo said. California now has 713 condemned inmates, 18 of whom are women housed at separate prisons.

Conditions on the existing death row are "just dismal," said Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, which advocates for inmates' rights. The cells are cramped, old and dilapidated, he said, and don't offer prisoners enough room to exercise. The worst conditions, including bird and rodent infestation and a plumbing problem that created "stalactites of human detritus" hanging over balconies, were cleaned up in response to a lawsuit a few years ago, Specter said.

Despite the hardship for inmates, Specter expects Brown's cancellation of the facility to be politically popular, especially given the budget crisis. "I'm sure most folks don't want prisoners to be comfortable, and they certainly are not," he said.

Death penalty advocates and many elected officials also praised the move. "I am glad to see that Gov. Brown has made the right choice to save millions of taxpayer dollars instead of wasting money to expand upon the prison," said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater), who opposed plans for the new death row when he was a member of the state Legislature. He wanted to close San Quentin and sell the large waterfront site for private development.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which supports capital punishment, also applauded the decision. "I don't think we need a new death row, either. What we need to do is carry out the judgments we already have," Scheidegger said, calling on the state's leadership to step up the pace in clearing the legal hurdles to resuming executions....

Brown has expressed his personal objection to capital punishment but has also vowed to respect the will of the majority of Californians, who have said they want to keep the death penalty as a sentencing option for the worst criminals. Thursday's order had nothing to do with the governor's personal aversion to the death penalty, Duran said: "This is purely about dollars and cents."

April 29, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 28, 2011

New prisoner suit in California contests race-based lockdowns

As detailed in this new AP article, which is headlined "Group sues California over race-based prison lockdowns," a new lawsuit assails how lockdowns are conducted in the Golden State.  Here are the basics:

California's use of race as a basis for locking prisoners in their cells after fights amounts to illegal discrimination and should be banned, attorneys representing inmates said in a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday. The policy unfairly punishes innocent inmates simply because they have the same color skin as those involved in the violence, the nonprofit Prison Law Office said in its suit, filed in federal court in Sacramento.

Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said lockdowns are sometimes necessary to protect safety and security. It is not the department's policy to base lockdowns and other restrictions solely on race or ethnicity, she said.

However, a proposed revision to the department's lockdown policy says inmates often organize themselves based on race or geographical area. The policy acknowledges that some uninvolved inmates may be affected, but it is the department's goal to get them back to a normal routine as soon as possible.

Rebekah Evenson, an attorney with the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, said the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar argument in 2005 when it told the state to end its policy of housing inmates based on their race. The high court and other states have found that such race-based policies encourage violence by splitting inmates along racial lines, Evenson said.

April 28, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"How far should prison health care go?"

The question in the title of this post is from the headline of this local piece prompted by a recent New York story involving an imprisoned rapist in line for a heart transplant (blogged here).  Here are excerpts from the piece:

Kenneth Pike, a 55-year-old state prison inmate doing an 18-40 year sentence for raping a 12-year-old girl, saved everyone a lot of ethical angst when he decided to turn down a heart transplant at public expense.  But the issue is still out there, and it seems like only a matter of time before we’re confronted with it again.

Pike had been flown last week from his prison in Coxsackie to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester for a transplant evaluation.  If he was approved, the state would have been on the hook for an operation estimated at close to $800,000.  But his sister said Monday that in light of the public debate his sitation sparked, he decided against it.  Another relative said he will probably die without the transplant.

The situation prompted state Sen. Michael Nozzolio, R-Fayette, to call for a hearing to review transplant policies. No date was immediately set for it.

The episode raises all sorts of difficult questions: Should society pay such extraordinary costs for a prisoner, let alone one who committed such a heinous crime?  Does it depend on the crime?  Where is the line?  Does it depend on the cost?  How do you define “too expensive”?

Should an imprisoned rapist be in line for a transplanted organ that could go to someone leading an honest, productive life?  If you say no, are you headed down a path of weighing these decisions on the basis of a person’s productivity or value to society?  Who makes that call?  What about people committed to state mental institutions or under state care for disabilities?...

One last thought: are you an organ donor, and has this given you second thoughts about that choice?

Dare I joke that in prisons, the one place that persons get universal single-payer health care, we might soon need to have death panels to help sort out just who should and should not get expensive health care?  I wonder what Sarah Palin or others  have expressed concerns about government-run health care might think about the use of death panels in this government-run-health-care setting?

April 27, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Monday, April 25, 2011

Interesting headlines concerning New York prison policies

These two quite distinct news stories concerning New York's prison system caught my eye this afternoon:

The lead: "State prison officials are allowing conjugal visits for gay inmates involved in same-sex marriages or civil unions. Recent regulation changes will also allow gay prisoners to take leave from their cell when their loved one is terminally ill."

The lead: "The [NY] state Senate will hold a hearing to examine organ transplant policies for inmates in the wake of media coverage about a 55-year-old inmate undergoing a heart transplant evaluation at the taxpayer's expense in Rochester.  Senator Michael Nozzolio, chairman of the Crime Victims Crime & Correction Committee, said the hearing is being held in response to reports that Kenneth Pike, a former Cayuga County resident convicted of raping and sodomizing a 12-year-old child in 1996, is undergoing a heart transplant evaluation at Strong Memorial Hospital."

April 25, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"Effort to privatize Florida prisons raises questions of cost"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy article from the Miami Herald.  It begins this way:

Florida lawmakers are poised to make dramatic changes to the state’s prison system, turning over as many as 14 prisons to private companies in hopes of trimming the cost of housing the state’s criminals.  But as the Legislature moves aggressively to expand the reach of private prisons, fundamental questions remain unanswered.  Such as: Do private prisons really save Florida taxpayers money?  And if so, how much cheaper are they?

Florida has been experimenting with private prisons for 16 years, with almost 10 percent of the state’s 102,000 inmates now held in seven private facilities.  The state agency that oversees these prisons says they will save taxpayers almost $90 million over the next three years.  But state financial analysts say they cannot show with any certainty how much money they save over state-run prisons.

At a Senate hearing in February, legislative analyst Byron Brown said differences in how public and private prisons operate and account for expenses “limit the conclusiveness” of any cost comparisons.  “There’s never apples to apples,” Brown told lawmakers.

While the benefits of prison privatization may be hard to see, the problems have been obvious: Over the years, the arrangement has been marred by mismanagement by state monitors, lax contracts, overbilling by prison contractors, a corruption investigation, and a legal loophole that allowed sexual misconduct in private facilities to go unpunished.

The Police Benevolent Association, which represents state corrections officers, said the privatization plan could put prison security at risk, with the lower wages of private prisons forcing out veteran workers and increasing staff turnover and vacancies.  More than 4,600 corrections jobs could get wiped off the state payroll under one legislative proposal. “Their whole business model is to save money, and you save money on employees,” said Ken Kopczynski, a PBA lobbyist in Tallahassee.  “If you have high turnover, that can turn into major problems.”

Critics also say the plan to expand prison privatization is aimed at rewarding an industry that donates generously to the state Republican Party.  Since 2001, the Florida GOP has received more than $1.5 million from the two largest prison contractors and their affiliates, records show.  More than $1 million of that has come from The GEO Group of Boca Raton — formerly known as Wackenhut — which manages two of the state’s private prisons.

Supporters say state oversight of the private prisons has improved in recent years, and inspections show that private prisons are no less secure than those run by the state’s Department of Corrections.  The change is needed, backers say, to rein in the prison system’s budget — which totaled $2.3 billion last year — at a time of mammoth deficits.

April 24, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Does today's SCOTUS ruling on prisoner suits under RLUIPA have any criminal justice bite?

The Supreme Court handed down a prisoner rights ruling this morning in Sossamon v. Texas (available here), which concerns inmate lawsuits seeking money damages from state governments for violating federal statutory rights.  I have not followed the case, but this SCOTUSblog post by Lyle Denniston has me wondering about whether there is something for criminal justice fans in the ruling:

Raising higher the constitutional barrier to lawsuits seeking money from state governments for violating federal laws, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Congress must declare very explicitly that states give up their immunity to such claims when they accept federal funds for any program.  By a vote of 6-2, the Court barred money damages under a law passed in 2000, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, but the ruling spoke more broadly on the Eleventh Amendment immunity issue when Congress uses its spending power to set up and pay for a federal program.

The Court’s opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, was keyed to two main conclusions: first, the phrase “appropriate relief” in a federal spending law is not explicit enough to take away states’ immunity to money claims, even though that phrase usually is understood to include money damages, and, second, laws passed under the Constitution’s Spending Clause do not operate like a normal contract, when a state government receives the funds, even though ordinarily money damages are a normal remedy for a contract violation.  Both of those constitutional interpretations would apply to any Spending Clause-based program in which states accepted federal funds.

In addition, the opinion, somewhat threateningly, implied that there may be a significant question about Congress’s authority under its spending or commerce-regulation power even to pass the kind of law at issue in this case: a law seeking to compel states to respect the religious rights of persons in prisons and other state-run institutions.  The Court said in a footnote that no one had raised those questions, so the decision did not pass upon them.  That kind of comment, though, could be seen by at least some states as a hint that they might attempt such a challenge to that federal obligation.

I highlighted the sentence above in part because the federal government frequently seeks to impact lots of state-run criminal justice institutions through the power of the purse.  I doubt that Sossamon will really impact these realities, but perhaps others see matters a bit differently.

April 20, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Robust debate in Ohio over Governor's plan to sell prisons to private company

One very interesting policy debate now raging in Ohio concerns our new Governor's proposal to sell some state prisons to private companies.  This new article in the Columbus Dispatch, headlined "Ohio's new prisons chief pushes reforms; Plan to sell facilities is just 'stabilizing' step, one that's drawn fire," profiles Ohio's new prisons chief and includes a partial defense of the plan:

The governor calls Gary Mohr 'a reformer.' Others call him less-complimentary things. That's what happens when the new head of Ohio's prison system, in his first three months on the job, decides to sell five prisons, turn three of them over to private operators, and lay off 115 parole employees.

Mohr said recent weeks have been the most difficult of his nearly 37-year career in the corrections business. He has been ripped by critics inside and outside the system. But Mohr insists that selling prisons isn't reform; it's "stabilizing" to keep the agency afloat.

He has a larger reform vision of creating a three-tier corrections system, bracketed by "integration" prisons, where inmates work, study and focus on self-development so they can be released to the community, and "control" prisons for the truly bad who are in it for the long haul....

Sentencing reform is one of Mohr's priorities. A series of proposed moves are projected to save nearly 7,000 prison beds: granting credit for an earlier release for prisoners who complete work in education, vocational or employment training, or substance-abuse education; funneling nonviolent, low-level offenders to community corrections facilities; equalizing the penalties for crack and powder cocaine; and allowing early release for inmates who've served 85 percent of their sentences. Most of the proposals are in the pending state budget bill....

[Upon appointment,] Mohr found what he viewed as an alarming and unacceptable plan to close six prisons and ship 12,000 inmates to out-of-state facilities. He countered by suggesting the sale of two state-run facilities, two privately operated prisons, and a closed juvenile facility in Marion. The department has sent prospective buyers a request for proposals.

Tim Schafer, a former prison corrections officer and now an officer with the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association, has known Mohr for 20 years. He said the union has had a good working relationship with him in the past, but now "we have a director who is playing more politics than he is directing."

"I understand he's got a boss who's very pro-privatization. The sad thing is, we've been able to work together on every single issue that's come up in prisons. ... Now, generally, we have to pick up the newspaper to find out what's going to happen to us next."

Meanwhile, as revelaed in this press release, earlier this week the group Policy Matters Ohio published this new report critical of the Governor's prison plan under the titled "Cells for Sale: Understanding Prison Costs & Savings."  This page provides links to the report and summarizes its contents this way:

Since the first private prisons were opened in Ohio in 2000, Ohio law has required that any private operator produce savings of at least 5 percent compared to what it would cost the state to operate the same facility.  This April 2011 report, written by journalist Bob Paynter for Policy Matters Ohio, finds that cost calculations performed over a number of years by the state have not reliably demonstrated the savings required under the law.  A demonstration of lower cost is not sufficient reason to give over this most sensitive government function to private, profit-making companies.  But now, with the Kasich administration proposing to sell five state-owned prisons, Paynter’s findings undercut the primary rationale that has been given for doing so.

Some recent related posts on Ohio's prison sale plans:

April 20, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Lawsuit asks state to pay for inmate's sex-change operation"

The title of this post is the headline of this article in today's Los Angeles Times.  Here is the start of the piece:

Lyralisa Stevens, who was born male but lives as a female, is serving 50 years to life in a California prison for killing a San Bernardino County woman with a shotgun in a dispute over clothes.

Stevens is one of more than 300 inmates in the state prison system diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, a psychiatric condition addressed in free society with hormone replacement therapy and, in some cases, sex reassignment surgery.  Prison officials have provided female hormones for Stevens since her incarceration in 2003.  But now she is asking the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco to require the state to pay for a sex-change operation.

Stevens, 42, and her expert witnesses say that surgery is medically necessary, and that removal of her penis and testicles and transfer to a women's prison are the best way to protect her from rape and abuse by male inmates.

As prison officials have struggled to address chronic overcrowding, the constant threat of gang violence and a health system that federal judges have equated with "cruel and unusual" punishment, they have also gone to court multiple times to answer allegations that they failed to properly treat and protect transgender inmates.

Judges have sided with transgender prisoners — who according to a UC Irvine study are 13 times more likely to suffer sexual assault than other inmates — on some significant cases. In 2009, the California Supreme Court ruled that an inmate could sue guards for failing to protect her from repeated rapes and beatings by her cellmate.  In 1999, an appeals court ordered prison officials to provide hormone therapy to inmates who were already taking them when they arrived.  The treatments cost about $1,000 a year per prisoner.

A ruling in Stevens' favor would make California the first place in the country required to provide reassignment surgery for an inmate, according to lawyers for the receiver appointed to oversee California's troubled prison health system.  They argue that the state should be required to provide only "minimally adequate care," not sex-change operations that cost $15,000 to $50,000.

April 20, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Older inmate population grows, puts strain on system"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective article from the Auburn Citizen (which gives the piece extra bite for true students of prison history).  Here are excerpts:

One hundred ninety-two-year-old Auburn Correctional Facility is graying, and it’s not just the weather-worn stone walls.  In New York as across the country, the inmate population is aging rapidly.  The trend mirrors what’s happening among the country’s free population and creates many of the same fiscal dilemmas due to rising health care costs....

An older inmate population is the natural result of the strict sentencing that prevailed across the country in the 1980s and 1990s, researchers and advocates say.  Offenders who previously would have received short sentences, or “skid bids,” as they’re known behind bars, instead found themselves locked up for decades or life.

One example in New York was the Rockefeller drug laws, which from 1973 until their repeal in 2009 mandated sentences of 15 years to life for possessing more than four ounces of “narcotic drugs” such as heroin and cocaine.  As a result of such “get tough” sentencing guidelines, the state prison population grew dramatically from about 10,000 in 1973 to over 70,000 in 1992.  Many of the inmates who received life sentences as young men in the 1970s are reaching their 60s this decade.

In New York, there are 847 inmates age 65 and older.  They make up about 1.5 percent of the overall prison population, a proportion that has been rising steadily for several years, state Department of Corrections and Community Services spokesman Peter Cutler said.  As recently as 1992, it had been just 0.3 percent.

Nationally, the 55-and-older segment of the prison population grew by 77 percent from 1999 to 2007, according to a study by the Pew Center on the States.  The change is important because elderly inmates like Bernard Hatch are much more costly to house, mostly because of health care.

A 2010 report by the Vera Institute for Justice cited studies showing that elderly inmates make five times as many trips to health facilities and cost three times as much to incarcerate as their younger counterparts.  Elderly inmates average three chronic conditions and 20 percent suffer from mental illness, according to the report....

The demographic change and the attendant cost spike has sent some states scrambling for ways to handle older inmates.  As of 2008, six states had a dedicated prison for the elderly, eight had hospices and 13 had dedicated elderly units, according to the Vera report....

New York is also among the 15 states with some sort of geriatric release process. Such programs are usually based on inmates’ terminal illnesses, and advocates point out that recidivism rates plummet as offenders age.  One study showed a one-year recidivism rate of 3.2 percent for released inmates age 55 and older compared to 45 percent for people between 18 and 29 years old.  The compassionate release program in New York, however, results in very few releases: just eight in 2010 out of 140 applicants, Cutler said.

“All the studies show that recidivism is virtually non-existent once a person gets over 45,” said Soffiyah Elijah, director of the Correctional Association, a non-profit prison advocacy group.  “I think it would be smart for us to take another look at how we’re spending taxpayers’ dollars to keep those individuals incarcerated.”...

People in their 70s and 80s are expensive to incarcerate, but prison officials see a tradeoff in having “elder statesmen” in the general population. “The younger inmates look up to them,” Cutler said.  “They have a calming influence in some respects.”

Some related posts:

April 17, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, April 15, 2011

ACLU of Ohio releases new report assailing Governor's plan to sell state prisons

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "ACLU warns against plan to sell state prisons; Report calls projected savings a sham," the Ohio ACLU has a new report concerning Ohio Governor John Kasich state plan to sell some state prisons in order to cut corrections costs.  Here is how the article start:

Turning more Ohio prisons over to private operators won't save much money, will undermine sentencing reform and will pose a security risk, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said yesterday.  Prisons for Profit, an ACLU report looking at prison privatization, concluded that Gov. John Kasich "is not doing the taxpayers of Ohio any favors" by planning to sell five state prisons.

"Doing so will not only worsen the strain on Ohio's budget, it will also work strongly against the rehabilitation of low-level offenders and jeopardize the safety of ordinary Ohioans," the group concluded.

About 9 percent of nearly 1.6 million incarcerated people in the United States are in private prisons.

The Kasich administration has solicited bids to sell the state-owned, privately operated Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut and North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility in Grafton; the state-owned and operated North Central Correctional Institution in Marion and Grafton Correctional Institution in Grafton; and a closed youth prison in Marion. Estimates of the sale proceeds range from $50million to $200 million. Administration officials say the deal offers the state short-term gain from the sales revenue and long-term benefit by reduced operating costs.

However, the ACLU said national studies show cost savings from private prisons are minimal.  They do make money for operators such as Corrections Corporation of America, the largest such firm in the United States with $1.7 billion in income last year.

The ACLU's full report is available at this link, and an ACLU press release about the report is available here and gets started this way:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio released a new report today titled “Prisons for Profit: A look at private prisons” that explores the negative impacts prison privatization has brought to other states.  The report is a compilation of scholarly studies, government reports, and stories from communities that have experienced the negative impact of prisons for profit.  Ohio lawmakers are considering a proposal in the state’s biennial budget to sell five prisons and allow private companies to run their operations.

“Privatizing prisons is seen as a quick remedy for states looking to alleviate budget concerns, but they are often more costly to the state.  While our prison system is undeniably bloated, we must find long-term solutions to stop the flow of people into the system, not gamble on a system that could bring more problems than it solves,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link.

April 15, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 14, 2011

If you have an interest in prisoners' interest in earning interest...

then be sure to check out today's work by the First Circuit in Young v. Wall, No. 10-1862 (1st Cir. April 14, 2011) (available here), which gets started this way:

This appeal requires us to determine whether a prison's unilateral suspension of its internal policy of paying interest on inmate accounts violated the constitutional rights of an affected inmate.  The district court thought not.  Weighing in on an issue that has split the circuits, we conclude that prison inmates lack a constitutionally protected property right in interest not yet paid.  Accordingly, the defendant was at liberty to abrogate the policy prospectively.

April 14, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Extensive coverage of Pew recidivism report

As discussed here, yesterday the Pew Center on the States released this important new report titled "State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons."   I am pleased to see today a lot of national and local media coverage of this report, including these pieces:

April 14, 2011 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Important new Pew report discusses the "State of Recidivism"

As detailed in this press release, the Pew Center on the States has just produced this important new report titled "State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons." Here is an overview of the report from the start of the press release:

Despite massive increases in state spending on prisons, America’s national recidivism rate is stubbornly high, with more than four in 10 offenders returned to state prison within three years of their release, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States. State of Recidivism: The Revolving Door of America’s Prisons found that while the overall figures are discouraging, several states have made significant progress in reducing recidivism through a variety of evidence-based strategies.

In the first ever state-by-state survey of recidivism rates, state corrections data show that nearly 43 percent of prisoners released in 2004, and 45 percent of those released in 1999 were reincarcerated within three years, either for committing a new crime or violating the terms of their supervised release.

Pew’s findings have significant implications for policy makers struggling with painful budget choices.  State corrections spending, driven almost entirely by prison expenditures, has quadrupled over the past two decades, making it the second fastest growing area of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid.  Total state spending on corrections today is more than $50 billion a year.

“There’s been an enormous escalation in prison spending but a barely noticeable impact on the national recidivism rate,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States. “Some states like Texas have begun to shift dollars into strategies for nonviolent offenders that cost less than prison and are more effective at stopping the revolving door. These troubling national figures should accelerate the trend toward policies that will give taxpayers a better public safety return on their massive expenditure on incarceration.”

The Pew survey methodology differs from the last national study of recidivism rates conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in 1994, which found 52 percent of released prisoners were back within three years. While differences in survey methods complicate direct comparisons of national recidivism rates over time, a comparison of the states included in both the Pew and BJS studies reveals that recidivism rates have been largely stable. When California, whose size skews the national picture, is excluded from both studies recidivism rates between 1994 and 2007 have consistently remained around 40 percent.

April 13, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monica Conyers makes impossible(?) sentence modification request from prison

This local piece coming from Detroit, headlined " Monica Conyers asks to serve remainder of her sentence at home," provides an interesting example of a high-profile federal prisoner making what seems to be an impossible sentencing request.  Here are the details:

Former City Council President Monica Conyers wants out of "Camp Cupcake." The imprisoned wife of U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, has asked a federal judge to modify her 37-month prison sentence for bribery and let her serve time at home, according to a three-page handwritten letter filed today in U.S. District Court in Detroit.

In arguing for reconsideration, Conyers, 46, said a federal judge failed to consider her age, education, work skills, employment record, family ties and "likihood (sic)" she would commit another crime.  Plus, her son's babysitter is returning to school soon, Conyers wrote in the letter to U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn.

Her bid is a long shot considering Conyers has filed an appeal, which is pending before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University and former federal prosecutor. "You can ask," Henning said. "Barring extraordinary circumstances, I doubt he would reconsider."

The request comes seven months after Conyers reported to a federal women's prison camp in Alderson, W.Va. Dubbed "Camp Cupcake," the prison camp offers plenty of perks, including washers, dryers, microwave ovens, hair dryers, curling irons and cosmetology areas where inmate-to-inmate pedicures and manicures are allowed.

In a letter, Conyers said the court could, as an alternative, sentence her to home confinement, community confinement or intermittent confinement to "correct the blatent (sic) sentencing disparities." Conyers is serving the sentence after pleading guilty to accepting at least $6,000 for her deciding vote in the 2007 Synagro Technologies Inc. sludge contract.

After her sentence, Conyers tried to withdraw her guilty plea and appealed. She complained that she pleaded guilty because she was unable to resist pressure from her lawyer, the government and the news media, according to an appeal brief....

In a letter to The Detroit News this year, Conyers complained that Camp Cupcake doesn't live up to its cushy nickname, provides no second servings of food to inmates and has few education opportunities.

Those interested in seeing Monica Conyers' letter to the judge can check it out at this link.  And, as the title to my post is meant to suggest, I am pretty sure Judge Avern Cohn lacks any legal authority to give Conyers' the relief she seeks even if he were moved by her request.

April 11, 2011 in Celebrity sentencings, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Right-winger + hard time = compassion?"

Md_horiz The title of this post is the headline of this notable piece by Justin Elliot now up at Salon.com, which also has the cool graphic reprinted here and carries this subheading: "Some of the most eloquent advocates for prison reform are conservatives who find themselves behind bars." Here is how the piece gets started:

Last week, disgraced former congressman Duke Cunningham wrote a letter to several media outlets from the federal penitentiary where he has resided since 2006.  In it, Cunningham, a conservative Republican who pleaded guilty in a public corruption case in 2005, waxed eloquent about an unlikely topic: prison reform.

"The United States has more more men & women in prison than any other nation including Russia and China," he wrote.  "The largest growing number of prisoners, women -- 1-34 Americans are either on probation or in prison.  The 95% conviction rate reached by threats of long sentences, intimidation, lies and prosecutorial abuse has got to be reckoned with now, not later."  Cunningham also promised he would dedicate his life to prison reform.

We've seen transformations like this before.  Cunningham is the latest in a string of conservative political figures to see the light on prison reform following a stint behind bars.

Right-wing media mogul Conrad Black, for example, did two years' hard time after being convicted in a 2007 fraud case.  Following his release in 2010, Black has written passionately about prison reform.

While incarcerated, he learned "of the realities of street level American race relations; of the pathology of incorrigible criminals; and of the wasted opportunities for the reintegration of many of these people into society.  I saw at close range the failure of the U.S. War on Drugs, with absurd sentences, (including 20 years for marijuana offences, although 42% of Americans have used marijuana and it is the greatest cash crop in California.)."

And, of course, Nixon aide Charles Colson devoted his life to criminal justice reform -- and spreading Christianity among prisoners -- after serving seven months in 1974 for obstruction of justice in a Watergate-related case.  Colson's Justice Fellowship organization lobbies for better conditions in prisons and reform of sentencing and the criminal code.  The head of Justice Fellowship is Pat Nolan, a former conservative law-and-order Republican in the California assembly who devoted himself to prison reform after serving 29 months for corruption in the 1990s.

The piece concludes with a Q&A intereview in which I speculate on some of the reasons why some conservatives start talking about sentencing and prison reform after they have seen the operation of the criminal justice system first hand.

April 10, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 07, 2011

New NAACP report laments shift of state funds from education to prison spending

NAACP report As detailed on this new page from the NAACP website, today "the NAACP released a new report, Misplaced Priorities, that examines America's escalating levels of prison spending and its impact on state budgets and our nation’s children." Here are the basics:

Misplaced Priorities tracks the steady shift of state funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system. Researchers have found that over-incarceration most often impacts vulnerable and minority populations, and that it destabilizes communities.

The report is part of the NAACP’s “Smart and Safe Campaign,” and offers a set of recommendations that will help policymakers in all 50 states downsize prison populations and shift the savings to education budgets.

The full report is available at this link, and here is a snippet from its executive summary:

In this new report, Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate, NAACP researchers assembled data from leading research organizations and profiled six cities to show how escalating investments in incarceration over the past 30 years have undermined educational opportunities.  Misplaced Priorities represents a call to action for public officials, policymakers, and local NAACP units and members by providing a framework to implement a policy agenda that will financially prioritize investments in education over incarceration, provide equal protection under the law, eliminate sentencing policies responsible for over incarceration, and advance public safety strategies that effectively increase healthy development in communities.

Misplaced Priorities echoes existing research on the impact excessive prison spending has on education budgets.  Over the last two decades, as the criminal justice system came to assume a larger proportion of state discretionary dollars nationwide, state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of state spending on higher education.  In 2009, as the nation plummeted into the deepest recession in 30 years, funding for K–12 and higher education declined; however, in that same year, 33 states spent a larger proportion of their discretionary dollars on prisons than they had the year before.

April 7, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Budgets and litigation have shrunk California's prison population ... but not enough

31457_4_4_prisons_graphic_large Stateline.org has this fantastic new piece on the state of California's prison system under the headlined "California shrinks its prisons, but overcrowding persists." Here are excerpts:

As the financially battered state enacts huge budget cuts, it has no choice but to downsize its sprawling correctional system, which now consumes 10 percent of the state budget and swallows more taxpayer dollars than higher education — a fact that, if public opinion surveys are accurate, Californians abhor.  A single prison bed costs taxpayers $44,500 a year.

The federal courts have dialed up the pressure, putting state officials on notice that severe overcrowding — a fact of life in California prisons for years — is no longer acceptable.  Two years ago, a panel of three federal judges found that overcrowding had created unconstitutionally inhumane conditions, ordering the state to reduce its inmate population by more than 40,000 — a staggering figure that eclipses the entire prisoner total of all but nine states.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court is about to weigh in on the overcrowding problem by deciding whether to uphold, strike down or modify that order.  Oral arguments in the case, Schwarzenegger v. Plata, made clear that the court’s decision could break along familiar ideological lines....

California’s prison downsizing efforts began before the Supreme Court’s involvement.  In 2006, when the state's inmate population reached an all-time high of more than 172,000, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared an overcrowding emergency, warning that inmates and guards alike faced “extreme peril.”

About 10,000 inmates were promptly shipped to private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. More recently, thousands of others had their release dates moved up as state lawmakers, usually known for enhancing criminal penalties, were forced to change course. Through an expansion of so-called “good-time credits,” they authorized many inmates to leave prison ahead of schedule while reducing parole supervision for others, hoping to reduce the number sent back for relatively minor technical violations.  Today, California's in-state inmate population is down to 152,000.

Governor Jerry Brown, who took office in January, hopes to keep going.  Brown wants to shift tens of thousands of low-level state inmates to county jails, even though many of those jails themselves are at capacity.  If enacted, Brown's plan could reduce the state prison population by another 38,000 within four years, according to a nonpartisan legislative estimate.  It also may force counties to release thousands of offenders from their jails to make room for the state transfers....

In the notoriously divided Legislature, where budget negotiations between Brown and Republicans collapsed last week, it is difficult to find consensus on any policy, let alone one as emotionally and politically charged as prisons.  Not a single Republican voted for Brown’s plan to shift inmates to the counties. And with funding for the plan now uncertain, there is discussion of leaning more heavily on spending reductions to balance the budget — cuts that could speed prisoner releases and decimate what remains of inmate rehabilitation programs.

Meanwhile, fears about a spike in crime are common. Law enforcement officials warn that more releases — whether they are ordered by the Legislature or by the Supreme Court — will have predictable long-term consequences on crime, given that parolees in California are far more likely than in other states to run into trouble again.  “I’m not Nostradamus, but we have a 70 percent recidivism rate.  That is a fact,” says Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.  “If you release 40,000 inmates, 28,000 of those will reoffend.”

April 5, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Monday, April 04, 2011

"Cost and Punishment: Reassessing Incarceration Costs and the Value of College-In-Prison Programs"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece by Gregory Knott, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This article argues that college-in-prison programs are an effective response to prison population growth and cost explosions -- admittedly on a limited scale.  The programs reduce long-term costs through investments in education.  Such offerings are not suitable for every prisoner, but can be highly effective for those individuals in a position to benefit from devoting time in prison to learning. 

The article begins with an overview of the untenable situation in U.S. prisons, including the burden of the population and cost boom in prisons across the country.  Second, the article examines the prison population to determine which individuals there might benefit from education.  Third, the study considers theories of penology and the place an education program might occupy in the respective theories.  Fourth, the article describes college-in-prison programs and their efforts to address the needs of both prisoners and the populace paying for the prison system.  Finally, the article considers the role of college-in-prison programs as part of the risk management paradigm currently predominant in criminal justice systems.

April 4, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Seniors looking at functional life prison terms for selling prescriptions

Because I always find the intersection of age and aging issue and sentencing considerations to be interesting and dynamic, this lengthy local article from Oklahoma caught my eye.  The piece is headlined "Seniors might die in prison: Two elderly Oklahomans are facing the possibility of spending the remainder of their lives in prison. They’re accused crimes? Selling their prescriptions."  Here is how the piece gets started:

Old age doesn’t preclude a person from committing a crime, and in the cases of two elderly Oklahomans, it also doesn’t rule them out from possibly spending the remainder of their lives in prison on drug complaints.

Opal Verndean Wesley, 73, of Bristow, was charged Friday in Creek County on complaints of possessing controlled prescription drugs with intent to distribute and for having a firearm after prior felony convictions.  If convicted, she faces six years to life in prison. She was booked into the Creek County jail Friday.

Nearly 200 miles south in Love County, Louis Harold Norton, 70, of Marietta, accepted a plea deal on March 24 for 30 years in prison with 15 suspended.  The plea stemmed from two 2009 felony charges of distributing painkillers.  He is currently in the Department of Corrections custody.

They don’t know each other, but officials say it’s eye-opening and troubling that senior citizens are selling their legally obtained prescriptions.  Though these are rare cases, these two could spend their twilight years behind bars.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections records show about 9 percent of the nearly 26,000 incarcerated are older than 51 years old.  Nearly 30 percent of the prison population is serving time for drug crimes. 

“We can’t just say this guy is old so we’re not going to prosecute,” said Love County Assistant District Attorney Paule’ Wise.  The prosecutor in Wesley’s case, Creek County Assistant District Attorney Mike Loeffler, echoed the same sentiment: “It’s hard to be blind to age, but selling these drugs is for no other purpose than economic gain.”

Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control spokesman Mark Woodward said the argument is sometimes made that selling prescriptions becomes the only way for the elderly to supplement Social Security benefits and make money.  “More people die from these drugs than street drugs,” he said.  “Age has nothing to do with greed and that’s what this is.”

I believe very strongly that being old or even infirm should not preclude prosecution for crimes, and I do not know anyone who seriously contends that old age should be a complete defense to criminal conduct.  But this reality just heightens the pressure and challenge of sentencing older offenders who, when convicted of non-violent crimes, seem quite unlikely to pose a significant threat to the public and who also may suffer more (and cost more) when incarcerated during their twilight years.

April 4, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, April 02, 2011

"Isolation Units within U.S. Prisons: A Panel Discussion"

The title of this post is the name of an event sponsored by the Center for Constitutional Rights taking place in San Francisco early next week.  The details can be found in a flier available for download below, and here is how the event is being described:

A diverse group of leading experts will discuss the ramifications of solitary confinement and experimental isolation units in the prison system.  Panelists will also examine critical issues affecting theprison population, including prisoners’ rights, racial and religious profiling, and government misconduct.

 Download Flier SF April 2011 Event Isolation in the US Prison System

April 2, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Friday, April 01, 2011

"More Black Men Now in Prison System than Were Enslaved"

The title of this post is the headline of this piece from the LA Progressive reporting on a presentation by my Ohio State colleague Michelle Alexander concerning her book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness."  Here is how the piece starts:

“More African American men are in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began,” Michelle Alexander told a standing room only house at the Pasadena Main Library this past Wednesday, the first of many jarring points she made in a riveting presentation.

Alexander, currently a law professor at Ohio State, had been brought in to discuss her year-old bestseller, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Interest ran so high beforehand that the organizers had to move the event to a location that could accommodate the eager attendees. That evening, more than 200 people braved the pouring rain and inevitable traffic jams to crowd into the library’s main room, with dozens more shuffled into an overflow room, and even more latecomers turned away altogether. Alexander and her topic had struck a nerve.

April 1, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tenth Circuit rejects interesting attack on BOP policy concerning RDAP early release

The Tenth Circuit has an interesting opinion today in Licon v. Ledesma, No. 10-6166 (10th Cir. March 30, 2011) (available here), on a federal prison topic that (too?) rarely gets litigated.  Here is how the opinion starts: 

Ortino Licon challenges a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) policy and regulation that denies him eligibility for an early release program because he was convicted of felon in possession charges.  The BOP has authority to reduce a nonviolent offender’s term of imprisonment upon successful completion of a drug rehabilitation program.  The challenged BOP policy categorically denies prisoners convicted of felon in possession charges eligibility for the early release benefit.  Licon contends the policy arbitrarily categorizes every inmate convicted of firearm possession charges as violent offenders.  We conclude the BOP’s policy is not arbitrary, and therefore the BOP acted within its discretion by excluding inmates convicted of felon in possession charges.

March 30, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, March 28, 2011

New NPR investigative series on private prisons

NPR has this interesting and notable new set of pieces on private prisions:

Here is the start from one of the pieces: 

The country with the highest incarceration rate in the world — the United States — is supporting a $3 billion private prison industry.  In Texas, where free enterprise meets law and order, there are more for-profit prisons than any other state.  But because of a growing inmate shortage, some private jails cannot fill empty cells, leaving some towns wishing they'd never gotten in the prison business.

It seemed like a good idea at the time when the west Texas farming town of Littlefield borrowed $10 million and built the Bill Clayton Detention Center in a cotton field south of town in 2000.  The charmless steel-and-cement-block buildings ringed with razor wire would provide jobs to keep young people from moving to Lubbock or Dallas.

For eight years, the prison was a good employer.  Idaho and Wyoming paid for prisoners to serve time there.  But two years ago, Idaho pulled out all of its contract inmates because of a budget crunch at home.  There was also a scandal surrounding the suicide of an inmate.

Shortly afterward, the for-profit operator, GEO Group, gave notice that it was leaving, too. One hundred prison jobs disappeared. The facility has been empty ever since.

March 28, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 26, 2011

US Bureau of Prisons director Harley Lappin announces retirement

As detailed in this BOP press release, "Director Harley G. Lappin has decided to retire from the Bureau of Prisons effective May 7, 2011." Here is more from the release:

During his eight years as director of the Bureau of Prisons, Mr. Lappin has played an important role in supporting the Department of Justice efforts to manage federal prisons that are safe and secure and provide prisoners with a range of programs to enable them to develop the skills needed for reentry into society.

Additionally, he has supported the department’s initiatives involving immigration, drug and weapons prosecutions, and the nation’s war on terror. Despite significant budget challenges during Director Lappin’s tenure, the bureau has expanded and improved program offerings for inmates that enhance public safety.  He championed the Inmate Skills Development Initiative, which substantially enhanced the bureau’s efforts to effectively prepare inmates for a successful, crime-free return to the community at the completion of their sentences.

It has never been clear to me how much independent policy-making authority is in the hands of the BOP director.  Even this short press release suggests a BOP director can play an important policy role, but more as an administrative supporter of policy choices made initially by the US Justice Department.   The recent important testimony by Director Lappin before the US Sentencing Commission concerning new prisoner release proposals (discussed here) also suggests that a BOP director is necessarily required to be more follower than leader on key federal criminal justice policy issues.

That said, a number of existing statutory provisions and administrative realities ensure that the BOP has a tangible impact on many aspects of federal sentencing and corrections law and practice — on issues ranging from drug treatment programming to application of compassionate release mechanisms.  This reality, in turn, ensures that Director Lappin's replacement will play an important role in the future of federal criminal justice policy and practice.

March 26, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"Hardened Criminals Held in Freedom: Doing Time on Norway's Island Prison"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting, lengthy piece from Germany's Spiegel Online. Here is how it gets started and a few notable passages:

No bars. No walls. No armed guards.  The prison island of Bastøy in Norway is filled with some of the country's most hardened criminals.  Yet it emphasizes self-control instead of the strictly regulated regimens common in most prisons.  For some inmates, it is more than they can handle....

There is only one pistol on Bastøy -- a bronze sculpture in the warden's office. The warden, Arne Nilsen, is a slim man in his early sixties, a man who doesn't need a uniform to convey his authority.  He doesn't know where the pistol came from.  It's always been there.

The warden is a man who deals in freedom.  He is also a visionary.  He wants the men here to live as if they were living in a village, to grow potatoes and compost their garbage, and he wants the guards and the prisoners to respect each other.  What he doesn't want is a camera in the supermarket.  He doesn't want bars on the windows, or walls or locked doors.

The inmates on Bastøy have been convicted of crimes such as murder, robbery, drug dealing, fraud, violent crime and petty theft.  "We don't pick out the mild cases," says Nilsen.  Some inmates serve their entire sentences on the island.  Murderers can only apply to be transferred to the island once they have served two-thirds of their sentences elsewhere.  Some 115 prisoners live on Bastøy, and those who wish to stay are required to work and integrate into the community.  Anyone caught drinking alcohol or fighting is thrown out....

This paradise has been around for 20 years -- and has a warden who loves statistics.  The numbers, after all, prove him right.  Only 16 percent of the prisoners in this island jail become repeat offenders in the first two years after leaving Bastøy as compared with 20 percent for Norway as a whole.  In Germany, where recidivism is measured after three years, the rate is 50 percent.

The warden also feels vindicated because there has never been a murder or a suicide on the island -- and because no one left Bastøy last winter even though the sea ice was frozen solid.

March 23, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is it really surprising that some prison treatment programs are now run poorly?

The question in the title of this post is inspired by this editorial in today's New York Times, which is headlined "New York’s Prisons Fall Short, Again" and goes like this:

Perhaps as many as three-quarters of New York State’s 57,000 prison inmates need drug counseling or treatment to have a chance at productive, crime-free lives once they are released.  A three-year study of drug and alcohol abuse programs in the New York State Department of Corrections suggests that prisons are failing to provide adequate treatment programs for the tens of thousands of inmates who need them.

The study by the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit group, examined drug treatment programs at 23 of the state’s nearly 68 facilities.  It found that the programs varied wildly in effectiveness and that most departed significantly from best practices laid out by the addiction research division of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The New York prison programs have several deficiencies in common.  They fail to screen candidates based on the severity of their problems, which means they wastefully enroll large numbers of people in intensive programs they don’t need.  They also routinely enroll poorly motivated inmates, which limits effectiveness.  In a particularly glaring oversight, they fail to coordinate prison treatment programs with those offered in the communities to which the inmates will return.

The correctional association’s researchers found model treatment programs in at least four state prisons, including Hale Creek in upstate Fulton County.  According to the report, these prisons use a three-phase system that begins with a six-month residential treatment program, in which the targeted inmates live in a separate prison dorm.  This is followed by an integration component, under which people typically receive treatment during work release.  Finally, newly released men and women are formally enrolled in community programs.

According to the study, the Department of Corrections could improve drug treatment without spending any more than the estimated $19 million it currently devotes to this problem by deploying the existing staff in better designed programs.  The result would be better drug treatment, safer communities and less recidivism.

Though it is discouraging to hear about poorly run prison treatment programs, I find heartening the news that some prison are already running model programs.  Modern prisons have not generally been designed nor incentivized to develop and run effective treatment programs, and thus I find it more surprising that some prison treatment programs are already running so well than that some are running so poorly. 

I fear it is inevitable that prison treatment programs will face various difficulties unless and until legislators and other policy-makers make clear that they will consistently fund and reward those facilities that provide the most effective treatment programming.  Tight budgets and overcrowded prisons seem to be leading more and more folks to talk a good game about the importance of development effective rehabilitative programs, but all the "smart on crime" rhetoric has to become real reform and funding priorities before anyone should hope that all prison treatment programs will be following modern best practices.

March 22, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack