Friday, April 05, 2013

New ACLU of Ohio report documents "contemporary debtors’ prisons"

DebtorsPrisonAs reported in this local article, headlined "Poor unfairly jailed for failing to pay fines, report says," a new report by the ACLU of Ohio makes a set of provocative assertions about crime, punishment and modern economic realities. Here are the basics:

Courts in at least seven counties routinely jail Ohioans for owing court fines and fees, in violation of the state constitution and laws and against a 1983 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, according to a new study released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor says the report raises issues that “can and must receive further attention.”

While many defendants can pay their fines and walk away, for Ohio’s poor a fine “is just the beginning of a process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time,” the report says.

The ACLU documented debtors prison practices in Springboro mayor’s court and municipal courts in Hamilton County, Sandusky, Norwalk, Parma, Mansfield and Bryan....

Other courts, including Moraine mayor’s court, employ policies such as arresting defendants for not showing up for hearings where they’re supposed to explain why they haven’t paid their fines, said Mike Brickner, ACLU of Ohio communications director. The hearings are sometimes scheduled weekly, increasing the chances that the defendant will eventually miss one and face a bench warrant, he said....

The ACLU calls on the Ohio Supreme Court to issue administrative rules to require courts to hold hearings to determine whether a defendant is unable to pay fines owed or if they’re just unwilling.  Even if a defendant is just refusing to pay, he or she is supposed to be credited $50 per day spent in jail against the debt.

Jailing people costs between $58 and $65 per night, plus the time spent by officers and clerks to track the person down, arrest them, book them into the jail and file paperwork. Often the costs exceed the debts owed.  “It is not a good deal for the taxpayers.  (The defendants) aren’t not paying because they don’t feel like it.  They’re not paying because the literally have no money,” Brickner said.   Brickner said it creates a two-tier justice system for those who are able to pay fines and those who can’t.

The ACLU of Ohio's report is titled "The Outskirts of Hope" and is available at this link.  Here are a few paragraphs from the report's introduction:

The resurgence of contemporary debtors’ prisons sits squarely at this intersection of poverty and criminal justice. While this term conjures up images of Victorian England, the research and personal stories in this report illustrate that debtors’ prisons remain all too common in 21st century Ohio. In towns across the state, thousands of people face the looming specter of incarceration every day, simply because they are poor.

Taking care of a fine is straightforward for some Ohioans — having been convicted of a criminal or traffic offense and sentenced to pay a fine, an affluent defendant may simply pay it and go on with his or her life.  For Ohio’s poor and working poor, by contrast, an unaffordable fine is just the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time.  The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines. The U.S. Constitution, the Ohio Constitution, and Ohio Revised Code all prohibit debtors’ prisons. The law requires that, before jailing anyone for unpaid fines, courts must determine whether an individual is too poor to pay.  Jailing a person who is unable to pay violates the law, and yet municipal courts and mayors’ courts across the state continue this draconian practice. Moreover, debtors’ prisons actually waste taxpayer dollars by arresting and incarcerating people who will simply never be able to pay their fines, which are in any event usually smaller than the amount it costs to arrest and jail them.

The Outskirts of Hope documents how contemporary debtors’ prisons work in Ohio and profiles some of the real people who have been impacted by this system.  The constant threat of incarceration has left an imprint on each of these individuals’ lives, interfering with their families, health, employment, and housing.  By shining a light on this dark practice in Ohio, this report hopes to move our state towards the promise of greater justice and fairness for those with the fewest resources.

April 5, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 04, 2013

"Pretrial Detention and the Right to Be Monitored"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN by Samuel Wiseman. Here is the abstract:

The typical academic concern with respect to advancing criminal justice technology, be it wiretaps or surveillance drones, is that there will be too much of it.  In the context of pretrial justice, however, we have the opposite problem.  Although detention for dangerousness has received far more attention in recent years, a significant number of non-dangerous but impecunious defendants are jailed to ensure their presence at trial due to continued, widespread reliance on a money bail system.  Increasingly sophisticated forms of electronic monitoring have the potential to mitigate flight risk at least as well as money bail at a cost to defendants and the state lower than money bail’s necessary concomitant, pretrial detention.  But the long, mostly sad history of bail reform efforts suggests that, unlike wiretaps, electronic monitoring in lieu of detention will not be adopted through the political process in many jurisdictions.

This paper develops two related claims.  First, in the near term, electronic monitoring will present a superior alternative to money bail for addressing flight risk.  In contrast to previous proposals for reducing pretrial detention rates, including increased use of personal recognizance bonds and varying forms of supervision by pretrial services agencies, electronic monitoring has the potential to both reduce fugitive rates (by allowing the defendant to be easily located) and government expenditures (by reducing the number of defendants detained at state expense).  Moreover, the usual objections to government monitoring -- the intrusion on individual privacy and the threat of surveillance extending to new segments of society -- have relatively little force in the pretrial context, where detention currently all but extinguishes privacy interests, and the number of criminal defendants is largely independent of the means of preventing flight.

Secondly, despite the potential benefits to defendants and governments, electronic monitoring is not likely to be adopted by legislative or executive action.  The commercial bail industry has a significant financial incentive to maintain the status quo, and it has repeatedly blunted previous reform efforts.  Thus, although there is a lively debate over the institutions best suited to respond to advances in investigative technology, here the best prospect for meaningful change is clearly the judiciary generally, and the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of Excessive Bail more specifically.  To achieve this goal, however, the courts will, for the first time, have to develop a meaningful jurisprudence of excessiveness to test the fit between the government’s pretrial goals and the means employed to accomplish them.  The paper begins this inquiry, arguing that the text, purpose, and history of the Amendment all support the requirement that the chosen means be, at minimum, not substantially more burdensome than necessary.  Under this standard, a money bail system that leads to widespread detention without a corresponding increase in performance or savings cannot survive in the face of a less restrictive technological alternative.

Long-time readers know I am a fan of both the Eighth Amendment and of the potential of technocorrections to reduce the modern incarceration "footprint."  I thus find especially intriguing and appealing the notion that the Eighth Amendment might give defendants a right to demand a technocorrections alternative to incarceration in some settings.

April 4, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Protests scuttle private prison group's plans to get name on university stadium

As reported in this prior post a few weeks back, the private prison corporation GEO Group Inc. had a deal in the works to give a huge check to a university in Florida and to get a stadium named after it in return.  But, as highlighted in this new Huffington Post piece, the deal is off:

It was a move that baffled sports marketing experts: Florida Atlantic University struck a deal in February to name its football stadium after a private prison company.

But after more than a month of backlash from students, faculty and human rights groups, the GEO Group Inc. pulled out of the $6 million deal with Florida Atlantic on Monday, citing the "distraction" it had caused for the company and the university.

"What was originally intended as a gesture of GEO's goodwill to financially assist the University's athletic scholarship program has surprisingly evolved into an ongoing distraction to both of our organizations," GEO Group chairman and chief executive George Zoley said in a statement released by the university on Monday.

Soon after the deal was announced in mid-February, it got attention in national news outlets and garnered a segment on the Colbert Report. Citing lawsuits against the company and federal reports detailing horrible conditions at a GEO-operated youth prison in Mississippi, host Stephen Colbert quipped: "This criticism is just one of the downsides of paying millions of dollars to have people pay attention to your company …. People start paying attention to your company."

The GEO Group is based in Boca Raton, Fla., just a few miles from Florida Atlantic University. Zoley, the company's chairman and chief executive, received bachelor's and master's degrees from the university and was a former chairman of the board of trustees. The university had been seeking a corporate sponsor for two years to pay down the debt on its newly built stadium, and the GEO Group pledged to pay $6 million over 10 years in exchange for the naming rights.

Student groups at Florida Atlantic quickly coalesced against the GEO Group Stadium deal, dubbing the facility "Owlcatraz" -- a play on the university's mascot, an owl. They staged a sit-in outside the university president's office in February and demanded that university leadership organize forums and discussions about GEO's human rights record.

The school's faculty senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution against the stadium name last month, noting that GEO Group's business practices "do not align with the missions of the university."...

The GEO Group's revenue has nearly tripled over the last decade, as the private prison company has captured greater shares of state and federal prison populations, including facilities that hold undocumented immigrants. GEO has also donated more than $1.2 million to the Florida Republican Party over the last three election cycles. Republicans in the state legislature last year came close to approving a massive expansion of private prisons in south Florida, an opportunity that the GEO Group mentioned frequently in calls with investors....

In a statement, Florida Atlantic President Mary Jane Saunders said Zoley and the company "have been loyal supporters of this university" and that she was thankful for all organizations that give to support "our mission, our pursuit of academic excellence and valuable contributions to this community."...

It is unclear where the university will get the money needed to pay off debt for its stadium. FAU had been searching for more than two years for a corporate sponsor before GEO Group agreed to pay $6 million over 10 years. The university built the $70 million football stadium in 2011, borrowing more than $45 million.

Some recent and older related posts: 

April 2, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

New York Times editorial urges "Shrinking Prisons, Saving Billions"

While on the road, I missed this notable New York Times editorial from this past weekend.  Here are excerpts:

The mandatory sentencing craze that gripped the country four decades ago drove up the state prison population sevenfold — from under 200,000 in the early 1970s to about 1.4 million today — and pushed costs beyond $50 billion a year.  Until recently, it seemed that the numbers would keep growing. But thanks to reforms in more than half the states, the prison census has edged down slightly — by just under 2 percent — since 2009.  A new analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that the decline would have been considerably larger had the other states not been pulling in the opposite direction.

Over the last five years, 29 states have managed to cut their imprisonment rates, 10 of them by double-digit percentages.  California, which has been ordered by the Supreme Court to ease extreme prison crowding, led the way with a 17 percent drop, mainly by reducing parole and probation revocations and shifting custody of low-level offenders to counties.  Other states reduced prison terms for low-level offenses; diverted some offenders to community supervision; and strengthened parole programs, so that fewer offenders landed back in jail for technical violations like missed appointments or failed drug tests.

Even law-and-order states like Texas, which cut its imprisonment rate by 7 percent, have discovered that they can shrink the prison population without threatening public safety. Investing heavily in drug treatment and community supervision, Texas has avoided nearly $2 billion in spending on new prisons, while the crime rate has dropped to levels unseen since the 1960s.  But even as the national prison population has declined, 20 other states — including Arizona, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — keep sending more people to prison than need to be there....

States that lag in reducing their prison populations should swiftly embrace these kinds of reforms.

March 26, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, March 25, 2013

"Vulnerability and Just Desert: A Theory of Sentencing and Mental Illness"

The title of this post is the title of this significant new article by E. Lea Johnston, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This Article analyzes risks of serious harms posed to prisoners with major mental disorders and investigates their import for sentencing under a just deserts analysis. Drawing upon social science research, the Article first establishes that offenders with serious mental illnesses are more likely than non-ill offenders to suffer physical and sexual assaults, endure housing in solitary confinement, and experience psychological deterioration during their carceral terms.

The Article then explores the significance of this differential impact for sentencing within a retributive framework.  It first suggests a particular expressive understanding of punishment, capacious enough to encompass foreseeable, substantial risks of serious harm proximately caused by the state during confinement and addresses in particular the troublesome issue of prison violence.  It then turns to just desert theory and principles of ordinal and cardinal proportionality to identify three ways in which vulnerability to serious harm may factor into sentencing.

In so doing, the Article advances the current debate about the relevance of individual suffering to retributivism and lays the theoretical groundwork for the consideration of vulnerability due to mental illness as a morally relevant element in sentencing decisions.

March 25, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Friday, March 22, 2013

A moving memorial to Colorado prison chief Tom Clements from the Vera Institute of Justice

As reported in this new article, headlined "Colorado Parolee Killed in Texas Chase Likely Guilty of Slaying Prisons Chief," it looks like the person responsible for the murder of head of the Colorado prison system earlier this week may have already faced the ultimate punishment for the crime. But that reality does little to make up for the senseless loss; this new item posted at the Vera Institute of Justice blog, headed "In Memoriam: Tom Clements, Vera partner and friend," provides a sense of how great a loss this is. Here are excerpts:

The Vera Institute of Justice mourns the loss of Tom Clements, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, who was shot and killed at his home on March 19, 2013. The Vera family is shocked and saddened at this tragic news, and our hearts go out to Director Clements' family, friends, and colleagues. Many of us had the opportunity to work with Tom—some of us for many years. Most recently, he was a key leader and partner in Vera's European-American Prison Project, an initiative funded by the Prison Law Office which aims to advance an international dialogue around what works in corrections and stimulate reform efforts in the United States. Just last month, as part of this project, several Vera staff members had the privilege of spending a week travelling with Tom and the Colorado delegation, along with our other partners in the project, to tour prisons in Germany and the Netherlands.

"We are heartbroken by this news," said Michael Jacobson, president and director of Vera, who was on the European trip last month. "Tom was a thoughtful and dynamic leader, not only of his agency but as an important and influential national voice in the field of corrections. In addition, he was simply a lovely, warm, generous and thoughtful man."

Director Clements is deservedly recognized for his openness to smart and efficient corrections reform, which he brought to Colorado, where he came to help transform its system. Clearly, he was a great asset to the state. In just two years, he made significant progress in reducing the use of segregation, improving reentry, working with challenging populations such as gang members, and tackling the needs of the mentally ill and elderly incarcerated persons. After the trip to Europe, Tom and his team were eager to start planning and implementing ways to better prepare offenders to reenter the community, for instance with a mother-child unit and strategies to encourage inmate savings.

Most importantly, Tom was a deeply kind and thoughtful person whom we were fortunate to have had the opportunity to know. He will be deeply missed. According to Peggy McGarry, who directs Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections, "Tom Clements was exactly the kind of gentle, kind, and good person who you want in charge of prisons. He only wanted what was best for those in his care—with no desire to control or hurt anyone. His smile was warm and reassuring, his intelligence quick and apparent. It is beyond comprehension that anyone would want to hurt this good man."

[In this post], we share some of the thoughts and remembrances of our colleagues who worked with Tom on the European-American Prison Project. We will add to this list as other colleagues contribute to it.

March 22, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Talk of reforming prison realignment in California

As reported in this new AP piece, "Republican lawmakers proposed a package of bills on Tuesday intended to counter what they see as a growing threat to public safety from sending some inmates to county jails instead of state prisons."  Here is more:

The 13 bills seek to counter the effects of prison realignment in 2011 by improving supervision of parolees and increase penalties for sex offenders and those who illegally possess or sell firearms.  The measures also would send more convicts back to prison to ease the burden on local jails while protecting counties from lawsuits.

"Republicans recognize that we must close the worst realignment loopholes," said Assembly Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare.

The bills' chances are uncertain in a Legislature controlled by Democrats.  The measures were proposed nearly 18 months after Gov. Jerry Brown's prison realignment took effect, sending inmates convicted of lower-level crimes to county jails instead of state prisons....

A related bill was rejected last week on a party-line vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.  The bill, AB2 by Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, would have sent paroled sex offenders back to state prisons, instead of county jails, if they fail to register as sex offenders.

The proposals have the backing of Diana Munoz, mother of Brandy Arreola, 21, of Stockton, who was permanently injured last year by her boyfriend, Raoul Leyva, a parole violator who had been released early from jail because of overcrowding.  Leyva, 34, was convicted last month of attempted voluntary manslaughter and injuring a spouse, with enhancements for causing brain injury and paralysis.

"If realignment didn't exist ... my daughter would be living her life normally," Munoz said as her daughter sat in a wheelchair by her side. "The state is responsible for what's happened to her. They should never have let him out."

Other bills in the Republican package would impose prison instead of jail time for criminals who remove their GPS-linked tracking devices; send all sex offenders who violate their parole back to prison' and have state parole agents, rather than county probation agencies, supervise all released sex offenders.  The proposals come amid rising concerns over the consequences of Brown's realignment law that took effect in October 2011.

The number of paroled sex offenders who are fugitives in California is 15 percent higher today than before realignment; counties are housing more than 1,100 inmates serving sentences of five years or more in jails designed for stays of a year or less; and inmate advocacy groups are beginning to sue counties over the same type of poor housing and treatment conditions that led to years of litigation and billions in additional costs for the state.

March 20, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"Manhunt after head of Colorado Department of Corrections killed answering doorbell"

The title of this post is the headline of this disturbing breaking news from Colorado.  Here are the basics:

The head of the Colorado Department of Corrections was fatally shot when he answered the doorbell at his home Tuesday night, authorities say.

Sheriff's Lt. Jeff Kramer says Tom Clements was shot to death around 8:30 p.m. in the town of Monument, which is north of Colorado Springs.  It is unclear if his wife and two daughters were home at the time of the shooting and police are searching for the gunman....

In a letter to DOC employees, Governor John Hickenlooper confirmed that the 58-year-old had been killed, reported.  "We have no more details than that," Hickenlooper wrote.  "I am so sad. I have never worked with a better person than Tom, and I can’t imagine our team without him. … As your Executive Director, he helped change and improve DOC in two years more than most people could do in eight years."

March 20, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

BOP director puts numbers of federal correction costs for FY2011

Via this new Federal Register entry, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons announced the latest annual determination of the average cost of incarceration.  Here is the heart of the announcement:

28 CFR part 505 allows for assessment and collection of a fee to cover the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates.  We calculate this fee by dividing the number representing Bureau facilities’ monetary obligation (excluding activation costs) by the number of inmate-days incurred for the preceding fiscal year, and then by multiplying the quotient by 365.

Under § 505.2, the Director of the Bureau of Prisons determined that, based upon fiscal year 2011 data, the fee to cover the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in Fiscal Year 2011 was $28,893.40.  The average annual cost to confine an inmate in a Community Corrections Center for Fiscal Year 2011 was $26,163.

March 19, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 14, 2013

"Rethinking the Use of Community Supervision"

The title of this post is the title of this important new paper now available on SSRN and authored by Cecelia Klingele.  As practitioners and policy-makers know, the back-end of the criminal justice system and the use of alternatives to incarceration are critically important "real world" sentencing issues that only rarely get sustained attention from the legal academy.  I am so pleased that Cecelia Klingele is a leading voice help ensuring these important legal and policy issues get the scholarly attention they need and deserve.  Here is the abstract of her latest work in this regard:

Community supervision, whether in the form of probation or post-release supervision, is ordinarily framed as an alternative to incarceration.  For this reason, legal reformers intent on reducing America's disproportionately high incarceration rates often urge lawmakers to expand the use of community supervision, confident that diverting offenders to the community will significantly reduce over-reliance on incarceration.  Yet, on any given day, a significant percentage of new prisoners arrive at the prison gates not as a result of sentencing for a new crime, but because they have been revoked from probation or parole.  It is therefore fair to say that in many cases community supervision is not an alternative to imprisonment, but only a delayed form of it.

This Article examines the reasons why community supervision so often fails, and challenges popular assumptions about the role community supervision should play in efforts to reduce over-reliance on imprisonment.  While probation and post-release supervision serve important purposes in many cases, they are often imposed on the wrong people, and executed in ways that predictably lead to revocation.  To decrease the overuse of imprisonment, sentencing and correctional practices should therefore limit, rather than expand, the use of community supervision in three important ways.

First, terms of community supervision should be imposed in fewer cases, with alternatives ranging from fines to unconditional discharge to short jail terms imposed instead. Second, conditions of probation and post-release supervision should be imposed sparingly, and only when they directly correspond to a risk of re-offense.  Finally, terms of community supervision should be limited in duration, extending only long enough to facilitate a period of structured re-integration after sentencing or following a term of incarceration.

March 14, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack

Saturday, March 09, 2013

"The Conservative Case Against More Prisons"

Mar-apr-cover-archiveThe title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new piece authored by Vikrant Reddy and Marc Levin, senior policy advisers to the Right on Crime campaign, and now appearing in The American Conservative. Here is how it starts:

Since the 1980s, the United States has built prisons at a furious pace, and America now has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. 716 out of every 100,000 Americans are behind bars. By comparison, in England and Wales, only 149 out of every 100,000 people are incarcerated. In Australia — famously founded as a prison colony — the number is 130. In Canada, the number is 114.

Prisons, of course, are necessary.  In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne observed that “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil… as the site of a prison.”  As long as there are people, there will be conflict and crime, and there will be prisons.  Prisons, however, are not a source of pride.  An unusually high number of prison cells signals a society with too much crime, too much punishment, or both.

There are other ways to hold offenders — particularly nonviolent ones — accountable. These alternatives when properly implemented can lead to greater public safety and increase the likelihood that victims of crime will receive restitution.  The alternatives are also less costly.  Prisons are expensive (in some states, the cost of incarcerating an inmate for one year approaches $60,000), and just as policymakers should scrutinize government expenditures on social programs and demand accountability, they should do the same when it comes to prison spending.  None of this means making excuses for criminal behavior; it simply means “thinking outside the cell” when it comes to punishment and accountability.

This argument is increasingly made by prominent conservatives.  Bill Bennett, Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, Ed Meese, and Grover Norquist have all signed the Statement of Principles of Right On Crime, a campaign that advocates a position on criminal justice that is more rooted in limited-government principles.  They are joined as signatories by the conservative criminologist John Dilulio and by George Kelling, who helped usher in New York City’s successful data-driven policing efforts under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.  Some groups, like Prison Fellowship Ministries, approach the issue from a socially conservative perspective.  Others, like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network, have fiscal concerns top of mind.  Regardless, a sea change is underway in sentencing and corrections policy, and conservatives are leading it.

March 9, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Friday, March 08, 2013

Smarter Sequestration: simple statutory ways to save prison monies (and avoid federal furloughs?)

I have been talking to a variety of federal criminal justice folks since sequestration became official on March 1, 2013, and there has been much buzz about possible furloughs.  And in his Senate testimony Wednesday, AG Eric Holder closed with this ominous comments about the impact of sequestration:

[C]uts are already having a significant negative impact not just on Department employees, but on programs that could directly impact the safety of Americans across the country. Important law enforcement and litigation programs are being disrupted.  Our capacity — to respond to crimes, investigate wrongdoing, and hold criminals accountable — has been reduced. And, despite our best efforts to limit the impact of sequestration, unless Congress quickly passes a balanced deficit reduction plan, the effects of these cuts — on our entire justice system, and on the American people — may be profound.

But, as my post title suggests, I think we could and should improve the administration of justice and save money if DOJ and BOP and others would use existing statutory mechanisms to reduce federal prison populations and costs.  FPD Steve Sady recently reminded me that, a year ago, the federal defenders, drawing from data gathered by the Government Accountability Office, provided a simple roadmap of action that could and should be taken now to reduce excessive sentencing practices which is could save hundreds of millions of dollars just by better implementing certain "smart sentencing" statutes.

The title of the federal defender report, which is available here, sets the tone: "GAO Report Reveals Multiple Ways To End The Waste Of Millions On Unnecessary Over-Incarceration." The full report is a dense account of BOP policies that lead to longer periods of incarceration than necessary to accomplish sentencing goals; the key recommendations suggest we could achieve large savings simply by providing some relief to the least dangerous and most deserving of federal prisoners. This executive summary from the report makes these essentials clear:

First, the GAO identified three statutory programs that, if fully implemented, would save taxpayer dollars that are now being wasted on unnecessary incarceration:

• The BOP underutilizes the residential drug abuse program (RDAP) incentive for nonviolent offenders. If inmates had received the full 12-month reduction from 2009 to 2011, the BOP would have saved up to $144 million. Much more would be saved if all statutorily eligible prisoners were allowed to participate.

• The BOP underutilizes available community corrections so that inmates serve an average of only 4 months of the available 12 months authorized by the Second Chance Act. Just by increasing home confinement by three months, the BOP could save up to $111.4 million each year.

• The BOP underutilizes available sentence modification authority for “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” depriving sentencing judges of the opportunity to reduce over-incarceration of deserving prisoners whose continued imprisonment involves some of the highest prison costs.

Second, the GAO confirmed that amending the good time credit statute to require that inmates serve no more than 85% of the sentence would better calibrate actual time served with the assumptions underlying the sentencing guidelines consulted at sentencing. Both the Department of Justice and the BOP favor the amendment. After the release of about 3,900 inmates in the first fiscal year, the BOP would continue to save about $40 million a year once the amendment was enacted.

Third, the GAO identifies cost savings that the BOP could realize simply by using available rules for executing and calculating sentences. For example, the BOP unilaterally abolished the shock incarceration program, spending unnecessary millions by replacing sentence reductions and increased home detention with prison time for nonviolent offenders with minimal criminal history. The BOP also fails to treat defendants’ time in immigration custody as “official detention,” an unnecessary policy that increases custody costs by creating dead time. The BOP should act immediately to end these and other unnecessary and wasteful policies.

March 8, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Noting the intersection of mental illness and gender in incarceration nation

This recent article in the Denver Post, headlined "Two of three women in Colorado prisons diagnosed with psychological disorders," provides a notable window into the impact and import of issues of mental illness and gender with regard to who commits crimes and gets sent to prison for their crimes.  Here is how the piece starts:

The number of Colorado female prisoners diagnosed with psychological disorders has risen sharply to more than twice the level of male prisoners.

The women are almost without exception victims of severe sexual and physical abuse, experts say. They cycle through jail and prison, often because they don't get adequate treatment or community support.

"The trauma histories are extreme," said Theresa Stone, chief of mental health at Denver Women's Correctional Facility. "It's hard to hear what these women have been through."

While most women are incarcerated for nonviolent crimes, a certain percentage of them are committing increasingly violent acts, Stone said.

"Women are in many cases extremely violent," she said. "I think we're seeing the impact of abuse and mental illness."

The state prison system has in recent years taken great strides in diagnosing and addressing the needs of mentally ill women, Stone said. There is drug counseling, psychological treatment and group therapy. Some women live in highly structured therapeutic communities in special pods. The first step was identifying the true scope of the problem, Stone said.

In 2001, a Colorado Department of Corrections review determined that 39 percent of women incarcerated in Colorado were diagnosed with some type of mental illness. A Dec. 31 report says that 67 percent of those women are mentally ill.

That is slightly lower than the national rate of women incarcerated in prison. According to a December 2006 Department of Justice study, 73 percent of women in state prisons nationally have some type of mental disorder. Within the general population, 12 percent of women have a diagnosed mental disorder, the same report says.

The percentage of men in Colorado prisons with a diagnosed mental illness also increased dramatically in the same time frame — from 18 percent to 30 percent — but the ratio is less than half the level of female inmates.

The percentage of female prisoners suffering mental conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, has always been high but many women hadn't been diagnosed, experts say. Many of the women also had declined to seek treatment until they were behind bars.

March 7, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, March 04, 2013

A notable first echo from Ohio's notable new early release law

This local AP article, headlined "Five should be freed, state prisons chief says," reaffirms my belief that Ohio is now a dynamic and important "state to watch" concerning modern sentencing law and practices. Here are the interesting details from this latest story in the important Buckeye chapter of modern sentencing reform:

Ohio’s prison chief has recommended the release of five inmates who have served 80 percent of their time. The recommendations, if approved, would mark the first use of a 2011 law meant to help reduce the state’s inmate population and save the state money.

Director Gary Mohr of the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction cited several reasons, including good behavior, for his recommendations in letters to judges, who have the final say. He also considered information from prison employees who are go-betweens with the prisons, the courts and the inmates.

The five inmates — two women and three men — are serving time mostly for low-level felonies, although one was convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide.

Prisons spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said the 80 percent release option encourages inmates to act responsibly in prison “and is significant in our effort to better communicate with courts and assist the eligible, suitable offenders in having a successful transition back into our communities.”

The 2011 law aims to save the state millions of dollars by shrinking the number of inmates and reducing the number of offenders who might return to prison as repeat offenders. By several measures, the law and other efforts are working.

Ohio’s prison population remains under 50,000 inmates, a level not seen since 2007. Also, the state reported on Feb. 22 that the number of inmates returning to Ohio prisons upon release has hit a new low, a trend officials attribute to a focus on keeping inmates in the community and the involvement of groups that work with inmates before their release.

Other factors Mohr considered in making his recommendations included little or no rule-breaking during incarceration; a history of participating in prison programs; and development of a plan for dealing with the release.

Inmate Mary Clinkscales of Summit County, sentenced to a seven-year prison term in 2007 for possession of drugs, is a prime candidate for release because of her activities in prison, according to a Feb. 15 letter from a go-between, called a justice reinvestment officer.

Clinkscales had just one rule infraction while imprisoned — wearing shorts that were not part of her state-issued clothing — said Suzanne Brooks, the agency’s Cleveland-area justice reinvestment officer.

Clinkscales has attended literacy, anger-management and family-values skills classes, worked on community service projects making hats and scarves and is not a gang member, Brooks said. All these factors, plus no previous prison sentence, make her a suitable candidate for release, Brooks said.

I am tempted at this point to jokingly suggest that it would make sense to expect that someone named "Clickscales" would at some point get sent to prison for a drug offense. But this new story about prison officials actually actively advocating for the early release of a few prisoners is too serious and important to make the basis of jokes about surnames. And speaking of serious and important, the five prisoners likely to get released first via this Ohio early release program ought to seriously understand how very important it will be for other prisoners and so many others throughout Ohio for them to fulfil the faith that Ohio's prison chief has in them.

There are lots of potential reactions and commentary justified by this story and the operationalization of the 2011 Ohio law meant to help reduce the state's inmate population and save the state money. For now, I want to focus on an important political reality in this Ohio "smart on crime" development: both houses of the Ohio General Assembly and the executive branch of Ohio were all in firm Republican control when Ohio enacted the broad-based sentencing reform that is now enabling at least five offenders to likely obtain early release from their prison sentences. For this reason (and others), I think prison reform is right now much better understood, at least at the state level, as a matter of avoiding the (budget) red rather than a matter of political debate among the blue and red sides of the aisle.

March 4, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Friday, March 01, 2013

Proof of bad people or bad punishments or bad programming?

PA infographic_page2The quirky question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable local article from Pennsylvania, which is headlined "6 in 10 will re-offend: State prison study sets baseline for progress." Here are the details:

Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel on Thursday morning released what he's calling a "landmark study" into recidivism rates at Pennsylvania's state prisons, and the study is noted not for the progress shown, but rather for the lack of change demonstrated.

For more than a decade, a consistent six in ten people released from Pennsylvania state prisons were either re-arrested or put back in prison within three years. What's "landmark" about the study is in part its scope -- more than 12 years -- but largely the fact is sets a "baseline" for going forward.

Wetzel said it marks the first step toward measuring progress. "Citizens of the Commonwealth should have every expectation of a corrections system that actually helps people correct themselves; one that is based on research, not on anecdotal stories and innuendo," said Wetzel.

While population and cost "remain essential measurements" in Gov. Tom Corbett's Corrections Reform initiative, he said, "The 'new normal' is to expect and require quantifiable results."

The study, which Wetzel called "the keystone of the Corbett Corrections Reform initiative," also helps the Department of Corrections and the Board of Probation and Parole understand who is most likely to re-offend and how.  “To get a true picture of whether our state prison system is meeting its goal of reducing future crime, we need to look at more than just the reincarceration of an individual,” Wetzel said.  “We need to look at re-arrests as well to see the whole picture of how and when individuals come into contact again with the criminal justice system.”

For example, the study found that more than half of those who will return to prison within three years after release will do so within the first years, which is by far the most risky period for recidivism.  Younger offenders are more likely to recidivate than older offenders.  Individuals most likely to reoffend appear to be property offenders. Individuals least likely to reoffend are those incarcerated for driving under the influence of intoxicants, rape and arson.

The study looked prisoners' background as well and found a released inmate who has 10 or more prior arrests is greater than 6 times more likely to recidivate than a released inmate with no prior arrest history other than the arrest for the current stay in prison.

According to the study, nearly two-thirds of all reincarcerations within three years of release from prison are for technical parole violations.  Nearly three-fourths of rearrests within three years of release from prison are for less serious offenses.

The study also confirmed the damning portrait of Community Corrections Centers outlined in an earlier study performed by Dr. Edward Latessa of the University of Cincinnati.  From 2005 through 2011, inmates paroled to a Community Corrections Center were actually more likely to be back in prison within a year as inmates paroled directly home.

Wetzel said the Department of Corrections can save taxpayers $44.7 million annually by reducing the one-year reincarceration rate by 10 percentage points.

The full 45-page report referenced in this article is available at this link, and the cool infographic that explains the reports key findings comes from the PA Department of Corrections website.  One key finding reflected in the infographic is that less than one in five new arrests are for an act of violence.  The majority of rearrests are for drug or public order offenses or parole violations.

Obviously, lots of different conclusions and responses can be based in this new recidivism data.  But I think most important is to stay ever open-minded about what can be the most effective and efficient kinds of criminal justices responses.  This report apparently reveals that for some offenders in some cases recidivism may be lower in the absence of a certain kind of punishment or programming.  It is, of course, bad enough when the work of a department of corrections fails to actual help "correct" people.  But the ultimate form of government waste exists when there is evidence that the taxpayer funded work of the criminal justice system may be making people worse criminals.

March 1, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Sentencing Project report notes recent changing racial make-up of prison populations

As summarized in this New York Times article, "[i]ncarceration rates for black Americans dropped sharply from 2000 to 2009, especially for women, while the rate of imprisonment for whites and Hispanics rose over the same decade, according to a report released Wednesday" by The Sentencing Project. Here is more:

The declining rates for blacks represented a significant shift in the racial makeup of the United States’ prisons and suggested that the disparities that have long characterized the prison population may be starting to diminish.

“It certainly marks a shift from what we’ve seen for several decades now,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, whose report was based on data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, part of the Justice Department. “Normally, these things don’t change very dramatically over a one-decade period.”

The decline in incarceration rates was most striking for black women, dropping 30.7 percent over the ten-year period. In 2000, black women were imprisoned at six times the rate of white women; by 2009, they were 2.8 times more likely to be in prison. For black men, the rate of imprisonment decreased by 9.8 percent; in 2000 they were incarcerated at 7.7 times the rate of white men, a rate that fell to 6.4 times that of white men by 2009.

For white men and women, however, incarceration rates increased over the same period, rising 47.1 percent for white women and 8.5 percent for white men. By the end of the decade, Hispanic men were slightly less likely to be in prison, a drop of 2.2 percent, but Hispanic women were imprisoned more frequently, an increase of 23.3 percent.

Over all, blacks currently make up about 38 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons; whites account for about 34 percent. More than 100,000 women are currently incarcerated in state or federal prisons. The overall rate of incarceration varies widely from state to state, as does the ratio of blacks to whites and Hispanics.

But the trend is clear, Mr. Mauer said, adding that no single factor could explain the shifting figures but that changes in drug laws and sentencing for drug offenses probably played a large role. Other possible contributors included decreasing arrest rates for blacks, the rising number of whites and Hispanics serving mandatory sentences for methamphetamine abuse, and socioeconomic shifts that have disproportionately affected white women.

Alfred Blumstein, an expert on the criminal justice system at Carnegie Mellon University, said his own findings from research he conducted with Allen J. Beck of the Bureau of Justice Statistics also indicated that the rate of incarceration for blacks was declining compared with that for whites. “A major contributor has been the intensity of incarceration for drug offending,” Dr. Blumstein said, “and that reached a peak with the very long sentences we gave out for crack offenders, stimulated in large part by the violence that was going on in the crack markets.”

But crack cocaine has become far less of an issue in recent years, he noted, a fact reflected in revisions of federal sentencing laws. And inmates serving time for crack offenses are now emerging from prison, “so there would be a disproportionate black exodus from prison that as a result would be reflected in a lowering of the incarceration-rate ratio,” he said.

Mr. Mauer said that especially for black women, the drop in incarceration compared with whites was “all about drug offenses.” In New York State, for example, where the overall prison population has dropped substantially, for women “virtually the entire decline was a decline in drug offenses,” he said. Increasingly severe drug laws and stiff sentences for drug offenses resulted in disproportionate numbers of black women going to prison, he said, “and now they are disproportionately benefiting from reductions in that area.”

The full 26-page report from The Sentencing Project is titled "The Changing Racial Dynamics of Women’s Incarceration," and it is available at this link.

February 28, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

"Sequestration Will Wreak Chaos On U.S. Federal Prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this very interesting new piece from Business Insider.  Here are excerpts:

Sequestration will hit each and every aspect of the U.S. government, but for the Bureau of Prisons, the impact could be horrifying. According to the Attorney General's office, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) will have to handle a rising number of inmates with a major budget reduction, a cut of $338 million.

And while other agencies can find ways to do more with less — for example, by reducing procurement, enacting hiring freezes or cutting services — BOP has to maintain constant security at federal prisons around the country with even less money. The solutions will not be pretty.

In an email to Business Insider, a spokesperson from the Department of Justice said that they are "acutely concerned about staff and inmate safety should sequestration occur." The Department indicated that it may at times maintain a minimum level of staff for security purposes, and that lock-downs may be required.

The Bureau oversees 188 facilities and contracts 16 facilities out to private prison companies.  Currently, there is a grand total of 217,249 inmates in the federal prison system, a number BOP expects to rise to 229,300 by the end of 2013. In 2012, the BOP had a budget of $6.6 billion, with 41,310 employees. Correctional officers make up around half of the staff, with 19,756 employees in 2012.

According to DOJ, the sequester budget cuts will result in 5 percent reduction in the Bureau's workforce, which will be achieved by freezing future hiring and furloughing 36,700 staff for an average of 12 days. This means that almost every employee will have to go home without pay for some time, leaving BOP to function at unnecessarily low security levels.

Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that this reduction in force would endanger the lives of staff and inmates. According to the Attorney General, the BOP will have to implement full or partial lock downs across the board. In a letter to Senate Appropriations Chair Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Holder said "This would leave inmates idle, increasing the likelihood of inmate misconduct, violence, and other risks to correctional workers and inmates."

Complicating all of this is the fact that the federal prison system is already severely overcapacity. According to the 2012 Justice Department annual report, the system is 38 percent overcapacity, a problem that the Department has identified as a major weakness. But efforts to find a solution will be thwarted by the sequester.

In 2013, the BOP was slated to activate 5 new prisons throughout the system, alleviating the crunch with 8,100 new beds. In addition to cuts in guards, those projects will have to be delayed, exacerbating the overcrowding problem further. On top of these issues, Holder reported that the BOP will be forced to curtail or cancel some of the crucial rehabilitation programs that bring long term savings to the criminal justice system....

Jesselyn McCurdy, an attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who specializes in civil liberties in the criminal justice system, is very concerned about the impact that the cuts will have on inmates. “"Sequestration could result in disaster for people in federal prisons who already live in dangerously overcrowded conditions,”" McCurdy said.

The private prison industry, which is largely dependent on federal contracts, is also worried about the cuts. Damon Hininger, CEO of Corrections Corporation of America, one of the largest private prison companies, voiced these concerns on a February 14 call to investors.

Through not mentioned in this article, it is interesting to consider that the passage of reduced crack guidelines which were made retroactive likely has help prevent this bad situation from being even worse.  Absent the sentencing reductions from reduced crack guidelines passed in 2007 and 2010, the current federal prison population would perhaps already be creeping up near 250,000.

Recent related post:

February 27, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Monday, February 25, 2013

"Mass Incarceration at Sentencing"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting looking new paper by Anne Traum now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Courts can address the problem of mass incarceration at sentencing.  Although some scholars suggest that the most effective response may be through policy and legislative reform, judicial consideration of mass incarceration at sentencing would provide an additional response that can largely be implemented without wholesale reform.  Mass incarceration presents a difficult problem for courts because it is a systemic problem that harms people on several scales — individual, family, and community — and the power of courts to address such broad harm is limited.

This Article proposes that judges should consider mass incarceration, a systemic problem, in individual criminal cases at sentencing.  Sentencing is well suited to this purpose because it is a routine phase of a criminal case when courts have great flexibility to individualize punishment based on individual and systemic factors.  In this phase, judicial discretion is at its highest, the judges’ contact with defendants is most direct, and the court can consider the broadest information relevant to sentencing options and impacts.

Mass incarceration can be viewed as a systemic concern that is relevant to both the defendant’s history and the traditional sentencing purposes — including the need to benefit public safety and to ensure that sentences are fair and just.  Information about mass incarceration would enhance courts’ understanding of the impacts of sentencing on the defendant and others in the local community.  This Article articulates how this can be accomplished in federal sentencing and suggests doctrinal and practice changes that would enhance courts’ capacity to consider and mitigate the harms of mass incarceration in individual cases.

February 25, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Should anyone eager to see federal criminal justice reform be rooting FOR the sequester?

The question in the title of this post in prompted by these two recent commentaries by Walter Pavlo, who writes about white-collar crime over at Forbes' website:

The first post above links to this intriguing letter from AG Eric Holder which details the significant "downsizing" that would be required within the Justice Department if the sequester's automating budget cuts kick in.  The second post concludes with these notable points about how we might sensibly cut some federal costs at limited risk to public saefty:

In a time when we want people off of government assistance, the federal justice system is feeding more people into prison …. and believe me, prison IS government assistance (food, shelter, healthcare, supervision and monthly stipend (yes, inmates are paid)). Are we less safe with guys like Raj Rajaratnam (insider trading) doing only 6 years in prison rather than the 11 years he received? Raj’s long sentence sure did not deter someone from trading on Heinz shares prior to the announcement it was going private at a stock premium. Would a Raj sentence of 6 years uphold respect for the law?  I think it would.  Do you think Raj, whether he spent 6 years in prison or 11 years, would be any more likely to commit a another crime?  I’m thinking Raj is done with trading and doubt he placed any of those suspicious trades on Heinz.  Look, the primary difference between an inmate doing 11 years and another one doing 2 has to do with the number of people he/she testified against and not their threat to society.

There is no doubt that long prison sentences make the general public feel good over the short term, but the costs of incarceration go on for the long term.  I realize that images of white-collar felons and low-level drug dealers working side by side breaking rocks conjures up feelings of justice.  However, we now live in a time when there are video cameras at stop-light intersections, drones that patrol war zones, my iPhone can even find itself, so there has to be a better way to monitor felons (inmates) without having them housed on sprawling government complexes and on the government payroll.  Ankle bracelet?  GPS? Community service projects?   Punishment/Sentences can still be vetted out in years but does an entire prison term need to be served on a government, tax payer subsidized, compound?

Sequester this!!!

UPDATE:  On this topic, I see Ted Gest at The Crime Report has this notable recent entry headlined "Justice Groups to White House: Cuts Could Have 'Enormous Impact.'"

February 23, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Notable account of "old school" Japanese approach to prisons

This new article appearing in The Economist, headlined "Eastern porridge: Even Japanese criminals are orderly and well-behaved," provides an fascinating international perspective on prison practices.  Here are excerpts:

With its façade of red brick, Chiba prison, just outside Tokyo, looks like a Victorian-era British jail. That is where the similarity ends.  Prisons in Britain are often loud, dirty and violent, but Chiba resembles a somewhat Spartan retirement home for former soldiers. The corridors and the tiny cells are spotless.  Uniformed prisoners shuffle in lockstep behind guards and bow before entering rooms.

The deputy warden, Hiroyuki Shinkai, who once visited British prisons as a UN researcher, was shocked by what he found.  He can still recall his surprise at seeing inmates freely mingling and talking. “Japanese penal philosophy is different,” he explains.  In Japan, talking is banned, except during break-times.  Unpaid work is a duty, not a choice.

Japan incarcerates its citizens at a far lower rate than most developed countries: 55 per 100,000 people compared with 149 in Britain and 716 in America.  The country’s justice ministry can also point to low rates of recidivism.  Yet increasingly the nation’s 188 prisons and detention centres come in for harsh criticism, particularly over their obsession with draconian rules and secrecy (on February 21st the government unexpectedly announced it had hanged three men for murder), and their widespread use of solitary confinement....

Over two-thirds of the inmates of Chiba prison were convicted for crimes that caused death — mainly murder, arson or manslaughter.  Half are serving life sentences and, in Japan, life means life.  The average prisoner is 50.  Many of them have never used a mobile phone or a credit card.  Conjugal visits are banned, so marriages break down.

In the prison workshops, inmates silently make leather shoes and furniture, overseen by a single unarmed guard.  No riot has taken place in a Japanese prison since just after the second world war.  Escapes are rare, and drugs and contraband almost non-existent.  The prison notes that its ratio of one guard to four prisoners is roughly half that in Britain.  Yet no one can recall a violent attack on a staff member.

A landmark report in 1995 by Human Rights Watch, a lobby group, said this remarkable order “is achieved at a very high cost”, including the violation of fundamental human rights and falling far short of international standards.  Europeans and Americans inside Japan’s prison system have developed mental problems.  Yet for Mr Shinkai the differences with the West are a point of pride. “Of course we look too strict to outsiders,” he says. But his inmates, he goes on, all come from Japanese society. For them, it works beautifully.

Students of prison history will know that this account of modern Japanese prisons suggests that they are structured and run in a manner and with a philosophy remarkably similar to the first major American prisons such as Pennsylvania's Eastern State Penitentiary and New York's Auburn Correctional Facility. prison (some history here).

February 23, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 21, 2013

George Will makes strong (conservative?) case against solitary confinement

George Will has this notable new Washington Post op-ed headlined "When solitude is torture." Here are excerpts:

“Zero Dark Thirty,” a nominee for Sunday’s Oscar for Best Picture, reignited debate about whether the waterboarding of terrorism suspects was torture. This practice, which ended in 2003, was used on only three suspects. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in protracted solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture and probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Noting that half of all prison suicides are committed by prisoners held in isolation, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has prompted an independent assessment of solitary confinement in federal prisons. State prisons are equally vulnerable to Eighth Amendment challenges concerning whether inmates are subjected to “substantial risk of serious harm.”

America, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of its prisoners. Mass incarceration, which means a perpetual crisis of prisoners re-entering society, has generated understanding of solitary confinement’s consequences when used as a long-term condition for an estimated 25,000 inmates in federal and state “supermax” prisons — and perhaps 80,000 others in isolation sections within regular prisons. Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel.

Federal law on torture prohibits conduct “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” And “severe” physical pain is not limited to “excruciating or agonizing” pain, or pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions, or even death.” The severe mental suffering from prolonged solitary confinement puts the confined at risk of brain impairment.

Supermax prisons isolate inmates from social contact. Often prisoners are in their cells, sometimes smaller than 8 by 12 feet, 23 hours a day, released only for a shower or exercise in a small fenced-in outdoor space. Isolation changes the way the brain works, often making individuals more impulsive, less able to control themselves. The mental pain of solitary confinement is crippling: Brain studies reveal durable impairments and abnormalities in individuals denied social interaction. Plainly put, prisoners often lose their minds....

Mass incarceration is expensive (California spends almost twice as much on prisons as on universities) and solitary confinement costs, on average, three times as much per inmate as in normal prisons. And remember: Most persons now in solitary confinement will someday be back on America’s streets, some of them rendered psychotic by what are called correctional institutions.

February 21, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

"Defunding State Prisons"

The title of this post is the title of this new article now on SSRN authored by W. David Ball. Here is the abstract:

Local agencies drive criminal justice policy, but states pick up the tab for policy choices that result in state imprisonment.  This distorts local policies and may actually contribute to increased state prison populations, since prison is effectively “free” to the local decisionmakers who send inmates there.  This Article looks directly at the source of the “correctional free lunch” problem and proposes to end state funding for prisons. States would, instead, reallocate money spent on prisons to localities to use as they see fit — on enforcement, treatment, or even per-capita prison usage.  This would allow localities to retain their decision-making autonomy, but it would internalize the costs of those decisions.

Amusingly, in this post at Prawfs, Giovanna Shay describes David's work in this piece as part of the "Best Trilogy Since Star Wars."  That post explains the positive description this way:

Okay, that might be over-selling it just a bit.   But David Ball of Santa Clara recently has posted to SSRN the third in his trilogy of articles inspired by the California prison "realignment."...  In his three articles, David demonstrates that counties rely on state corrections facilities (and funding) to varying degrees, and makes proposals that he hopes could require counties to internalize the costs of their reliance on incarceration.... Whatever your ultimate assessment of David's proposals, this is one trilogy definitely worth checking out.  (I will spare you further Star Wars references).

February 21, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Some notable recent NPR coverage of modern incarceration realities

I was pleased to hear on my local NPR station this afternoon, while I was driving around in my Prius looking for a good place to get a latte, this lengthy feature story concerning US incarceration levels on the On Point program.  Here is how the program is described via its website:

The Cost Of Prison: States fed up with high prison costs and mandatory sentencing move to change. Must the U.S. be number one in prisoners?

The USA is number one in the world when it comes to the number of people in prison. Bigger than China. Bigger than Russia. America’s prison population is tops. 2.2 million. Bigger than fifteen American states.  And its incarceration rate is number one.....  All that American imprisonment is very expensive. And very debatable when it comes to effectiveness, fairness -- to justice itself.  Now states across the country are reconsidering the mandatory sentencing policies and more that filled those cells. This hour, On Point: slimming down American prisons.

In addition, last week NPR had two new pieces as part of this special series titled "The Legacy And Future Of Mass Incarceration." Here are links and brief descriptions:

Decades On, Stiff Drug Sentence Leaves A Life 'Dismantled':  George Prendes was 23 when he was sentenced under New York's Rockefeller drug laws — tough mandatory sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug crimes. The 15 years Prendes served for a drug transaction still reverberate for him and his family.

The Drug Laws That Changed How We Punish:  Forty years ago, New York enacted tough laws in response to a wave of drug-related crime. They became known as the Rockefeller drug laws, and they set the standard for states looking to get tough on crime.  But a new debate is under way over the effectiveness of such strict sentencing laws.

February 20, 2013 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"A Company That Runs Prisons Will Have Its Name on a Stadium"

STADIUM-articleLargeThe title of this post is the headline of this lengthy and fascinating article from the sports section of today's New York Times.  Here are excerpts:

In recent years, where stadium naming rights could be sold, universities and professional sports teams have sold them — to airlines and banks and companies that sell beer, soda, doughnuts, cars, telecommunications, razors and baseball bats....

On Tuesday, that trend took another strange turn when Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, firmed a deal to rename its football building GEO Group Stadium. Perhaps that pushed stadium naming to its zenith, if only because the GEO Group is a private prison corporation.

For this partnership, there is no obvious precedent.  The university’s president described the deal as “wonderful” and the company as “well run” and by a notable alumnus.  But it also left some unsettled, including those who study the business of sports and track the privatization of the prison industry.  To those critics, this was a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash.

“This is an example of great donor intent, terrible execution,” said Paul Swangard, the managing director at the University of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.  “Here’s a guy with strong ties to the university, who wants to make a difference, and is mixing his philanthropic interest with a marketing strategy that doesn’t make any sense.”

The GEO Group, which is based in Boca Raton, secured the naming rights with a $6 million gift, paid out over 12 years through its charitable arm, the largest such donation in Florida Atlantic’s athletic history.  In a news release, the university said the money would finance athletic operations, the stadium, scholarships and “academic priorities.”

The stadium, which opened in the fall of 2011, cost $70 million and seats more than 29,000. It offers 6,000 premium seats, 24 suites and 26 loge boxes. In a telephone interview, the university’s president, Mary Jane Saunders, noted that GEO’s chairman, George Zoley, had two degrees from Florida Atlantic and once served as chairman of the Board of Trustees. Four members of the board, Saunders added, have also worked for the GEO Group, including two past student government presidents. The company’s corporate headquarters overlook the stadium....

Critics say the cost may be too high.  One is Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a social justice group that opposes private prison systems.  Libal said the GEO Group “poured enormous resources” in recent years into “attempting to take over a large portion of the Florida prison system.” He said the company’s usual practices included lobbying and charitable donations, often in areas where it operated facilities or planned to. To that end, this move could represent a way for the company to rebrand itself in Florida, he added....

GEO Group reported revenues in excess of $1.6 billion in 2011, income generated mostly from state and federal prisons and detention centers for illegal immigrants.  The company owns or runs more than 100 properties that operate more than 73,000 beds in sites across the world.  It holds nearly $3 billion in assets.  The company has been opposed by civil liberty and human rights groups and immigrant rights organizations.  It has been cited by state and federal regulators and lost a series of high-profile lawsuits....

Asked if Florida Atlantic had looked into the allegations against the GEO Group, Saunders said, “We think it’s a wonderful company, and we’re very proud to partner with them.”  An N.C.A.A. spokeswoman said individual universities made decisions regarding naming rights, with no N.C.A.A. involvement.

Swangard, at the University of Oregon, said he told his students that “sponsorship begins and ends with objectives” and “sponsorship is not philanthropy.”  He said universities should draw the line where they can defend the natural association that comes with the company they do business with.  “It can’t just be about the money,” he said.  “That’s great, but at what cost?  Now, across the country, they’re going to say that Florida Atlantic can change its uniforms to stripes.  That’s not fair.  But that’s reality.”

As are the financial requirements of big-time college sports.  To that end, said David Ridpath, a professor of sports administration at Ohio University and a member of the Drake Group, a network of professors who lobby for academic integrity in college sports, those constraints must also be considered.  In an e-mail, he described his response to the naming rights deal as “ambivalent,” adding: “The short answer is, I understand to an extent.  But it does appear we’re prostituting ourselves to the highest bidder regardless of what they represent.  Again — the sanctity of higher education matters little when the dollars are needed.”

I tend not to be convinced in the big-money world of college sports by a claim that the "sanctity of higher education" is central to any decisions that get made concerning a university's sports program. Nevertheless, because of the unique products and brand that GEO Group represents, this is an amazing story whether or not one is a rabid college sports fan or a rabid sentencing fan (or both, as in my case).

Among other notable parts of this story is the new opportunity for new kinds of jokes about a lot more than the future uniforms of Florida Atlantic players. Is it wrong to start joking about Jerry Sandusky now having a new shot at coaching again or about the recruits being told that Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress are now kind of like alums?  Should we say that this deal brings new meaning to concerns about the so-called "school-to-prison" pipeline?  And might Florida Atlantic or the GEO Group bring some kind of court action to prevent anyone from now referring to Michigan's stadium as "The Big House"?

February 20, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"Just Prisons: What Would Jesus Do?"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy commentary at The Huffington Post authored by Ron Nikkel, who is the President and CEO of Prison Fellowship International. The piece provides a critical religious and international perspective on incarceration and here is an excerpt:

Many people simply take prisons for granted, accepting them as a fact of life for a safe society or at worst being somewhat of a necessary "evil" for justice to be served.  The history of prisons is checkered with jails and prisons being used both as unjust instruments of political, social, economic, and ironically religious coercion and control; and in other times and places being used as a rather blunt instrument deemed to serve the course of justice.  However, the more I have studied the impact of prisons on the lives of people, the more I see prisons as one of the most confusing, irrational and socially destructive institutions ever devised by humankind. Prisons cannot ever be equated with justice being done.  Prisons by themselves do not equate to justice.  While prisons may be useful for restraining some offenders and preventing others from committing further crimes whilst they are locked up, most offenders, their families and communities do not benefit from imprisonment. The overall ecology of imprisonment is as counterproductive as dousing a fire with fuel.

February 12, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Monday, February 11, 2013

"America's prison boom is starting to fizzle"

The title of this post is the first sentence of this new Wall Street Journal article, which carries this headline and subheading: "With Fewer to Lock Up, Prisons Shut Doors: Declining Inmate Population, Partly Thanks to Softer Sentences, Spurs Some Cash-Strapped States to Close Facilities." Here are highlights:

For decades, the country had little trouble filling its ever-growing number of prisons, thanks in large part to tough-on-crime policies and harsh drug laws. But a combination of falling crime rates, softer sentences for low-level and nonviolent offenders and a dwindling appetite for hefty prison budgets has begun to whittle away at the number of people behind bars. That is allowing many states to do what a few years ago seemed unthinkable: close prisons.

Comprehensive numbers on prison closures are hard to come by. But the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that 35 adult correctional facilities in 15 states have closed in the past two years, and governors in states including Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois are pushing for more closures this year....

The closures haven't been without opposition. Corrections unions and community leaders worry about job losses and say a result could be overcrowding in the prisons that remain.

Cash-strapped states are increasingly turning to corrections budgets in search of cuts. From 1982 through 2001, state corrections budgets more than tripled to a peak of $53.5 billion, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Now, spending is 9% below that level. In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, is aiming to close four adult and three youth corrections facilities in a bid to save the state $70 million.

It isn't clear whether the nation's total prison count is shrinking. Some states, including Pennsylvania, are consolidating old facilities into new ones rather than eliminating capacity. In recent years, private-prison operators built new facilities, though analysts say the pace of construction has slowed.

Still, there does appear to be a broader shift in the corrections system. From 1990 through 2009, the number of people in state and federal prisons more than doubled to 1.6 million, while the number of prisons rose 41% to 1,821 from 1990 through 2005, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Then, in 2010, the inmate population fell for the first time in nearly four decades. It fell again in 2011, the bureau said.

The declines have been uneven. Roughly 70% of the 2011 decline in state prison rolls was due to a massive drop in California's inmate population owing to a Supreme Court order that the state reduce overcrowding. Many of those inmates are now in county jails or other facilities. Some states, including Tennessee and Kentucky, saw their prison populations rise in 2011.

Still, several states are experiencing a meaningful drop. Florida, Texas, New York and Michigan each shed more than 1,000 prisoners in 2011. Each of those states closed prisons in the past two years....

Policy experts attribute the declines partly to measures aimed at reducing the number of nonviolent offenders behind bars. In New York, they cite the 2009 relaxation of the state's tough Rockefeller-era drug laws. Prison rolls in New York fell by nearly a quarter from a peak of 72,600 in 1999 to about 55,000 in 2011, the latest data available.

Texas closed a state prison for the first time everin August 2011. Until the closure, the state had built an average of more than three prisons a year since 1990, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "You've got to distinguish who you're afraid of and who you're mad at. You're afraid of child molesters, murderers and rapists," said State Sen. John Whitmire, who has helped lead an overhaul of the Texas prison system. "People like low-level offenders, you're not afraid of them."...

In rural areas, which often depend on prisons for jobs, a closure can be particularly difficult. In early January, Pennsylvania officials said they planned to shut prisons in Cresson and Greensburg and replace them with a single facility near State College. "It's going to hurt the restaurants, the hardware store, every business place here is going to be affected," said Patrick Mulhern, the longtime mayor of Cresson, east of Pittsburgh. "Five hundred employees in one fell swoop — that's an awful lot."

February 11, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Friday, February 01, 2013

"When Crime Pays: Prison Can Teach Some To Be Better Criminals"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable NPR story, which reports on some interesting research that reaffirms my gut feeling that, at least for certain types of offenders, sending some people to prison may ultimately increase, rather than decrease, future criminal activity.  Here is an excerpt:

In popular lore — movies, books and blogs — criminals who go to prison don't come out reformed. They come out worse. Scientists who have attempted to empirically analyze this theory have reached mixed conclusions, with analyses suggesting that activities like drug addiction or gangs are what determines whether the correctional system actually gets criminals to correct their ways.

What else could be at work?

Donald T. Hutcherson II, a sociology professor at Ohio University in Lancaster, recently decided to tackle the question by mining the vast data in the U.S. government's National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The survey conducts incredibly detailed and confidential interviews, and then repeats those interviews with the same people year after year — often going to extraordinary lengths to track down those who may have moved overseas or ended up in prison.

Included in the survey are questions about how much money individuals make legally and illegally. Because the survey also ascertains whether people have spent time in prison, Hutcherson pored through data from tens of thousands of queries to a large number of young people to establish whether illegal earnings went up or down after individuals served time.

If prison reformed criminals, illegal earnings once people were released ought to have gone down. But if prison was a "finishing school" for criminals, illegal earnings after serving time should have increased. "Spending time in prison leads to increased criminal earnings," Hutcherson says. "On average, a person can make roughly $11,000 more [illegally] from spending time in prison versus a person who does not spend time in prison."...

Because the study looks at averages, it's important to note that Hutcherson isn't saying that all criminals come out of prison primed to become bigger criminals. Lots of people, obviously, come out determined to lead law-abiding lives.

Hutcherson pointed to the role of social networks in all of our lives. In the legal economy, being connected to influential people — via networking — is widely seen as a way to get ahead on the ladder. The same phenomenon appeared to be at work in the illegal economy as well.

February 1, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Federal judges give Gov. Brown a six-month reprieve on California prison population deadline

As reported in this Sacramento Bee article, headlined "U.S. judges give California six more months to cut inmate population," the federal judges administering the Plata prison overcrowding litigation in California have modified their orders in the case.  Here are the details:

Three weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown declared the state's prison overcrowding crisis over, a court of three federal judges said Tuesday that state officials can have six more months to reduce the inmate population to the previously ordered level.

The judges noted that California officials have said they cannot meet the court's June 30 deadline for reducing its population to 137.5 percent of design capacity, but the officials believe they can hit that mark by Dec. 31.  "Accordingly, this court modifies the June 30, 2011, order by granting defendants a six-month extension in which to comply with its terms and provisions," said the order from 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of Sacramento and U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson of San Francisco.

Karlton and Henderson have overseen years of litigation aimed at bringing the level of mental and medical health care for inmates up to constitutional standards.  Following a trial, the three-judge court appointed by the 9th Circuit's chief judge ruled that the crowded conditions of the state's 33 adult prisons were the primary reason for the unconstitutional care.  Prisoners were jammed into areas of the prisons not designed for housing.  At some points, the number of inmates ballooned to double the designed capacity, and the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed the three-judge court's order.

Since the governor instituted his so-called realignment program a year ago to divert nonviolent, nonserious offenders to county jurisdictions, the state has made progress cutting the prison population, but Brown said he cannot release additional inmates without putting the public at risk.  Corrections officials indicated they are pleased with Tuesday's order but are still not satisfied.

"We are pleased the court recognized that releasing thousands of inmates to reach the arbitrary population cap by June would have jeopardized public safety," the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.  "However, we believe the court should go further and terminate the population cap entirely, as CDCR is providing a constitutional level of health care at current population levels."...

The federal court wants the prison population cut by the end of the year to about 110,000 inmates, down from about 119,000 currently.  The design capacity of the state's 33 adult prisons is about 80,000....

Michael Bien, lead attorney for the inmates, said Tuesday that "the order's message is the judges are going to hold the state to the numbers. Corrections got an extension, but it didn't get anything else. The question is still 'Are they going to comply?'" Brown and his prison officials "are still saying everything is just fine and the courts should go away and leave us alone," Bien said. "They claim the courts have no more jurisdiction since the constitutional standard has been met.  It's one thing to say that, it's another to prove it," he declared.  "They have a long way to go to do that.  They've made these claims before, but they've never been able to back them up."

January 30, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Sentencing Project report on 2012 state statutory sentencing developments

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 25, 2013

Important reminder that sentencing reform does not always complete offenders' need for help

This notable new local article, headlined "Newly released California 'three-strikers' face new challenges," provides an intriguing report on the new problems facing certain offenders even after they receive the benefits of sentencing reform. Here are excerpts:

In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state's tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison "gate money" and the clothes on their backs.

These former lifers are not eligible for parole and thus will not get the guidance and services they need to help them succeed on the outside, such as access to employment opportunities, vocational training and drug rehabilitation.  The lack of oversight and assistance for this first wave of "strikers" alarms both proponents and opponents of the revised Three Strikes Law -- as well as the inmates themselves.

"I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing," said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.

Experts say California voters didn't have this situation in mind when they approved Proposition 36 in November by an overwhelming margin.  Under the new law, judges cannot impose a life sentence on most repeat offenders who commit minor crimes. But the law also allows about 3,000 inmates whose last strike was a minor crime to petition for early release or shorter sentences -- as long as a judge finds they don't pose a serious risk to public safety.

Because of the way the state's complex sentencing laws work, many of those strikers have already been locked up longer than their newly calculated terms and usual period of parole, leaving many to fend for themselves without supervision or assistance once they are released.

So far, none of three dozen or so strikers who have been resentenced since November or with the help of the Three Strikes Project before the election has been rearrested.   But some say it's only a matter of time.   "It's pretty clear if you release people early without any supervision, there's an increased ability of them to re-offend," said Mike Reynolds, a Fresno man who helped draft the Three Strikes Law after his daughter was slain in 1992 by two repeat offenders. "It's a very, very dangerous policy."

Supporters of the revised three strikes policy are concerned that a notable uptick in crime -- even minor crimes by strikers -- will make the new law look like an ill-advised failure.

To reduce the risk, the same Stanford University Law School instructors who co-wrote Proposition 36 are now organizing a statewide effort to create re-entry plans for strikers using a combination of public and private services.  They're planning to meet with operators of homeless shelters and innovative transitional programs from around the state, like San Francisco's Delancey Street Foundation, one of the country's leading residential self-help organizations for former substance abusers, ex-convicts, homeless people and others who have hit bottom.

"We want these people to succeed," said Michael Romano, director of Stanford's Three Strikes Project. "We don't want them committing crimes and creating more victims." Proponents say the main reason they didn't foresee the situation is that the rules regarding parole changed significantly -- after officials had already approved the ballot language for Proposition 36....

Three-strikers face greater re-entry challenges than normal inmates, said Joan Petersilia, a Stanford law professor.  About 38 percent receive some level of mental health treatment in prison, compared with 22 percent of the general population.

Romano and his group are hoping to turn to the same donors who funded Proposition 36 for help in creating a statewide re-entry program.  A lot rides on the strikers' success. If they do well -- with the help of people like liberal billionaire George Soros, who donated heavily to Proposition 36 -- advocates could use their success to advance the cause of prison reform. If they fail, it could weaken the national effort to reduce mass incarceration.

January 25, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 20, 2013

An execution repreive, with a trip to prison, for pups in Texas

Here is a heartwarming story from a local paper in Texas running under the headline "Prison pups: Bully breeds given second chance at life."   Here is how the lengthy story gets started:

“All dogs go to heaven,” as the saying goes.  But in Venus, lucky pups go to prison.   The fortunate few are sprung from kill shelters by Hewitt-based Happy Endings Dog Rescue. The Sanders Estes Unit in Venus is home to 1,040 prisoners of varying degrees of lawlessness, and at times, as many as 20 dogs, including the unit’s mascot, a three-legged mutt named King Tut.

And like prisoners — many of whom say they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time — the dogs deserve a second chance, said Lt. Christine Chaplin who oversees the Paws of Hope dog training program at Sanders Estes.

Started in 2009 as a way to rehabilitate prisoners and make “unwanted” dogs — such as pit bulls, pit bull-mixes and Rottweilers — more adoptable, the program has helped save more than 120 dogs that would have otherwise been euthanized in kill shelters.

“Pit bulls and Rottweilers are two dogs that have a horrible name,” Chaplin said.  “They are over-bred and tossed aside ... I like the fact that they bring those because you can show people that they are great family dogs, that it’s not the dogs [that are bad] It’s the people.”

By the time they arrive at Sanders Estes, the dogs have already been through a “doggy boot camp” at Camp Diggy Bones, a boarding facility and shelter in Lavon, which works in conjunction with Happy Endings to ensure the pups are ready for adoption.  The adoption fee for any dog is $100.  Each is trained with basic commands, spayed or neutered and up to date on vaccinations.  “Between training and all that stuff, they’re a several thousand dollar dog by the time they leave here,” Chaplin said.

Management and Training Corporation contracts the Sanders Estes facility through the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Chaplin said the goal of MTC is to help offenders get back into society.  Privilege programs like Paws of Hope benefit those serious about rehabilitation.

The dogs live prison cells with select trainers for 12 weeks and are around people 24 hours a day while they learn tricks, basic obedience and socialization.  At the end of three months, the dogs and their trainers attend a graduation ceremony, after which, if not immediately adopted, the dogs return to a rescue facility to wait for their forever home.

For reasons that will be obvious to regular readers, I hope that a particular new resident of the New York prison system (discussed in this recent post) does not have a chance to participate in this kind of puppy prison programming.

January 20, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, January 18, 2013

"African Americans suffer from high rates of incarceration and crime. Here’s how to drastically reduce both."

1301-coverThe title of this post is the provocative subheading of this lengthy new feature article in the latest issue of Washington Monthy. Authored by Professor Mark Kleiman, the article's main headline is "A New Role for Parole," and here is how the must-read piece starts and ends:

American crime rates, especially violent crime rates, and American incarceration rates are twin national disgraces.  We have five times the homicide rate and five times the incarceration rate of other economically advanced countries.  Both crime and incarceration are appallingly concentrated among poor African Americans; in the same neighborhoods where homicide is the leading cause of death for young men, more than half of those men will do prison time before they turn thirty.

The concentration of incarceration by race is by now a well-worn topic.  Some activists and scholars allege a concerted effort to replace older forms of racial oppression with the penitentiary.  The concentration of incarceration by social class is less well known, but no less worrisome.

What that critique leaves out is the concentration of crime.  Violent crime has fallen 67 percent from its peak in the early 1980s and early ’90s, but remains more than twice as common as it was before the great crime wave of the ’60s.  And crime is just as concentrated as incarceration: blacks are about six times as likely as whites to be imprisoned, and also about six times as likely to be murdered.  Almost all of those homicides are intraracial.  The Crips and the Bloods killed more African Americans in the last quarter of the twentieth century than the Ku Klux Klan killed in its entire history. Homicide rates have fallen sharply over the past two decades, but that may have more to do with improved shock-trauma medicine than with reduced criminality; the rate of gunshot wounds has not fallen.

The actual bloodshed may not be the worst of it.  The costs of crime are both enormous and underappreciated, because they consist primarily not of the direct losses to victims of crimes but of the costs people and businesses incur, and inflict on one another, in attempting to avoid victimization.  Every store that moves away from a poor neighborhood for fear of robbery takes with it both services and jobs, leaving the neighborhood that much poorer and more socially isolated....

A sensible crime-control agenda would satisfy neither the conservative impulse to punish as many people as possible as severely as possible nor the liberal impulse to substitute services for coercion and social reform for law enforcement.  Liberals will have to swallow the idea that improved coercion is as necessary as improved conditions. Conservatives will have to swallow the ideas that punishment is a cost and not a benefit and that the measure of the efficacy of a threat is how often it does not need to be carried out....

Criminal justice institutions need to give crime control priority over institutional comfort and habit. Public and nonprofit agencies that do not have crime control in their mission statements need to acknowledge that they are nonetheless in the crime-control business, whenever their actions and omissions can make the crime problem better or worse.

The bad news is that current policies leave us with unnecessarily and unforgivably high levels of both crime and incarceration. The good news is that we now know how to do better.

This same issue also has this lengthy piece by Professor Glenn Loury with this headline and subheading: "Prison’s Dilemma: Even if every convict were rightly sentenced, America’s vast, racially skewed incarceration system would still be morally indefensible."

January 18, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Notable new research exploring connections between incarceration and mental health

4.coverVia The Crime Report, I just learned that the December 2012 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior has two notable new research articles concerning links between incarceration and psychiatric disorders. (Having just recently seen Silver Linings Playbook, which I recommend, I am tempted to call these articles companion pieces to that intriguing movie in which criminal justice realities play a more important role than football.)  Here are links to the articles, along with their abstracts:

Jason Schnittker, Michael Massoglia, & Christopher Uggen, "Out and Down: Incarceration and Psychiatric Disorders":

Psychiatric disorders are unusually prevalent among current and former inmates, but it is not known what this relationship reflects.  A putative causal relationship is contaminated by assorted influences, including childhood disadvantage, the early onset of most disorders, and the criminalization of substance use. Using the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (N = 5692), we examine the relationship between incarceration and psychiatric disorders after statistically adjusting for multidimensional influences.

The results indicate that (1) some of the most common disorders found among former inmates emerge in childhood and adolescence and therefore predate incarceration; (2) the relationships between incarceration and disorders are smaller for current disorders than lifetime disorders, suggesting that the relationship between incarceration and disorders dissipates over time; and (3) early substance disorders anticipate later incarceration and other psychiatric disorders simultaneously, indicating selection. Yet the results also reveal robust and long-lasting relationships between incarceration and certain disorders, which are not inconsequential for being particular.  Specifically, incarceration is related to subsequent mood disorders, related to feeling “down,” including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia.  These disorders, in turn, are strongly related to disability, more strongly than substance abuse disorders and impulse control disorders. Although often neglected as a health consequence of incarceration, mood disorders might explain some of the additional disability former inmates experience following release, elevating their relevance for those interested in prisoner reintegration.

Kristin Turney, Christopher Wildeman, & Jason Schnittker "As Fathers and Felons: Explaining the Effects of Current and Recent Incarceration on Major Depression":

Dramatic increases in the American imprisonment rate since the mid-1970s have important implications for the life chances of minority men with low educational attainment, including for their health.  Although a large literature has considered the collateral consequences of incarceration for a variety of outcomes, studies concerned with health have several limitations: Most focus exclusively on physical health; those concerned with mental health only consider current incarceration or previous incarceration, but never both; some are cross-sectional; many fail to consider mechanisms; and virtually all neglect the role of family processes, thereby overlooking the social roles current and former prisoners inhabit.

In this article, we use stress process theory to extend this research by first considering the association between incarceration and major depression and then considering potential mechanisms that explain this association. Results from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (N = 3,107) show current and recent incarceration are substantially associated with the risk of major depression, suggesting both immediate and short-term implications.  In addition, consistent with stress proliferation theory, the results show the well-known consequences of incarceration for socioeconomic status and family functioning partly explain these associations, suggesting the link between incarceration and depression depends heavily on the consequences of incarceration for economic and social reintegration, not only the direct psychological consequences of confinement.

January 17, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

As Plata ruling welcomed, California seeks modification of prison population reduction order

This front-page article in today's Sacramento Bee, headlined "Halt in inmate releases sought," reports on a significant development in the multi-year -- is it now multi-decade? -- litigation over prison population in California. Here are the details:

Claiming that the state has made substantial progress in solving its prison overcrowding problem, California officials asked a federal court late Monday to dismiss its requirements for huge reductions in inmate populations.

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration, filing court documents just two hours before the court-ordered deadline to explain how the state will reduce inmate populations, said progress made so far is sufficient to warrant the federal court withdrawing its order.   It also said the court-ordered reductions could needlessly force the state to release dangerous or violent inmates.

"The overcrowding and health care conditions cited by this Court to support its population reduction order are now a distant memory," the court papers state.  "California's vastly improved prison health care system now provides inmates with superior care that far exceeds the minimum requirements of the Constitution.

"In the years since the court issued the current population cap order, the state has dramatically reduced the prison population, significantly increased capacity through construction, and implemented a myriad of improvements that transformed the medical and mental health care systems."

A three-judge federal panel had ordered the state to cut population to 137.5 percent of capacity, down from nearly double the prison capacity, and said such reductions were necessary to maintain proper physical and mental health care in the 33 adult prisons.

But Brown's administration said in papers filed late Monday that it has achieved sufficient reductions already through a series of efforts.   "Therefore, this Court must vacate the 137.5 percent population cap order issued when it was believed that quality health care could not be provided at a higher population density," the state contended.

"The population in the state's 33 prisons has been reduced by over 24,000 inmates since October 2011 when public safety realignment went into effect, by more than 36,000 inmates compared to the 2008 population in the record at the evidentiary hearing, and by nearly 42,000 inmates since 2006 when plaintiffs moved to convene the three-judge court....

The court filing was strategically timed.  Facing a Monday deadline at midnight, corrections officials originally scheduled a telephone conference call for this morning to discuss the issue.  But late Monday they scrapped that and announced the governor would hold a press conference this morning to trumpet the effort.   Brown has been at the forefront of inmate reduction efforts since taking office.  The state prison system has been under siege for decades from prisoner lawsuits and federal court orders that have found the state was holding inmates in unsafe conditions.

A year ago, facing unprecedented orders from the federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court to take action, the Brown administration pushed through its "realignment" plan to shift low-level, nonviolent offenders to the counties. Since then, prison populations have fallen to about 150 percent of capacity, a level still above the court-ordered mandate but one that officials have said they could manage to further reduce.

Monday night, state officials claimed the 137.5 percent limit "cannot be achieved without the early release of inmates serving time for serious or violent felonies."

As stressed in the title of this post, all the rulings with orders for reductions in the California prison population coming from lower courts and upheld by the Supreme Court indicated that California could seek future modifications of the order if and when it took significant steps to remedy the extreme overcrowding problems resulting in unconstitutional prison conditions.  Even without reading the new court papers filed by California, I can say without reservation that the state has taken significant steps in response to the federal courts orders; in turn, this request for a modification in the order seems fully justifiable.

Of course, whether federal courts will embrace or resist this new state to modify existing prison population reduction orders is a distinct question from whether the state's modification request is justifiable.  And it is hard to make a prediction on this front without reading all the papers filed already and sure to be filed later in this litigation.  (That said, I have an inkling some folks may be eager to comment on what has transpired since the SCOTUS Plata ruling without waiting for a chance to read all the latest and future filings.)

January 8, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Incarceration's Incapacitative Shortcomings"

The title of this post is the title of this thoughtful essay by Kevin Bennardo, which is available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Incapacitation is the removal of an offender’s ability to commit further crime. This essay identifies two distinct types of incapacitative effects: offense-specific incapacitation and victim-specific incapacitation.  The former focuses on limitations on the offender’s range of conduct.  The latter focuses on limitations on the offender’s access to particular populations.

As a punishment, incarceration incapacitates quite incompletely.  Because imprisonment does not render inmates totally unable to commit crime, it fails to achieve complete offense-specific incapacitation.  And, because it merely substitutes one set of potential victims for another, imprisonment fails on the total victim-specific incapacitation front as well.  Instead, imprisonment achieves partial offense-specific and partial victim-specific incapacitation by inhibiting prisoners from committing certain offenses and separating inmates from certain populations.  When the incapacitative benefit of incarceration is discussed, however, it is not usually described in such a circumscribed way.  Rather, commentators often state that imprisonment fully incapacitates by removing offenders from “society.”  Such statements, which implicitly discount prison crime and its victims to zero, are factually inaccurate and dehumanizing.  To avoid such inaccuracy and inadvertent discounting, this essay endeavors to accurately describe the offense-specific and victim-specific incapacitative benefits and limitations of incarceration.

December 29, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Friday, December 28, 2012

Noting one of many echo effects of California's new sentencing law

The Los Angeles Times has this notable new story headlined "Some county judges change sentencing patterns," which gets started this way:

California's new felon imprisonment law, which requires low-level offenders to serve their time in county jail rather than state prison, is beginning to reshape how some county judges hand down those sentences.

A study by the Chief Probation Officers of California finds an increasing number of judges using split sentences, requiring offenders to spend part of their time in jail and the other part in a community program or under probation.  Without a split sentence, the entire term is spent in jail and when offenders are released, there is no followup.

From the time the new prison law took effect in October 2011 to June 2012, the probation officers group reports, 23% of all local prison sentences were split.  That means an increase in the responsibilities of county probation offices, but a lighter load on jails.

However, the organization says there is an inconsistent use of the sentencing tool among the state's 58 counties.  Judges in 18 counties deliver split sentences to more than half their felons, including Contra Costa and San Joaquin.  On the other hand, only 5% of Los Angeles County felons, for example, are given split sentences.

December 28, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New wing in Virginia prison just for veterans

The intersection for veterans' issues and criminal justices systems is finally starting to get more of the attention it has long needed, and this local story concerning a Virginia prison reports on a recent innovation in this arena concerning corrections programming.  The piece is headlined "Chesapeake prison opens wing for military veterans, and here are excerpts:

The white tile floors, cinder-block walls and rows of steel bunks remind Raymond Riddick of the barracks he stayed in during boot camp in the mid-1980s. "Only, the beds weren't bolted to the floor," the former sailor said while giving a tour of his dormitory at Indian Creek Correctional Center in southern Chesapeake.

Riddick, who's locked up following a string of car thefts, is one of about 60 former service members serving out criminal sentences in a new veterans dorm at the medium-security prison. State corrections officials christened the wing during a ceremony last month, saying they hoped the program would change lives and prevent war vets from returning to prison.

Virginia is the latest in a series of states with large military populations, including Florida and Georgia, that have established veterans-only prison facilities to house and assist the growing numbers of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who find themselves in trouble with the law.

The Indian Creek dorm, open since spring, is one of two veterans wings started this year by the Virginia Department of Corrections. The other is in Haynesville. About 2,000 of the state's 30,000 inmates identify themselves as veterans, though officials suspect the true number is larger. Many of them struggle with drug addiction and mental disorders. "This dorm allows our veteran offenders a place where they can share ideas and have that camaraderie and that fellowship that comes with their shared experiences," said Jerry Mullen, a clinical supervisor who oversees the veterans program at Indian Creek. "We've developed a curriculum specifically to address post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and other common issues faced by veterans."...

The voluntary program is open to veterans who have been honorably discharged, have shown good behavior and have fewer than two years left to serve.

Beyond the military-themed murals painted on the walls and the neatly made beds, signs that this isn't a typical prison facility can be heard in the nighttime screams of former soldiers struggling with PTSD, and seen in the bullet scars hidden underneath light-blue uniforms.

Counselors who are also former service members help the inmates work through mental health problems and encourage them to take responsibility for their crimes.

December 27, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, December 17, 2012

BJS releases official accounting of "Prisoners in 2011" in the United States

As reported in this official press release, the US Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics this morning released its official accounting of the total population of prisons as of the end of 2011.  Here are a few data highlights via the press release:

Twenty-six state departments of corrections reported decreases in their prison population during 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today. California reported the largest decline (down 15,493), while New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Florida, and Texas each had population decreases of more than 1,000 prisoners in 2011.

Among states that had increases in their prison populations, Tennessee and Kentucky both added more than 1,000 inmates in 2011. During 2011, the total U.S. prison population declined for the second consecutive year, to under 1.6 million inmates or 15,023 fewer inmates than in 2010.  This represents a 0.9 percent decrease in the total prison population.

The overall decline in 2011 was due to the decrease in state prisoners, down 21,614 prisoners or 1.5 percent from 2010.  The reduction in California’s prison population under the Public Safety Realignment policy accounted for 72 percent of the total decrease in state prisoners.  The federal prison population offset the decline in the states with an increase of 6,591 prisoners (up 3.1 percent) from 2010 to 2011.

As in 2010, prison releases in 2011 (688,384) exceeded prison admissions (668,800). Admissions to federal prisons increased 12 percent (up 6,513 inmates) in 2011 while state prison admissions decreased 6.4 percent (down 41,511 inmates) from 2010.  The number of admissions to state prisons (608,166) fell to its lowest level since 2001.  Sixty-three percent (26,340 admissions) of the decrease in state prison admissions between 2010 and 2011 was due to fewer parole violators being reincarcerated.

In 2011 the U.S. imprisonment rate dropped to 492 inmates per 100,000 residents, continuing a decline since 2007, when the imprisonment rates peaked at 506 inmates per 100,000 residents.  The national imprisonment rate for males (932 per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was over 14 times the imprisonment rate for females (65 per 100,000 female U.S. residents)....

In 2010 (the most recent data available) 53 percent of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for a violent offense, 18 percent for property offenses, 17 percent for drug crimes and 10 percent for public order offenses, such as weapons, drunk driving, commercialized vice and court offenses.

An estimated 188,200 sentenced state prisoners (14 percent) were serving time for murder or manslaughter in 2010, while 160,800 offenders were incarcerated for rape and other sexual assaults.  Between 2000 and 2010, the estimated number of state prisoners sentenced for any violent offense increased by 99,400 inmates, or 16 percent (from 625,600 prisoners in 2000 to 725,000 in 2010).

Inmates sentenced for drug offenses comprised 48 percent (94,600 inmates) of the sentenced federal prison population in 2011, while 7.6 percent of federal prisoners were held for violent offenses.  An estimated 11 percent (22,100 inmates) were serving time in federal prison for immigration offenses.

Because imprisonment, especially at the margins, always seems to me to be a very expensive way to try to reduce crime, I am pleased to see that the prison population in the US went down a bit in 2011.  But, significantly, it seems most of the national prison population decrease can be attributed to the Plata litigation and subsequent realignment in California.  Absent significant prison population reductions in other states in 2012, it is possible that the national prison population in the land of the free could tick back up soon (thanks, in large part, to the seemingly ever-growing federal prison population).

The full 34-page BJS report "Prisoners in 2011," which has lots and lots of interesting data, is available at this link.  Among other interesting information, this new report reveals that, as of the end of 2011, the five largest prison systems in population terms are, in order, the feds, Texas, California, Florida and Georgia.

December 17, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Friday, December 14, 2012

"Federal prisoners use snitching for personal gain"

Informants-chartThe title of this post is the headline of this big new article appearing in USA Today concerning the general operation of 5K substantial assistance sentencing departures in the federal courts.  The lengthy piece gets started with a notable tale of a "pay-to-snitch" scheme emerging from Atlanta's federal courts and local jails.  Here is how the article begins:

The prisoners in Atlanta's hulking downtown jail had a problem. They wanted to snitch for federal agents, but they didn't know anything worth telling.  Fellow prisoner Marcus Watkins, an armed robber, had the answer.

For a fee, Watkins and his associates on the outside sold them information about other criminals that they could turn around and offer up to federal agents in hopes of shaving years off their prison sentences.  They were paying for information, but what they were really trying to buy was freedom.  "I didn't feel as though any laws were being broken," Watkins wrote in a 2008 letter to prosecutors.  "I really thought I was helping out law enforcement."

That pay-to-snitch enterprise — documented in thousands of pages of court records, interviews and a stack of Watkins' own letters — remains almost entirely unknown outside Atlanta's towering federal courthouse, where investigators are still trying to determine whether any criminal cases were compromised.  It offers a rare glimpse inside a vast and almost always secret part of the federal criminal justice system in which prosecutors routinely use the promise of reduced prison time to reward prisoners who help federal agents build cases against other criminals.

Snitching has become so commonplace that in the past five years at least 48,895 federal convicts — one of every eight — had their prison sentences reduced in exchange for helping government investigators, a USA TODAY examination of hundreds of thousands of court cases found.  The deals can chop a decade or more off of their sentences.

How often informants pay to acquire information from brokers such as Watkins is impossible to know, in part because judges routinely seal court records that could identify them.  It almost certainly represents an extreme result of a system that puts strong pressure on defendants to cooperate.  Still, Watkins' case is at least the fourth such scheme to be uncovered in Atlanta alone over the past 20 years.

Those schemes are generally illegal because the people who buy information usually lie to federal agents about where they got it.  They also show how staggeringly valuable good information has become — prices ran into tens of thousands of dollars, or up to $250,000 in one case, court records show.

John Horn, the second in command of Atlanta's U.S. attorney's office, said the "investigation on some of these matters is continuing" but would not elaborate. Prosecutors have said they were troubled that informants were paying for some of the secrets they passed on to federal agents.  Judges are outraged.  But the inmates who operated the schemes have repeatedly alleged that agents knew all along what they were up to, and sometimes even gave them the information they sold.  Prosecutors told a judge in October that an investigation found those accusations were false.  Still, court records show, agents kept interviewing at least one of Watkins' customers even after the FBI learned of the scheme.

The risks are obvious.  If the government rewards paid-for information, wealthy defendants could potentially buy early freedom.  Because such a system further muddies the question of how informants — already widely viewed as untrustworthy — know what they claim to know, "individual cases can be undermined and the system itself is compromised," U.S. Justice Department lawyers said in a 2010 court filing.

In addition to additional cool graphics and charts and more information about how this "pay-to-snitch" schemes operated it Atlanta, USA Today also has produced this great dynamic interactive graphic, titled "Informants trade for shorter sentences."  The graphic (which I sure wish could be replicated by the US Sentencing Commission for all federal sentencing data) allows one to see basic cooperation statistics in each and every federal district just by moving around the map.

December 14, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Urban Institute reports examine increases in federal prison population

I received via e-mail today news of a new report by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center concerning increases in the size of the federal prison system.  Here is a snippet fromt the e-mail, which includes reactions from key federal legislators:

The Growth & Increasing Cost of the Federal Prison System: Drivers and Potential Solutions states that federal prisons currently house 218,000 inmates, which is almost ten times the number incarcerated in 1980.  Drug offenders make up more than half of the prison population, and the length of drug offender sentences is a major driver of population growth and prison costs.

“Overcrowded prisons do more than just jeopardize the safety of prisoners and staff: they also restrict the ability to offer rehabilitative programs designed to reduce reoffending,” noted Nancy La Vigne, director of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and a lead author of the paper....

In the report, the authors note that state justice systems demonstrate useful examples of how to trim spending without detracting from public safety. Adjusting sentencing practices and prison release policies for drug offenders, for example, could alleviate some stress on the federal prison system.

"This report demonstrates the need to address the safety and cost issues caused by the growth of the federal prison population. Republicans and Democrats in Congress and in the administration need to come together to address this issue in a bipartisan effort," said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

“The unsustainable growth in federal prison costs is crowding out other law enforcement priorities. I welcome this new, important report, which shows the need for common sense reforms that protect the public safety while minimizing corrections costs for taxpayers,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee.

The full report discussed in this e-mail is available at this link and runs only eight pages.  Some of its coverage appears to build off this related Urban Institute publication, which is titled "Examining Growth in the Federal Prison Population, 1998 to 2010," and is 34 pages long.

December 13, 2012 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Big new New York Times series on social science of incarceration

NYTI am very excited to see that the today's New York Times has a pair of big articles as part of a new series on incarceration policies and practices. The series appears to be called "Time and Punishment: Tossing the Key," and it is described this way: "John Tierney, the Findings columnist for Science Times, is exploring the social science of incarceration. Future articles in this series will look at the effects of current policies on families and communities, and new ideas for dealing with offenders." Kudos to the Times for giving these important legal and social issues the extended attention they merit.

Here are the headlines and links to today's two NY Times pieces that kick of this series: "For Lesser Crimes, Rethinking Life Behind Bars" and "Life Without Parole: Four Inmates’ Stories." Here is a key portion from the start of the first of these articles:

Three decades of stricter drug laws, reduced parole and rigid sentencing rules have lengthened prison terms and more than tripled the percentage of Americans behind bars. The United States has the highest reported rate of incarceration of any country: about one in 100 adults, a total of nearly 2.3 million people in prison or jail.

But today there is growing sentiment that these policies have gone too far, causing too many Americans like Ms. George to be locked up for too long at too great a price — economically and socially.

The criticism is resonating with some state and federal officials, who have started taking steps to stop the prison population’s growth. The social scientists are attracting attention partly because the drop in crime has made it a less potent political issue, and partly because of the states’ financial problems.

State spending on corrections, after adjusting for inflation, has more than tripled in the past three decades, making it the fastest-growing budgetary cost except Medicaid. Even though the prison population has leveled off in the past several years, the costs remain so high that states are being forced to reduce spending in other areas.

Three decades ago, California spent 10 percent of its budget on higher education and 3 percent on prisons. In recent years the prison share of the budget rose above 10 percent while the share for higher education fell below 8 percent. As university administrators in California increase tuition to cover their deficits, they complain that the state spends much more on each prisoner — nearly $50,000 per year — than on each student.

Many researchers agree that the rise in imprisonment produced some initial benefits, particularly in urban neighborhoods, where violence decreased significantly in the 1990s. But as sentences lengthened and the prison population kept growing, it included more and more nonviolent criminals like Ms. George.

Half a million people are now in prison or jail for drug offenses, about 10 times the number in 1980, and there have been especially sharp increases in incarceration rates for women and for people over 55, long past the peak age for violent crime. In all, about 1.3 million people, more than half of those behind bars, are in prison or jail for nonviolent offenses.

Researchers note that the policies have done little to stem the flow of illegal drugs. And they say goals like keeping street violence in check could be achieved without the expense of locking up so many criminals for so long.

While many scholars still favor tough treatment for violent offenders, they have begun suggesting alternatives for other criminals. James Q. Wilson, the conservative social scientist whose work in the 1970s helped inspire tougher policies on prison, several years ago recommended diverting more nonviolent drug offenders from prisons to treatment programs.

Two of his collaborators, George L. Kelling of the Manhattan Institute and John J. DiIulio Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania, have joined with prominent scholars and politicians, including Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich, in a group called Right on Crime. It advocates more selective incarceration and warns that current policies “have the unintended consequence of hardening nonviolent, low-risk offenders” so that they become “a greater risk to the public than when they entered.”

These views are hardly universal, particularly among elected officials worried about a surge in crime if the prison population shrinks. Prosecutors have resisted attempts to change the system, contending that the strict sentences deter crime and induce suspects to cooperate because the penalties provide the police and prosecutors with so much leverage.

Some of the strongest evidence for the benefit of incarceration came from studies by a University of Chicago economist, Steven D. Levitt, who found that penal policies were a major factor in reducing crime during the 1990s. But as crime continued declining and the prison population kept growing, the returns diminished.

“We know that harsher punishments lead to less crime, but we also know that the millionth prisoner we lock up is a lot less dangerous to society than the first guy we lock up,” Dr. Levitt said. “In the mid-1990s I concluded that the social benefits approximately equaled the costs of incarceration. Today, my guess is that the costs outweigh the benefits at the margins. I think we should be shrinking the prison population by at least one-third.”

Some social scientists argue that the incarceration rate is now so high that the net effect is “crimogenic”: creating more crime over the long term by harming the social fabric in communities and permanently damaging the economic prospects of prisoners as well as their families. Nationally, about one in 40 children have a parent in prison. Among black children, one in 15 have a parent in prison.

December 12, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Sunday, December 09, 2012

NY Times editorial laments lack of compassionate release

Today's New York Times has this editorial headlined "What Compassionate Release?". Here are excerpts:

Federal sentencing law has been indefensibly harsh for a generation, but in theory it has contained a safety valve called compassionate release.  The 1984 Sentencing Reform Act gives federal courts the power to reduce sentences of federal prisoners for “extraordinary and compelling reasons,” like a terminal illness.

In practice, though, the Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department, which oversees the bureau, have not just failed to make use of this humane and practical program, but have crippled it.  That is the disturbing and well-substantiated conclusion of a new report by Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

From 1992 through this November, a period in which the population of federal prisons almost tripled from around 80,000 to close to 220,000 inmates, the bureau released 492 prisoners under this program.  This is a mere two dozen or so on average each year, and the number has so far not surpassed 37.  The percentage of prisoners released has shrunk from tiny to microscopic....

The United States Sentencing Commission has identified several extraordinary and compelling reasons that could justify compassionate release: terminal illness, a permanent physical or mental condition, impairment due to old age, the death or incapacitation of a family member who has been solely responsible for the care of the prisoner’s minor children.

But as things have turned out, the human rights report says, virtually the only ground the bureau accepts for compassionate release is a terminal illness with up to a year of life expectancy.  To make matters worse, even when the prisoner meets its excessively strict tests, the bureau itself decides whether the prisoner should be set free — in effect usurping discretionary powers that Congress awarded the courts.

The report offers some sound remedies. Congress should modify the law to give prisoners themselves the right to seek compassionate release from a court.  Congress should require the bureau to publish all program data, including the number of requests denied and why. And Congress should reaffirm the role of the courts as final arbiter.

Recent related post:

December 9, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, December 07, 2012

"On the Chopping Block 2012: State Prison Closings"

The title of this post is the title of this new research report from The Sentencing Project. Here is how it begins:

The Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported that the overall state prison population declined for the third consecutive year in 2011. State sentencing reforms and changes in parole revocation policies have been contributing factors in these reductions. As a result, state officials are now beginning to close correctional facilities after several decades of record prison expansion. Continued declines in state prison populations advance the narrative that the nation’s reliance on incarceration is largely a function of policy choices.

In 2012, at least six states have closed 20 prison institutions or are contemplating doing so, potentially reducing prison capacity by over 14,100 beds and resulting in an estimated $337 million in savings. During 2012, Florida led the nation in prison closings with its closure of 10 correctional facilities; the state’s estimated cost savings for prison closings totals over $65 million. This year’s prison closures build on closures observed in 2011 when at least 13 states reported prison closures and reduced prison capacity by an estimated 15,500 beds.

December 7, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, December 06, 2012

NYCLU sues New York over solitary confinement practices

As reported in this Reuters piece, "New York's largest civil liberties group filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against state corrections officials on behalf of a convicted rapist who spent 26 months in solitary confinement after a non-violent offense in his cell."  Here is more:

The lawsuit is the latest challenge to standards by which some 80,000 inmates a day are confined up to 23 hours a day in isolation or with another inmate inside cells as small as a parking spot.

Critics claim solitary confinement is a form of torture that inflicts lasting psychological damage and is meted out in many states too arbitrarily and, increasingly, too often....

The lawsuit, filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in federal court in Manhattan, asserts Leroy Peoples was placed in solitary confinement for nearly 26 months after jail guards discovered forged legal documents in his cell....

"New York's prison authorities permit the use extreme isolation ... as a disciplinary tool of first resort for violating almost any prison rule, no matter how minor," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.

Between 2007 and 2011, New York State prison officials segregated inmates 302 times for "smoking in an undesignated area," 135 times for "wasting food," 114 times for "littering" and 234 times for "untidy cell or person," according to a recent NYCLU study of state prison segregation records....

In October, state corrections commissioner Brian Fischer responded to the NYCLU study. "As a society removes those individuals who commit crimes, so too must we remove from general population inmates who violate the Department's code of conduct and who threaten the safety and security of our facilities," Fischer said in a statement, which did not address non-violent offenses. "The possession of drugs, cell phones and weapons pose a serious threat within this ... system."

There were 563 assaults on staff and 666 inmate assaults on other inmates last year, out of a population of about 56,000, state corrections records show.

The NYCLU has this press release about its lawsuit, and the full 29-page complaint can be accessed at this link. In addition, the NYCDL's October 2012 report on New York's use of solitary confinement is available via this link.

December 6, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Terrific symposium in latest issue of the Journal of Legal Education

Though I always enjoy reading the Journal of Legal Education, I was especially excited to see that JLE's November 2012 issue starts with a symposium titled "Teaching Mass Incarceration." Here is a summary from the JLE's introduction of the pieces in the symposium (with links inserted):

The issue begins with a Symposium on “Teaching Mass Incarceration,” a subject that has received considerable attention from activists and some from mainstream media but is remarkably absent from the law school curriculum.  Giovanna Shay opens with a case study of “Inside-Out as Law School Pedagogy,” a teaching vehicle for bringing prison inmates and law students into one course, building student engagement and inspiring open-minded discussion that forces students to move beyond knee-jerk politics and clichés [available here].  The second article in the Symposium, by Sharon Dolovich, makes a powerful case for teaching the “law governing prisons,” the “back-end” of the criminal justice system and the law applicable to 2.3 million Americans, of whom a huge disproportion are African-Americans — arguably a front line in civil rights advocacy today [available here]. The third article, by Teresa A. Miller, entitled “Encountering Attica,” explores documentary film-making to transform the dialogue of the “inside-out class” into a vehicle for reaching much larger audiences [available here].  Readers of these contributions will be hard-pressed to deny the case for more visibility and engagement with mass incarceration and the means to accomplish those goals.

I thoroughly enjoyed and learned much from all three of these articles, and I encourage even those not in the ivory tower to check them out.

December 4, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Recommended reading, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, December 03, 2012

Early parole after two years' imprisonment for Oklahoma woman initially give 12 years for small pot sales

Regular readers may recall the story of Patricia Spottedcrow, first discussed in this post, who was initially sentenced to a dozen years in Oklahoma state prison for selling $31 in marijuana to a police informant in December 2009 and January 2010.  This recent story from the Tusla World, headlined "Patricia Spottedcrow paroled early in 12-year sentence for $31 bag of marijuana," explains how she is now out of prison:

The four reasons Patricia Spottedcrow most wanted out of prison were back in her arms Thursday afternoon, after their mother was released on parole. Her children are 11, 6, 5 and 3 years old now. The youngest was just 1 when Spottedcrow began her prison sentence two years ago.

If Gov. Mary Fallin hadn't approved Spottedcrow's parole and if the Pardon and Parole Board hadn't agreed to early consideration for her case, her children might have all been teenagers by the time she got out.

Spottedcrow was released from Hillside Community Corrections Center in Oklahoma City on Thursday morning after completing a community-level sentence required by the governor as a condition of her parole. Her 12-year prison sentence for selling $31 worth of marijuana garnered widespread national attention after her story was featured in a 2011 Tulsa World series on women in prison.

Spottedcrow originally faced a 12-year prison sentence out of Kingfisher County for selling a "dime bag" of marijuana to a police informant. She entered prison in December 2010 after spending a few months waiting in the county jail.

After her story was published in the World, grassroots supporters lobbied officials to reconsider Spottedcrow's punishment. Advocates expressed concern for possible racial bias, disparate sentences for drug crimes, Oklahoma's No. 1 female incarceration rate per capita and the effects on children growing up with incarcerated parents.

The specifics of this case are notable not only because of how extreme Spottedcrow's initial prison sentence appeared to be, but also because of how Oklahoma's preservation of parole in its sentencing system served as a kind of second-look safety valve so that this seemingly not-so-dangerous first-offender could be released without the state and others having to bear the considerable costs of an extreme extended term of imprisonment.

Prior posts on Spottedcrow's case:

December 3, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Saturday, December 01, 2012

"More Children Growing Up With Parents Behind Bars"

Prisongraph(1)The title of this post is the headline of this recent ABC News/Univision piece. Here are excerpts:

The number of children with parents behind bars in the United States is growing. And a Latino child is more than twice as likely to have an incarcerated parent as a white child.

An infographic created by sociologist Becky Pettit in her new book, Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress illustrates a five-fold increase in the number of children with parents behind bars from 1980 to 2005.

While interpreting the graph, it's important to keep in mind that the Hispanic population has grown much faster than the white and black populations since 1980, meaning there are simply more Latino children and parents in the U.S. However, taken as a percentage, Latino children are still more much more likely than white children to grow up with their parents behind bars. One in 42 Latino children has a parent in prison, compared to 1 in 111 white children, according to a 2009 report from The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group, which used data from the U.S. Department of Justice. And, when it comes to black children, one in 15 have a parent in prison....

One in every one hundred adults in the U.S. is behind bars, and more than two-thirds are non-white, according to a 2008 Pew study. The Sentencing Project report found that children who grow up with parents in prison are more likely to "drop out of school, engage in delinquency, and subsequently be incarcerated themselves."

December 1, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Friday, November 30, 2012

New report assails (lack of) compassionate release in federal system

Us1112_reportcover_0As highlighted via this NPR piece, headlined "Federal 'Compassionate' Prison Release Rarely Given," Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums have today released a big new report criticizing the poor administration of the federal compassionate release program. Here are excerpts from the NPR piece:

Back in 1984, Congress gave authorities the power to let people out of federal prison early, in extraordinary circumstances, like if inmates were gravely ill or dying. But a new report says the Federal Bureau of Prisons blocks all but a few inmates from taking advantage of "compassionate release."

The federal prisons house more than 218,000 inmates but, on average, they release only about two dozen people a year under the program. By contrast, the state of Texas, no slouch when it comes to tough punishment, let out about 100 people on medical parole last year, researchers say.

"Why are so few people getting out?" asks Jamie Fellner, a senior adviser at Human Rights Watch who helped write the new study. "You have a prison system that is grotesquely overcrowded, you have prisoners who pose no meaningful threat to public safety and yet they're being denied release?"

Fellner says she's convinced the culture of the federal prisons and the Justice Department acts as an iron curtain for all but the sickest inmates — people with less than a year to live, who can't even walk or use the bathroom on their own, let alone commit another crime....

Mary Price, general counsel at Families Against Mandatory Minimums, helped write the new report. She says she's tried to help Mahoney — and many other inmates — win compassionate release. "We don't sentence people to die alone in prison when we've given them a five-year sentence," she says.

Price says Congress gave judges the authority to make decisions about which prisoners could be released for "extraordinary and compelling" reasons. But under the rules, the Bureau of Prisons has to petition the court first. And the bureau usually says no — without ever involving the court.

For instance, Price and Fellner say they couldn't find a single case in the last 20 years where prison authorities had granted a compassionate release for an inmate to care for young children after a spouse or partner died, even though Congress and the U.S. Sentencing Commission expressly left open that option....

Advocates at Human Rights Watch and Families Against Mandatory Minimums are calling on the Bureau of Prisons to open up its procedures. And they're asking Congress to pass a law that would allow prisoners to go directly to the courts if the bureau shuts them down.

The Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is reviewing the program, too. He says it could help save money and cut down on prison overcrowding.

The full report is available at this link, and here are two paragraphs from the lengthy report's summary:

Congress authorized what is commonly called “compassionate release” because it recognized the importance of ensuring that justice could be tempered by mercy.  A prison sentence that was just when imposed could — because of changed circumstances — become cruel as well as senseless if not altered.  The US criminal justice system, even though it prizes the consistency and finality of sentences, makes room for judges to take a second look to assess the ongoing justice of a sentence.

Prisoners cannot seek a sentence reduction f or extraordinary and compelling circumstances directly from the courts.  By law, only the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP, the Bureau ) has the authority to file a motion with a court that requests judicial consideration of early release. Although we do not know how many prisoners have asked the BOP to make motions on their behalf — because the BOP does not keep such records — we do know the BOP rarely does so.  The federal prison sys tem houses over 218,000 prisoners, yet in 2011, the BOP filed only 30 motions for early release, and between January 1 and November 15, 2012, it filed 37.  Since 1992, the annual average number of prisoners who received compassionate release has been less t han two dozen. Compassionate release is conspicuous for its absence.

November 30, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thursday, November 29, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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