Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Lots of sentencing news of note via The Crime Report
As I have said before, and as I am happy to say again, all sentencing law and policy fans should be sure to make The Crime Report a daily read. To reinforce this point, check out just some of these new posts from over there in the last 24 hours:
Thursday, January 05, 2012
"Four ways to relieve overcrowded prisons"
I just came across this opinion piece by Arjun Sethi published last week by the Christian Science Monitor. Here are excerpts of a piece that merits a full read:
Necessity can spur novelty. Even political novelty. As the need for fiscal austerity grows, an unlikely alliance has emerged between policymakers and public advocates who have long sought criminal justice reform. These policymakers are realizing what advocates have reiterated for years: The nation’s addiction to incarceration as a curb on crime must end. The evidence is staggering....
Prison overcrowding is ubiquitous and shows few signs of abating: Between 1970 and 2005, the nation’s inmate population grew by 700 percent. Besides impeding access to health care, overcrowding also creates unsafe and unsanitary conditions, diverts prison resources away from education and social development, and forces low- and high-risk offenders to mingle, increasing the likelihood of recidivism....
First, revamp habitual-offender laws, now in effect in more than 20 states, which regularly yield perverse sentences....
Second, implement misdemeanor reform by decriminalizing offenses such as feeding the homeless, dog-leash violations, and occupying multiple seats on the subway. Such reform is vital: between 1972 and 2006, misdemeanor prosecutions rose from 5 million to 10.5 million....
Third, limit the use of pre-trial detention....
Fourth, impose nonprison penalties on those arrested for technical parole and probation violations like missing a meeting or court appearance. This would dramatically ameliorate overcrowding and excessive case loads given that over a third of all prison admissions are for such types of violations. Texas is leading the charge here, and through such measures has significantly reduced its inmate population.
"Texas Prisoner Burials Are a Gentle Touch in a Punitive System"
The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing New York Times article. Here are excerpts:
Kenneth Wayne Davis died at 54 as not so much a man but a number: Inmate No. 327320. Mr. Davis was charged, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated for capital murder by the State of Texas after taking someone’s life on Nov. 19, 1977. But when he died in November 2011, Texas seemed his only friend. His family failed to claim his body, so the state paid for his burial....
On this day, Mr. Davis’s funeral was one of seven at the Captain Joe Byrd Cemetery, the largest prison graveyard in the country, 22 acres where thousands of inmates who were executed or died while incarcerated are buried. All of them went unclaimed by their relatives after they died, but the cemetery is not a ramshackle potter’s field....
The state’s prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, has been the steward of the cemetery since the first inmates were buried there in the mid-1800s, maintaining and operating it in recent decades as carefully and respectfully as any religious institution might....
In a state known for being tough on criminals, where officials recently eliminated last-meal requests on death row, the Byrd cemetery has been a little-known counterpoint to the mythology of the Texas penal system. One mile from the Walls Unit, which houses the state’s execution chamber, about 100 inmates are buried each year in ceremonies for which the state spends considerable time and money. Each burial costs Texas about $2,000. Often, as in Mr. Davis’s case, none of the deceased’s relatives attend, and the only people present are prison officials and the inmate workers.
Though all of those buried here were unclaimed by relatives, many family members fail to claim the bodies because they cannot afford burial expenses and want the prison agency to pay the costs instead. The same relatives who declined to claim the body will then travel to Huntsville to attend the state-paid services at the cemetery. “I think everyone assumes if you’re in a prison cemetery you’re somehow the worst of the worst,” said Franklin T. Wilson, an assistant professor of criminology at Indiana State University who is writing a book about the cemetery. “But it’s more of a reflection of your socioeconomic status. This is more of a case of if you’re buried there, you’re poor.”
Prison officials have verified 2,100 inmates who are buried at the cemetery, but they say there may be additional graves. Professor Wilson recently photographed every headstone and estimated that there were more than 3,000 graves.
Monday, January 02, 2012
"Getting Prison Numbers Down — For Good"
The title of this post is the title of this effective, lengthy piece by Malcolm Young appearing at The Crime Report. The piece reviews in detail some state sentencing and corrections reforms, and here are excerpts making some important broader points:
Some commentators are celebrating the decrease in prison population numbers reported for 2010 by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) — and they should.
Any attention to mass incarceration is welcome in a nation where prison reformers, community groups, advocates from across the political spectrum, major foundations, and many policymakers favor reducing prison incarceration — currently at levels that have no peacetime historical or international precedent.
Yet despite evidence that the U.S. as a whole may at last have turned away from the annual increases in state prison incarceration that began in the early 1970s, it remains to be seen whether progress toward meaningful reductions will proceed at a pace necessary to have a significant impact on the phenomenon. The basis for broad-based and deep change in sentencing and corrections practices has not yet emerged....
Certainly, the recession has forced policymakers to look to corrections to reduce costs, prompting efforts to reduce incarceration in conservative as well as liberal states: Connecticut, Indiana, Texas, Michigan, New York, Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi to name a few.
But the economy as one factor is hardly the same as the economy as an underlying, broad-based engine driving reform. And against “tough on crime” political assaults, fiscal responsibility stands up like a candle in a hurricane....
Even if we apply these lessons from states that have succeeded in reducing prison incarceration, something is still missing. Except among highly committed corrections staff, advocates and a handful of political leaders, it is difficult to discern evidence of a genuine consensus favoring reductions in prison populations.
So far, neither the dollar nor human costs of a massive system of incarceration and its racial and class impacts, have ignited a widespread, energized political or social movement opposite of that which resulted in mass incarceration. This has to be a concern if there is any chance of reversing four decades of prison expansion.
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
California having success(?) in complying with Plata prison reduction order
According to this new local media report, "California’s prison system has been shedding an average of 933 inmates a week since the governor’s realignment plan took effect this fall, and the state almost hit a court-mandated goal to reduce the population to 133,000 inmates by Dec. 27." Here is more:
As of today, the state’s prisons held 134,804 inmates — just 1,800 short of the target and far closer to that goal than many expected. California prison officials announced the numbers Tuesday and said they are in the midst of preparing a report, due by Jan. 10, that details the progress made toward meeting the court-ordered reductions.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May that California must obey a lower court order to reduce its prison population, agreeing with federal judges who had found that overcrowding was the main cause of “grossly inadequate provision of medical and mental health care.” In the 5-4 ruling, the high court agreed that the prison system — which has held nearly twice its designed capacity for more than a decade — should cut its population to 110,000 by spring of 2013. The court also and set a series of benchmarks for state officials to reach before then.
While state officials did not meet the first target — 167 percent of designed capacity, or 133,000 inmates — by Dec. 27, they got pretty close. In a short statement announcing the numbers, prison officials appeared to credit Gov. Jerry Brown’s realignment plan for the progress. The plan calls for most lower-level and nonviolent offenders to serve their prison sentences in local jails and report to county probation departments instead of the state parole agency upon release. In the written statement, prison officials said the plan — instituted Oct. 1 — has resulted in state prisons taking in an average of 933 fewer inmates per week.
The progress puts the state exactly where it said it would be in an August court filing. In that filing, state officials predicted they would miss the 167 percent by two percentage points (the system is now at 169.2 percent of capacity) but would hit the next goal, a reduction to 155 percent, or 124,000 inmates, by June 27.
I have placed a question mark following the work success in the title to this post because simply meeting court-ordered prison reduction benchmarks is not the only real measure of how successful California is being with its prison-reduction efforts. But if crime continues to decline in the state AND the prison population keeps shrinking, then California will truly have had a successful response to the Plata litigation.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
ACLU blog provides series of notable year-end posts
I am pleased to see that the folks at the ACLU have had the energy and inspiration to do a series of posts recapping the year that was in criminal justice news and developments. Here are links to these posts:
Monday, December 26, 2011
Lengthy new New Yorker piece on juve LWOP and 14-year-old Michigan murderer
The January 2, 2012 issue of The New Yorker (which had an awesome cover I could not avoid posting) has this lengthy piece discussing life without parole sentences for juvenilines. The piece, authored by Rachel Aviv, is titled simply "No Remorse: Should a teen-ager be given a life sentence?". Here is the abstract provided by the magazine's website:
Shortly after midnight on March 6, 2010, Dakotah Eliason sat in a chair in his bedroom with a .38-calibre pistol in his hands, thinking about what the world would be like if he didn’t exist. Earlier that night, Dakotah, who was fourteen, had taken his grandfather’s loaded gun off the coatrack. Dakotah wondered if he was ready to die, and contemplated taking someone else’s life instead. He walked into the living room and stared at his grandfather, Jesse Miles, who was sleeping on the couch. A retired machinist and an avid hunter, Jesse often fell asleep while watching the Discovery Channel. For forty-five minutes, Dakotah sat on a wooden chair, three feet from his grandfather, and talked to himself quietly, debating what to do next. If he got hand towels from the bathroom, he could gag his grandpa. If he used a steak knife, the whole thing might be quieter. He figured he’d use the cordless phone on his bed to report the crime. He felt as if he were watching a movie about himself. Finally, at just after three in the morning, he raised the handgun, his arms trembling, and shot his grandfather in the head. “Man, I shot Papa!” he shouted. He put the gun on the floor and rushed into his grandmother Jean’s bedroom. She yelled for Dakotah to call 911. When officers from the police department in Niles, a rural town in southeast Michigan, arrived seven minutes later, Dakotah was waiting outside next to his grandmother.
Tells about Dakotah’s arrest and his trial as an adult for first-degree murder, which in Michigan carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Discusses the history and evolution of the American juvenile justice system. Although judges have long been attuned to the difficulty of trying mentally ill defendants, there is little recognition that people may be incompetent to stand trial because of their age. Each year, more than two-hundred thousand offenders younger than eighteen are tried as adults, yet only about half of them understand the Miranda warning. Discusses recent and upcoming Supreme Court cases on the sentencing of juveniles. Dakotah was found guilty of first-degree homicide and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Writer visits Dakotah in prison. Discusses his relations with family and with other prisoners.
This piece is quite timely as the top-side briefs are soon to be filed in the big Eighth Amendment juve LWOP cases of Jackson and Miller. According to the docket information at the SCOTUS website, the petitioners' briefs are due to be filed on January 9, 2012 (and that, in turn, means the amicus briefs to be filed in support of the juve defendants will be filed by January 16, 2012). I am very interested to see how both petitioners and amici develop their arguments in these cases because there are so many distinct ways to pitch the argument that their sentences are constitutionally problematic.
A few recent related posts on Jackson and Miller and related issues:
- What might SCOTUS be doing with long-held cases involving 14-year-olds serving LWOP?
- Supreme Court grants cert on two Eighth Amendment LWOP challenges for 14-year-old murderers!
- Basic background on Jackson and Miller, the new SCOTUS juve LWOP cases
- Notable early prediction on what SCOTUS will do with juve LWOP in Jackson and Miller
- "Graham on the Ground"
- Does Graham create constitutional problems for juve LWOP for murder accomplice?
- "The Supreme Court and the Sentencing of Juveniles in the United States: Reaffirming the Distinctiveness of Youth"
- "Juvenile Criminal Responsibility: Can Malice Supply the Want of Years?"
- Great early commentary on SCOTUS taking "Another Bite at the Graham Cracker"
December 26, 2011 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Jackson and Miller Eighth Amendment cases, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Ballot proposal to reform California's three-strikes law moves forward
As reported in this local article, which is headlined "Three strikes reform advances: Language OK'd for ballot; signatures needed," a proposal to bring sentencing reform to the California voters in 2012 continues to progress. Here are the details:
A proposed ballot measure aimed at reforming California's three strikes law has made it past an important hurdle. Attorney General Kamala Harris' office has approved the bill's language — crafted by Stanford law professors — allowing backers to begin collecting signatures to get the measure on the June 2012 ballot.
Supporters say the measure could end up saving taxpayers $100 million per year in reduced incarceration and prosecution costs. The proposed measure differs from past efforts to change the law that went into effect after voters approved it in 1994.
Under the three strikes law, offenders who commit serious, violent crimes can have their sentences doubled if convicted of a second "strike" and can receive 25 years to life in prison on their third strike. The third strike, unlike the first two, does not have to be a serious or violent crime — and it is that aspect that has drawn the most criticism....
The new proposed ballot measure requires that the third strike be a serious, violent crime. The only exception is in the case of convicted murderers, rapists and child molesters, who can still be sentenced to 25 to life for less serious felonies. The measure would also allow certain inmates convicted under non-serious third strikes to petition for re-sentencing....
More than 8,000 third strikers are serving life sentences in California, and officials estimate that one-quarter of them were convicted of non-serious, nonviolent crimes....
Proponents of the new measure, now officially titled "The Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012," must collect more than 500,000 valid signatures for it to qualify for the June ballot.
I am intrigued, and a bit puzzled, that this article talks about this three-strikes reform proposal appearing on the "June 2012 ballot" rather than on the ballot in November 2012. This entry at Ballotpedia explains that June 2012 is when California is scheduled to have its presidential primary vote, but it also suggests that the current plan is for most ballot initiative to show up on the November 2012 ballot. My guess is that this news report is just guessing about when this three-strikes reform proposal would come up for a vote, and I would offer the alternative guess that it is more likely to ultimately appear on the November 2012 ballot.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Latest OSJCL issue focused on mass incarceration
I am very pleased to report that the Fall 2011 issue of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law is now fully available on-line. There are an especially large number of terrific pieces in this issue, starting with this great group of pieces in the symposium titled "Mass Incarceration: Causes, Consequences, and Exit Strategies":
Carol Steiker, Introduction, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 1 (2011).
Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 7 (2011).
David Cole, Turning the Corner on Mass Incarceration? , 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 27 (2011).
Bernard E. Harcourt, Reducing Mass Incarceration: Lessons from the Deinstitutionalization of Mental Hospitals in the 1960s, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 53 (2011).
Mark A. R. Kleiman and Kelsey R. Hollander, Reducing Crime by Shrinking the Prison Headcount, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 89 (2011).
Louis Michael Seidman, Hyper-Incarceration and Strategies of Disruption: Is There a Way Out?, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 109 (2011).
Andrew E. Taslitz, The Criminal Republic: Democratic Breakdown as a Cause of Mass Incarceration, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 133 (2011).
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
"California Prisons Can’t Afford Costly Three Strikes Law"
The title of this post is the headline of this editorial from the Bloomberg editorial board. Here is how it begins:
The costly mess that is the California prison system has produced inmate strikes, violence and a Supreme Court ruling that its teeming institutions are unconstitutional. Now it may produce a welcome byproduct: justice.
Last week, the state gave the go-ahead to a proposed ballot initiative to modify California’s “three strikes” law, enabling backers of the initiative to begin gathering the signatures necessary to put it to a vote. Approved by voters in 1994 after the kidnapping and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas by a career criminal, the law reflected the public’s frustration with pervasive and seemingly ever-more-violent crime.
Two dozen other states adopted three-strikes laws as well, but none is as indiscriminately punitive as California’s, which allows any felony to qualify as a third strike. The state has imposed sentences of 25 years to life for third strikes such as shoplifting a pair of socks and prying open the door to a church food pantry.
Many of the more than 8,000 prisoners serving third-strike sentences in California are hardened, violent criminals who have earned lengthy terms, or life, behind bars. Their sentences would not be shortened by the ballot initiative. But more than 3,600 third-strikers have committed crimes that were neither violent nor serious. In addition, local prosecutors and judges exercise broad discretion on third-strike sentencing, producing vast disparities among the state’s counties.
The original three-strikes law was written too broadly to provide just punishment in the thousands of circumstances it covers. With the state buckling under the strain of chronic budget deficits and a sagging economy, it is now too expensive to maintain. According to the state auditor, the cost of imprisoning nonviolent three-strikes offenders for 25 years is $4.8 billion. (California will spend roughly $10 billion on prisons this year -- more than it spends on its once-renowned higher education system.) Backers of the initiative say it will save at least tens of millions of dollars a year.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Record setting(?) prison inmate on verge of parole release in Texas
This AP article, headlined "Texas inmate paroled after 60 years," reports on a remarkable and record-setting prisoner on the verge of finally being released from prison. Here is how the piece starts:
When Harvey Stewart first went to prison 60 years ago, gasoline was 20 cents a gallon, a postage stamp cost three pennies and Harry Truman was president. Now, as perhaps one of the longest-serving inmates in US history, the convicted killer is looking forward to the perks of freedom when he is released on parole in the coming weeks or months.
An IPod or cell phone perhaps? Not for this 83-year-old. Stewart simply wants a root beer and a good meal. "Imagine that! Sixty years being down in this damn hole," Stewart recently told The Associated Press from the Beto Unit in East Texas, one of his many stops in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "I wouldn't recommend it. Man's a damn fool to even stick his foot in here."
Stewart, awaiting his release to a halfway house or nursing home after being granted parole earlier this year, recalled his youthful days of robbing brothels in Southeast Texas for quick $3,000 pay days, of getting shot in the back while holding up a junk yard and murdering a man in what he insists was a self-defense killing.
But the six decades in prison haven't been nearly as eventful. He counts among his highlights his brief escape in 1965 and a recurring headache from a prison van wreck a couple years ago. Besides those short-lived respites from monotony, Stewart has served his time isolated from the outside world. He doesn't recall receiving a single visitor in more than a decade. He's outlived most or all his immediate family.
His parole was approved in April, with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles considering his recent history of good behavior, his age and declining health. "I'm too damn old to do any robbing," said Stewart, his blond hair now a balding gray brush cut. "I think I am anyway. My old ticker might kick out on me."
Stewart is the longest-serving inmate among the 155,000 prisoners in the Texas system, though it's unclear if he is the nation's longest-serving inmate now or ever. Prison officials and historians say they're unaware of any agency or organization that keeps track of all inmates' jail time.
Among other states with significant prison populations, convicted murderer James Moore, 78, has been locked up in New York since 1963. In California, 80-year-old Booker Hillery first went to prison in 1955 for rape and was returned in 1962 for a murder earlier that year while on parole. Norman Parker is Florida's longest-serving inmate, arriving in 1967.
Stewart was first sent to prison in spring 1951 after a junk yard heist in Houston got him a 10-year sentence. He was paroled after serving six years but was convicted in 1958 of murdering a man in Beaumont and received a life sentence. Seven years later he broke out of prison for several days, then waited another two decades before being paroled a second time to a halfway house and worked as a dishwasher. He used his freedom in 1984 to eat a Big Mac for the first time, but by summer 1986 he was back behind bars, busted for a robbery plot.
Because this offender was free for various periods during his six decades of incarceration, his story is not quite as remarkable as those of other offenders confined for nearly a half-century without even a moment of freedom. Still, this story tells what seems likely to be an increasingly common tale of a serious criminal getting finally released from state once getting too old to do much other than cost the state a lot of money in medical bills if kept in prison.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Has there been a big new crime wave in California in recent months?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article headlined "California prison population drops by 8,000 since realignment." Here is how the article starts:
The number of inmates in California prisons has dropped by 8,000 since “realignment” took effect Oct. 1. Court papers state officials filed Thursday indicate the change. Officials reported the new numbers Thursday under a federal court order to reduce crowding in the prisons. In its monthly status report to the court, officials said the state prison population dropped by 8,218 between Oct. 5 and Dec. 7.
California prison officials say the transfer of low-level felons to county officials that began in October will allow the state to meet a court-ordered reduction a month after a Dec. 27 deadline.
The state’s prison population has declined from a record high of 173,000 in 2006 to the current population of 135,000. But many prisons remain packed with almost twice the number of inmates they were designed to hold.
The court order resulting in these prison reductions is the one upheld by the Supreme Court in Plata earlier this year despite strenuous objections and dire warnings of Justices Alito and Scalia and others about a likely spike in crime as a result. I am thus wondering, given that it appears that California is going to be soon complying with this court order, if there is developing evidence of a new crime wave.
I sincerely hope that there is an on-going effort to track the public safety impact of the prison population reductions in California, especially because it seems that different localities are responding to the influx of former prisoners in different ways. The process of prison realignment is thus creating a kind of post-prison community reentry natural experiment, and I would expect spikes in crime to vary in different localities based on both the nature of the offenders returning to the community and also how the communities are responding to the return of these offenders.
Only a few months into the realignment plan, it is surely to early to have clear or conclusive evidence on the public safety consequences of Plata and its aftermath. Still I am very eager to hear any early reports, especially from anyone actively working on these issues, about what we might know on this front so far.
Ohio condemned to have new place to await their execution
I found interesting this morning this article in my local Columbus Dispatch about the impact of Ohio's decision to relocate its death row. The article is headlined "Death Row prisoners will gain a few perks when they’re moved to Chillicothe," and here is how it gets started:
Prisoners on the “ new” Death Row at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution are taking a step back in time, to 1926. The move from the Ohio State Penitentiary at Youngstown, to be completed by the end of the month, means prisoners will have smaller cells in a wing of an old federal prison that once housed notorious killer Charles Manson, among others.
But there are advantages: a gymnasium with a basketball court, a small outdoor recreation area and an indoor area where “contact” visits with family members will be permitted. All are Death Row firsts.
Some members of the news media got a rare look inside Death Row yesterday before inmates are moved into the “prison within a prison.” Once the condemned men arrive, tight security restrictions will make it off-limits to the media except for interviews in designated areas, and for the 2,600 prisoners in the general population.
There is a sense of foreboding about the 85-year-old Chillicothe prison, with its stone-pillared administration building, compared with the stripped-down modernity of the 13-year-old Youngstown facility, known as a “super-max” facility because it was designed to house the “worst of the worst” offenders.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
"Blagojevich seeks drug treatment in prison"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Chicago Tribune article, which gets started this way:
Convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants to enroll in a substance-abuse program at a federal prison outside of Denver, a move that could shave up to a year off of his prison sentence.
Blagojevich’s legal team, however, has downplayed the request, briefly mentioning the drug program by only its acronym in court Tuesday, resulting in hardly anyone noticing among a throng of reporters. And then, a day later, the attorneys declined to comment at all. But the move raises questions about whether Blagojevich suffers from a real substance-abuse problem or is simply angling to reduce his stiff 14-year sentence.
Two former associates of another convicted former Illinois governor, George Ryan, said Wednesday that they remember it didn’t take much to get into the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program — as little as regularly consuming five alcoholic drinks a week before they had been incarcerated.
“Any defense lawyer in town that’s worth their salt all know about this and they all try to get their clients in,” said Scott Fawell, Ryan’s former chief of staff who cut his sentence by about 8 months by completing the drug program at a federal prison in Yankton, S.D. “(A lot) of the people who go through the system now ask for it or attempt to get in. How many actually need it, I couldn’t tell you.”
U.S. District Judge James Zagel agreed this week to recommend Blagojevich for the counseling program at a low-security prison in Littleton, Colo., but the ultimate decision will be made by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. According to the agency’s guidelines, inmates must have “a verifiable substance-use disorder.”
“The bottom line is that we look for evidence that the inmate has a documented substance-abuse history before their arrest,” said Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons. “If that is five drinks a week and there is something to verify that beyond that inmate’s statement, that might qualify.”
At the Littleton facility, inmates are given an initial screening by medical and psychological staff on their arrival at the institution but are not screened for admittance into the substance-abuse program until three to four years before their release date. Inmates must have a proven history of substance abuse within the 12-month period before their arrest.
Big moral of this story: if you start getting investigated by the feds, it might well be in your best interest to start driving heavily.
Big concern about this story: recidivism data suggests the RDAP program in the federal system does lots of good, and I sincerely hope that Blago does not become a bad apple that ruins the RDAP bunch.
Latest official BJS numbers show historic modern decrease in prison population
Proving once again the aphorism that what goes up (and up and up and up) must eventually come down, this new press release reports on a notable new development concerning modern prison populations:
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today that the number of offenders under adult correctional supervision in the U.S. declined 1.3 percent in 2010, the second consecutive year of decline since BJS began reporting on this population in 1980. At yearend 2010, about 7.1 million people, or 1 in 33 adults, were under the supervision of adult correctional authorities in the U.S.
In addition, the total U.S. prison population fell to 1.6 million at yearend 2010, a decline of 0.6 percent during the year, the first decline in the total prison population in nearly four decades. This decline was due to a decrease of 10,881 in the number of state prisoners, which fell to just under 1.4 million persons and was the largest yearly decrease since 1977. The federal prison population grew by 0.8 percent (1,653 prisoners) to reach 209,771, the smallest percentage increase since 1980....
During 2010, prison releases (708,677) exceeded prison admissions (703,798). The decrease in commitments into state prison, especially the 3.3 percent decrease in the number committed from the courts on a new sentence, was responsible for the decline in the state prison population. The time that offenders entering state prison could expect to serve on a commitment, about 2 years, remained relatively stable between 2009 and 2010, which indicates that the decline in the state prison population during the year was the result of a decrease in admissions.
Half of state departments of corrections reported decreases in their prison population during 2010. California (down 6,213) and Georgia (down 4,207) reported the largest decreases, followed by New York (down 2,031) and Michigan (down 1,365). Illinois (up 3,257) reported the largest increase, followed by Texas (up 2,400) and Arkansas (up 996).
In 2010, the U.S. imprisonment rate dropped to 497 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 (938 per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was about 14 times the imprisonment rate for females (67 per 100,000 female U.S. residents).
Among offender age groups, about 3.1 percent of black males in the nation were in state or federal prison, compared to just under 0.5 percent of white males and 1.3 percent of Hispanic males. Also, an estimated 7.3 percent of all black males ages 30 to 34 were incarcerated with a sentence of more than 1 year.
All of these interesting data and lots and lots more appear this pair of new documents:
I cannot overstate how excited I am to learn that, at the same time that US crime rates continue to hit record modern lows, we are also seeing a decrease in the number of persons incarcerated throughout the country. And I hope and trust that all readers, no matter what their perspective on sentencing law and policy, will also see this news as cause for celebration.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
DC jury awards $2.3 million to man imprisoned a decade after wrongful parole revocation
As reported in this post at The BLT, a federal jury "awarded a Washington man $2.3 million in damages on Monday for the 10 years he spent in prison after his parole was wrongfully revoked." Here are the basics:
Charles Singletary was released on parole in 1990 after serving seven years in jail for an armed robbery conviction. In July 1996, however, the District of Columbia Board of Parole -- a body that no longer exists -- revoked his parole and re-imprisoned Singletary after he was accused of being involved in a murder.
After several failed attempts to challenge the revocation in Washington's local and federal courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with Singletary in 2006, finding that he had been denied due process at his parole-revocation hearing. Singletary sued the city (PDF) in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2009.
In August, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson found that the District was liable for the violation of Singletary’s constitutional rights. The trial on damages began Dec. 6. The jury began deliberating on Monday and returned a verdict in the afternoon.
“We think that it fairly compensates Mr. Singletary for what was a terrible wrong and we were happy with the decisions along the way,” said Edward Sussman, a Washington solo practitioner and one of Singletary’s attorneys. “It’s 10 years of a man’s life and unfortunately the only thing we have to give back is money.”
Singletary’s 10-year quest for justice began with his arrest in 1995 for the murder of Leroy Houtman. Singletary, who denied any involvement with the murder, was never indicted and the charges were dropped. In July 1996, according to the complaint, the D.C. Board of Parole held a hearing to decide whether to revoke Singletary’s parole from the earlier armed robbery case.
The board heard what was later determined to be hearsay evidence linking Singletary to the murder. His parole was revoked in August 1996 and he was sent back to jail. According to the complaint, Singletary “was subjected to harsh living conditions” and, because of inadequate medical treatment, went blind from untreated glaucoma.
Singletary first filed a challenge to this parole revocation in Superior Court in 1997, which was denied and upheld on appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. He tried again in 2000 in the same courts, unsuccessfully. Later in 2000, Singletary petitioned unsuccessfully for a writ of habeas corpus in Washington federal court. He appealed.
In July 2006, the D.C. Circuit reversed the District court’s denial of Singletary’s petition. The appeals court found that the board relied on testimony from police and a prosecutor that was based on hearsay reports from two individuals without first-hand knowledge of the crime.
“Yet though the government is not required to carry a heavy burden in such proceedings, it cannot return a parolee to prison based on a record as shoddy as this one,” the appellate judges wrote in their opinion (PDF). By the time Singletary had a new parole-revocation hearing in October 2006, the duties of the D.C. Board of Parole had been transferred to the U.S. Parole Commission. The commission found that there was no evidence linking Singletary to the murder and released Singletary the following month.
Singletary sued the city in April 2009, seeking $20 million in damages.
While there are many interesting elements of this story that merit commentary, I would be especially interested to hear reader reactions to the amount of the jury damages award.
My first reaction to the jury award was that $2.3 million for 10 years in prison is a pretty good pay-day: in this lean economy, I suspect some people might be excited about the prospect of "working" in prison for a $230,000 annual salary (even if we think of the imprisoned as working 24/7, that still works out to an hourly rate of more than $25/hour for all the time spent in prison). And yet, thinking about the award as an offer, I suspect few if any would accept an offer of $2.3 million in order to spend the next 10 years in prison. (That said, I suspect more than a few persons might seriously consider an offer of $20 million -- what Singletary sought in damages -- for a decade behind bars.)
One follow-up question (which I will pose to Paul Caron at TaxProf): Does Singletary now get to enjoy this $2.3 million award free from all federal and local taxes? I believe that there has been some new rules and litigation of late concerning what parts of a compensatory tort award are still tax-free, and this case and the general damages verdict rended by the jury here could present an interesting set of issues concerning the nature of the harm(s) Singletary suffered from his wrongful imprisonment.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
"Solving the Good Time Puzzle: Why Following the Rules Should Get You Out of Prison Early"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new piece by Professor Michael O'Hear, which is available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Good-time programs have long been an important part of the American penal landscape. At least twenty-nine states and the federal government currently offer prison inmates early release, sometimes by many years, in return for good behavior.
Written a generation ago, the leading scholarly article on the subject presented a strong case against good time, which has yet to be effectively addressed. Although good time is traditionally justified by reference to its usefulness in deterring inmate misconduct — credits can be denied or withdrawn as a penalty for violations of prison rules — the article questioned how it could possibly be just to impose additional incarceration based on mere violations of administrative regulations.
In response to this important challenge, the present Essay proposes a new way to conceptualize good-time credits, specifically, as a way to recognize atonement. Drawing on increasingly influential communicative theories of punishment, the Essay argues that good time can be seen as congruent with (and not, as is commonly supposed, in opposition to) the basic purposes of sentencing. The Essay then proposes reforms that would help good-time programs more fully to embody the atonement ideal.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
"The Early Demise of Early Release"
The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Professor Cecelia Klingele now available on SSRN. I suspect that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich — who is now looking, after today's sentencing, at a likely federal prison release date sometime in the year 2024 even if he earns the maximum good time credits — is not the only defendant now subject to a long prison sentence who might hope that many legislators give serious consideration to this article's advocacy for greater use of early release mechanisms. Here is the article's abstract:
Reversing the tough-on-crime policies that have defined American criminal justice for the past two decades, cash-strapped states across the nation have begun reducing the number of people they confine in prisons and jails. In their efforts to reduce correctional populations, numerous states have passed laws that allow parole boards, prison officials, or judges to shorten the sentences of people already serving time in custody. These so-called "early release" laws have proven highly controversial, and in at least three states have been repealed outright. In others, they remain on the books but have provided less savings than anticipated because of the failure of decision-makers to utilize their newly-conferred authority.
This Article examines the early demise of early release in several jurisdictions, identifying practical, political, and moral obstacles to the practice of early release that may account for the failure of recent legislation. Responding to those concerns, I suggest principles to guide future efforts to reduce custodial populations through the use of early release. These include drafting laws that respect the limits of institutional capacity, adopting principled rules about who may be released early and for what reasons, and emphasizing the moral concerns that justify efforts to reduce prison populations.
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Effective review of the enduring challenge of cutting prison costs
This local article from Texas, which is headlined "Prison cuts prove fleeting: Critics say state can't afford to lock up so many people," highlights that even those states that have been effective at reducing the growth of its prison population will still often struggle to actually reduce its prison costs. Here are excerpts from this effective piece:
Last summer, when tough-on-crime Texas closed its first prison ever, legislative leaders were jubilant over downsizing one of the nation's largest corrections systems by more than 1,000 beds. It was a first big step, they said, toward saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in coming years.
Meanwhile, prison officials were adding bunks to the other 111 state prisons, which house more than 156,000 convicts. By last week, Texas had about 2,000 more prison bunks than it did a year ago, thanks to a state law that requires the prison system to maintain some excess capacity as a cushion against crowding.
Because those beds will likely fill up — empty prison beds almost always do — Texas taxpayers could be in line for some whopping additional costs come 2013. The situation illustrates how difficult it is to significantly reduce prison costs in a fast-growing state like Texas without confronting a tough political question: Can society afford to keep so many criminals behind bars?
"This is the adult discussion that the Legislature is going to have to have," said Scott Medlock, an Austin attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. "Ultimately, the problem is that we're incarcerating too many people for too long."
State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who for more than a decade has headed the committee that oversees prisons, echoes the sentiment: "At some point, because of the costs, we have to recognize that we don't need to waste one dollar incarcerating one person that doesn't really need to be behind bars. We're at that point."
To significantly reduce the number of people in prison, state laws could be changed to reduce penalties for some crimes or to limit local judges' discretion to mete out long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes — both of which would be unpopular politically. About 35 percent of the convicts in prison are serving time for nonviolent crimes, according to a prison system statistical report for 2010....
Expecting that an even tighter budget may be ahead, even as prison costs — especially medical costs — increase, a variety of advocacy groups are pushing for fewer Texans in prison. Medlock suggests that the state Board of Pardons and Paroles should release Texas' "most medically expensive and least criminally dangerous" prisoners — a group that could include several hundred.
Ten convicts alone racked up more than $6.1 million in medical bills during 2010 — including one 45-year-old prisoner whose treatment cost more than $1.2 million, internal prison-system statistics show. Under current law, prisoners are not eligible to receive Medicaid. Parolees, however, can.
"Texas inmates aged 55 and older make up about eight percent of the state's prison population, but account for more than 30 percent of the system's hospital costs," Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project wrote in a letter to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which is reviewing the operations of the prison and parole systems with an eye toward overhaul in 2013.
New corrections report from Minnesota shows positive impact of positive visits
This local article from Minnesota, which is headlined "Visits paid to prison pay off: Inmates who get visitors are less likely to commit crimes again, a Corrections study finds," reports on some positive findings from a recent state study. Here are the basics:
It turns out [inmate] visits, though they seem mundane, play a significant role in improving public safety and reducing corrections costs. Inmates who receive regular visits from family, friends and volunteers are much less likely to be convicted of a felony once they leave prison because they develop strong support networks while imprisoned, according to a study just completed by the state Department of Corrections (DOC).
Although it may seem obvious, the finding could trigger changes across Minnesota's state prison system. It will likely prompt the Corrections Department to extend visiting hours, address decrepit conditions in visiting areas and reach out for volunteers to spend time with prisoners who've been abandoned by family.
"The ability to make a successful transition from prison to rebuilding a normal life can be measured by visits and shows there are significant savings in public safety costs," said Grant Duwe, DOC's director of research. "Just going back to prison for a technical violation of probation violation costs $9,000 a pop, so you can see how it becomes expensive."
Using a sample of 16,400 prisoners released from Minnesota's correctional system between 2003 and 2007, Duwe evaluated the relationship between prisoner visits and recidivism. He found that inmates who get regular visits are 13 percent less likely to wind up back in prison because of new felonies and 25 percent less likely to commit probation violations that would put them back behind bars.
"We're trying to get past the point in corrections where we just used our intuition about what works," said David Crist, assistant Corrections commissioner. "In today's state government, that is not enough to make changes a reality."
At the same time, the study exposed a glaring issue Corrections officials realize they must address: Roughly four in 10 inmates in the sample never received a visitor. Such offenders face huge obstacles to creating a new life after prison because they haven't developed a network of people who can help with jobs, housing and transportation. "Because many offenders have burned bridges with loved ones by the time they reach prison, facilitating visits from friends and family may not be an option,'' Duwe observed.
Among other key findings:
• It matters who shows up. Visits from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy were most likely to cut recidivism. Visits by mentors and clergy cut the risk of reconviction by more than 25 percent.
• Conversely, visits by ex-spouses actually increased the chance that a prisoner would re-offend. That may reflect conflict in severed relationships, which can create instability in an ex-offender's life.
• Frequency matters. Inmates visited more often were less likely to wind up back in prison after their release. The average number of visits per inmate was 36, nearly two visits each month. And visits closer to an offender's release date did more to reduce criminal behavior later.
Monday, December 05, 2011
Ninth Circuit applies Tapia rule to supervised release revocation sentences
It is possible (probably?) that only hard-core federal sentencing fans will understand either the title of this post or the significance of the Ninth Circuit's work today in US v. Grant, No. 10-10245 (9th Cir. Dec. 4, 2011) (available here). With luck, these final substantive paragraphs from the Grant (with footnote cites removed) opinion will explain in more detail what this post is all about and why this issue might be of interest to at least a few folks beyond hard-core federal sentencing fans:
Two of our sister circuits have divided on whether Tapia applies to imprisonment on revocation of supervised release. The First Circuit held in United States v. Molignaro that courts are not permitted to consider rehabilitation when they are revoking a term of supervised release, just as they are not permitted to do so when they initially sentence a defendant to prison or lengthen his prison sentence. Molignaro takes special note of the incapacity of the sentencing court to require the Bureau of Prisons to enroll a prisoner in a particular rehabilitation program after revocation of supervised release, the same reason that Tapia noted in the context of an initial sentence. The Fifth Circuit in United States v. Breland goes the other way, noting that the supervised release statute directs a court to certain Section 3553 factors, including rehabilitation, and does not include the “recognizing that . . .” prohibition.
We think that the First Circuit has the better of the arguments. The point in Molignaro about the incapacity of the revoking court to order what it considers to be appropriate rehabilitative measures outweighs the cross-referencing argument in Breland. The “recognizing that . . .” phrase does not limit itself, by its words, to initial sentencing, but appears to embrace all sentences of imprisonment. We recognize that sentencing judges may have a hard time following Tapia’s command: “Do not think about prison as a way to rehabilitate an offender.” “[R]etribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation,” the “four purposes of sentencing,” sound more distinct than they really are. A judge may reasonably think that retribution and incapacitation will most effectively rehabilitate the criminal being sentenced. Punishment for wrongdoing is “classical conditioning whose effects we ordinarily identify as conscience,” so the verbal difference between punishment and rehabilitation may obscure the fact that they are often the same thing. We make a child behave by telling him to go to his room, and we make an adult behave by telling him to go to his room, only his room has bars. Hopefully both the child and the adult will internalize a sense of wrongdoing attached to whatever conduct caused their confinement.
Nevertheless, Tapia is the controlling statutory construction. So prison, whether as an initial sentence or on revocation of supervised release, can be imposed and the duration selected only for purposes of retribution, deterrence, and incapacitation, not rehabilitation. When a judge imposes prison, he may wisely believe that it will have rehabilitative benefits, but those benefits cannot be the reason for imposing it. On revocation of supervised release, district judges must make and articulate their imprisonment decisions in terms of the other legitimate sentencing criteria. This rule applies both when determining whether to impose imprisonment and when determining the length of the prison sentence.
Professor Becker and Judge Posner examine mass incarceration in the US
This week's topic on "The Becker-Posner Blog" is the question "Does America Imprison Too Many People?." Regular readers likely know that I think the answer to the question in yes, and Professor Gary Becker and Judge Richard Posner also seem to come to this conclusion. Here are the concluding paragraphs from Professor Becker's analysis of the question:
Elsewhere I have discuss why the US should decriminalize and legalize drugs (see, for example, my post on 3/20/2005 called “The Failure of the War on Drugs”). If the US were to do that, the prison population would eventually fall by over 30%. The imprisonment of blacks and women would fall by even larger percentages since these groups are more likely to be in prison on drug-related charges. Such a policy change would also release police and other resources that have been used to catch and punish drug dealers to concentrate on crimes where victims suffer great harm. These crimes would then fall, perhaps because more offenders would be caught and imprisoned. The US might still imprison a larger fraction of its population than peer countries, but the differences would become much smaller than at present.
Imprisonment should be rarely used also for other victimless crimes, for crimes that do not greatly harm victims, and for crimes where victims can be adequately compensated by fines and other monetary punishments. In these cases, punishment should consist of fines, probation, and other ways that do not require imprisonment. Eliminating imprisonment for drugs and other victimless crimes,and for many other crimes would cut greatly the US’ bloated prison population, reduce the spending on prisoners, and cut down the depreciation of the market skills of offenders who did not commit serious crimes.
Here are the concluding paragraphs from Judge Posner's analysis of the question:
There are a number of other possible explanations for the conjunction of a high rate of imprisonment with a high crime rate. One is not enough police, or intelligent enough police, to prevent and detect crime effectively. Another is a high elasticity of supply for criminal activity, so that discouraging or preventing one person from committing crimes induces someone else to enter the crime industry. Another (suggested above) is that we define crime too broadly, criminalizing activities that in other countries are lawful; our high rate of sexual offenses against minors is a function in part of a high age of consent (18). Or we may make too little use of fines, and of regulatory and private-litigation alternatives to criminal punishment. The prevalence of gun ownership may be a factor, along with the proximity to the United States of countries in Latin America that are large producers of illegal drugs. And finally crime rates are particularly high in the southern states of the United States, and that may have deep cultural roots.
Reform is difficult when the causes of a problem are multiple or unknown. And because the direct monetary costs of the criminal justice system are not very great by current standards (only about $40 billion a year), and there is strong hostility among the general public to criminals (another cultural fact, perhaps), and because our huge prison system provides a great deal of employment, there is no pressure for reform. Yet the indirect costs of high levels of incarceration must be very great, in the form of the lost output of the large number of prisoners, most of whom are of working age.
When might media (or GOP opponents) discuss Newt Gingrich's "Right on Crime" positions?
Today's USA Today has this new piece on the GOP presidential campaign headlined "All eyes on Newt Gingrich in GOP race." The piece would be misleading if it were titled "Eyes looking at all of Newt," however, because there has not been yet any mention — let alone any extended examination — of Newt Gingrich's prominent position within the important new "Right on Crime" organization.
Regular readers may recall my emphasis on Gingrich's active and vocal involvement in the Right on Crime Campaign a little more than a year ago, and my excitement when he stated explicitly in a co-authored commentary that the US "can no longer afford business as usual with prisons" and that the "criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it." My hope was that, especially as Gingrich announced his interest in the presidency, that Gingrich's role in "Right on Crime" would foster a more dynamic and politically balanced discussion of a number of important crime and justice issues in the presidential campaign. So far, though, despite Gingrich's rising poll numbers, the "Right on Crime" campaign has not even made a blip on the media radar. (I have not seen any new media discussion of these matters; this post is meant as a criticism of not just the MSM on this front.)
Regular readers are likely already tired of hearing me whine about the failure of the GOP candidates to engage with any crime and punishment issues on the campaign trail. But when Bachmann and Cain were flavors of the month, this was more understandable because of a lack of a real record on these issue. But Gingrich not only has a record, he has made important (and controversial?) comments on these fronts that should be getting at least some media attention as part of Newt-mania.
Perhaps Gingrich's opponents will be the one who see an opportunity here. I would certainly not put it past Romney or others to try out some old "soft on crime" rhetoric if/when they decide they cannot get other attacks to stick in the weeks ahead. Sadly, because of the media's failure to cover these important public policy matters, I am almost hoping that they do.
Some recent and older related posts on Gingrich and the modern politics of sentencing issues:
- Newt Gingrich says "criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it"
- Will Newt Gingrich's statements about a "broken" criminal justice system get attention as he launches a run for President?
- New GOP front-runner Newt Gingrich talking up death penalty for drug kingpins
- "Right on Crime: The Conservative Case for Reform" officially launches
- "NAACP, right-wing foes get friendly" when it comes to prison costs
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- When and how will state GOP leaders start cutting expensive criminal justice programming?
- New poll reports that large majority of Americans consider "War on Drugs" a failure
- Can GOP "Pledge to America" be read to suggest drawing down federal involvement in the drug war?
- What does the tea party movement have to say about taxing and spending on the death penalty, the drug war and mass incarceration?
Thursday, December 01, 2011
Conrad Black's latest harsh attack on the US criminal justice system
Notable federal felon Conrad Black has this potent new commentary on the US criminal justice system, which notably appears in the National Review Online. The piece is headlined "Justice Denied: The U.S. legal system is a disgrace," and here is how it starts and ends:
In the current issue of Commentary, there is a symposium of 43 knowledgeable people who discuss whether they are optimistic or pessimistic about America. In the current edition of The New Criterion, the eminent British historian Andrew Roberts, now a U.S. resident, assesses similar points in a lead essay about how benign America has been as the superpower, and how keenly it will be missed if superseded in that role by China.
Nowhere in either interesting section of either magazine is the appalling state of the U.S. justice system mentioned as symbolic or indicative of the country’s problems. Very adequate attention is given to the uncompetitive deterioration of American public education, to fiscal irresponsibility, and certainly to the shortcomings of popular culture and the media.
I try to rise above the fact, known to most readers, that I write from a federal prison where I have been sent for a total of 37 months, for crimes I did not commit, and after all 17 counts against me were abandoned, rejected by jurors, or vacated by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court. I have amply described my legal travails elsewhere and refer to them here only as disclosure.
The United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people per capita as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, all prosperous democracies. The U.S. has a much higher percentage of successful prosecutions, a lower hurdle to clear to prosecute (with rubber-stamp grand juries), a greater range of offenses, heavier sentences, and a higher recidivism rate than any of those other countries.
As Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia wrote in his essay “Criminal Injustice” two years ago, either those other countries are less concerned with crime than the U.S., or Americans are more addicted to criminal behavior — both preposterous suggestions — or the U.S. justice system is not working well.
There are 48 million people in the United States with a “record,” many of them based on ancient DUIs or disorderly behavior decades ago at a fraternity party and other unstigmatizing offenses, but still a severe inconvenience to them when they travel abroad or their names are fed to almost any information system; and millions have had their lives effectively ruined. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated people, and 50 percent of the world’s lawyers, who invoice almost 10 percent of U.S. GDP (around $1.4 trillion annually). In the mid-1970s, the U.S. had about 650,000 people in mental institutions; today, it has only 50,000. Prisoners cost $40,000 per year to detain, and some states can no longer afford it. The conditions of hundreds of thousands of prisoners are grossly and shamefully inhumane. (My own are not.)
The Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights of assurance against capricious prosecution, due process, no seizure of property without due compensation, an impartial jury, access to counsel, prompt justice, and reasonable bail, don’t exist. The ubiquitous plea bargain is just the wholesale subornation or extortion of inculpatory perjury in exchange for immunities or reduced sentences (often with people who are threatened, although there is no evidence against them). Assets are routinely frozen on the basis of false affidavits in ex parte proceedings to deny defendants the ability to defend themselves. Those who do exercise their constitutional right to a defense receive three times as severe a sentence as those who plead guilty; 95 percent of cases are won by prosecutors, 90 percent of those without trial. The public defenders have no resources to conduct a serious defense and are usually just Judas goats of the prosecutors conducting the defendants to legal destruction.
Sentences are absurd: A marijuana deliverer is apt to be sentenced to 20 years in prison. There is minimal effort to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders. Private-sector firms are increasingly active in the prison industry and they and the militantly unionized correctional officers, almost all unskilled labor, constantly lead public demands for more criminal statutes and more draconian penalties.
Unfortunately, the immense surge in American incarceration rates is largely credited with the decline in crime rates, though better police work, more general use of video cameras at potential crime sites, an aging population, and, for a long time, improving living standards, were responsible....
The state of American justice is shameful and unspeakable, literally so to judge from the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil insouciance of Commentary’s blue-ribbon high table of contemporary critics. Many of them attacked the nihilistic, self-destructive anti-Americanism of the American campuses, absolutely correctly. But if they noticed the fraudulence that has metastasized through the American legal system, their critique would carry greater weight.
The moral soul of America is rotting away and the only defense an individual American has is numbers: The prosecutocracy cannot send more than 1 percent of the entire adult population to prison at any one time, if only for budgetary reasons.
The first line of defense of society as a whole are those whose vocation is to study and espouse public policy. Failure on this scale will make them complicit in this vast crime of the state, if it continues. I am listening for Jefferson’s firebell in the night and all I hear is Gertrude Stein’s sound of one hand clapping.
Wowsa! I assume that Bill Otis and perhaps other readers will perceive these assertions by Conrad Black to be just another anti-criminal-justice rant from another hater of America. That may be accurate, but I think Bill and others tend to assume that these folks come to hate America from the left and only get attention from liberal-leaning media. But I do not think Conrad Black is fairly considered a lefty, nor do I think the National Review can be fairly blasted for being part of the left-leaning media.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
"Racial Critiques of Mass Incarceration: Beyond the New Jim Crow"
The title of this post is the title of this new piece now available via SSRN from Professor James Forman Jr. Here is the abstract:
In the five decades since black Americans won their civil rights, hundreds of thousands have lost their liberty. Blacks now make up a larger portion of the prison population than they did at the time of Brown v. Board of Education, and their lifetime risk of incarceration has doubled. Mass incarceration’s racial dimensions have led an emerging group of scholars to call the American criminal justice system a new form of Jim Crow. This Article examines the New Jim Crow analogy. I begin by pointing out that the analogy is extraordinarily compelling in some respects — for example, the analogy effectively draws attention to the injustices created by a facially race-neutral system that severely ostracizes offenders and stigmatizes young, poor black men as criminals.
But despite its contributions, the Jim Crow analogy ultimately leads to a distorted view of mass incarceration. First, the Jim Crow analogy oversimplifies the origins of mass incarceration by highlighting the role of politicians seeking to exploit racial fears while minimizing other historical factors. Second, the analogy has too little to say about black attitudes towards crime and punishment, masking the nature and extent of black support for punitive crime policy. Third, the analogy’s exclusive focus on the War on Drugs diverts our attention from violent crime — a troubling oversight given the toll that violence takes on low-income black communities and the fact that violent offenders make up a plurality of the prison population. Fourth, the Jim Crow analogy obscures the fact that mass incarceration’s impact has been almost exclusively concentrated among the most disadvantaged African-Americans. Fifth, the analogy draws our attention away from the harms that mass incarceration inflicts on other racial groups, including whites and Hispanics. Finally, the analogy diminishes our understanding of the particular harms associated with the old Jim Crow.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Texas now has "lifer" row larger than its death row
As reported in this new Houston Chronicle piece, which is titled "Nearly 400 capital murder convicts get life without parole," Texas after just a few years after creating LWOP as an alternative to the death penalty now has more inmates slated to die in prison from old age rather than from a trip to the executions chamber. Here are the details, which include some very interesting statistics:
In six years, Texas has built a "lifer's row" filled with 398 prisoners who will never be released through parole - a fast-growing group that already has outpaced the number of inmates serving a death sentence in the Lone Star State, a Houston Chronicle analysis of prison records shows.
Harris County prosecutors, who historically have led the state in seeking death sentences, have so far also been the most aggressive in pursuing capital murder charges and obtaining mandatory life without parole sentences in capital cases.
Texas became the last of the death penalty states to approve life without parole in September 2005, after Harris County prosecutors dropped their opposition to the change. The law applies only to offenders convicted of capital murder.
For the first time, it gave jurors and prosecutors a non-death sentence that guaranteed someone convicted of killing a child, killing multiple victims, slaying a police officer or committing another capital crime could not be released on parole.
In all, 110 Harris County offenders have been sentenced to life without parole since the law took effect, compared with 11 death sentences. "Harris County is a tough law and order county on the really bad actors. That hasn't changed," said First Assistant District Attorney James Leitner.
The change has led to fewer death sentences in Texas and nationwide. Fifty-one people were sentenced to life without parole in Dallas County. Tarrant County had 26; Bexar County had 22.
Texas offenders convicted of capital murder were six times more often sentenced to life without parole than to death: 66 people got death sentences compared with the 398 lifers. The life without parole law has been used in about one third of all Texas counties at least once, the Chronicle's analysis of state prison records shows....
From September 2005 to September 2009, Texas allowed life without parole prison sentences for juvenile offenders who had been certified to stand trial as adults. The law was subsequently changed to bar such punishment. By then, 21 people sentenced for crimes they committed before age 18 had been sentenced, including eight from Harris County....
Seventeen women are serving life without parole. Two were juvenile offenders. One is Ashley Ervin, a former Harris County area honor student sentenced for her role at 17 as the driver for a murderous robbery ring led by older males....
Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit critical of the national explosion in such sentences, argued the offenders are more likely to come from impoverished minority groups who sometimes get unfairly targeted by police. "We see that around the country that the race differences in life sentences are generally more extreme," he said. So far in Texas, 76 percent of the state's "lifers" are minorities, compared with 70 percent of death row inmates.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
"The Real Prison Industry"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable commentary by Jonah Goldberg over at Townhall.com. Here are excerpts:
I've long thought the notion of a prison-industrial complex to be laughable left-wing nonsense peddled by Marxist goofballs and other passengers in the clown car of academic identity politics.
For those who don't know, the phrase "prison-industrial complex," or PIC, is a play on the military-industrial complex. The theory behind PIC is that there are powerful forces -- capitalist, racist, etc. -- pushing to lock up as many black and brown men as they can to maintain white supremacy and line the pockets of big-prison CEOs and shareholders with profits earned not just from the taxpayer but from the toil of prison-slave labor....
Self-described "abolitionists" in the anti-PIC cause seek to get rid of prisons altogether. Indeed, they want to abolish punishment itself. That goes for murderers, rapists and pedophiles....
Personally, I think that is just bat-guano crazy. Still, the state of our prisons has become something of a scandal. We have more prisoners today than we have soldiers, and more prison guards than Marines.
Our prisons have become boot camps for criminals. That's one reason why I'm sympathetic to Peter Moskos' idea to bring back flogging. A professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Moskos argues in his book, "In Defense of Flogging," that flogging -- aka the lash -- is more humane than prison and much, much cheaper. He suggests that perpetrators of certain crimes -- petty theft, burglary, drug dealing -- be given the option of receiving one lash instead of six months in prison....
Moskos' motive is to reduce the size, scope and influence of prisons while keeping them around for the people who truly must be locked up: murderers, rapists, terrorists, pedophiles, etc. I might disagree with where he would set the ideal size of our prison population (I think incarceration rates have reduced crime more than he does), or how many lashes criminals should get, but he makes a compelling case, and his objective is reasonable.
But it's not an objective shared by the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA). This was the outfit that essentially destroyed then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's attempt to fix the state budget. In a state where more than two-thirds of crime is attributable to recidivism, CCPOA has spent millions of dollars lobbying against rehabilitation programs, favoring instead policies that will grow the inmate population and the ranks of prison guard unions. In 1999, it successfully killed a pilot program for alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders. In 2005, it helped kill Schwarzenegger's plan to reduce overcrowding by putting up to 20,000 inmates in a rehabilitation program. It opposes any tinkering with the "three strikes law" that might thin the prison rolls.
According to UCLA economist Lee E. Ohanian in a illuminating paper for The American, "America's Public Sector Union Dilemma," California's corrections officers have exploited their monopoly labor power to push policies that will expand the prison population and, as a result, the demand for more guards who just happen to be the best-paid corrections officers in the country. That's why, contrary to what the Marxist sages would expect, they've successfully kept privately run prisons out of the state.
Meanwhile, incarceration costs in the essentially bankrupt state are exploding. California spends $44,000 per inmate, compared with the national average of $28,000. A state prison nurse exploited overtime rules to earn $269,810 in one year.
Also contrary to left-wing expectations, these policies have been implemented not so much by the hard-hearted captains of industry and their Republican lackeys, but by a Democrat-controlled state legislature lubricated with donations from a powerful public-sector union....
Still, I suppose I owe the folks in the clown car at least a small apology. They're still nuts, but they're right about the existence of a prison-industrial complex. They were just looking in the wrong direction.
Friday, November 25, 2011
South Korea rolls out new robot prison guard
As reported in this Wall Street Journal piece, "South Korea is about to put a new type of droid through its paces: a robot prison guard." Here are the brave new world details:
Under a project sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, trials of the robots will be held for a month at a jail in the city of Pohang, southeast of Seoul, from March. The robots are designed to patrol the corridors of corrective institutions, monitoring conditions inside the cells. If they detect sudden or unusual activity such as violent behavior they alert human guards.
“Unlike CCTV that just monitors cells through screens, the robots are programmed to analyze various activities of those in prison and identify abnormal behavior,” Prof. Lee Baik-chul of Kyonggi University, who is in charge of the 1 billion-won ($863,000) project, told the Journal.
The robots can also work as a communication channel when inmates want to contact guards in an emergency. According to Mr. Lee, prison officers have welcomed the idea because the robots can potentially reduce their workload, particularly at night.
And how about the reaction of inmates? “That’s a concern. But the robots are not terminators. Their job is not cracking down on violent prisoners. They are helpers. When an inmate is in a life-threatening situation or seriously ill, he or she can reach out for help quickly,” he said.
Mr. Lee said his team is putting the final touches to the appearance of the robots to make them look more “humane and friendly” to those behind bars.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Committed sex offenders climb roof with nooses to protest confinement conditions
Breaking this afternoon is this interesting story out of Virginia, headlined "Rooftop standoff with noose-clad sex offenders ends." The piece reports on the extreme (and successful) efforts by a pair of confined sex offenders to bring attention to their complaints about the conditions of their confinement. Here are the details:
A three-and-a-half-hour standoff at a psychiatric facility for sex offenders who have already served their prison sentences ended without incident Monday when the two men who had climbed onto a roof with nooses around their necks climbed down and shook hands with police and officials.
The standoff at the Virginia Center for Behavioral Rehabilitation, which began around 11:30 a.m., ended just before 3 p.m. when police brought in ladders and the offenders took off their nooses and climbed down. The men were not immediately arrested but were assessed by medical personnel, Virginia State Police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said.
Offenders at the facility told The Associated Press the men climbed a fence to get to the awning, which is connected to the main building and is about 15 feet off the ground. The men had fashioned nooses from bed sheets and tied them to a building support, demanding to speak to a state official about conditions at the facility. The protest could be seen from a nearby highway....
[S]everal residents of the facility identified them as William Dewey and Victor Johnson. Dewey has complained to the AP about his treatment at the facility on several occasions. "Nobody wants to listen to us anymore," said offender Timothy East, one of several to report the standoff. "There's no voice here. Some people are taking drastic measures to make their voice be heard."
In calls and letters to the AP, Dewey and other offenders have complained about an increase in security. The nearly 300 offenders were sent to the facility after serving their prison sentences. The U.S. Supreme Court has said such civil commitment programs are constitutional as long as the offenders are there for treatment, not further punishment.
The offenders argue their privileges, such as outside recreation and property allowances, continue to be cut back while security increases. "It's too much of a prison mentality here," East said. "When they start going back to prison mentality that means we'll go back to it, too, and they're not going to like it."
Gordon Harris, another offender at the center, said he was in art class when everyone started running toward the yard where the standoff was taking place. He said many residents are upset over the restrictions and the lack of treatment. "There is no treatment here," he said. While two state inspector general reports in 2007 and 2008 were highly critical of the amount of treatment offenders received, that has increased in recent years.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
"Lifers are growing part of prison population"
The title of this post is the headline of this local article from Pennsylvania, which gets started this way:
What's behind the increase of older inmates in the state prison system? Experts point to everything from aging baby boomers and longer life spans to overall prison population growth and a trend toward stiffer sentences.
"Lifers" make up a sizable portion of the elderly state prison population, said Dr. Larry Rosenberg, a Millersville University assistant professor of sociology who teaches a course on modern corrections.
The elderly prison population also includes repeat offenders incarcerated after their "third strike" and inmates serving long sentences for crimes committed in their 40s and 50s, he said.
Older men are generally less likely to commit violent crimes, Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said. His office also prosecutes only a small number of drug dealers over age 40, he said.
But Stedman has noticed a recent increase in older sex offenders. "We do prosecute a lot of older men for these offenses compared to other crimes, and they tend to get the long sentences, which keep them in," he said.
Regardless of why they landed in prison, it's increasingly difficult for inmates of any age to get out. Nearly 4,800 men and women currently are serving life sentences in state prisons.
New documentary looks at "Young Kids, Hard Time"
Anyone concerned with juvenile crime and punishments (including Supreme Court Justices, who are starting to develop a whole Eighth Amendment jurisprudence on this front) ought to be sure to set their DVRs tonight at 10 pm EST to MSNBC, which will be premiering a one-hour documentary titled " "Young Kids, Hard Time." A five-minute clip of Act One of the documentary is available at this link, where there is also this summary of the program:
Young Kids, Hard Time is an extraordinary new series from Calamari Productions and MSNBC that throws back the veil on the reality of young kids serving long sentences behind adult prison walls. With sweeping access to go inside the maximum security Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Indiana -- the only adult prison in the state of Indiana that houses kids sentenced as adults -- Young Kids, Hard Time reveals what life is like for young kids staring down decades behind bars. Wabash Valley is home to the Youth Incarcerated As Adults cellblock (YIA), where 53 kids eat, sleep, study and recreate while being alienated from their adult counterparts. But once a youth turns 18, they are transitioned into the adult population, where thousands of adult prisoners await.
UPDATE: The Scripps Howard News Service has run a series of articles based on investigation of kids serving adult time, which is reported in these two new pieces:
- "Youths do time in adult facilities: Research shows many face dangers"
- "Analysis finds many youths transferred"
This second piece includes this notable data:
Nine thousand times a year, U.S. judges move juvenile suspects into criminal court, opening the door to a stay in adult jail. While judges say these transfers are meant for youths suspected of the most dangerous offenses, only two out of five transferred youths stands accused of a violent crime against another person, the Scripps Howard News Service found in analyzing data from almost a quarter-million cases. Most youths moved to adult court are charged with crimes involving drugs, weapons or property....
Most transferred juveniles face charges for crimes other than murder, rape, robbery or assault, National Center for Juvenile Justice data show. The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit publishes records covering 228,771 cases moved from youth court to the adult criminal justice system from 1985 to 2008....
Even a very young age doesn't exempt defendants from transfer. The database shows some 1,528 suspects 12 or younger were transferred, including 623 charged with violent crimes. More — 651 — faced charges of property crimes.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Interesting data on crime and punishment in New Hampshire
This local article, headlined "N.H. has low crime rate, but high rate for incarcerating minorities," reports on some interesting aspects of crime and punishment in The Granite State. Here are some of the details:
New Hampshire owns one of the nation’s lowest crime rates. But that New Hampshire advantage is a disadvantage for residents of Hispanic origin. The Granite State has one of the nation’s highest per-capita rates for jailing Latinos.
Criminal justice experts say the state’s low crime rate might have to do with a culture in the state that holds people accountable for their actions. The high incarceration rate for Latinos might have more to do with economics and with unintentional and subtle rather than outright discrimination, experts say.
According to the most current U.S. Census Bureau statistics available, New Hampshire in 2009 had the third-lowest rate of violent crime, a rate of 169.5 violent crimes per 100,000 people. Maine had the lowest rate, and the District of Columbia the highest, with Nevada second highest.
Within the violent crime statistics, New Hampshire had the nation’s lowest murder rate. But it ranked near the middle with the 27th-highest rate for forcible rape. New Hampshire had the third-lowest rate for aggravated assault and the eighth lowest for robbery....
The state’s statistics aren’t so good when it comes to incarcerating minorities. New Hampshire in 2005 had the sixth-highest Hispanic-to-white incarceration ratio, and 19th-highest black-to-white ratio per 100,000 people, according to statistics compiled by the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Among 100,000 people in 2005, New Hampshire incarcerated 289 people identified as non-Hispanic whites; 2,666 African Americans and 1,063 Hispanics. Pennsylvania incarcerated the most Hispanics by number per 100,000 people, and Connecticut had the highest ratio of Hispanics to whites incarcerated, according to the statistics.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
California jails getting more prisoners than expected in realignment plans
As reported in this interesting Los Angeles Times article, the "number of state prisoners arriving in county jails under California's controversial prison diversion program is significantly higher than officials had estimated, adding new pressure on sheriff's departments to figure out what to do with thousands of extra inmates." Here is more:
Prisoners convicted of some nonviolent crimes began serving their time in county jails last month as California complied with a U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring the state to lower its prison population by 30,000.
But the number of state prisoners being transferred has been much higher than officials had predicted, prompting counties to speed up efforts to reopen shuttered jail wings and find other arrangements for some inmates.
Los Angeles County was projected to add about 600 state prisoners by now but has booked more than 900. The tally in Orange County is running more than double what the state had estimated.... Some counties, such as Los Angeles, are under court order preventing jail overcrowding. So officials said it's almost a foregone conclusion that some inmates will be released to make way for the state prisoners.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said none of the alternatives are ideal. For example, she said, she's not sure how many inmates can be trusted to serve time wearing GPS-monitored bracelets....
State corrections officials said they hadn't expected the plan known as realignment to be a smooth transition because it is such an unprecedented shift. They acknowledged that their estimates have been off but believe the surge will be short-lived.... State officials and some sheriffs believe the higher-than-projected number of state prisoners being sent to jails has occurred in part because defense attorneys waited until realignment took effect to settle their clients' cases. By doing that, the attorneys were assured that their clients would receive jail time instead of prison time.
"We believe it has occurred because of publicity the realignment received. Defense attorneys delayed a lot of adjudications until after Oct. 1," when the law took effect, said Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, president of the California State Sheriffs' Assn. "Those persons who pleaded guilty ended up in the local facilities when under the old course of events they would have gone to prison."
Many county officials say it's just a matter time before some inmates have to be released. Riverside County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Jerry Gutierrez said his jail is now at 93% capacity and will be full by January. In San Bernardino County, officials are planning to significantly expands their work-release and electronic monitoring programs, certain that the influx of state prisoners will force some releases.
"We just started the biggest system change in the history of California justice," said Nick Warner, legislative director for the State Sheriffs' Assn. "Anyone who predicts with certainty failure or success is premature in that judgment."
"Cats outnumber inmates at Fla. prison about to close"
It is rare I have a reasonable excuse to do any "cat blogging" in this space, but today I get an opportunity to do just that through the title of this post, which is also the title of this new AP article. Here are the details:
Authorities say dozens of cats that snuck into a South Florida prison will get new homes before the facility closes next month....
As many as 80 cats have burrowed under fences and taken up residence at the state-run prison in Belle Glade. Inmates have been feeding the felines, even though prison rules prohibit that.
The 1,000-inmate prison closes Dec. 1. Officials tell The Palm Beach Post that as of Monday, there are more cats than prisoners at the facility. Just 69 inmates remain awaiting transfers.
Palm Beach County animal control officers are removing the animals so they won't starve when the prison closes. They're offering to waive adoption fees to find them new homes. However, some of the cats had to be euthanized because they were feral and couldn't be adopted.
As the picture I have posted above is meant to suggest, I encourage readers to come up with good jokes or puns about cats in prison. Riffing off one of my old punny favorites, I will start the thread by wondering how many of these cats are now behind bars because they got involved with kitty porn.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
How common are fines or other state sanctions on private prisons?
The question in the title of this post is prompted by this notable local article from New Mexico, which is headlined "State fines private prison operator $1.1 million over staffing shortage." Here are excerpts:
A Florida company will pay New Mexico $1.1 million in penalties for not adequately staffing a private prison it operates in Hobbs, a state official said.
GEO Group, which manages three of New Mexico's four private prisons, agreed to pay the settlement last week following a meeting between the corrections agency and the company's top management, Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel said Monday. "They've agreed on it," Marcantel said of GEO. "It's a very fair way of doing it. They are not completely happy. It needed to be done."...
GEO will pay the $1.1 million over several months, the corrections secretary said. In addition, GEO has agreed to spend $200,000 over the next calendar year to recruit new correctional officers for the Hobbs facility.
By contract, New Mexico can penalize The GEO Group and Corrections Corp. of America, the two firms that operate the private facilities, when staffing vacancies are at 10 percent or more for 30 consecutive days. The settlement represents the first time in years — possibly ever — that New Mexico has penalized the out-of-state, for-profit companies for not adequately staffing the facilities they operate. The issue has come up in the past, but state officials said New Mexico had never levied penalties for understaffing issues.
The question surfaced in 2010 when state lawmakers were struggling to find ways to close a yawning state budget gap. At the time, the Legislature's budget arm, the Legislative Finance Committee, estimated Gov. Bill Richardson's administration had skipped $18 million in penalties by not assessing penalties against the two firms for inadequate prison staffing levels....
GEO, headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla., recently reported $1.2 billion in earnings and $58.8 million in profit through the first nine months of this year, according to a Nov. 2 release by the company.
Some recent related posts:
- "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prison Industry"
- ACLU of Ohio releases new report assailing Governor's plan to sell state prisons
- Might private prisons actually cost taxpayers more than public prisons?
- "Who Benefits When A Private Prison Comes To Town?"
- New ACLU report critical of private prsions
Sunday, November 13, 2011
"Lawsuit seeks compensation for inmates held too long"
The title of this post is the headline of this local article out of Iowa. Here is how it starts:
Iowa inmates held past their proper release dates deserve to be compensated for each day they were improperly confined, according to a class action lawsuit filed this week in Polk County District Court. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Mahaska County sex offender Richard Scott and other similarly situated inmates, contends that Scott was held for 46 days too long under new rules outlined in a decision this summer by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Justices ruled in July in a case involving convicted sex offender Michael Anderson that Anderson deserved credit for time spent under home supervision even though he was later found to have violated probation during that time. According to the decision, Iowa law clearly requires that any defendant committed to the state Department of Corrections for supervision “who has probation revoked shall be given credit for such time served.”
Iowa corrections officials say the ruling explicitly changed the math used to calculate prison release dates for more than 3,500 Iowa convicts. “Our position is that they have been prepared for this,” said Jeffrey Lipman, the Des Moines attorney behind the lawsuit. “Knowing that this was an issue, they should have been prepared.”
The class action lawsuit, filed against Iowa Department of Corrections director John Baldwin, contends that “hundreds if not thousands of Iowa inmates” have been detained past the dates they properly should have been set free.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
"L.A. County jails may be out of room next month" (which could really help Conrad Murray)
The title of this post is the headline of this new piece from the Los Angeles Times, which gets started this way:
Los Angeles County's jails could run out of space as early as next month because of an influx of state prisoners, prompting officials to consider releasing potentially thousands of inmates awaiting trial.
The state's new prison law, which establishes a practice known as realignment, is expected to send as many as 8,000 offenders who would normally go to state prisons into the L.A. County Jail system in the next year.
Currently, defendants awaiting trial account for 70% of the jail population, but Sheriff Lee Baca said that might need to drop to 50%. The department is studying a major expansion of its electronic monitoring and home detention programs to keep track of inmates who are released.
Baca said the department is also developing a new risk-assessment system designed to better identify which inmates are the best candidates to leave the jails. Additionally, the department is looking at ways to channel more offenders into education and substance abuse programs rather than jail.
An internal report produced by the L.A. County district attorney's office and obtained by The Times estimated that the county jails would be full by the end of the year. The Sheriff's Department has the funding to open only an additional 1,800 beds, far below the number needed to accommodate the tide of state prisoners coming its way, the report said.
The realignment plan, developed to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court decision on overcrowding in the state prison system, has generated dire warnings from local police and prosecutors who fear the shift will place more offenders on the streets and increase crime. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has predicted that the city could see a 3% increase in crime because of realignment.
There is special concern about releasing more defendants before trial, with prosecutors fearing that some might not show up in court. Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said he also worries that inmates on electronic monitors could intimidate witnesses or take other actions to disrupt their trials.
Cooley used the conviction of Michael Jackson's personal physician for involuntary manslaughter to highlight the risks realignment brings. Conrad Murray faces up to four years in prison. But under the realignment law, he would spend that sentence in a county jail rather than a state prison. That's because under the law, involuntary manslaughter as well as crimes such as drug offenses and identity theft no longer require state prison time.
Cooley said that if the County Jail system reaches capacity, Murray could be a candidate for early release. "There is going to be a tremendous number of people that should be in jail and will not be incarcerated," he said. "This is the kind of story that will play out over and over again."
Yikes, Conrad Murray might be back on the California streets sooner because of L.A. jail overcrowding?!?! Oh my, goodness! Gracious land sakes alive! Sound the alarms, get your kids inside right away, and be extra sure to lock-down all of your propofol!! We all should start worrying that Murray could be a threat all by himself to cause the 3% increase in crime being predicted by the LA police chief.
Obviously, my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek when writing the prior paragraph. Though there may be lots of reasons we might think it unjust if Conrad Murray ultimately ends up getting a significant sentencing windfall because of prison and jail overcrowding in California, I do not think many folks should be deeply worried about Murray (or other similar persons who get an early release from California incarceration) going on a post-release crime spree. Of course, other persons who get early release in California because the jails have no more room may be much more of a threat to public safety, but crime increases may be as much the result of a local officials having a poor plan for who gets early release rather that the fact that Californians have been unwilling to spend a lot more money to construct a lot more prisons and jails.
Debates over a healthy diet now an Eighth Amendment issue
I often tell my students that every matter of importance in society is, in some way and at some time, a matter of concern in debates over sentencing law and policy. The latest proof of this claim comes from this New York Times article, which is headlined "Soy Diet Is Cruel and Unusual, Florida Inmate Claims," and starts this way:
One too many bouts of flatulence and cramping has led a Florida inmate to sue the Department of Corrections, arguing that the prison’s soy-based turkey dogs and sloppy Joes amount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Eric D. Harris, 34, who is serving a life sentence for sexual battery on a child, said the soy in his prison chow is threatening his health by endangering his thyroid and immune system. Florida prisons serve meals with 50 percent soy and 50 percent poultry three times a day, a mixture that costs half as much as using beef and pork, the Department of Corrections says. The cost per meal: $1.70 a day for each inmate. Florida prisons first began serving soy-based meals in 2009.
As an inmate at the Lake Correctional Institution, near Orlando, Mr. Harris, a former paralegal, has few culinary choices. He can eat 100 grams of soy protein a day, use his own money to buy food at the commissary or eat a vegan diet, he said in the lawsuit, which was filed in state court in Tallahassee and which The Orlando Sentinel reported on this week.
Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections, said inmates can choose an alternative vegan meal if they do not want soy. “We have a constitutional obligation to feed them healthy, nutritious food, but we don’t have an obligation to feed them beef,” she said.
“Excessive soy can be toxic to the thyroid gland,” said Sally Fallon Morell, the president and treasurer of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates a diet of whole, largely unprocessed foods and food high in saturated fats, and is publicizing the lawsuit. “It can have hormonal effects.”
It turns out that Mr. Harris is not alone in his objection. Nine inmates at the Danville Correctional Center in Illinois filed a similar lawsuit there in 2009, which is pending. That lawsuit is being financed by the Price Foundation.
Prisoners who have soy allergies or other ailments are especially at risk, said Ms. Fallon Morell, who added that her organization has received hundreds of calls from inmates and their relatives in Illinois and Florida who complain about the ill effects from too much soy. Illinois switched to soy-based meals in 2004 to save money. Ms. Fallon Morrell said Illinois prisons serve more than 100 grams of soy protein a day — much more than the 25 grams the government recommends.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Santa Clara in the midst of (dangerous?) crime experiment in laboratory of California
As a deep believer in the benefits of laboratories of democracy, I have long hoped that there would be more local and state criminal justice innovations in this modern era of less crime and more punishment. Consequently, I am pleased and intrigued by this local story out of California, headlined "On crime policy, Santa Clara County takes a cutting-edge -- some say risky -- approach." Here are excerpts:
Long overshadowed by freethinking San Francisco, Berkeley and now protest-roiled Oakland, Santa Clara County has been eclipsing its lefty neighbors lately -- with criminal justice policies that critics blast as risky but supporters call cutting-edge.
From its controversial stand against a federal policy on detaining jailed illegal immigrants to its open-arms, welcome-home stance toward newly freed state prisoners, Santa Clara County has struck the kind of permissive chord that puts Fox News pundits in a lather. "The county is shaping up to be one of the most progressive in the state on reforming the criminal justice system," said Allen Hopper, police practices director of the ACLU of Northern California.
To be sure, prosecutors and judges in Santa Clara County are still filing stiffer charges and putting people behind bars longer than in San Francisco. But on the immigration front, the Board of Supervisors late last month approved a policy that made Santa Clara County only the second jurisdiction in the nation to defy U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. Chicago's Cook County was the first.
Now, the Santa Clara County sheriff releases illegal immigrants with a history of committing serious or violent crimes onto the streets unless ICE pays to detain them -- and so far the feds are refusing to cough up the money. Even San Francisco County has retreated from its previous extremely lenient illegal-immigration policy after undocumented juveniles it protected went on to commit well-publicized murders.
In addition, Santa Clara County's willingness to experiment with rehabilitating rather than simply locking up nonviolent felons under the state's massive new "realignment" of the criminal justice system is generating such interest that Stanford and Santa Clara universities are holding law school seminars this year devoted to studying it. The county, for example, is the only one in the state reaching out to prison inmates before they return home under the new supervision of county probation officers. Local officials are showering the prisoners with offers of job training, places to live and even free medication.
"I'm proud of the county," said Supervisor Dave Cortese. "I feel we are moving as much as we can toward a system of restorative justice rather than punitive" justice.
But some think the county is going too far -- particularly with its new immigration policy, which passed on a 3-1 vote.... After the vote, District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Sheriff Laurie Smith warned that freeing illegal immigrants whose previous records include violent crimes, instead of holding them 24 hours for ICE, poses a risk that they may go on to victimize others. "I think they're just playing with dynamite," said Don Gage, a former longtime Republican county supervisor who represented South County. "I wouldn't have voted for it either."
Advocates, on the other hand, say any alliance with ICE in the face of anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, South Carolina, Georgia, Utah, Indiana and Alabama -- as well as the recent presence of two ICE agents on a San Jose police gang unit -- could create an even bigger risk by undermining immigrant communities' trust in the police, making people afraid to report crimes as witnesses or even as victims. In a recent local case, two San Jose brothers who are illegal immigrants badly beat a man who molested an 8-year-old girl in their household rather than call the police, partly out of fear of being deported....
On realignment, the county was able to draw on its previous positive experience with juvenile-justice reform programs, which have reduced the number of kids in juvenile hall and shifted the emphasis at youth ranches from punishment to rehabilitation. So when the state set out to trim its prison population and costs by unloading responsibility this fall for incarcerating and rehabilitating thousands of lower-level felons on local governments, Santa Clara County was ready.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
New ACLU report critical of private prsions
As spotlighted on this webpage, the ACLU late last week released this big new report on the private prison industry. The report is titled "Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration." Here are excerpts from the webpage's summary of the 50+ page report:
The imprisonment of human beings at record levels is both a moral failure and an economic one — especially at a time when more and more Americans are struggling to make ends meet and when state governments confront enormous fiscal crises. This report finds, however, that mass incarceration provides a gigantic windfall for one special interest group — the private prison industry — even as current incarceration levels harm the country as a whole. While the nation's unprecedented rate of imprisonment deprives individuals of freedom, wrests loved ones from their families, and drains the resources of governments, communities, and taxpayers, the private prison industry reaps lucrative rewards. As the public good suffers from mass incarceration, private prison companies obtain more and more government dollars, and private prison executives at the leading companies rake in enormous compensation packages, in some cases totaling millions of dollars....
Part One of this Report traces the rise of the for-profit prison industry over the past 30 years, demonstrating that private prisons reaped lucrative spoils as incarceration rates reached historic levels. Part Two focuses on the supposed benefits associated with private prisons, showing that the view that private prison companies provide demonstrable economic benefits and humane facilities is debatable at best. Part Three discusses the tactics private prison companies have used to obtain control of more and more human beings and taxpayer dollars.
The time to halt the expansion of for-profit incarceration is now. The evidence that private prisons provide savings compared to publicly operated facilities is highly questionable, and certain studies point to worse conditions in for-profit facilities. The private prison industry helped to create the mass incarceration crisis and feeds off of this social ill. Private prisons cannot be part of the solution — economic or ethical — to the problem of mass incarceration.
Monday, November 07, 2011
Detailed coverage of Michigan's juve LWOP policies and practices
Michigan's newspaper are collectively doing an amazing job providing both depth and breath to their coverage of Michigan's recent history and continuing practice of sentencing a significant number of serious juvenile offenders to life without the possibility of parole. This lead article in this series, headlined "Why Michigan has more juvenile life sentences than almost any other state," has lots of background and data on this notable sentencing phenomenon, and the piece gets started this way:
They were teenagers once, and did horrible things, or were in horrible places. People died. Sometimes at their hands; sometimes not. But they were present. And for that, they were told they will die, too, in prison.
These are Michigan’s “juvenile lifers,” although most are much older now, sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole. And there are more in this state than in almost any other.
There is Keith Maxey, wounded in a drug theft gone bad. He was unarmed and fled, but another man was killed. A jury found the 16-year-old just as responsible as if he had pulled the trigger. Except the shooter got a lighter sentence.
There, too, are identical twins David and Michael Samel, arrested at 17 for beating a pool hall worker to death. Michael pleaded to a reduced charge and was released in 2009. David took his chances with a jury. He is in the 30th year of life without parole.
And there is Cedric King, 14 when he helped set up a marijuana thief to be killed. Except the court thought he was a year older, and the victim survived. Still, confusion has persisted for years over whether he was given the state’s severest punishment, or something less, a Booth Michigan investigation found.
As a federal judge in Detroit weighs whether such sentences are unconstitutional, reporters from seven newspapers and MLive.com spread out across the state. They interviewed nearly two dozen inmates, including some who committed their crimes before they could drive. They also talked to victims’ families, prosecutors, judges and lawmakers. What they found was regret and bitterness, anger and forgiveness. They also found an issue measured more in shades of gray than black and white.
Ask Shirley Schwartz what her brother would think of imprisoning juveniles for life, and she pauses. “That’s a really difficult question,” she finally says. Her college professor brother was “very liberal,” she recalls, an advocate for his urban neighborhood in Grand Rapids’ Heritage Hill. That was where he met his killers; Jerry Freid died after being beaten to death with a baseball bat during a burglary by a 16- and a 17-year-old.
Ask Schwartz the same question, what she thinks of life sentences for juveniles, and she does not hesitate. “I never believed in the death penalty,” she says. “After this happened, I was pretty sure I could pull the switch. You can afford to be a liberal when it doesn’t touch you.” Told one of her brother’s killers died in prison, Schwartz says one word. “Good.”
Michigan spends more than $10 million a year to house more juvenile lifers than all but one other state, Pennsylvania. In all, 358 inmates are serving life sentences for crimes committed from ages 14 to 17. One in five has been in prison 25 years or longer. The oldest is 67, now that two older lifers have died.
All this could change. A federal lawsuit pending in Detroit claims life without parole for juveniles 17 and younger constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. It seeks mandatory parole reviews when young inmates reach 21, then every five years after. The lawsuit has had early success. A judge in July threw out the claims of eight inmates imprisoned since their teens, ruling too much time had passed. But he allowed one inmate to move forward — Keith Maxey.
Deborah LaBelle, the lawsuit’s lead attorney, says she has met with about 100 of the inmates and corresponded with more than 300. She blames a “toxic combination” in Michigan of juvenile reforms, mandatory sentences and immature judgment she says puts minors at a disadvantage in adult courts.
I find the the stories of— and constitutional challenges to — juve LWOP in Michigan to be especially interesting and important because Michigan was the first US state to abolish the death penalty way back in the 1840s. It seems notable that the state's historic disaffinity for the ultimate punishment of death did not prevented it from embracing its functional equivalent in modern times. Against this backdrop, one can also argue that the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment rulings in Roper and Graham ought to have even more bite in Michigan: if those rulings are understood dynamically to prohibit giving juvenile offenders the most severe sentences available to adult, then arguably juvenile should not be able to receive LWOP for any crime in any state that does not have capital punishment.
Sunday, November 06, 2011
Reduced crack sentences help reduce of federal prison population for first time in long time
A helpful reader alerted me to the fact that, according to official US Bureau of Prisons data, the federal prison population dropped recently for the first time in a very long time. Based on various year-end report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and more recent Weekly Population Reports from BOP, here is an accounting of total federal prison populations in past and recent times:
Year end 1992: 80,259
Year end 1996: 105,544
Year end 2000: 140,064
Year end 2004: 180,328
Year end 2007: 197,285
Feb. 2009: 201,280
May 2009: 203,692
June 2010: 211,438
July 28, 2011: 217,444
Oct. 20, 2011: 217,908
Nov. 3, 2011: 217,660
Lots for different factors play a role in the total federal prison population head-count, but I have to assume that the earlier release of some crack offenders based on the new guideline played a big role in this (historic?) federal prison population decline. It will be interesting to see if what has previously always been going up might continue to move down. I somewhat doubt it, but time will tell.
Saturday, November 05, 2011
"Who Benefits When A Private Prison Comes To Town?"
The title of this post is the headline of this new NPR story run on the program "All Things Considered." Here are excerpts from the written part of the segment:
Federal and state officials are increasingly contracting private companies to run prisons and immigration detention centers. Critics have long questioned the quality of private prisons and the promises of economic benefits where they are built. But proponents say private prisons not only save taxpayers money, but they also generate income for the surrounding community.
In 2004, officials in Hardin, Mont., agreed to a deal for a private prison to be built in town. The idea was that the county would pay for the prison and the state or federal government would fill it. Hardin would get tax revenues, new jobs and economic benefits while a private prison company would run the place and get a cut of the profits.
The Two Rivers Regional Detention Facility, a 464-bed $27 million private prison, was completed in 2007. Since then, the facility has remained empty and unused because the builder never landed a contract with the state or federal government for inmates. In 2009, the facility made national news when, in an attempt to recoup the money it had spent on the facility, the town offered to do something almost no other town in America was willing to do — house prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
That didn't happen, but it's a testament to how desperate Hardin is to fill the prison, get it up and running, and create jobs for the town....
Despite the criticism private prisons face, as an industry they do very well. They make money, a little for some of the towns where they're built and a lot for shareholders and investors.
"This is an investment that we talk with investors about on a regular basis as a good idea," investment analyst Tobey Sommer tells Sullivan. Sommer, director of equity research at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey in Tennessee, says both CCA and Geo Group made more than $1 billion each last year and their CEOs took home multimillion-dollar bonuses.
The recession could actually make them more money, Sommer says. With budgets stretched thin, states might look to private prisons to house and secure even more inmates. Only 10 percent of all inmates in the U.S. are housed in private prisons, he says, so that other 90 percent could be seen as an opportunity for growth.
But not everyone sees opportunities for long-term growth. "Crime rates are declining, the prison population is declining, and many states, in large part motivated by the economic downturn, are realizing that they can't keep building their way out of the problem," says Michele Deitch, who teaches criminal justice at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
Deitch says the new growth market for prison companies is immigrant detention, like the facility in Karnes County. New prisons, possibly for state inmates, like the one in Hardin, Mont., are on the decline.
Thursday, November 03, 2011
"Changed crack sentencing rules leave a justice system in flux"
The title of this post is the headline of this effective article in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune which provides an in-depth review of all the challenges posed by the implementation of the new reduced federal sentencing guidelines for crack. Here are excerpts:
Carlos Lamont Cleveland, 39, was jailed in 1995 on charges that he was the "right-hand man to the leader of a large and violent drug-trafficking organization" that distributed crack cocaine in Minnesota. But his sister stood by him as he kept challenging his 300-month sentence. This week, she got the news from her brother she had been waiting for: Cleveland would be returning home on Friday.
New sentencing rules that took effect on Tuesday made Cleveland one of more than 1,800 prisoners eligible for release right away, federal officials said. Creature comforts of a full-size bed, a freshly painted room and a bouquet of welcome-home balloons will await him in his hometown of Detroit....
Nationwide, more than 500 people were released from custody on Tuesday, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said. In Minnesota, the change in the guidelines will mean an early release for 100 to 150 inmates who were convicted of crack cocaine crimes. The change is eventually expected to benefit 12,000 U.S. inmates, reducing sentences by an average of three years....
For the past few months, U.S. probation officers, federal defenders and federal prosecutors in Minnesota have been combing through hundreds of court files in an effort to find inmates who may be eligible for release under the new retroactive sentencing rules....
Hundreds of files fill a space in the federal public defender's office that they jokingly call the "crack room," Roe said. At least two lawyers review each file. "The last thing we want to do is miss somebody," she said.
So far, they've found 21 candidates for "immediate release," Roe said. But the number is still in flux. The U.S. attorney's office said it has identified 28 potential candidates for immediate release; the Probation Office said it might be somewhat fewer than that.
So far, orders have been signed for just four that reduced their sentences to time served. In addition to Cleveland, who got a 29- month reduction, they include Paris Lamar Wilson, sentenced in 1997 on charges of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, possession and use of a firearm related to drug trafficking; Bobby Woods, sentenced in 2001 on charges of conspiracy and possession of cocaine base, and Steven Mitchell Gant, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to charges of conspiracy and possession of cocaine base, cocaine and ecstasy.
The orders give the Bureau of Prisons 10 days to release the inmates. Jeanne Cooney, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota, said under the law, the bureau gets time to notify victims in some cases or even local law enforcement. The offenders will remain subject to post- prison "supervised release" even if, in effect, they served excess time under the new guidelines.
Some of the inmates affected by the changes have been imprisoned long after the time they would've been released had the new rules been in place when they were originally sentenced, Roe said. Two are already under electronic monitoring in their homes. Others are in half-way houses because they were already transitioning back into society as they neared the end of their original sentence.
Chief U.S. Probation Officer Kevin Lowry said some inmates who were released early after the first guidelines change experienced "a little bit of culture shock" at their sudden release. "Some did indicate that they had anxiety about being back in the community sooner than they expected," he said. Kerns said probation officers worked hard then and are working hard now to connect the outgoing offenders with social services to ensure they have a place to stay, as well as educational and employment opportunities. "That's what we'll continue to focus on, successful re-entry into the community and helping these folks turn back into successful, law abiding lifestyles," he said.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
SCOTUS two for Tuesday dealing with civil liability in criminal contexts
As previously noted in this week in preview, this morning the US Supreme Court will hear arguments in Rehberg v. Paulk and Minneci v. Pollard, cases dealing with the potential limits on civil liability for prosecutors and and private prison operators. Neither case deals directly with sentencing, obviously, both both cases could have a consequential impact on actors involved with sentencing systems.
Though I have a variety of views on the pros and cons of tort liability for various criminal justice participants, I have long been troubled by court-created categorical limits on such liability. I think all tort liability should be subject to narrow and nuanced rules and I think most of these rules ought to be developed initially by legislatures and executive officials (with some subsequent common-law development in the courts). I often worry that too much modern tort immunity doctrines for criminal justice participants is created by judicial fiat. The oral arguments today may showcase in Rehberg v. Paulk and Minneci v. Pollard how some of the newer justices view some of these issues.
Friday, October 28, 2011
"Madoff says he is happier in prison than free"
The title of this post is the headline of this news report discussing a recent interview of Bernie Madoff from prison. Here is how the piece starts:
Financial swindler Bernard Madoff said that he is happier in prison than he was on the outside because he no longer lives in fear of being arrested and knows he will die in prison, TV journalist Barbara Walters said on Thursday.
Walters, who spent two hours at the prison with Madoff two weeks ago, also told ABC's "Good Morning America" program that Madoff said that while he had contemplated suicide during his early days behind bars, he lacked the courage and never thinks about killing himself now.
Madoff is serving a 150-year prison term for bilking investors out of billions of dollars in a decades-long Ponzi scheme that is considered the biggest financial fraud in U.S. history.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
"Lockdown: Technology in America’s Most Notorious Prison"
The title of this post is the headline of this interesting new series at the technology site Gizmodo. Here is how the series is set up:
Do prison inmates surf the Internet? Do they have gadgets? Do they make gadgets? Do they make weapons? Where do they get their porn and booze?
On the outside, we enjoy lives built around the fruits of modernity. But what about prisoners? San Quentin sits on the San Francisco Bay, minutes away from the most technologically famous valley in the world, so we went to jail to find out how much of our 21st-century techno-culture has made it behind bars.
San Quentin State Prison is the stuff of legend. Hell, Johnny Cash wrote a song about it. A lot has changed since The Man in Black visited, but even more striking is what hasn't changed. Recently, Gizmodo had the rare opportunity to get inside this notorious prison. To say that it was enlightening is a serious understatement.
There are a lot of rules when you visit the slam: You can't wear blue, grey, or orange. Not a stitch: Those colors are reserved for inmates only — blue and grey for the full-time residents, and orange for guys who were still being processed and might well end up in a higher security prison. (They kept us far away from the guys in orange.) You also can't bring in a cell phone, a very coveted piece of contraband. And you most definitely cannot bring in anything that could be used as a weapon; not that they're hurting for weapons, as you'll find out tomorrow....
San Quentin houses more than 5,000 inmates, despite being built to accomodate only 3,082. Six hundred condemned men reside on San Quentin's death row — far more than Florida's or Texas'. For all that, there are only 300 officers on duty at peak shifts. We spent most of our time on North Block, which houses approximately 850 men. Around 650 of them carry a life sentence, and roughly 80-percent are there for violent crime. Prisoners are generally housed two men to a small cell that was only intended to house one. That's overcrowding for you. The men refer to their cellmates as "cellies."
For all intents and purposes, San Quentin is designed to be an island. It's very clear that inmates are not meant to be a part of the modern world of technology. They aren't allowed any internet access at all. They can have TVs, but no cable. They can make phone calls, but they absolutely cannot have cellphones. No booze, no way. Yet, despite the levies in place, technology has a way of seeping in. Cellphones can be procured though a number of illegal channels. Booze can be made right in your cell. Permitted devices can be hacked to do things they aren't supposed to do.
Essentially, where there's a will there's a way — even in prison. And these guys have nothing but time on their hands.... By and large the inmates we interviewed were affable and articulate. If you were meeting them under other circumstances, you'd probably think they were nice guys.
Except most of them were in for murder. It was hard to wrap my mind around that. The deeds didn't seem to match the men's personalities, and probably with good reason. Most of the guys we'd talked to had been in jail since the 70's. They were young men who had made big mistakes—mistakes which many would argue are unforgivable — and they were still paying for them. Many had been in prison longer than I'd been alive.
When we left that afternoon, we were acutely aware of how lucky we were to be able to do so. The battery in our car had died. So what. We weren't in jail. Small annoyances were put in their proper places. Our smartphones, which we'd gotten so jaded about, were incredible and magical again. As we ate our dinners, sipped our beers, and occasionally checked our emails that night, we talked about the things we took for granted. We had always enjoyed our freedom, but I don't know that we'd ever had a clearer picture of what life would be without it. It's the kind of thing that makes you want to make sure you are taking advantage of all life has to offer. It's the kind of thing that makes you grateful to go home.
Every day this week we'll be bringing you a new tech story from inside San Quentin, complete with photos and video. Check out today's episode: Prison Hacks.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
"When life is too long: Debate over older prisoners"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article, which includes data and discussion on very lengthy prison terms. Here are excerpts:
Nationally, nearly 10 percent of more than 2.3 million inmates were serving life sentences in 2008, including 41,095 people doing life without parole, up 22 percent in five years, according to The Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to prison. The increase resulted from lawmakers "dramatically" expanding the types and repeat offenses that carry potential life terms, research analyst Ashley Nellis said.
"The theme is we're protecting society, then the question is: From what?" said Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, a watchdog group. She said with the cost of keeping a state inmate $55,000 a year — a cost that grows as they age and their medical needs increase — a financial analysis shows that parole and probation are far cheaper punishments that can also satisfy the public need for retribution.
Meanwhile, data show new crimes by convicted felons steadily declining from their teens through their dotage. "Most criminal behavior is tied with impulse control. The section of the brain that controls impulse control is the last section of the brain that becomes fully developed," Elijah said. There's a large drop-off in criminal behavior and recidivism after 40 or 45, she said, a point seldom made in public discussion "because it's not convenient. It doesn't dovetail with the kind of tough-on-crime mentality that results in votes."
Patricia Gioia, whose daughter was murdered 26 years ago in California and who runs the Albany chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, said killers should spend their lives locked up, contemplating what they did, the person whose life they took and the lifelong suffering of families and friends. "They should in effect be punished for this and should not enjoy the freedom that other people have to wander the world," she said....
A Stanford University study in September showed the recidivism rate was less than 1 percent among 860 murderers paroled in California since 1995. Five returned to prison for new felonies, none for similar life-term crimes. By contrast, nearly 49 percent of all released California inmates were recommitted for new crimes.
"Not only are most violent crimes committed by people under 30, but even the criminality that continues after that declines drastically after age 40 and even more so after age 50," the study found. In New York, the number of lifers with few prospects for release has grown in the past decade, tracking a national trend and raising a new set of criminal justice policy questions.
"What kind of treatment programs should we be considering for the offenders who have a sentence of life without parole, or enter the system with sentences of 50 years to life?" Commissioner Brian Fischer asked recently on the 40th anniversary of the deadly riots at Attica, another maximum-security prison in New York. Since the state's 1996 sentencing amendments for capital crimes, establishing life without parole for first-degree murder, inmates with that sentence rose from four to 223, with 15 more expected each year, he said.
New York now has more than 800 prisoners who are 65 or older, double the total a decade ago. It has no death penalty, though 34 states and the federal government do. Federal prisons held 3,254 inmates age 66 or older in August, up from 1,326 in 2000. From 1985 to 2006 in New York, 72 prisoners released when they were over 65 were returned for new crimes, less than 5 percent.
Some recent related posts:
- New study says life with parole in California really means, on average, about 20 years
- "Balanced Justice: Cost-Benefit Analysis and Criminal Justice Policy"
- Noting the impact of life sentences on efforts to cut prison costs
Friday, October 21, 2011
"Rajaratnam's kidney transplant could cost taxpayers $300,000"
The title of this post is the headline of this new CNNMoney story. Here are the details:
Taxpayers could be bankrolling a kidney transplant for wealthy white-collar convict Raj Rajaratnam, who was recently sentenced to 11 years in federal prison for insider trading. The cost could exceed $300,000 if he's able to secure a kidney early in his sentence, including the price of the transplant and a decade's worth of post-operative therapy.
At Rajaratnam's sentencing on Oct. 13 in New York, federal Judge Richard Holwell described the former hedge fund manager as a diabetic with "imminent kidney failure" who needs a transplant. The judge also said he will ask the Federal Bureau of Prisons to place Rajaratnam in the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina, which has a medical facility. Incidentally, Butner is home to Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, who is serving a 150-year sentence.
All federal prisons have some level of medical care, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Edmond Ross, but some prisons specialize in it. Butner is one of six federal prisons that are considered medical centers, meaning that their mission is to deliver more enhanced medical care than what would normally be expected from a prison hospital.
Rajaratnam will probably get sent to Federal Medical Center Devens in Massachusetts, not Butner, because Devens specializes in kidney treatment, including dialysis, according to Ross.... But none of the hospitals in the prison system conduct transplants, said Ross. That work would be outsourced to a non-prison hospital....
[The costs all] fall on the taxpayers. Not that the former hedge fund manager and Galleon Group founder has a choice. Rajaratnam does not have the option of paying for his own treatment once his sentence begins on Nov. 28.
"No, he cannot pay for it himself," said Alan Ellis, an attorney, prison consultant and author of the Federal Prison Guidebook. "No way. There's no such thing as rich man's medicine versus poor man's medicine in the Bureau of Prisons."
Ross would not say how much the bureau specifically spends on health care, but the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that the cost is growing, in tandem with the aging prison population. "I don't know what the 2012 health care costs are going to be, but it wouldn't surprise me if it's approaching a billion dollars," said David Maurer, director of the Homeland Security and Justice Team of the GAO, which analyzes the federal prison budget.
Noting the impact of life sentences on efforts to cut prison costs
USA Today has this little piece, headlined "Growing prison populations hinder budget cuts," which details how the massive increase in offenders serving life sentences in recent years adds an extra challenge for those states now eager to reduce prison populations and associated costs. Here are excerpts:
The rising number of prisoners serving costly life terms across the country is complicating state officials' efforts to make dramatic cuts to large prison budgets, lawmakers and criminal justice officials said.
From 1984 to 2008, the number of offenders serving life terms quadrupled, from 34,000 to roughly 140,000, according to the most recent count by The Sentencing Project, which advocates alternatives to incarceration.
One of the fastest-growing subgroups are inmates serving life without the possibility of parole. Those numbers have jumped from 12,453 in 1992 to 41,095 in 2008 and represent the most costly inmates to house as the aging inmates require increased medical care....
In Texas, the second-largest state prison system in the country, with 156,000 inmates, the number of offenders serving life without parole has been increasing since the sentence was adopted by the state Legislature in 2005, from 47 in 2007 to 391 this year. The number of Texas prisoners serving life with the possibility of parole — 8,665 — has increased in four of the past five years....
In California, the country's largest prison system with 164,000 inmates, the number of prisoners serving life terms has been steadily increasing, even as the state faces a federal court mandate to reduce the prison population by 30,000 by 2013. More than 20% of the state's inmates are serving life terms or equivalent sentences.
Joseph Cassilly, a past president of the National District Attorneys Association, said there is concern that increasing budget pressures on state governments could drive officials to consider paroles for lifers in an attempt to reduce costs. "How do you explain that to a victim of a crime or a surviving family member who thought life in prison really meant life in prison?" Cassilly said.