Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Prison videoconference visitation program expanding in New York

This New York Daily News article, headlined "Videoconference prison visit program set to quadruple in size this fall," reports on the latest technocorrections development in the Empire State. Here are the details:

The fledging program of prison visits via closed-circuit TV — the first one in the state — is set to more than quadruple in size this fall, the Daily News has learned. “The research shows that people will do better when they’ re released if they stay connected with their families,” said Elizabeth Gaynes, executive director of the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that has been conducting the meetings known as televisits for the past two years.

The program has been confined so far to Albion women’ s prison, allowing children to meet with their mothers. It will soon expand to the male-only Auburn, Clinton and Chateaugay facilities, with videoconference rooms added in Manhattan and the Bronx, the state Corrections Department confirmed. “We see it as a complement, if you will, to our visitation process,” said spokesman Peter Cutler. “It’ s been successful, and we’ re confident it’ ll be expanded even further.”

Visiting New York’ s remote prisons, some located more than a 10-hour bus ride away from the city, can be daunting and expensive. A free bus service was discontinued last year, further reducing options to relatives of some 56,000 inmates. Cutler said that those buses were often nearly empty, and that visits dropped by only 5% since they were canceled.

On a recent afternoon, laughter emanated from inside a cheerfully decorated room as Sindy Villanueva, 33, who’s serving a 4.67-to-12-year sentence, chatted with her 9-year-old daughter, Selena Estevec. “Just because we’ re separated from them doesn’ t mean we can’ t be a part of their lives,” Villanueva said....

Families talk on a large-screen TV that looks very much like a computer Skype window. But because most of New York ’s prisons lack Internet connections or cell service (cell phones are considered contraband), facilitating the hookup requires infrastructure work.

The practice of video-streamed visits have been growing around the country in recent years, with some states charging for the service. Last month, Washington, D.C., switched all visitations to televised ones, drawing criticism from some advocates and inmates’ relatives. Corrections officials in New York insisted they intend to keep televisits free — and the prisons open to physical visits.

Gaynes, of the Osborne Association, which assists incarcerated people and their families, said that many clients love the opportunity to see more of their kids, even if it’s through a TV screen. “They’ re like any mother or parent,” she said. “ They worry about their children.”

August 29, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

California struggles with prison realignment plans and alternative programming

The Fresno Bee has this effective report on the implementation challenges for California's prison realignment in the wake of the Supreme Court's Plata ruling.  The piece is headlined "California jail overhaul assessed after 6 months," and here are excerpts:

The overhaul of California's criminal justice system last year was billed as a way to get more felons into treatment and out of the vicious cycle of crime, prison and more crime. So far, this has hardly been the case.

Most offenders who qualify for rehab services instead of incarceration under the state's new realignment policy are still being sentenced to time behind bars, reports show.  Only a fraction are ordered to programs that include mandatory drug counseling or job training.

Additionally, the majority of these offenders, because of the way the new policy works, don't get supervision after their release from custody.  This supervision was common before the realignment began.

These shortfalls are adding to concern that the restructured criminal justice system, nearly a year after its October start, may not live up to promises of rehabilitating criminals. "Inmates are going to be coming out of custody unprepared, and they're going to be more likely to reoffend," said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.  "This defeats the whole purpose of realignment."

The realignment shifts responsibility for most nonviolent felons from the state to counties. (Violent offenders still go to state prison.) Gov. Jerry Brown saw it as a way to relieve the state's overcrowded prison system and, on this front, it's been a success. The prison population has shrunk by more than 15 percent.

Counties, it was expected, would do a better job of managing low-level criminals than the state, by offering treatment services tailored to local needs.  During the first six months of realignment, about 72 percent of the nearly 15,000 statewide offenders newly sentenced to counties instead of the state were given straight jail time, according to a recent report by the Chief Probation Officers of California....

"I think judges are still stuck in the old mind-set where they say, 'Hey, this guy deserves a harsher sentence,' " said Allen Hopper, who has studied the realignment and works as criminal justice director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.  Six percent of the state's low-level offenders were sentenced to probation programs during the first six months of realignment, while 21 percent were sentenced to a combination of jail and probation, according to the recent report....

State officials overseeing the realignment said they are not in a position to comment on how judges are doing with the sentencing.  They said it is a matter for each county to work out. But California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison said that the new policy encourages counties to make use of alternatives to jail.

In Fresno County, the Probation Department, like other probation programs across the state, has begun to beef up its alternative services, from drug rehab to vocational assistance to daily check-in centers.  "We would like to get a shot at these offenders and get them into a program," said Fresno County Chief Probation Officer Linda Penner.  "We feel strongly that a period of intervention, some sort of program, is meaningful."

Penner noted that the policy of realignment is not even a year old, and she's optimistic that its effectiveness will improve with time.  "It's still pretty early," she said.  "As programs strengthen and more alternatives are out there, I expect judges are going to have a higher comfort level and we'll see more people in programs."

Among other lessons, this report and the broader post-Plata story in California reveals that it is critical to change attitudes and culture as well as the legal rules in order to have a real shot at even modest success with major sentencing reforms.

August 28, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Plata v. Brown and Realignment: Jails, Prisons, Courts, and Politics"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Margo Schlanger now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Last year, a bare majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, in an opinion in Brown v. Plata by Justice Anthony Kennedy, affirmed a district court order requiring California to remedy its longstanding constitutional deficits in prison medical and mental health care by reducing prison crowding.  The order the Supreme Court reviewed requires California’s state prisons to limit prison population to 137.5% of the rated capacity of California’s prisons by the end of 2013; absent construction, that works out to a bit under 116,000 prisoners — about equal to the state prison population in mid-1993.  At its peak in 2007, California’s prisoner total was over 173,000, with prisoners who couldn’t fit in cells packed instead into congregate spaces such as gyms.

This Article explores the legal and political ecosystem in which the Plata order developed and is being implemented.  The result illustrates the complex interplay of institutional reform litigation and political outcomes and processes.  The Article proceeds in four parts.

Part I sets out crucial background how a 1996 anti-prisoners’ rights federal statute, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), structures correctional civil rights litigation.  Part II paints the litigation history in the district court and the Supreme Court, focusing on the interaction of court procedure and politics — describing, for example, how the litigation promoted a more explicit, open, and elaborate multiparty bargaining process over prison population and criminal justice policy; and how the focus during trial on public safety actually increased prisoners’ rights advocates’ effectiveness outside of litigation.  It analyzes Governor Jerry Brown’s “realignment” plan — the state’s response to the Plata/Coleman population order, which shrinks the parole population and shortens parole revocation sentence terms, moves some classes of prisoners from state to county custody, and encourages counties to consider non-incarcerative penalties for crime.  Part III looks at one of the key features of the environment in which realignment is being implemented: pre-PLRA jail population court orders, which have been very common in correctional civil rights cases, functioning for decades as county-specific bail and jail sentencing reform mechanisms.  Part IV concludes, by examining the prospects of a litigation-focused response to what I call the “hydra risk” — the very real possibility that court intervention could succeed at chopping the head off of unconstitutional conditions of prison confinement in California, only to cause 58 counties to develop unconstitutional conditions of jail confinement.  Going forward, it will be a huge challenge for prisoners’ rights advocates to find out what is going on in all the scattered county jails, much less to seek remedies for the problems that may be uncovered.  Three types of litigation responses are likely: additional scrutiny of jails in ongoing statewide prison litigation; new jail litigation; and revival of existing but more-or-less orphaned jail cases.

August 23, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"Mass killer's Norwegian prison cell has treadmill, computer access"

Norway prisonThe title of this post is the headline of this notable Fox News report providing a remarkable perspective on how some other nations treat their most notorious criminals.  Here is how the lengthy story begins:

Accused mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik's Norwegian prison cell is more spacious than most New York City apartments.   The confessed killer, who will receive his sentence Friday for killing 77 people in a bombing and shooting rampage at a youth camp, was transported Wednesday to Norway's Ila Prison, just outside Oslo.

The high-security prison offers Breivik not one, but three 86-square-foot cells.  One cell functions as a bedroom, another as an exercise room, complete with treadmill, and the third is a study, where Breivik can use a laptop computer.

Officials at Oslo's Ila Prison say the goal is to eventually transfer Breivik to join other prisoners at section of the jail that offers access to a school that teaches from primary grades through university-level courses, a library, a gym, and allows inmates to work in the prison's various shops and participate in leisure activities.  It's all about a philosophy of humane prison treatment and rehabilitation that forms the bedrock of the Scandinavian penal system. "I like to put it this way: He's a human being.  He has human rights.  This is about creating a humane prison regime," said Ellen Bjercke, a spokeswoman for Ila Prison.

Since Breivik's guilt is not in question, the key decision for the Oslo district court Friday is whether to declare him insane after two psychiatric teams reached opposite conclusions on his mental health.  If found to be mentally fit, Breivik would face a sentence of "preventive detention." Unlike a regular prison sentence -- which can be no longer than 21 years in Norway -- that confinement option can be extended for as long as an inmate is considered dangerous to society.  It also offers more programs and therapy than an ordinary prison sentence.

If declared insane, the confessed killer will be the sole patient of a psychiatric ward that Norway built just for him at the prison, with 17 people on staff to treat him. It cost between 2 million and 3 million kroner ($340,000-$510,000), according to Norway's Health Ministry. The facility, featuring a 100-square-foot cell with a bathroom, would offer Breivik some recreational and educational options with therapists from a psychiatric hospital, but not the breadth of options available to prison inmates. Bjercke estimated the cost of keeping Breivik there at 7 million-10 million kroner a year ($1.2 million-1.7 million).

While in isolation, Breivik has access to TV and newspapers and a computer, but no Internet connection.  He has three cells instead of one in "compensation" for not having access to activities offered to other inmates, Bjercke said.  In addition, prison staff and a priest come see him more often than other inmates, so that he has someone to talk to. "Isolation is torture," Bjercke said.

August 23, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"Meaningless Opportunities: Graham v. Florida’s 'Meaningful Opportunity for Release' for Juvenile Offenders and the Reality of De Facto LWOP Sentences"

The title of this post is the title of this forthcoming Comment by Mark Freeman available now via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In 2010 the United States Supreme Court decided Graham v. Florida, which held that LWOP sentences for juvenile, non-homicide offenders were unconstitutional. This Comment argues that de facto LWOP sentences, lengthy term of years sentences that exceed a juvenile's natural life expectancy and effectively guarantee the offender will die in prison, are also unconstitutional for juvenile non-homicide offenders.

Part II provides a brief overview of the Supreme Court’s Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and how lower courts have responded to Graham.  Part III explains why de facto LWOP sentences for juveniles who commit non-homicide crimes will fail the Supreme Court’s traditional Eighth Amendment tests and argues for a categorical ban against these sentences.  Part IV discusses the practical implications of this Comment and whether juvenile offenders will see any meaningful change if courts adopt a categorical ban.  Part V concludes that courts should embrace the spirit of Graham’s holding and provide a meaningful opportunity for juvenile offenders to experience life outside of prison before they die.

August 22, 2012 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Texas eager to (and right to) brag about its "smart on crime" parole reforms

Texas paroleThis new Houston Chronicle piece, headlined "Texas says rise in paroles gives state bragging rights: Officials say reforms are 'smart on crime' and save money," provides a lengthy report on the successes Texas officials can and should claim have flowed from its recent criminal justice reform efforts. Here is how the interesting piece starts and ends:

Texas continues a steady march away from its Old West image of being tough on crime to one that state leaders now call "smart on crime" and even fiscally "right on crime." Nothing makes that more apparent than the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole's newly released bragging rights: More prisoners were paroled this past fiscal year than any other year in the past decade, and fewer parolees are being sent back.

The board's report this week boasts 24,342 offenders were approved for parole from Sept. 1, 2010, to Aug. 31, 2011. This represents 31 percent of all who applied and an approval rate that is six percentage points higher than 10 years ago.

At the same time, the number carted back to prison this past fiscal year after their parole was revoked plummeted by 44 percent from a high of 11,374 in 2004.

Instead of fearing accusations of appearing too lenient, state authorities are smiling. "We are pleased with our continuing increase in granting parole," said Rissie Owens, chairwoman of the state's pardons and parole board. "The use of our parole guidelines to assess the likelihood of a successful parole outcome has been cited as a national model for its positive impact on returning more offenders to productive lives."

The Association of Paroling Authorities International has praised Texas' system which many other states are copying, said board spokesman Harry Battson....

The parole department's report showed the highest release rate occurred in one of the worst crime categories: violent aggravated sexual assaults. Nearly 42 percent of those candidates considered for parole were released in the last fiscal year.

However, Battson, the parole department spokesman, stressed that the actual number of violent sex offenders released is relatively small and they are nearing the end of their sentences. This category accounted for 1,849 of the 24,342 released.

The data give positive feedback that even though more parolees are being released, they are committing fewer crimes. The number of new crimes dropped 3 percent last year compared to the previous year.

August 16, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fascinating story of cowboy fun and games for prisoners in Angola

0802_prison_slateBecause so many of the stories about sentencing and corrections in Louisiana are depressing, I am very pleased a helpful reader alerted me to this interesting new piece up at CNN.  The piece is headlined "When the Game Means Freedom," and it is part of a series called "Gaming Reality." Here are extended excerpts which explain why this piece (and gaming culture) should be of interest to sentencing fans:

On October 20 in a small town in Louisiana, there will be a rodeo, complete with the prerequisite boots, bulls and Marlboro-man doppelgangers. But this particular rodeo will take place not at a fairgrounds, but at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as "Angola."  The riders are untrained inmates who have earned the right to participate -- and feel up to 6 seconds of freedom atop an angry bull -- in a highly calculated and wildly effective prison reward system....

Burl Cain [is] Angola warden..., [and] in 2004 Cain was charged with giving a makeover to America's largest and bloodiest maximum-security prison, home to 5,300 violent offenders. It was a Goliath-sized task.  Angola was stained with a long history of gang violence and one particularly gruesome incident back in the 1950s when prisoners cut their Achilles tendons to protest poor lockdown treatment....

Cain's play-by-play at Angola reads like a deck of game-mechanics cards.  To change behavior, he introduced a progression system that was notched with "appointments" -- challenges inmates had to conquer to in order to get a reward.  Rise to the challenge and you could earn the right to own a pet, to take a job, even the freedom to roam the grounds.

To reach the highest level, known at Angola as becoming a Trustee, can take up to 10 years.  It's not an easy game, but it's one that the majority of its players are highly motivated to play.  Today, Angola is a thriving prison environment that has successfully "rehabbed" many hardened criminals into productive Trustees.  Prisoners have a sense of ownership, achievement, status and some healthy envy -- not to mention an award-winning prison newspaper.

Of course, this is not a new concept.  Prisons have long used incentive systems to motivate inmates.  But Cain's implementation is unique.  His approach has flourished because he evaluated his target audience and recognized that the traditional reward system was broken.  Cain realized that his audience -- many of them men facing life or double-life sentences -- might not be motivated by standard rewards like additional phone time, longer visitation hours or upgraded quarters.

But they would be motivated by an incentive that offered them meaning -- something they could be proud of.  Cain believed the opportunity to be a champion could infuse meaning and pride back into the prison experience while motivating inmates to be better men. Which brings us back to the rodeo.

At a certain point in the climb to Trustee status, inmates earn the opportunity to participate in the Angola Rodeo, held each spring and fall in an arena that holds more than 7,500.  The day consists of 11 events, including bull riding.  The beast in question is a 2,000-pound Brahma bull, and most times the inmate rider has never been on the back of a bull before.  All is not fair in prisons and rodeos....

It's not as unprofessional as it might sound.  Seasoned rodeo clowns are always present in the arena to distract angry animals, and a team of emergency medical personnel is waiting in the wings.  Still, the whole enterprise is speared with controversy, for obvious reasons. Precautions aside, inexperienced inmates are facing off with agitated, unpredictable animals in a costly, injury-ridden event.  Change the name and tweak the specifics, and the Angola Rodeo could easily become the plot of the next bestselling dystopian thriller. "The Hunger Games," anyone?

And yet, the rodeo is a powerful motivator for inmates, for two reasons.  The first is pride. Prisoners are willing to face serious injury for the chance to be cheered on by thousands of onlookers.  The event represents both an earned right and a true challenge to overcome.

The second, overarching incentive is meaning.  It's huge.  It's the reason why we as people respond to games and game-like scenarios.  Games, especially those with powerful incentive systems, lead us up a ladder and allow us to grasp at something intangible.  Much like the Greeks filled stone stadiums to watch gladiators, people are tuning in to the new reality TV show, "Louisiana Lockdown," to see Angola's prisoners succeed or fail. Audiences aren't just responding to the rodeo itself, they're responding to the game mechanics that are driving the inmates' right to participate in the rodeo.

It's a testament to how more people are embracing gamification, which applies game-design thinking to real-life situations to make them more fun and engaging.  You don't need an app or a product or a business to use game mechanics.  You just need a person or a group of people with a behavior that you'd like to change....

Angola is living proof that game mechanics have come a long way from motivating us to water virtual crops in FarmVille.  As inmates become Trustees and take their shot at fleeting glory atop rampaging bulls, game mechanics are becoming a commonplace, mainstream approach to solving even the most intractable of problems.

August 15, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Interesting report on marketing technology to a confined consumer

Businessweek has this notable new piece discussing some private companies' shrewd efforts to tailor technology products to inmate populations. The piece is headlined "The Apple of the U.S. Prison System," and here are excerpts:

The surge [in US prison populations in recent decades] has been good for a constellation of corrections contractors, including JPay, which handles money transfers, e-mail communications, and video visitations for more than 1.4 million inmates in hundreds of prisons across about 35 states. So good that the decade-old business last year expanded into selling inmates its own line of “prison-proof” MP3 players — what it dubs the JP3. “We’re looking for products that an inmate would want to buy and a corrections facility would accept,” says founder and Chief Executive Officer Ryan Shapiro, 35.  “Music was a no-brainer because inmates don’t have enough music and they all love music.”

Shapiro is aiming to make JPay, a 200-employee Miami business that became profitable in 2006, the Apple (AAPL) of the U.S. penal system. To understand why he thinks Apple or another tech behemoth can’t easily snuff him out, here’s a quick review of prison rules: Corrections facilities generally forbid devices that can be turned into weapons, be used to communicate freely with the outside, or conceal contraband.  Hand a violent prisoner an iPad and the risks become fairly clear.

Shapiro says JPay’s player, which retails for around $40 at kiosks the company installs in common areas inside prisons, is virtually indestructible. Inmates use it to browse a library of more than 10 million songs, “just like on iTunes,” and download them for $1.99 a pop. The three most popular artists are Usher, Tre Songz, and Kenny Chesney.  “We take outside applications, redevelop them for prisons specifically, and then deploy them,” Shapiro explains. “The prison doesn’t pay for any of [our services]; it’s the end user who pays.”

JPay didn’t pioneer its new line of business. Keefe Group, a St. Louis-based supplier of food and personal-care products to prison commissaries, launched its own music download service for prisoners in 2009.  While the 37-year-old company didn’t respond to interview requests, a press release posted on the company’s website says it sold more than 1 million downloads in just over a year.  On its own website, a rival correctional facilities supplier, Union Supply Group, headquartered in Rancho Dominguez, Calif., says it started selling digital music to offenders in 2003 and has available more than 5 million tracks “approved” by correctional partners. Shapiro won’t say what JPay has sold or how much it scores in annual revenue but asserts that the company is “way in front of [Keefe] when it comes to money transfer or the media business.”

Shapiro, who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Colorado, Boulder, learned about the inconveniences of transferring money to a prisoner’s account when a friend’s mother was sentenced for embezzling.  He says inmates “understand you have to charge in order to be able provide a service … Look at our Facebook (FB)page. Look at how many times someone says: ‘I love JPay.’”

Next up for the business: a mini tablet it plans to start selling by yearend called the JP4. “It’s got an e-mail application, music, e-books — it’s got anything you can imagine,” says Shapiro.  “Think about education, think about games; it’s endless where we could go.  We think it’s as big, if not bigger, than the money-transfer business.”

August 14, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, August 13, 2012

California facing crunch time in prison population reduction plans

This new article in the Los Angeles Times, which is headlined "California unlikely to meet prison crowding reduction requirement," reports on the difficult corrections issues facing the Golden State a year after Plata.  Here are the details:

California's progress in relieving its teeming prisons has slowed so much that it probably won't comply with a court-ordered population reduction, and judges have raised the prospect of letting some inmates out early.

Three federal jurists have given the state until Friday to come up with a schedule for identifying prisoners "unlikely to reoffend or who might otherwise be candidates for early release" and to detail other ways to hasten the emptying of double-bunked cells. In the interim, the judges have ordered California to "take all steps necessary" to meet their existing deadline for population cuts.

A recent flurry of legal motions that provoked the judges' Aug. 3 order shines the first light on shortcomings in California's plan for fixing its prison system — one so overburdened, with healthcare so poor, that the U.S. Supreme Courtsaid incarceration there was tantamount to "cruel and unusual punishment."

In May 2011, the high court gave California two years to comply with the three judges' determination that prisons should not be overcrowded by more than 137.5%. State officials concede they are unlikely to reach that target by the June 2013 deadline and have told the judges they intend to ask for a new cap of 145%. That would mean about 118,000 prisoners, which is about 6,000 more than the court wants, in quarters built for 81,500.

The officials say they can comply with the spirit of the order — improved medical care and humane living conditions — if not the letter. "Reducing the inmate population is not the goal of the court," said corrections agency spokesman Bill Sessa. "It is a means to an end, which is providing better healthcare that was compromised by overcrowding." He said the goal of improved healthcare would be achieved next year, when the state opens a new 1,700-bed prison hospital in Stockton to house critically ill and long-term-care patients, which will also further reduce crowding.

Since October, Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment program has diverted tens of thousands of low-level felons to county jails and probation programs rather than put them in state lockups. A Times analysis of prison population reports and projections for the last year shows the number of inmates fell faster than analysts predicted but then leveled off.

August 13, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Texas continues to lower its (still high) incarceration rates

TexasToday's Austin Amerincan-Statesman has this lengthy story discussing trends in Texas's prison population levels.  Here are extended excerpts:

In July, Texas' prison system posted its lowest head count in five years, even as the state's overall population continued to grow at a fast clip.

Instead of 156,500 prisoners behind bars in Texas' 111 state prisons a year ago, the lockups now hold just over 154,000 — a drop of about 2,500, according to state statistics. Texas, which historically has had one of the highest incarceration rates per capita of the 50 states, is now in fourth place, down from second two years ago.

Whether the declining prison population is the start of a long-term decrease or a short-lived dip is a matter of debate that will be settled only by time. Still, experts say, prison population declines are occurring in other states, too.

"It's real. It's happening, not only in Texas, but around the country," said Tony Fabelo, an Austin-based criminal justice consultant who coached Texas officials during the 1990s as the state tripled the size of its prison system and is now advising other states on how to decrease their prison populations. "The challenge is to sustain the outcomes to see how far you can go in downsizing prisons. I have my doubts, but it's an interesting time for criminal justice," Fabelo said.

Instead of sending more and more lawbreakers to prison, judges in Texas and other states are increasingly sentencing them to alternative treatment and rehabilitation programs that have proven more effective — and that cost much less. For taxpayers, that could mean safer communities and fewer expensive prisons to operate. For criminals, that could mean more effective programs to help them escape drug and other addictions and become law-abiding citizens again.

A decrease in crime rates, changes in demographics and an aging state population also have a role in emptying Texas' prison beds, experts say.

Not since the early 1990s, when then-Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, shook up the historical punishment culture of Texas prisons by opening new drug-treatment prisons focusing on rehabilitation, has such a dramatic trend emerged, some experts say. Only this time, conservative Republicans are driving the reforms that began in 2007, as fiscal conservatism gained the upper hand over tough-on-crime policies.

National prison rates

"Policies in various states are finally catching up with what we know works," said Marc Levin, director at the Austin-based Center for Effective Justice and a leader in the national Right on Crime campaign, which promotes community-justice solutions. "For most nonviolent offenders, community-based initiatives are much cheaper and have much better outcomes," Levin said. "In this time of tight budgets and programs that work, this is the conservative thing to do."...

More reforms are expected when the Legislature convenes next year, with proposals to change drug sentencing to provide more treatment rather than prison time and a push to fund a 2011 law that allows Texas counties to limit the number of felons they send to state prisons in exchange for more state funding for local corrections programs.

"We're definitely going to be looking at what works and what doesn't — and we know that treatment and rehabilitation and community justice programs work," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, an architect of many of the reforms. "Prisons should be reserved for the worst of the worst, the violent criminals, murderers, child molesters we should definitely be afraid of. We have a lot of other inmates in there that could probably be housed someplace else, at less cost," Whitmire said....

Despite the enthusiasm in Texas and nationally for community-based alternatives to prison, there are limits [in part because] alternatives to prison don't work for everybody. Sharon Padilla's family highlights that dilemma.

The 34-year-old former Austinite, now living and working in Houston, served three years in Texas prisons for cocaine possession, after flunking out three times on probation with several stints in jail. "I went through programs one after the other, but nothing took," Padilla said. "Prison didn't do much, except it got me off the street.  Drug court got in my business big time, and I had to get my head straight. But it took myself to want to do it."

August 12, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 09, 2012

"Engendering Rape"

The title of this post is the title of this new article on SSRN discussing prison rape policies and reform efforts. Here is the abstract:

This article highlights a systematic bias in the academic, correctional, and human rights discourse that constitutes the basis for prison rape policy reform. This discourse focuses almost exclusively on sexual abuse perpetrated by men: sexual abuse of male prisoners by fellow inmates, and sexual abuse of women prisoners by male staff. But since 2007, survey and correctional data have indicated that the main perpetrators of prison sexual abuse seem to be women. In men’s facilities, inmates report much more sexual victimization by female staff than by male inmates; in women’s facilities, inmates report much higher rates of sexual abuse by fellow inmates than by male or female staff. These findings contravene conventional gender expectations, and are barely acknowledged in contemporary prison rape discourse, leading to policy decisions that are too sanguine about the likelihood of female-perpetrated sexual victimization.

The selective blindness of prison rape discourse to counterstereotypical forms of abuse illuminates a pattern of reasoning I describe as “stereotype reconciliation,” an unintentional interpretive trend by which surprising, counterstereotypical facts are reconciled with conventional gender expectations. The authors of prison rape discourse tend to ignore these counterstereotypical facts or to invoke alternative stereotypes, such as heterosexist notions of romance or racialized rape tropes, in ways that tend to rationalize their neglect of counterstereotypical forms of abuse and reconcile those abuses with conventional expectations of masculine domination and feminine submission.

August 9, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Monday, August 06, 2012

Notable report on "decarceration laboratory" taking place in California

Today's New York Times has this interesting new article, headlined "In California, County Jails Face Bigger Load."  The piece discusses how one big county in the largest state in the US has been responding to the Plata ruling, which has required California to reduce its prison populations to remedy  the Eighth Amendment problems created by severe overcrowding.  Here is an excerpt:

Ordered by the United States Supreme Court to reduce severe overcrowding in its prisons, California began redirecting low-level offenders to local jails last October in a shift called realignment. Its prison population, the nation’s largest, has since fallen by more than 16 percent to 120,000 from 144,000; it must be reduced to 110,000 by next June.

Counties with already tight budgets are scrambling to house the influx of newcomers in facilities that were never designed to accommodate inmates serving long sentences, like a man who began serving 15 years for fraud recently in the Fresno jail.

Fresno County — a sprawling agricultural area surrounding the city, which is also facing financial problems and became a punch line for Conan O’Brien recently — is adding 864 beds to its chronically overcrowded jail. Under a longstanding federal consent decree that requires the Sheriff’s Department to release inmates when the jail reaches capacity, 40 to 60 people are let go early every day.

In a move watched by other states also facing prison overcrowding, California is handing its 58 counties money and leeway to decide how to handle the new arrivals. Liberal communities like San Francisco are using a greater share of the state money on programs and alternatives to incarceration. But most counties, particularly here in the conservative Central Valley, have focused on building jail capacity.

That troubles organizations on both sides of the political spectrum. Sheriff Keith Royal of Nevada County, the president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, said members were worried about their capacity to provide “adequate treatment” in jails and about “litigation at the location level.” The American Civil Liberties Union warned that instead of making fundamental improvements to the criminal justice system, many counties risked simply repeating the state’s mistakes by reflexively putting people behind bars....

Allen Hopper, a lawyer with the A.C.L.U. who co-wrote a study on the shift to jails, said the population at county jails could be significantly reduced by overhauling pretrial procedures. Many inmates, who present no risk, remain in jail simply because they cannot afford bail, he said, adding that alternatives like electronic monitoring and day reporting could free up jail space and save counties money.

But in counties where elected officials are afraid of appearing soft on crime, such alternatives are particularly sensitive. “Everything is political,” said Sheriff Margaret Mims of Fresno County. Sheriff Mims said she had become “less optimistic” about the shift to jails because of rising crime in the county, including burglaries and car thefts. Though law enforcement officials acknowledge that rising crime cannot be linked directly to the realignment policy, they say people engaging in nonviolent offenses like property crime no longer fear being sent to prison.

Despite Fresno County’s conservative attitude toward crime, the policy shift has fueled a debate about alternatives to incarceration by grouping various agencies in the committee overseeing the change, said Emma Hughes, a criminologist at California State University, Fresno, who is working as a consultant for the county.

Linda Penner, the chief probation officer and chairwoman of the realignment committee, said that having secured money to reopen two jail floors, the committee had the political room to approve the $848,000 for the rehabilitation program. “Do I think we’re all getting on the same page in reckoning with the fact that we have to create alternatives to detention?” she said. “Yes.”

This piece, and other like reports on what has been going on in California over the past year since the Plata ruling, confirms my belief that it will likely take a lot of time and a lot of sophisticated reseach before we will be able to reach any confident conclusions concerning the true impact of the Plata ruling and the ways in which California's political and legal system has responded.

August 6, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sunday, August 05, 2012

New York Times editorial laments "Too Many Prisoners"

I am pleased to see this new editorial from the pages of the New York Times.  It is headlined "Too Many Prisoners," and here are excerpts:

The Justice Department in its recent annual report on federal sentencing issues wisely acknowledged that public safety can be maximized without maximizing prison spending. As it noted, the growing federal prison population, now more than 218,000 inmates, and a prison budget of almost $6.2 billion are “incompatible with a balanced crime policy and are unsustainable.”

The department calls for reforms “to make our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive.”  Yet it fails to address sentencing changes that should be made, which would significantly reduce the problem of overincarceration in federal prisons.

Last fall, the United States Sentencing Commission issued a comprehensive report that said mandatory minimum sentences are often “excessively severe,” especially for people convicted of drug-trafficking offenses, who make up more than 75 percent of those given such sentences.  Mandatory minimums have contributed in the last 20 years to the near tripling of federal prisoners, with more than half the prisoners now in for drug crimes....

The Justice Department report does not mention mandatory minimum sentences or their major contribution to overincarceration in federal prisons.  And it fails to urge Congress to make repealing mandatory minimums a high priority, as it should.  It does not mention releasing older prisoners, which the Federal Bureau of Prisons has the power to do.

Nor does it mention adjusting its own policies on drug cases so it would put away fewer offenders not considered dangerous.  About 25,000 people were convicted of federal drug offenses last year, almost the same number as during the Bush administration in 2008 — a substantial proportion in low-level roles of drug trafficking, according to the Sentencing Commission.

Recent related posts on DOJ's Annual Letter to US Sentencing Commission:

August 5, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Friday, August 03, 2012

Split Second Circuit panel rejects varied constitutional attacks on NY parole practices

An interesting split circuit panel ruling comes today from the Second Circuit in Graziano v. Pataki, No. 11-116 (2d Cir. Aug. 3, 2012) (available here).  Here is how the majority per curiam opinion gets started:

Plaintiffs-Appellants Peter Graziano, James Buckley, Mark Malone, Robert A. Harris, William Walker, Aaron Talley, Maurice Murrell, Steven Ho, and Brian Jacques (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed this class action against Defendants-Appellees George Pataki, the Governor of the State of New York; Robert Dennison, the Chairman of the New York State Division of Parole; and the New York State Division of Parole (collectively, “Defendants”) on behalf of themselves and all other New York State prisoners convicted of violent felony offenses.  Plaintiffs allege that they have been denied parole as a result of an “unwritten policy” to deny parole to violent felony offenders, and that this unofficial policy violates three provisions of the federal constitution: (1) the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; (2) the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3) the Ex Post Facto Clause.  Because we conclude that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for violation of their rights under any of these provisions, we affirm the December 10, 2010 judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granting Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure.

Here is how the dissenting opinion by Judge Underhill, a district judge sitting by designation, gets started:

The allegations in this case are staggering: According to plaintiffs, the former Governor of New York and the head of the State Parole Commission conspired to convert hundreds of indeterminate sentences into determinate sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  The complaint alleges that the defendants adopted an unwritten policy to deny parole to all prisoners convicted of class A-1 felonies, no matter their record of rehabilitation or fitness for release. They did so to advance their own “political and economic agenda.”  First Amended Compl. ¶ 2.  Their purported scheme circumvented the commands of both legislators and judges; the legislature instructed the Parole Board to consider eight factors when determining whether offenders are ready to rejoin their communities and judges imposed open-ended sentences believing that the Parole Board would do so.  But the Governor’s purported policy flouted these directives.  It allegedly turned parole hearings into sham proceedings -- inmates could present evidence and call witnesses, but they would waste their breath because the policy tied the commissioners’ hands.  As a result, the Governor and the Parole Board consigned hundreds of people to life in prison.

At least, that is what the complaint requires us to assume.  But the majority downplays these factual allegations in the complaint and reframes the plaintiffs’ legal claim for relief.  Because, when viewed in the proper light, the complaint states a plausible claim for a violation of substantive due process, I respectfully dissent.

August 3, 2012 in Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Audit spotlights clear costs and uncertain benefits of educating Utah inmates

I would never urge anyone to seek a prison stay just to get the benefits of free room, board and medical care all provided at taxpayer expense.  Still, this local story discussing an audit of the monies spent on inmate education in Utah provides a stark reminder that one way to get access to significant taxpayer-funded government benefits is to be incarcerated.  The story is headlined "Educating Utah inmates costs more than other adults, with payoff uncertain," and here is how it starts:

Providing inmates with educational services is viewed as one way to keep them from returning to prison, but a newly released audit says the Utah State Office of Education is spending more money per student providing academic services to inmates than it does on traditional adult education clients and has little data to show how academic achievement boosts job prospects or reduces recidivism.

The audit also found some inmates take hundreds of hours of classes with little to show for it, while others continue in educational programs even after earning a diploma or certificate — resources auditors said could be used to help other inmates or funneled into other programs.

In one program, an inmate student achieved only one level gain after more than 1,000 "contact" hours. Another inmate student who received a diploma, notching a high GPA, had more than 3,000 contact hours but still tested at a first grade level in math, which allowed the inmate to continue receiving educational services.

Better monitoring is needed, an auditor told the Legislative Audit Subcommittee on Wednesday. "We question the value of a diploma awarded with a high GPA when the student continues to function at such low levels," auditors said in the report. "Programs should not be designed to take longer, simply because an inmate has more time available. Not only is there a disparity of contact hours between jail, prison, and traditional adult education, but some inmate programs have what appears to be an excessive number of contact hours."

Lawmakers asked auditors to look at the effectiveness and efficiency of high school education programs — adult high school education, adult basic education and English language classes — offered at Utah’s jails and prisons. They also asked the Utah Department of Corrections to prepare a report on the impact of education programs on recidivism, a study that is still in process.

Last year, 21 local school districts, under direction of the Utah State Office of Education, provided educational services to some 5,268 inmates at 23 jails and both state prison locations. The amount spent on the programs in 2011: $5.4 million, money that came primarily from the USOE’s adult education budget and the Utah Department of Corrections’ education fund.

August 2, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Commentary links drug war realities to latest DOJ letter to US Sentencing Commission

Phillip Smith writing at Drug War Chronicle has this notable new commentary reacting t0 the Justice Department's recent letter to the US Sentencing Commission (discussed here).  The commentary is headlined "DOJ to Sentencing Commission: Fewer Prisoners, Please," and here are excerpts:

In a congressionally mandated annual report to the US Sentencing Commission on the operation of federal sentencing guidelines, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) said continuing increases in the federal prison populations and spending are "unsustainable" and called on the commission to work with other stakeholders to reduce federal corrections costs.  But the report failed to address the single largest factor driving the growth in the federal prison population: the huge increase in the number of federal prisoners doing time for drug offenses.

According to data compiled by Drug War Facts and based on Bureau of Justice Statistics reports, in 1980, there were some 19,000 federal prisoners, with some 4,500 having a drug offense as their most serious offense.  By 2010, the number of federal prisoners had increased tenfold to more than 190,000, and a whopping 97,000 were doing time for drug offenses, also a tenfold increase.  The percentage of drug offenders increased during that period from roughly 25% of all federal prisoners in 1980 to 51.7% in 2010....

With budgets flat, criminal justice spending has to get more bang for the buck, the DOJ letter said. "We must ensure that our federal sentencing and corrections system is strong but smart; credible, productive and just; and budgetarily sound," the letter said.  "But maximizing public safety can be achieved without maximizing prison spending.  The federal prison population — and prison expenditures — have been increasing for years. In this period of austerity, these increases are incompatible with a balanced crime policy and are unsustainable....

It is clear what is driving the growth in the federal prison population and the federal corrections budget: drug war prisoners.  While the Obama administration DOJ is to be credited with taking some steps that move in the direction of reducing the number of prisoners and the corrections budget, such as supporting the partial reform of the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, its failure to directly address the consequences of policies of mass imprisonment of drug offenders means that it is missing the elephant in the room.

While spotlighting a critical reality about the real budget/prison costs of the federal drug war in light of lean budget times, this commentary relies on some old data.  According to the BOP weekly population report (available here), there are now 218,186 federal prisoners, which likely means there are surely now many more than 100,000 defendants doing federal time (and getting food, housing and medical care at federal taxpayer expense) for drug offenses.

August 1, 2012 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chief Justice Roberts says DNA collection from arrestees will soon get SCOTUS review (and perhaps approval)

101020113910_dna-apAs reported in this New York Times article, Chief Justice John Roberts yesterday officially granted a stay of a Maryland decision blocking state officials from collecting DNA samples from people charged with certain felonies. The short opinion explaining the ruling by Chief Justice Roberts includes these notable passages:

Maryland’s DNA Collection Act, Md. Pub. Saf. Code Ann. §2–501 et seq. (Lexis 2011), authorizes law enforcement officials to collect DNA samples from individuals charged with but not yet convicted of certain crimes, mainly violent crimes and first-degree burglary.  In 2009, police arrested Alonzo Jay King, Jr., for first-degree assault.  When personnel at the booking facility collected his DNA, they found it matched DNA evidence from a rape committed in 2003. Relying on the match, the State charged and successfully convicted King of, among other things, first-degree rape.  A divided Maryland Court of Appeals overturned King’s conviction, holding the collection of his DNA violated the Fourth Amendment because his expectation of privacy outweighed the State’s interests.  425 Md. 550, 42 A.3d 549 (2012).  Maryland now applies for a stay of that judgment pending this Court’s disposition of its petition for a writ of certiorari....

Maryland’s decision conflicts with decisions of the U. S. Courts of Appeals for the Third and Ninth Circuits as well as the Virginia Supreme Court, which have upheld statutes similar to Maryland’s DNA Collection Act....

The split implicates an important feature of day-to-day law enforcement practice in approximately half the States and the Federal Government.... Indeed, the decision below has direct effects beyond Maryland: Because the DNA samples Maryland collects may otherwise be eligible for the FBI’s national DNA database, the decision renders the database less effective for other States and the Federal Government.  These factors make it reasonably probable that the Court will grant certiorari to resolve the split on the question presented.  In addition, given the considered analysis of courts on the other side of the split, there is a fair prospect that this Court will reverse the decision below.

And, in somewhat related news, Ted Gest in this post at The Crime Report provides a notable report on another official's views on DNA collection practices, which gets started this way:

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who served as a prosecutor for 25 years, gave a spirited pitch to criminal justice officials from around the U.S. yesterday to push for collecting DNA samples from everyone arrested for a felony.

New Mexico has been a leader in state passage of "Katie's Laws," named for Katie Sepich, who was murdered in New Mexico in 2003. Sepich's assailant, Gabriel Avila, was charged with the crime three years later --- although he had been arrested in the meantime for other offenses, and a Sepich DNA sample was available.

Martinez, who prosecuted the case, said he could have been charged with the crime much sooner had the law been in effect. She spoke to the National Criminal Justice Association's annual national forum, which is being held near Albuquerque, N.M.

New Mexico passed a law in 2006 requiring those arrested for violent felonies to yield DNA samples. The law was expanded last year to collect samples from all accused felons.

July 31, 2012 in Collateral consequences, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ralph Nader urges Obama and Romney to discuss "the prison-industrial complex"

I have a wide array of mixed feelings about Ralph Nader as a politician and policy advocate, but I have no reservations endorsing his advocacy for more political discourse about mass incarceration and the drug war.  This Nader advocacy appears in this lengthy new opinion piece headlined "Obama/Romney: Start debating the prison-industrial complex."  Here are excerpts:

Ever visit a major prison?  The vast majority of Americans have not, despite our country having by far a higher incarceration rate per capita than China or Iran.  Out of sight is out of mind.

Imagine the benefits of the average taxpayer touring a prison. The lucrative prison-industrial complex would definitely not like public exposure of their daily operations. Prison CEOs have no problem with a full house of non-violent inmates caught with possession of some street drugs (not alcohol or tobacco)....

Indeed, for the giant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), times are booming. CCA builds their prisons or buys or leases public prisons from financially strapped governments. Barron’s financial weekly can always be expected to give us the Wall Street perspective. In a recent article titled “Ready to Bust Out,” writer Jonathan R. Laing is bullish on CCA stock....

Mr. Laing writes that CCA has cost advantages over the public-prison sector, paying lower non-union wages and using more automated technology.  Besides, the company is a tough bargainer when it buys or operates public prisons.  One CCA condition is that the facility must have 1,000 beds, can’t be more than 25 years old, and get this, “the contract must guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate.”  A guarantee backed by taxpayers no less, unless, that is, the clause works to put more prisoners in jail for longer sentences.

The Barron’s article adds that CCA is counting on “the old standby of recidivism to keep prison head counts growing, filling its empty beds.” To the impoverished rural communities where these prisons are located, it’s about needed jobs....

The same perverse incentives apply to the self-defeating trillion-dollar war on drugs (see http://www.drugpolicy.org/).  History has demonstrated that driving addictions into illegal undergrounds creates vicious underworld crimes.  In Mexico, the so-called drug cartel is getting close to destroying local governments in many regions.  In the U.S., half a million people are behind bars for nonviolent drug offenses, the vast majority arrested for mere possession, not production or sale. That is nearly one in four of all prisoners. There are twenty million marijuana arrests every year in the U.S.!

Drug addictions are treated as crimes instead of as health problems, which we do with tobacco and alcohol addictions.  Gross racial disparities persists, starting with black teenagers having to go to jail for a drug offense six times more often than a comparable white youth, both with prior clean records (http://www.nyclu.org/content/commission-must-reform-inhumane-drug-laws)....

Right/Left convergence is emerging.  Last April, for instance, David Keene, former Chair of the American Conservative Union and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, joined with the NAACP and other liberals to highlight escalating levels of prison spending and its impact on our nation’s children and poorly performing schools. Connecticut spends $40,000 a year to imprison a juvenile offender compared to less than $12,000 a year to educate a young person.

Other similar convergences over hugely disparate sentencing as with crack and cocaine are forming, making both economic and humane arguments. More young black men are locked up than are in college, according to the Justice Roundtable.

Still, there hasn’t been enough reform pressure even to pass outgoing U.S. Senator Jim Webb’s legislation simply to create a National Criminal Justice Commission Act. This legislation is now stuck in Senatorial limbo.  Start up the prison tours.  Have some led by articulate, former convicts who are pushing to reform our cruel, costly and ineffective prison system.  It is so easy to do much better, if we want to.

July 30, 2012 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Every Greek prisoner now has to get out of the fancy new pool

As reported in this AP article, "Greece’s largest maximum security prison won’t get to keep its waterfall-adorned, barbecue-equipped pool." Here is why:

The Justice Ministry on Tuesday ordered the destruction of a 7.4-meter (24-foot) long pool in the yard of Korydallos prison’s psychiatric wing, saying the structure was built without permission and did not comply with health and safety standards.

The pool’s existence at the jail near Athens was reported by a newspaper Sunday. The ministry said the structure, reportedly built last year, includes a small rock waterfall and a poolside barbecue installation.

Greece’s Prison Officers Association said the pool was built using money the group raised and was restricted to staff and inmates at the psychiatric wing. Korydallos houses some 2,300 inmates, with about 300 receiving some form of psychiatric care.  The association expressed disappointment over the order to destroy the pool, which it called part of an attempt "to change things for the better — viewing inmates at those facilities as human beings and not numbers."

Overcrowding at Greek prisons has worsened since the start of the country’s major financial crisis in late 2009, according to the Justice Ministry and the prison officers association, due to a spike in violent crime and prosecutions for tax-related offenses.

In addition to finding this story comparatively intriguing and also amusing, I think it is notable that the Greek equivalent of our prison guards' union expressed disappointment over the destruction of this fancy prison facility.

July 26, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Monday, July 23, 2012

Notable crime and sentencing reform talk in latest speech from AAG Lanny Breuer

A few helpful readers made sure I did not miss this prepared speech delivered today by US Asistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer Speaks to the National District Attorneys Association Summer Conference. Here are just some of the scrime-and-punishment highlights from a speech that should be read in full.:

This morning, I submitted, along with a colleague, the Criminal Division’s annual report to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.   In that report, we argue that recent reductions in public safety spending mean that the remarkable public safety achievements of the last 20 years are threatened unless reforms are instituted to make our public safety expenditures smarter and more productive. In short, we are at a crossroads....

According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, state and local criminal justice spending rose from approximately $32.6 billion in 1982 to $186.2 billion in 2006. Federal criminal justice spending increased even more dramatically, from approximately $4.2 billion in 1982 to $41 billion in 2006.

The net result of these reforms and investments has been a steep decline in violent crime across the country -- essentially the opposite of what occurred in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 10 million Americans were victims of violent crime in 1991, whereas less than half that many -- approximately 3.8 million -- were victims of violent crime in 2010....  The steep decline in violent crime over the past 20 years is a law enforcement success story worth dwelling on and worth celebrating.

The fiscal climate of the past several years, however, has led to significant cuts in state and local government spending, including on criminal justice initiatives.  At the Justice Department, our budget has remained essentially flat.... At the same time that federal criminal justice spending has stayed roughly flat, the number of federal prisoners has increased, and our prison and detention spending has increased along with it. This has resulted in prison and detention spending crowding out other criminal justice investments, including aid to state and local law enforcement and spending on prevention and intervention programs....

Our collective challenge, in my view, is to figure out how to control prison spending without compromising public safety, so that we can afford to fund other measures that are proven to lower crime rates, including prevention and intervention programs, and initiatives designed to assist prisoners reentering society with finding employment after they get out.  Indeed, I believe that our ability to increase the productivity of public safety spending of all kinds will largely determine whether we build on the reductions in crime that we’ve experienced since the early 1990s, or whether we see setbacks.

<P>There are no easy answers. Particularly in a time of declining public safety budgets, striking the right balance between prison and detention spending and other criminal justice spending requires thoughtful solutions.

The Justice Department recently put forward two legislative proposals that aim to maximize public safety while also controlling prison costs.

The first of these, the Federal Prisoner Recidivism Reduction Programming Enhancement Act, would allow prisoners who successfully participate in programs that have been demonstrated to reduce recidivism to earn an incentive of up to 60 days per year of credit toward completion of their sentence....

In addition, we have put forward the Federal Prisoner Good Conduct Time Act, which would increase the amount of time a federal prison inmate could earn off his or her sentence, for good behavior, by approximately seven days per year -- from roughly 47 days to 54 days....

These are just two proposals. But, as we told the Sentencing Commission this morning, federal sentencing policy should be reviewed systematically and on a crime-by-crime basis through the lens of public safety productivity.  Looked at through such a lens, it is clear that there are many areas of sentencing policy that can and should be improved.

July 23, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack