Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New report laments prison growth in West Virginia

The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a nonpartisan research group, has today released a new report highlighting and criticizing growth in West Virginia's prison population and corrections spending in recent decades. The report, available at this link, is titled "Stemming the Tide: The Racial and Economic Impacts of West Virginia's Prison System," and here is the start of the report's executive summary:

Despite a relatively stable crime rate, West Virginia is facing a growing prison population, which currently is larger than the capacity of the existing state prisons.  As a result, many state prisoners are being housed in regional jails where they cannot access educational and supportive services offered by the Division of Corrections.  With more individuals serving sentences in prison, there is a growing financial burden on the state. This population increase is associated with an increase in prison spending, with a growing percentage of the General Revenue fund going toward the Division of Corrections.  Prison population growth and its associated overcrowding are not only criminal justice issues, but also fiscal concerns for West Virginia.

This growth in the prison population in a state with little total population growth and a stable crime rate is in part the effect of sentencing patterns that place offenders into prison rather than into alternatives like community corrections and give them long sentences, as well as a reduction in the rate of granting parole.  It also is a result of the shift from understanding prison as a place of rehabilitation to one of punishment that accompanied the “war on drugs” and the movement in the 1970s toward harsher sentences and being tough on crime.  The growing prison population appears to be mainly the result of structures and policies, rather than an increase in crime.

February 22, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Is it "grim news" when a state budget calls for prison closings?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this news story out of Illinois, which begins this way:

Gov. Pat Quinn prepared Tuesday to deliver an Illinois budget proposal stuffed with grim news including closing two prisons and 12 other state facilities, slashing Medicaid by $2.7 billion and cutting spending at most state agencies.

The facilities Quinn wants to close include the supermax prison at Tamms, a maximum-security prison for women at Dwight and six halfway houses for inmates nearing release, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the budget publicly.

I am not sure news can get much more "grim" for folks housed in a supermax prison, and thus I suspect anyone who cares about prisoners now at Tamms will see this prison-closing part of Gov. Quinn's budget proposal as great, not grim.  But the article goes on to explain some reasons why, in fact, the prisoners elsewhere already dealing with overcrowded facilities may agree with the description grim (and also why monies may be found to make the final story perhaps less grim):

Illinois prisons are severely overcrowded.  In November, 48,620 people were squeezed into space designed for 33,700. The Illinois Department of Corrections has begun counting areas such as gymnasiums when calculating the space available for housing inmates. Closing facilities would further complicate the situation.  The two prisons and six “adult transition centers” on Quinn’s list house 2,648 inmates.

Quinn’s other closures could be a repeat of last year, when he said several facilities need to be shut down because lawmakers hadn’t given him enough money to run them. They include a youth prison in Murphysboro and mental institutions in Rockford, Chester and Dixon.  Those closures were avoided when lawmakers approved additional money to keep those and other facilities open.

February 22, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Lots of fascinating new stuff via The Crime Report

Regular readers may be tired of hearing me promote The Crime Report as a must-daily read, but this set of fascinating recent headlines and commentaries from that source make it essential for me to promote it once again:

February 18, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Private Prison Corporation Offers Cash In Exchange For State Prisons"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable and lengthy new piece recently posted on The Huffington Post.  It gets started this way:

As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property.  Prisons, to be exact.

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for "challenging corrections budgets."  In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

The move reflects a significant shift in strategy for the private prison industry, which until now has expanded by building prisons of its own or managing state-controlled prisons. It also represents an unprecedented bid for more control of state prison systems.

Corrections Corporation has been a swiftly growing business, with revenues expanding more than fivefold since the mid-1990s. The company capitalized on the expansion of state prison systems in the '80s and '90s at the height of the so-called 'war on drugs,' contracting with state governments to build or manage new prisons to house an influx of drug offenders. During the past 10 years, it has found new opportunity in the business of locking up undocumented immigrants, as the federal government has contracted with private companies in an aggressive immigrant-detention campaign.

And Corrections Corporation's offer of $250 million toward purchasing existing state prisons is yet another avenue for potential growth.  The company has billed the "corrections investment initiative" as a convenient option for states in need of fresh revenue streams: The state benefits from a one-time infusion of cash, while the prison corporation wins a new long-term contract.  In addition, supporters of prison privatization have argued that states can achieve cost savings through outsourcing, as prison corporations give fewer benefits to employees.

"We believe this comes at a timely and helpful juncture and hope you will share our belief in the benefits of the purchase-and-manage model," reads the letter from Harley Lappin, CCA's chief corrections officer, who was a former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Ohio sold off one of its largest prisons to Corrections Corporation last year as a way to plug holes in its budget, and government officials estimate that outsourcing the prison could save the state $3 million annually.  Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) proposed putting three state prisons on the block last year to generate one-time revenue, but he failed to persuade state lawmakers to endorse the plan.

By now we all should know the lessons of these kinds of stories: "Follow the money"

Some recent related posts: 

February 14, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Monday, February 13, 2012

New GAO report reviews back-end sentencing realities in federal system

Thanks to The Crime Report, I just saw that the US Government Accountability Office has released a notable new report to Congress titled "Eligibility and Capacity Impact Use of Flexibilities to Reduce Inmates' Time in Prison."

This report, which is summarized on this webpage and is available in full at this link, is a lot more interesting and important for federal sentencing junkies than its title might suggest.  The report provides the most detailed account that I have seen concerning who gets the benefit of the few back-end sentencing mechanisms in the federal system that determine how much time offenders actually serve for their offenses.  Here is part of the summary from the GAO:

BOP’s use of authorities to reduce a federal prisoner’s period of incarceration varies. BOP primarily utilizes three authorities — the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program (RDAP), community corrections, and good conduct time.

(1) Eligible inmates can participate in RDAP before release from prison, but those eligible for a sentence reduction are generally unable to complete RDAP in time to earn the maximum reduction (generally 12 months).  During fiscal years 2009 through 2011, of the 15,302 inmates who completed RDAP and were eligible for a sentence reduction, 2,846 (19 percent) received the maximum reduction and the average reduction was 8.0 months.  BOP officials said that participants generally do not receive the maximum reduction because they have less than 12 months to serve when they complete RDAP.

(2) To facilitate inmates’ reintegration into society, BOP may transfer eligible inmates to community corrections locations for up to the final 12 months of their sentences. Inmates may spend this time in contract residential re-entry centers (RRCs) — also known as halfway houses — and in detention in their homes for up to 6 months.  Based on the most recently available data, almost 29,000 inmates completed their sentences through community corrections in fiscal year 2010, after an average placement of about 4 months; 17,672 in RRCs, 11,094 in RRCs then home detention, and 145 in home detention only....

(3) Most eligible inmates receive all of their potential good conduct time credit for exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations — 54 days taken off their sentence, per year served, if an inmate has earned or is earning a high school diploma; 42 days if not.  As of the end of fiscal years 2009, 2010, and 2011, about 87 percent of inmates had earned all of their available credit.

BOP also has other authorities, such as releasing prisoners early for very specialized reasons, but has used these less frequently for various reasons.

Inmate eligibility and lack of capacity impact BOP’s use of certain flexibilities and programs that can reduce an inmate’s time in prison.

February 13, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Friday, February 10, 2012

"The Best Places to Go to Prison"

Best-place-prisons-yanktonThe title of this post is the headline of this interesting slideshow from the folks at CNBC.  As this brief description of the slideshow reveals, the headline should really have the word "federal" somewhere as the list only reflects federal facilities:

Ever wonder what prison life is like for high-profile white-collar criminals like Bernie Madoff, or how Martha Stewart got through her time in prison?

The prison experience all depends on where you wind up, according to Alan Ellis, a criminal defense attorney and co-author the “Federal Prison Guidebook.” Ellis, who specializes in defending federal white-collar criminals, has made a career of bargaining to get his clients the lowest possible sentences and get them into the best prisons possible.

The worst federal criminals wind up behind bars in U.S. penitentiaries. But there are also medium-, low-, and minimum-security prisons. Of those minimum-security facilities, known as federal prison camps, some are adjacent to higher-security prisons and others stand alone. It’s the stand-alone ones that Ellis believes are most preferable. “The staff is less stressed out,” he said. “As I like to say, happy staff makes happy inmates.”

Federal prison camps also have limited or no fencing, and “zero” violence. Ellis cautioned, however, that these are no country-club — or “Club Fed” — facilities. The inmates are still in prison and away from their loved ones. It’s not just the camp accommodations that made Ellis’ list. For the low- to medium-security inmate, there are choice assignments, as well.

So where are the best places to do time? Click ahead to see the names Ellis believes should be on every federal inmate’s wish-list, in no particular order.

I have reprinted here what struck me as the most appealing looking of the facilities that made this list, and here is the CNBC description of FPC Yankton:

Number of prisoners: 868

Location: Yankton, S.D.

This stand-alone federal prison camp is in downtown Yankton, S.D., and was once a college campus. Inmates have the opportunity to leave the prison site and go into the community by volunteering for local nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity. The inmate and charity must be approved, and the prisoner is supervised by a representative from the organization.

Those who stay inside the prison camp may play sports, take art lessons, or play any of the instruments in the music room. There is also a library with hundreds of books.

February 10, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Thursday, February 09, 2012

"Are America's Prison Towns Doomed?"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting piece via The Altantic.  Here is a brief excerpt:

[M]uch like the real estate market crash of the last ten years, the belief that the incarceration market was recession-proof and could only rise is being proved wrong. Declining crime rates are leaving more prisons empty. There isn't enough crime to keep the prison industry afloat as it currently stands.

To save money, more states are moving their prisoners back to state-run facilities when space is available. Without prisoners, the private companies managing the facilities are leaving. And the small towns who bet on an ever-growing incarceration rate are left further in debt with few sources of capital.

February 9, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Two diverse state prison stories provide would-be reformers "follow-the-money" lessons

Two new state prison reform media reports (both of which I saw thanks the to my daily read of The Crime Report) provide still more evidence that modern state stories concerning proposed or enacted prison reforms — and views about their benefits or success — is more about budget realities than any other concern or criteria.  The stories, linked below, come from two very different states with different on-going debates, and yet the headlines highlight the recurring theme:

"Debate on Florida private prisons hinges on cost":

As state lawmakers consider a massive expansion of prison privatization, one number dominates the debate: 7 percent.  That’s how much savings the legislation requires of private prison operators compared to state-run prisons.  “I believe in it,” says Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. “It’s incumbent upon me to find the best deal for the taxpayer.”

But that number is subjective and the state’s own analysts warn against comparing prison costs because no two prisons are alike and it’s difficult to make precise cost comparisons between public and private prisons.  “You can make something look like a savings on paper,” says Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland.  “We’re not saving money.  Absolutely not.”

Privatization has polarized the Legislature into two camps: one sees outsourcing as a proven way to cut costs; the other views it as a risky undertaking riddled with hidden costs.

"State inmates' return to Pa. boosts county economies":

In early 2010, in an effort to ease the burden of the state's prison system, Gov. Ed Rendell announced that Pennsylvania would contract with Michigan and Virginia to move 2,000 low-risk inmates to facilities in those states.

Over the ensuing months, Pennsylvania sent millions of dollars out of state, at the same time taking criticism from advocacy groups that such a move interfered with family visitation, which in turn, interferes with successful reintegration into the community. "Ninety percent of our inmates will return home someday, and helping them maintain family support is vital to their successful return into society," said Janet Kelly, a spokeswoman with Gov. Tom Corbett's office.

That's why, she said, in combination with the idea that when possible Pennsylvania's money should stay local, Mr. Corbett early in his administration declared that those inmates should be returned and housed, instead, in county facilities.

February 8, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Is the crime rate just shifting, not really declining?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this provacative new piece by Christopher Glazek, sent my way by a kind reader, appearing in the magazine n+1.  The piece is titled, "Raise the Crime Rate," and here is an excerpt:

According to government statistics, Americans are safer today than at any time in the last forty years.  In 1990, there were 2,245 homicides in New York City.  In 2010, there were 536, only 123 of which involved people who didn’t already know each other. The fear, once common, that walking around city parks late at night could get you mugged or murdered has been relegated to grandmothers; random murders, with few exceptions, simply don’t happen anymore.

When it comes to rape, the numbers look even better: from 1980 to 2005, the estimated number of sexual assaults in the US fell by 85 percent.  Scholars attribute this stunning collapse to various factors, including advances in gender equality, the abortion of unwanted children, and the spread of internet pornography.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the country was more dangerous in 1990, at the height of the crack epidemic, than in 2006, at the height of the real estate bubble.  What’s strange is that crime has continued to fall during the recession.  On May 23, in what has become an annual ritual, the New York Times celebrated the latest such finding: in 2010, as America’s army of unemployed grew to 14 million, violent crime fell for the fourth year in a row, sinking to a level not seen since the early ’70s.  This seemed odd.  Crime and unemployment were supposed to rise in tandem — progressives have been harping on this point for centuries. Where had all the criminals gone?

Statistics are notoriously slippery, but the figures that suggest that violence has been disappearing in the United States contain a blind spot so large that to cite them uncritically, as the major papers do, is to collude in an epic con.  Uncounted in the official tallies are the hundreds of thousands of crimes that take place in the country’s prison system, a vast and growing residential network whose forsaken tenants increasingly bear the brunt of America’s propensity for anger and violence.

Crime has not fallen in the United States — it’s been shifted.  Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells.  The statistics touting the country’s crime-reduction miracle, when juxtaposed with those documenting the quantity of rape and assault that takes place each year within the correctional system, are exposed as not merely a lie, or even a damn lie — but as the single most shameful lie in American life.

From 1980 to 2007, the number of prisoners held in the United States quadrupled to 2.3 million, with an additional 5 million on probation or parole.  What Ayn Rand once called the “freest, noblest country in the history of the world” is now the most incarcerated, and the second-most incarcerated country in history, just barely edged out by Stalin’s Soviet Union.  We’re used to hearing about the widening chasm between the haves and have-nots; we’re less accustomed to contemplating a more fundamental gap: the abyss that separates the fortunate majority, who control their own bodies, from the luckless minority, whose bodies are controlled, and defiled, by the state.

The rest of this commentary does an effective job discussing various problems of mass incarceration and the so-called "prison-industrial complex," but the claim that crime has merely shifted from outside to inside the prison walls is misguided both statistically and normatively.  We have literally thousands fewer murders outside the prison walls each year now compared to two decades ago, and there are usually only a handful of murders in prison each year.  The rape story is much more complicated and the notion of a mere crime shift here is a bit more plausible.  But, critically, unless sent to prison based on a wrongful conviction, those enduring crime within prison walls are not properly described as a "luckless minority."  Bad luck can often play some role in whether, when and how one gets sent to prison for a crime, but the average citizen can entirely avoid this luck by avoiding any serious criminal wrongdoing.

These concerns notwithstanding, this commentary still makes for an interesting read and it concludes with these sentiment which I consider very sound in many respects:  

If ever there were a time to launch a coordinated assault on the prison-industrial complex, the time is now.  Budgets are strained, voters are angry, and crime is low.  The Tea Party is in the midst of convincing everyone that government is the enemy — and so it is, in the field of criminal justice.

Popular resentment against an authoritarian state shouldn’t be denied or pooh-poohed — it should be seized and marshaled toward progressive ends.  The prison crisis was created by centrists.  Limited reforms and immoral moderation will not end the crisis.  Prisoners and ex-cons, the most abused population in United States, will have to rely on political extremists, on both the left and the right, to turn the page on what will one day be recalled as one of American history’s darkest chapters.

February 7, 2012 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Sunday, February 05, 2012

"Prison beats jail for viewing the Super Bowl"

The title of this post is the headline of this Super Sunday commentary coming out of North Carolina.  This piece, which seems like a fitting post before I head into game mode for the afternoon, is authored by Myron Pitts and here are excerpts:

So what's today's big game like for people in the big house? Well, it appears an inmate would be better off in the state pen than in the Cumberland County Jail, if he wants to watch the 46th Super Bowl, which airs at 6:30 p.m.

County jail inmates get about 30 minutes of TV time, says Debbie Tanna, spokeswoman for the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office, which runs the facility. She does not believe that the schedule is adjusted for the Super Bowl, a game that, along with the million-dollar commercials, can stretch more than four hours.

A co-worker of mine, who often plays the sad sack, said, "Knowing my luck, I'd probably get my 30 minutes during half time." (It's Madonna this year, by the way.)

For state prisoners, depending on where they are locked up and their individual circumstances, they might be able to watch the whole game, says Keith Acree, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Correction.

"TV schedules are decided prison-by-prison from the inmates," he said. A committee of inmates haggle over and recommend what shows are broadcast on TVs in the common areas. For male prisoners, Acree said, this usually means "guy" programming, like sports.

There are 36,604 male inmates in North Carolina prisons and 2,613 female inmates, so it's safe to say most prison TVs in the state are serving up a steady diet of sports action.

"TV is a privilege; not every inmate has it," Acree noted. "Those who have the freedom to be in the common areas probably have access to it for the game."

I know it bothers some people that prisoners are allowed to watch TV, but I couldn't care less. I figure they're pretty bored, and TV probably helps maintain order. TV has a pacifying effect, as you can learn from any parent of a young child who has been enraptured by a cartoon....

I also wondered about kinds of TVs available in lockup, and from my limited research, it sounds like they're not necessarily top-of-the-line. I hope this makes people who don't think inmates should have TVs feel a little better.

Acree said the TVs in state prison are paid for out of an inmate welfare fund, which comprises profits from the prison canteen, where inmates buy snacks and sundries, and proceeds from the phone system they use to call out. The TVs are pretty basic and "not extravagant," Acree said.

February 5, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Television | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Friday, January 27, 2012

New major report documents costs and concerns with aging prison populations

Usprisons0112Human Rights Watch has today released a major new report on US prison populations titled “Old Behind Bars: The Aging Prison Population in the United States." HRW visited nine states and 20 prisons to gather information for the report, which can be accessed via this link (along with a lot of companion materials). Here is an excerpt from the report's summary:

Life in prison can challenge anyone, but it can be particularly hard for people whose bodies and minds are being whittled away by age.

Prisons in the United States contain an ever growing number of aging men and women who cannot readily climb stairs, haul themselves to the top bunk, or walk long distances to meals or the pill line; whose old bones suffer from thin mattresses and winter’s cold; who need wheelchairs, walkers, canes, portable oxygen, and hearing aids; who cannot get dressed, go to the bathroom, or bathe without help; and who are incontinent, forgetful, suffering chronic illnesses, extremely ill, and dying.

Using data from the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), Human Rights Watch calculates that the number of sentenced federal and state prisoners who are age 65 or older grew an astonishing 94 times faster than the total sentenced prisoner population between 2007 and 2010.  The older prison population increased by 63 percent, while the total prison population grew by 0.7 percent during the same period.

Some older men and women in prison today entered when they were young or middle-aged; others committed crimes when they were already along in years.  Those who have lengthy sentences, as many do, are not likely to leave prison before they are aged and infirm. Some will die behind bars: between 2001 and 2007, 8,486 prisoners age 55 or older died in prison.

This report is the first of two that Human Rights Watch plans to issue on the topic of elderly prisoners in the US.  It presents new data on the number of aging men and women in prison; provides information on the cost of confining them; and based on research conducted in nine states where prisons vary significantly in size, resources, and conditions, offers an overview of some ways that prison systems have responded to them. The report tackles some policy considerations posed by incarcerating elderly inmates, and raises the human rights concerns that must be addressed if sound policies are to be developed for the criminal punishment and incarceration of older prisoners, both those who grow old in prison and those who enter at an advanced age.

Prison officials are hard-pressed to provide conditions of confinement that meet the needs and respect the rights of their elderly prisoners.  They are also ill-prepared — lacking the resources, plans, commitment, and support from elected officials — to handle the even greater numbers of older prisoners projected for the future, barring much needed changes to harsh “tough on crime” laws that lengthened sentences and reduced or eliminated opportunities for parole or early release.

Some prior related posts on older prisoners: 

January 27, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Georgia chief justice calls for sentencing reforms"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent piece from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which gets started this way:

Georgia's chief justice on Wednesday called on lawmakers to enact sentencing reforms that steer nonviolent offenders away from costly prison sentences, saying, "we now know that being tough on crime is not enough."

In a 25-minute address before a joint session of the Legislature, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein asked lawmakers to adopt proposals by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform that studied Georgia's sentencing and corrections system.  The state can no longer afford to spend more than $1 billion a year to maintain the nation's fourth-highest incarceration rate, she said.

The initiative, supported by Gov. Nathan Deal and Democratic and Republican leaders, calls for increased funding for drug, mental health and veterans' courts across the state and for other alternatives to prison.  Legislation is being drafted and will be introduced in the coming weeks, said Brian Robinson, a spokesman in the governor's office.  Deal's budget plan already asks for $10 million for new accountability courts.

Hunstein, a member of the special council, said its members "began united in our belief that warehousing nonviolent offenders who are addicted to drugs or are mentally ill does nothing to improve the public safety.  Indeed, in the long run, it threatens it."

Accountability courts address the roots of crime and reduce recidivism, she said.  "If we simply throw low-risk offenders into prison, rather than holding them accountable for their wrongdoing and addressing the source of their criminal behavior, they merely become hardened criminals who are more likely to re-offend when they are released."

In addition to viewing these comments by Georgia's chief justice to be substantively notable, I also find fascinating the tradition(?) of having the state's top jurist address a joint session of the state legislature.  Imagine if there was such a tradition in the federal system: what do folks think Chief Justice Roberts might decided to talk about in an address to Congress?

January 26, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

"The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers"

The title of this post is the title of this important new (and relatively brief) report from the Vera Institute of Justice, which aspires to provide a complete picture of state prison costs to taxpayers.   Here is the text of the e-mail blast I received about the report:

A newly released study by a team of Vera researchers calculates—for the first time—the full cost of prisons to taxpayers, including costs outside states’ corrections budgets. The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers—published today—shows that in 40 participating states the aggregate cost of prisons in FY2010 was $38.8 billion, $5.4 billion more than their corrections budgets reflected.

Individually, states’ costs outside their corrections departments ranged from less than 1 percent of total prison costs in Arizona to as much as 34 percent in Connecticut.  Detailed fact sheets for each of the 40 participating states are available [at this link].

The Price of Prisons is a joint product of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections and its Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit, and was conducted in partnership with the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States.

January 26, 2012 in Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"The Caging of America: Why do we lock up so many people?"

The title of this post is the headline given to this extended and thoughtful new article by Adam Gopnik appearing in The New Yorker. The full piece is a must-read, in part because it defies easy labels and lacks many polemics.  Here are a few of many interesting passages:

For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say.  For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones.  More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives.  Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today — perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850.  In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system — in prison, on probation, or on parole — than were in slavery then.  Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America — more than six million — than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.  That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States....

[I]f, in 1980, someone had predicted that by 2012 New York City would have a crime rate so low that violent crime would have largely disappeared as a subject of conversation, he would have seemed not so much hopeful as crazy.  Thirty years ago, crime was supposed to be a permanent feature of the city, produced by an alienated underclass of super-predators; now it isn’t.  Something good happened to change it, and you might have supposed that the change would be an opportunity for celebration and optimism.  Instead, we mostly content ourselves with grudging and sardonic references to the silly side of gentrification, along with a few all-purpose explanations, like broken-window policing. This is a general human truth: things that work interest us less than things that don’t....

[S]mall acts of social engineering, designed simply to stop crimes from happening, helped stop crime. In the nineties, the N.Y.P.D. began to control crime not by fighting minor crimes in safe places but by putting lots of cops in places where lots of crimes happened — “hot-spot policing.” The cops also began an aggressive, controversial program of “stop and frisk” — “designed to catch the sharks, not the dolphins,” as Jack Maple, one of its originators, described it — that involved what’s called pejoratively “profiling.” This was not so much racial, since in any given neighborhood all the suspects were likely to be of the same race or color, as social, involving the thousand small clues that policemen recognized already.   Minority communities, [Professor Frank] Zimring emphasizes, paid a disproportionate price in kids stopped and frisked, and detained, but they also earned a disproportionate gain in crime reduced.   “The poor pay more and get more” is Zimring’s way of putting it. He believes that a “light” program of stop-and-frisk could be less alienating and just as effective, and that by bringing down urban crime stop-and-frisk had the net effect of greatly reducing the number of poor minority kids in prison for long stretches.

January 24, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Feds finally set to stop overseeing health care in California prisons

As reported in this Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Federal oversight of state prison healthcare to end," it appears that the federal judiciary may be finally done keeping an eye on prison healthcare in California. Here are the details:

U.S. District Court Judge Thelton E. Henderson said Tuesday that healthcare in state lockups has improved significantly since he seized control of the system, a move that has cost taxpayers billions of dollars. "While some critical work remains outstanding — most notably on construction issues — it is clear that many of the goals of the receivership have been accomplished," Henderson wrote in a three-page order.

State officials were rebuffed when they sought to end the receivership in 2009. On Tuesday, Gov. Jerry Brown applauded the judge's decision. "We have been working very hard to clean up the mess in the prisons and I appreciate the judicial recognition of our efforts," the governor said in a statement.

Henderson directed state officials, receiver J. Clark Kelso and an inmate advocacy group that sued the state over prison conditions to meet and file a report by April 30, spelling out how to go forward. The parties will have to determine how progress will be measured, sustained and monitored, according to Henderson's order.

Matthew Cate, secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a statement that "the department is ready and willing to start planning for the end of federal oversight of prison medical care."

Donald Specter, director of the Prison Law Office, the inmate advocacy group, warned that progress could be fleeting. "I'm very worried about the state backsliding, especially in times when money is tight," he said. Specter pointed to a court case involving San Quentin Correctional Facility in the 1980s. Medical conditions eventually improved, he said, but problems arose again after the case was dismissed.

January 19, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Miss Wisconsin makes father's prison time a Miss America platform"

Miss am and dadThe title of this post is the headline of this CBS News report, which confirms yet again why I tell my students that every story that makes news has some kind of sentencing angle.   Here are excerpts from the piece explaining how sentencing now connects to our nation's biggest beauty pageant:

Making her father's prison sentence her platform for the Miss America pageant was a family decision, 23-year-old Laura Kaeppeler has said.

The Wisconsin beauty queen, who won the 2012 Miss America pageant, said she wanted children of incarcerated adults to feel less alone, to have mentoring and to pursue as much of a relationship with their parents as possible.  "There are many of you out there and I was one of them but it doesn't have to define you," Kaeppeler told The Associated Press after winning the crown and $50,000 scholarship on Saturday night.  More than 2 million U.S. children have a parent in jail, she estimated.

The brunette opera singer, who won the talent preliminaries, was 18 and just graduating from high school when her father started an 18-month sentence in federal prison for mail fraud.

Her father, Jeff Kaeppeler, said when his daughter approached the family about making the personal topic her chosen platform, they supported it even though they knew it would be discussed publicly.  "It taught us that God can turn anything into good if you let him," he said.  "Laura is totally on board with that idea.  She let that drive her and inspire her this past year to get ready for this."

This additional article about the new Miss America includes (along with lots of pictures) some notable quotes about her plans to make work on these issues part of her future career:

As the new Miss America, Miss Kaeppeler will spend the next year touring the country speaking to different groups and raising money for the Children's Miracle Network.  She said she planned to use the scholarship money to pursue a law degree and become a family attorney who specialises in helping children of incarcerated adults.

"I really feel like I've been called to work in this," she said.  "Whether I became Miss America or not, this is something that I would pursue in my career no matter what."

January 16, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Sunday, January 15, 2012

New talk in California of cutting prison spending by more than $1,100,000,000

As reported in this front-page piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, headlined "Gov. Jerry Brown plans $1 billion in prison cuts," there is serious talk of some serious budget cuts to the most expensive state prison system in the nation. Here are excerpts:

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to cut state prison spending next fiscal year for the first time in nearly a decade, a departure from the goals of recent administrations, which consistently increased corrections spending and pushed for prison expansion.

Brown's budget would save California $1.1 billion on housing inmates and hundreds of millions more by allowing the state to halt some prison construction - savings largely due to his administration's recent overhaul of the state's criminal justice system.

General fund spending on prisons nearly doubled under Brown's Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, from $5.2 billion in 2004 to $9.5 billion in 2011, when Brown, a Democrat, took office. The increase in spending was largely caused by an exploding inmate population and a court order to improve medical care in prisons.

The general fund is backed by statewide taxes and pays for most of the government's basic programs, including schools, police, welfare services and other programs. A cut in prison spending makes more dollars available for other programs....

Under Brown's spending proposal, released Jan. 5, general fund spending on the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would decline from this year's budget of $9.8 billion to $8.7 billion, largely because the state prison population has fallen nearly 1,000 a week since Oct. 1, when the state shifted responsibility for lower level offenders to county law enforcement, a policy known as realignment.

"I don't think there's any question we've turned a corner here ... just by the fact that we are significantly reducing the prison population," said Daniel Macallair, executive director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, a nonprofit that conducts policy analysis on criminal justice issues....

Just one year ago, California was grappling with a court order to reduce its prison population by 33,000 inmates and was moving forward with 13 construction projects to expand prison capacity. Now, the prison population is at 130,000, a decrease of 11,000 in six months. State officials met the first benchmark set by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce the prison population and say they are on track to meet the next one as well, as thousands of offenders that would have flowed into the overcrowded system are staying in county jails instead and being supervised by local probation officials rather than state parole officers.

In addition to halting construction projects, Brown next year wants to begin phasing out the state's Division of Juvenile Justice and place the state's most violent youth offenders in county facilities. And after years of cuts to rehabilitation programs in prisons, Brown wants lawmakers to restore about $100 million in funding for drug treatment, education and other services....

Republican critics of the governor's realignment plan continue to warn that the change will have dire public safety consequences, while county law enforcement officers are still worried about whether realignment funding -- $400 million this year and nearly $860 million next year -- will be consistent or adequate to meet their expanded responsibilities.

County officials and juvenile justice experts are glad that the governor has proposed putting off severe budget cuts to the juvenile justice system this fiscal year, but they worry about the ability of counties to handle the population in the future.

Advocates who oppose prison spending are heartened by Brown's decision to scrap several construction projects, but say the governor isn't going far enough.  Under Brown's proposal, the state would stop the conversion of two former juvenile facilities into adult prisons, which together would have cost nearly $500 million to build.  Officials expect to save about $250 million a year in debt service on bonds by canceling those projects.

As I have suggested before, anyone and everyone who is interested in the relationships between sentencing and corrections policies and crimes rates ought to be keeping a very close watch (and trying to assemble lots of data) in California over the next decade.  

January 15, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new report from The Sentencing Project. Here is a brief account of the report's coverage via the text of an e-mail I received this morning:

The report details the history of private prisons in America, documents the increase in their use, and examines their purported benefits. Among the report's major findings:

  • From 1999 to 2010 the use of private prisons increased by 40 percent at the state level and by 784 percent in the federal prison system. 
  • In 2010 seven states housed more than a quarter of their prison population in private facilities. 
  • Claims of private prisons' cost effectiveness are overstated and largely illusory. 
  • The services provided by private prisons are generally inferior to those found in publicly operated facilities. 
  • Private prison companies spend millions of dollars each year attempting to influence policy at the state and federal level.

The full report, Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America, includes a comprehensive chart on state and federal privatization levels, as well as detailed graphs and data on the lobbying and contribution activities of Corrections Corporation of America. 

January 13, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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:

January 11, 2012 in On blogging, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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....

The solution?

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.

January 5, 2012 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

"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.

January 5, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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.

January 2, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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.

December 28, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

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:

December 27, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners, Recap posts, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lengthy new New Yorker piece on juve LWOP and 14-year-old Michigan murderer

2012_01_02_p323The 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:

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.

December 24, 2011 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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 SteikerIntroduction, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 1 (2011).

Michelle AlexanderThe New Jim Crow, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 7 (2011).

David ColeTurning the Corner on Mass Incarceration? , 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 27 (2011).

Bernard E. HarcourtReducing 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. HollanderReducing Crime by Shrinking the Prison Headcount, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 89 (2011).

Louis Michael SeidmanHyper-Incarceration and Strategies of Disruption: Is There a Way Out?, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 109 (2011).

Andrew E. TaslitzThe Criminal Republic: Democratic Breakdown as a Cause of Mass Incarceration, 9 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 133 (2011).

December 22, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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.

December 21, 2011 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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.

December 19, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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.

December 17, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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.

December 17, 2011 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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.

December 15, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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.

December 15, 2011 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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.

December 14, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

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.

December 10, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

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.

December 7, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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.

December 6, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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.

December 6, 2011 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

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.

December 5, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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.

December 5, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

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:

December 5, 2011 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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.

December 1, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

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.

November 30, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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.

November 29, 2011 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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.

November 27, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, November 25, 2011

South Korea rolls out new robot prison guard

20111124000765_0As 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. 

November 25, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Sentencing around the world, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Monday, November 21, 2011

Committed sex offenders climb roof with nooses to protest confinement conditions

ImagesCAFGHOTPBreaking 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.

November 21, 2011 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

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.

November 20, 2011 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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:

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.

November 20, 2011 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

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.

November 18, 2011 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack