Monday, May 14, 2012

"Laissez-faire with strip-searches: America's two-faced liberalism"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary appearing in The Guardian authored by Professor Bernard Harcourt.  The piece, which I have been meaning to post for some time, makes for a very interesting read and it gets started this way:

There is a deep tension in contemporary US political thought between the notion of freedom that tends to dominate in the socio-economic domain and the concept of liberty that predominates in the penal sphere.  In socio-economic matters, the idea of freedom tends to be shaped by classic economic liberalism: the belief that an invisible hand shapes favorable public outcomes, that individuals need robust protection from the government, that the state should refrain from interfering in commerce and trade.  In the law enforcement and punishment context, by contrast, the dominant way of thinking about liberty gives far more ground to the government, to the police and to the state security apparatus.

This tension, when it gets acute, gives rise to what I would call "two-faced" or "Janus-faced liberalism".  Over the last 40 years, during a period characterized by increased faith in free markets, in deregulation, and in privatization, America's Janus-faced liberalism has worsened and fueled the uniquely American paradox of laissez-faire and mass incarceration.  In the country that has done the most to promote the idea of a hands-off government, our government runs, paradoxically, the single largest prison system in the whole world.

This past month, the great American paradox took a distinctly dystopian turn, particularly at the US supreme court.  The oral argument on the constitutionality of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, in conjunction with the court's decision on the constitutionality of strip-searching all persons arrested even on the most minor traffic infractions, crystallize this worrisome trend.  My sense is that I am not alone in this assessment; there appears to be growing recognition across the US that this two-faced liberalism may, in fact, be pushing the country, inch-by-inch, in the direction of a police state.  This is surely true of the recent strip-search case, Florence v County of Burlington.

May 14, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Profiling the top lock-up state in the top incarceration nation

Prison-referlogo-051312png-740cefbf65715ba5I am intrigued and pleased to see that the New Orleans Times-Picayune today starts this huge new eight-part series titled "Louisiana Incarceration: How We Built the World's Prison Capital." The first piece in the series is headlined simply "Louisiana is the world's prison capital," and it gets started this way:

Louisiana is the world's prison capital.  The state imprisons more of its people, per head, than any of its U.S. counterparts.  First among Americans means first in the world. Louisiana's incarceration rate is nearly triple Iran's, seven times China's and 10 times Germany's.

The hidden engine behind the state's well-oiled prison machine is cold, hard cash.  A majority of Louisiana inmates are housed in for-profit facilities, which must be supplied with a constant influx of human beings or a $182 million industry will go bankrupt.

Several homegrown private prison companies command a slice of the market.  But in a uniquely Louisiana twist, most prison entrepreneurs are rural sheriffs, who hold tremendous sway in remote parishes like Madison, Avoyelles, East Carroll and Concordia.  A good portion of Louisiana law enforcement is financed with dollars legally skimmed off the top of prison operations.

If the inmate count dips, sheriffs bleed money. Their constituents lose jobs.  The prison lobby ensures this does not happen by thwarting nearly every reform that could result in fewer people behind bars.

Meanwhile, inmates subsist in bare-bones conditions with few programs to give them a better shot at becoming productive citizens. Each inmate is worth $24.39 a day in state money, and sheriffs trade them like horses, unloading a few extras on a colleague who has openings. A prison system that leased its convicts as plantation labor in the 1800s has come full circle and is again a nexus for profit.

In the past two decades, Louisiana's prison population has doubled, costing taxpayers billions while New Orleans continues to lead the nation in homicides.

One in 86 adult Louisianians is doing time, nearly double the national average.  Among black men from New Orleans, one in 14 is behind bars; one in seven is either in prison, on parole or on probation.  Crime rates in Louisiana are relatively high, but that does not begin to explain the state's No. 1 ranking, year after year, in the percentage of residents it locks up.

In Louisiana, a two-time car burglar can get 24 years without parole.  A trio of drug convictions can be enough to land you at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for the rest of your life.

May 13, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Too young to shave, but old enough for solitary"

The title of this post is the title of this recent article from the ACLU Blog of Rights, which gets started this way:

As any parent knows, teenagers are different than adults. This common-sense observation is backed by hard scientific evidence; we know that an adolescent’s brain continues to grow and develop well into his or her twenties. The fact that teenagers’ brains are still developing makes them especially vulnerable to trauma of all kinds, including the trauma of social isolation and sensory deprivation.

That’s why the leading American child psychiatry association just approved a policy statement opposing the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities for juveniles. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry represents over 7,500 child and adolescent psychiatrists and other interested physicians.

This groundbreaking policy statement from adolescent psychiatry experts comes not a moment too soon. While recent settlements in ACLU lawsuits in Montana and Mississippi include limits on solitary confinement for youth, the practice remains alarmingly widespread, with thousands of persons under 18 held in solitary on any given day, in juvenile facilities as well as in adult jails and prisons.

May 11, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Could I be (and should I want to be) federal prisoner Keith Judd's DNC delegate from West Virginia?

120508_keith_russel_judd_apThe question in the title of this post is meant — sort of, maybe — as a joke in light of the notable primary voting news out of West Virginia reported in this AP article, headlined "Against Obama, even a jailbird gets some votes." Here are the basics:

Just how unpopular is President Barack Obama in some parts of the country?  Enough that a man in prison in Texas got 4 out of 10 votes in West Virginia's Democratic presidential primary.

The inmate, Keith Judd, is serving time at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas, for making threats at the University of New Mexico in 1999.  Obama received 59 percent of the vote to Judd's 41 percent.

For some West Virginia Democrats, simply running against Obama is enough to get Judd votes. "I voted against Obama," said Ronnie Brown, a 43-year-old electrician from Cross Lanes who called himself a conservative Democrat.  "I don't like him. He didn't carry the state before and I'm not going to let him carry it again."  When asked which presidential candidate he voted for, Brown said, "That guy out of Texas."

Judd got on the state ballot by paying a $2,500 fee and filing a form known as a notarized certification of announcement, said Jake Glance, a spokesman for the Secretary of State's office.

Attracting at least 15 percent of the vote would normally qualify a candidate for a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.  But state Democratic Party Executive Director Derek Scarbro said no one has filed to be a delegate for Judd. The state party also believes that Judd has failed to file paperwork required of presidential candidates, but officials continue to research the matter, Scarbro said.

It would be silly (and surely inaccurate) to claim that democratic primary voters in West Virginia voted for Keith Judd over Barack Obama because they were hopeful that a federal felon would push Democrats to make sentencing and prison reform a higher priority within the party.  But it would not be silly (nor inaccurate) to claim that all the people of West Virginia who voted in the primary for Judd ought to have their votes represented at the Democratic National Convention by a delegate (like me) who is not going to to just fall in line with all the Obama supporters and who will go to the DNC with some of Judd's interests and concerns in mind. 

Of course, I neither live or work in West Virginia, but the same is true for Keith Judd.  (This Politico piece about Judd explains that he "currently resides in a low-security prison in Texas — Federal Correctional Institution Texarkana — where he’s serving a 210-month sentence for extortion connected to making threats at the University of New Mexico in 1999.  His projected release date is June. 24, 2013.")   For that reason, and so many others, I really think I could be the perfect person to head down to Charlotte in late summer and represent the tens of thousands of West Virginia democrats who indicated last night that they are eager for some new voices to be heard at the DNC.

May 9, 2012 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Monday, May 07, 2012

"Realignment of Incarcerative Punishment: Sentencing Reform and the Conditions of Confinement"

The title of this post is the title of this timely new piece by Ken Strutin now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Part I of this article begins with a review of the state of incarceration as viewed through the lens of prison populations.  Then in Part II, the Supreme Court’s watershed decision in Brown v. Plata is explored, along with an analysis of its justifications for upholding a mass release order to remedy the inadequate medical and mental health facilities in an overcrowded state prison system.  Part III describes California’s novel choice of realignment legislation to comply with this order as a legislative approach that does not result in mass release but rather a mass redirection of incoming offenders away from state prisons and into the local corrections system. The potential for criminal sentencing reform inspired by the Court’s decision and the state’s realignment policy are further explored in Part IV, which examines past and present efforts to fine-tune incarcerative sentencing outcomes mindful of the conditions of confinement.  Finally, additional suggestions for uncovering and taking into account the conditions of confinement as an aid to reform are considered at different points along the adjudication spectrum.

May 7, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Indiana legislators (over?)reacting to pair of sex offenders earning early prison release

This new AP story, headlined "Early prison release for sex offenders irks lawmakers," provides a telling and notable how sex offenders can get into trouble and prompt a harsh legislative response for, in essence, just being good prisoners.  Here are the details:

Indiana lawmakers are planning changes to the state’s early release law in response to this week’s slated release of two convicted sex offenders who significantly shortened their prison terms by earning college degrees.

Republican Sen. Jim Merritt of Indianapolis said Tuesday the law’s shortcoming is illustrated by the case of Christopher Wheat, a former high school swim coach convicted of having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old female swim student.

Wheat, 38, is scheduled for release Thursday from the New Castle Correctional Facility after serving less than two years of his eight-year sentence.  Merritt said Wheat “manipulated the system” to cut his sentence to about 20 months by earning two computer science degrees behind bars. “I think he gamed the system.  And we need to make sure nobody does that anymore,” Merritt said.  “We all believe education in prison should be for the rehabilitation of one’s character and preparing them for their life as an ex-offender.”...

Wheat was sentenced to eight years in September 2010 following his conviction on two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor and one count of child solicitation.  His victim was a then-14-year-old student he coached at Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis.

Doug Garrison, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Correction, said Wheat was sentenced to 15 years in prison, with five years suspended and another two years in community corrections, leaving him with an eight-year sentence.  It was cut to four years for good behavior and another two years and three months were removed when he earned an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree. Garrison said Wheat must wear a GPS-monitored ankle bracelet following his release from prison.

Merritt said he’s working with Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, to draft legislation for the next General Assembly that would likely include making convicted sex offenders unable to shave time off their sentences by earning degrees in prison.  It might also seek to prevent inmates from using previously accumulated college credits toward their degrees, as Wheat had done....

Merritt said the slated release of another convicted sex offender -- also Thursday from the New Castle prison -- demonstrates that changes are needed to the state’s early release law. Daniel J. Moore, a 53-year-old former New Whiteland Baptist Church pastor, pleaded guilty in March 2010 to child solicitation and sexual misconduct with a minor for a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl who was a church member.  His 10-year sentence was cut to five for good behavior, and he earned associate and bachelor’s degrees in human services, further paring his sentence to about two and a half years.

State Sen. Pat Miller, R-Indianapolis, said she also will push for changes to the early release law “to fix this terrible situation.” “Sexual predators are a menace to our society. The pain they inflict upon their victims lasts a lifetime, and it makes no sense that these violent offenders are being released early from prison,” Miller said in a statement.

May 1, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"Illinois panel of lawmakers: Don't close prisons, mental facilities"

The title of this post is the headline of this new AP article which highlights some of the challenges, even in lean budget times, of making dramatic cuts to the big government prison-industrial complex supported by taxpayer dollars.  Here are excerpts:

A panel of Illinois lawmakers recommended against closing two prisons and a developmental center Tuesday, a vivid illustration of how difficult it will be for officials to slash state spending this year.

Closing the facilities would save the state tens of millions of dollars at a time when the governor and legislative leaders want to cut billions. But the closures also would eliminate hundreds of jobs, deliver painful blows to downstate communities... Legislators were unwilling to endorse that trade-off.

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted 7-3 against closing the Tamms "supermax" prison and a women's prison in Dwight, as Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed.... The commission also gave a thumbs-down to closing two Department of Corrections halfway houses and a juvenile prison.

The votes were only advisory. The Democratic governor is still free to close the institutions if he wants.

Rep. Patricia Bellock, a top budget negotiator for House Republicans, rejected all the proposed closures. The amount of money involved may be small, she said, but the impact would be huge. "I don't feel it's minor when you're dealing with people's lives," said Bellock, co-chair of the commission.

Some Democrats on the commission supported closing the major facilities. Republicans generally opposed them.

The Tamms prison is a relatively new facility that houses the state's most dangerous and disruptive prisoners. Human rights advocates criticize it for holding prisoners in solitary confinement, keeping them in their cells 23 hours a day. Quinn says moving those inmates to other prisons and shutting Tamms would save about $26 million a year.

Closing the Dwight prison and moving inmates to a penitentiary in Lincoln would save about $37 million. Shutting the halfway houses and youth camps that the commission rejected Tuesday would cut spending by roughly $27 billion.

May 1, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, State Sentencing Guidelines, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Yale Law Journal sponsoring prisoner writing contest

YaleA helpful reader altered me to the interesting news that the Yale Law Journal is now, as detailed on this webpage, welcoming submissions for its first Prison Law Writing Contest.  Here are some of the details:

If you are or recently have been in jail or prison, we invite you to write a short essay about your experiences with the law.  The three top submissions will win cash prizes, and we hope to publish the best work....

The Contest offers people in prison the chance to share their stories with people who shape the law and to explain how the law affects their lives.  Where permitted by state law, the authors of the winning essays will receive prizes: $250 for first place, $100 for second place, and $50 for third place.

Here are just some of the interesting topics concerning which the Yale Law Journal seeks submissions:

Here are the basic rules: "You may submit an essay if you have been an inmate in a prison or jail at any point from January 1, 2010 through September 30, 2012. We welcome essays of about 1000-5000 words, or roughly 4-20 pages."

Kudos to the students at Yale for running this interesting writing contest. I hope they will consider reporting on the number of submissions they receive and consider making many of them widely available for public consumption (at least on-line).

May 1, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Prison Officials Go After Masturbating Prisoners"

The title of this post is the headline of this local article from Connecticut discussing a bill being considered by state lawmakers.  Here are the details:

Prison officials in Connecticut want lawmakers to pass a bill that would label inmates who commit lewd acts in their cells, including masturbation, as sex offenders. It's an ongoing problem at prisons. In 2011, 94 inmates committed 390 indecent exposure violations of this type, according to the bill.

At the high-security Northern Correctional Institution, some inmates masturbate in front of staff, often a female staff member, a Correction Department spokesman said. Lisamarie Fontano, president of the union representing prison workers, said more than 500 such incident reports were written up at Northern last year.

Internal discipline hasn't deterred the behavior, but she believes inmates will stop if they know they will have to register as a sex offender when they leave prison, Fontano said.

Prior sort-of related posts:

April 28, 2012 in Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Monday, April 23, 2012

Notable news and notes about prisons and prisoners

Winding my way around Google News this evening allowed me to come across this array of notable new stories about prisons and prisoners:

April 23, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Our ‘War on Drugs’: Eugenics Without Surgery?"

The title of this post is the headline of this provocative commentary by Erik Roskes, a forensic psychiatrist, and appearing at The Crime Report.  Here are excerpts:

[There is prison] data showing that half of all inmates are currently incarcerated on drug offenses.  In my experience, more than half of the remainder are also incarcerated on crimes committed in the service of addiction: burglary, robbery, bank robbery, assault, felony murder.

And these inmates disproportionately come from segments of society that suffer various, often multiple, deprivations: social deprivation, educational deprivation, nutritional deprivation, cultural deprivation, cognitive deprivation.

Since drug addiction — or at least being caught, prosecuted and convicted for addiction and related crimes — disproportionately affects deprived segments of our society, I submit that our incarceration addiction is tantamount to eugenics without surgery....

In my view, the selective incarceration of young minority men due to addictions that they often develop in their socioeconomically and culturally deprived worlds removes them from society in part because we view them as the “bogeyman,” and as unfit to be full partners with us. This is eugenics in different form.

April 19, 2012 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 15, 2012

When do the costs of incarcerating the elderly clearly outweigh any benefits?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this commentary from the Tulsa World, which is headlined "A Wow Moment: The aging of Oklahoma's prison population."  Here are excerpts:

If the state can prove that [73-year-old Darlene] Mayes is what it claims she is, a marijuana queenpin who supplied 40 percent of the marijuana sales around Grand Lake, there could be other wow moments. Like the wow moment for taxpayers and the Department of Corrections when yet another aging offenderwith the equivalent of a life sentenceis added to the more than 5,000 geriatric inmates already in the prison system. These are inmates in varyingand some very costlystages of declining health.

How useful is sending or keeping some of these older inmates in prison? Does their incarceration deter others in the AARP set from dipping into crime? Does it protect the community, or simply cost it?

Oklahoma has thousands of inmates, of all ages, behind bars serving time for drug offenses. That fact obviously hasn't deterred many others from getting in the business despite the risks. So, if deterrence isn't working, how about risk to the community? Are there alternatives to prison that would protect public safety but not cost taxpayers an arm and a leg in medical costs for an aging inmate?

If there are two categories of people that Oklahoma likes to lock up, it is women and drug offenders. Oklahoma ranks No. 1 nationally in per-capita female incarceration and is fairly high up the ladder in the percentage of drug offenders in prison.

But it is not only the number of drug offenders and female offenders that's grown exponentially in the past few decades. Oklahoma also has had marked growth in the number of older inmates, a population that presents expensive health-care challenges.

In 1980, DOC had only 85 inmates age 50 or older in its entire prison system. By 2010, that figure had grown to 3,952, and by 2013, the population is expected to reach 5,254 - a 48 percent increase. This is not favorable news for the DOC, taxpayers or older inmates.

"Inmates don't come to us in good health to start with," DOC Director Justin Jones told Tulsa World reporter Barbara Hoberock two years ago. "After years of substance abuse, when they get into their mid-50s, they have an array of chronic illness." Several years ago, DOC opened a geriatric facility at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington. "We filled it up the day we opened," Jones said of the 273-inmate facility.

In fiscal year 2000, DOC's total inmate health-care costs were about $34 million, which rose to more than $61 million by fiscal year 2010. A disproportionate share of that cost, by necessity, is being spent on care of older inmates.

This aging of the prison population poses tough choices for lawmakers and agency heads grappling with ever tighter budgets and demands to cut spending. A Time magazine article reported that policymakers "must address soaring medical costs for these older inmates and ponder whether some can be safely released before their sentences expire."

That might work for some nonviolent offenders, who could be paroled and use Medicaid or Medicare benefits instead of DOC-supported care. But how well would that play politically?

In many states, which have no choice financially, early-release programs targeted at older, nonviolent inmates are being tried. Compounding the issue, however, is the difficulty of finding nursing homes for aging, recently released felons who have no families and cannot live on their own. Some states are looking at starting long-term care facilities outside prison to care for parolees.

April 15, 2012 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, April 09, 2012

"Tim Tebow connects with inmates during prison visits"

TebowingThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new piece appearing on NFL.com.  Here are excerpts:

On Easter Sunday, Tim Tebow answered questions from a Texas pastor with more than 15,000 people hanging on his every word.  It was a very public example of both Tebow's immense popularity and outspoken connection to his Christian faith.  Not all Tebow does is seen by the masses, however.

The New York Jets' quarterback has made 10 prison visits dating back to his time at the University of Florida, speaking and interacting with inmates who are looking for a fresh start.  Accompanied by chaplain and longtime family friend James Williams, Tebow had spoken with everyone from death row inmates to young offenders new to the system.

“It’s hard to fool people who are incarcerated,” Gerald Evans, an inmate at Lawtey Correctional Institution in northeast Florida, told the New York Daily News.  “They can see right through you.  They can tell when a guy’s faking, every time. Tim Tebow, he brought a charge to people here.  He brought inspiration to people here. He is a real as you can get.”

Tebow has visited Lawtey twice, talking faith and throwing a football with inmates in the prison's gymnasium.  “Being in prison you automatically see the worst in people,” inmate Tyron Thomas said.  “You meet a lot of people who pick up the Bible and when they put it down you can never tell they read it.  There was just something about Tebow, and how he truly believes in the word of God.  It’s kind of freaky, actually.  It’s not something you see too often.”

I like this story not only because it is useful to hear from prisoners that Tebow is not a phony, but also because it is nice to see prominent persons practice what they preach.  Regular readers know that many persons with strong Christian faith are ready and eager to apply that faith's principles of forgiveness and redemption to the criminal justice system, and I am pleased to learn that Tebow has long brought these messages to persons in prison who surely benefit from hear them directly from someone so high-profile.  Let the Tebowing in prison begin.

April 9, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Sunday, April 08, 2012

"Race, Prediction & Discretion"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Professor Shima Baradaran, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Many scholars and political leaders denounce racism as the cause of disproportionate incarceration of black Americans. All players in this system have been blamed including the legislators who enact laws that disproportionately harm blacks, police who unevenly arrest blacks, prosecutors who overcharge blacks, and judges that fail to release and oversentence black Americans. Some scholars have blamed the police and judges who make arrest and release decisions based on predictions of whether defendants will commit future crimes. They claim that prediction leads to minorities being treated unfairly. Others complain that racism results from misused discretion. This article explores where racial bias enters the criminal justice system through an empirical analysis that considers the impact of discretion and prediction.

With a close look at the numbers and consideration of factors ignored by others, this article confirms some conventional wisdom but also makes several surprising findings. This article confirms what many commentators have suspected — that police arrest black defendants more often for drug crimes than white defendants. It also finds, contrary to popular belief, that there is little evidence to support the belief that drugs are linked to violent crime. Also, judges actually detain white defendants more than similarly-situated black defendants for all types of crimes. The important and surprising findings in this article challenge long-held conventions of race and help mitigate racial disparity in criminal justice.

April 8, 2012 in Data on sentencing, Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Interesting report on developments in prison consulting industry

Today's New York Times has this intriguing piece headlined "Making Crime Pay," which discusses industry developments in the prison consulting business. Here is how the lengthy piece gets started:

Larry Levine, heavyset and bald, runs a thriving business out of a gated apartment complex in Ventura County, Calif., a setting that’s not at all bad for a home office considering some of the prison cells he’s lived in. But as he drops into his plush beige and white sectional couch to talk business, something is nagging at him.

The trouble is the new competition. All these guys are setting up shop, marketing themselves on the Internet, claiming they know the ropes and cutting into his market share. To Mr. Levine, they’re a bunch of poseurs, with no street cred. After all, they’ve barely spent any time behind bars.

“Look at my résumé, I’ve got 10 years: high-security, medium, low,” said Mr. Levine, 50, who was in jail until 2007 on narcotics trafficking, counterfeiting and weapons charges. “These guys go in for a year and a half, maybe two. I’ve got more experience than all the rest of these guys combined.”

Mr. Levine is a prison consultant. The business — which entails advising people who are facing jail time on how to prepare for life on the inside, deal with medical issues, transfer to other prisons and even reduce their sentences — has been around for decades. It enjoys a burst of publicity when a boldface name like Bernie Madoff or Michael Vick hires a consultant.

But the business is changing. Behind the scenes, the profession is attracting a new crop of ex-cons who believe they can put their experience to work, rather than have it burden them in a tough job market. And more competition means rising tempers and flying accusations. Some prison consultants say that others are so lacking in expertise that their businesses are practically criminal enterprises. Rancor among thieves.

“This industry’s exploding,” mourned Mr. Levine, who operates two Web sites, American Prison Consultants and Wall Street Prison Consultants. He reached to a nearby coffee table and picked up a piece of paper listing the names of several dozen competitors and the length of their prison sentences. This is not a rap sheet, it’s market research. The business, he said, is “becoming saturated with people who don’t know what they’re doing.”

He and his competitors (some of whom find his prison time equally unimpressive) walk a fine marketing line, bragging about an extensive criminal record to attract customers. That can make it tough for potential clients to choose: How much incarceration time is enough? What kind of experience is right for the job — maximum security, solitary confinement, a knife fight?

To hear the consultants talk, most competitors aren’t worth the time of day. “Let’s put it this way: If I was in prison, I wouldn’t share a chow table with Larry Levine,” said William Mulholland, who founded the Real Prison Consultant in 2010. He and Mr. Levine have had words about Mr. Mulholland directing people to free online resources about the prison system.

He also said Mr. Levine routinely criticizes lawyers as money pits, which Mr. Mullholland said only alienates lawyers who could be crucial allies for the fledgling industry. (Mr. Levine said Mr. Mulholland is afraid to criticize lawyers.) "He’s like a used-car salesman,” Mr. Mulholland said of Mr. Levine.

April 7, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, April 06, 2012

"Moms support closure of Illinois supermax prison"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable article from the Chicago Tribune, which gets started this way:

A group critical of the treatment of prisoners at Tamms Correctional Center marched through downtown Chicago in support of Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to close the southern Illinois prison.

Mothers of prisoners were among about 50 marchers at Wednesday's demonstration. They took aim at a union opposed to the prison's closure because it would mean layoffs for guards and other personnel. The mothers say the issue is about “human dignity, not jobs.” They marched through downtown, shouting, “No more torture, no more cages.”

April 6, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"Justice in the Shadowlands: Pretrial Detention, Punishment, and the Sixth Amendment"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper from Professor Laura Appleman now available via SSRN.  This paper seems especially timely in light of the Supreme Court's ruling in Florence earlier this week concerning strip searching of arrestees (basics here).  Here is the abstract from this paper:

In a criminal system that tips heavily to the side of wealth and power, we routinely detain the accused in often horrifying conditions, confined in jails while still maintaining the presumption of innocence.  Here, in the rotting jail cells of impoverished defendants, are the Shadowlands of Justice, where the lack of criminal procedure has produced a darkness unrelieved by much scrutiny or concern on the part of the law.

This article contends that our current system of pretrial detention lies in shambles, routinely incarcerating the accused in horrifying conditions often far worse than those convicted offenders existing in prisons.  Due to these punitive conditions of incarceration, pretrial detainees appear to have a cognizable claim for the denial of their Sixth Amendment jury trial right, which, at its broadest, forbids punishment for any crime unless a cross-section of the offender’s community adjudicates his crime and finds him guilty.  This article argues that the spirit of the Sixth Amendment jury trial right might apply to many pretrial detainees, due to both the punishment-like conditions of their incarceration and the unfair procedures surrounding bail grants, denials and revocations. In so arguing, I expose some of the worst abuses of current procedures surrounding bail and jail in both federal and state systems.  Additionally, I also propose some much needed reforms in the pretrial release world, including better oversight of the surety bond system, reducing prison overcrowding by increasing electronic bail surveillance and revising the bail hearing procedure to permit a community “bail jury” to help decide the defendant’s danger to the community.

April 4, 2012 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Marching bishops perhaps take Connecticut to verge of repealing its death penalty

Bishops-488x327As reported in this local article, which is headlined "Senate To Raise Death Penalty Repeal Wednesday" and is accompanied by the picture reprinted here, it appears that Connecticut may be on the verge of repealing its death penalty. Here are some of the interesting details of the still-on-going legislative debate:

The state Senate is poised to raise a bill to prospectively abolish the death penalty during Wednesday’s session with the support of previously undecided Sen. Edith Prague.  The news broke Tuesday as Bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut led a march on the Capitol with group of about 120 people calling for the end of capital punishment. The state Capitol complex was the last stop on a “Stations of the Cross” trip, during which the Bishops depicted the events leading up to the Romans’ execution of Jesus.

Bishop James Curry said the idea was to take the annual Holy Week prayers to the streets of Hartford and to focus on repealing the death penalty.  “We’re looking for justice for victims and victims’ families, and justice for our society.  It’s truly about what we want to say we are as a society and I think the death penalty turns us to the worst we are: seeking revenge rather than just punishment,” he said.

Sources say the death penalty will come up for a vote during Wednesday’s session.  The fact that lawmakers are considering raising the bill indicates they’re confident they have at least enough votes for an 18-vote tie in the sharply divided chamber. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman has announced her intention to break a tie vote in favor of repeal.

Prague, one of the three senators who has been on the fence over the issue this year, said Tuesday she would vote for repeal if she could be assured the legislation will not provide the grounds for appeals by the 11 inmates currently on death row.  “I am fully prepared to vote for repeal with the caveat that I stand up on the floor and get documentation from the chair of the Judiciary Committee that this in no way gives judges any discretion to apply this repeal to the people who are currently on death row,” she said.

Prague said judges have a lot of discretion in their courts, so the legislation must “make it very loud and very clear that this repeal can not apply to anyone who is on death row.”

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney doubted anyone could give Prague such an assurance.  Even if language is inserted into the bill stipulating the law was not intended to apply to inmates already sentenced to death, McKinney said the courts will view that as immaterial.   “That’s a decision that will be decided in the courts,” McKinney said. “No one disputes that there will be a legal challenge brought by the public defender’s office and the weight of the legal experts is to say that a prospective death penalty won’t pass constitutional muster.”

Assuming Prague does support repeal, her vote alone won’t be enough to tip the scales of the chamber far enough to reach a tie.  Sen. Andrew Roraback, who has previously supported repeal, has announced his intention to vote against the bill this year unless the legislature repeals a program which gives inmates the opportunity to reduce their sentences by participating in re-entry programs.

“The early release program, the more I have learned about it, the more committed I am to not letting us repeal the death penalty unless we repeal that as well,” Roraback said Tuesday.  “The fact that nobody will give these people the time of day is a really sad commentary on the institution of the legislature and the relationship of the legislature and the Judicial Branch to victims of crime.”...

McKinney said he’s hoping tomorrow’s debate will convince anyone who is considering supporting the bill to abandon their support.  Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he expects a long debate.

Kissel, a supporter of the death penalty, was tight-lipped Tuesday on what amendments he intends to offer during the debate, but in the past he has expressed interest in requiring that inmates convicted capital murder be held in solitary confinement.  Kissel said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Democrats offer a similar amendment Wednesday.  He said it was flattering they had embraced his idea but suggested it supports the notion that inmates currently on death row won’t be put to death if the bill passes. If the bill is truly prospective, why is there concern over the living conditions of those inmates, he asked.

McKinney said Republicans may offer another amendment that would make the death penalty more workable in the state rather than abolish it. Roraback likely will try to amend the bill to repeal the inmate early release program. Advocates in favor of repeal, like Executive Director Ben Jones of the Connecticut

Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, said he’s on pins and needles in anticipation of this year’s vote. Last year, efforts to repeal the death penalty died when the Senate was unable to come up with the necessary votes. It passed both chambers in 2009, but was vetoed by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell. “I will be nervous until it passes the House,” Jones said. While Jones said he isn’t as nervous about the votes in the House, where there’s a much more comfortable margin in favor of repeal, he said he’ll sleep a little better after both chambers vote.

April 3, 2012 in Death Penalty Reforms, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, April 02, 2012

New poll from Pew Center suggests significant public concerns with prison populations and costs

Pspp1Via this website entry (which I discovered thanks to the The Crime Report), I see that the folks at The Pew Center on the States "collaborated with two of the nation's leading polling firms, The Mellman Group and Public Opinion Strategies, to explore public opinion on sentencing and corrections issues across the country." Here is more from the web description of the poll and its findings:  

The firms conducted a national survey of 1,200 likely voters to measure underlying attitudes and support for specific policy changes. Download the summary of findings. (Adobe PDF)

Key Takeaways

• American voters believe too many people are in prison and the nation spends too much on imprisonment.

• Voters overwhelmingly support a variety of policy changes that shift non-violent offenders from prison to more effective, less expensive alternatives.

• Support for sentencing and corrections reforms (including reduced prison terms) is strong across political parties, regions, age, gender, and racial/ethnic groups.

A quick review of the full the summary of findings document suggests that there is a lot more to glean from this poll than just what Pew lists above as "Key Takeaways."  In addition, it does not seem as though the poll asked any specific questions about marijuana law and punishment, which seems like a real missed opportunity give the detail in which this poll went into on other issues.  Still, as Pew suggests, this survey can and should provide even more momentum to on-going efforts in various jurisdictions to reduce prison populations and associated costs.

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

Lots more interesting criminal justice work from SCOTUS via orders and opinions

Though the Supreme Court will not be hearing argument for the next two weeks, the Justices provides still more reason for criminal justice folks to buzz about their work through the issuance of notable orders and opinions this morning.  SCOTUSblog, of course, is the place to go for all the SCOTUS news, and here is the live-blogging summary of some of the Court's work this morning:

[A grant in] 11-702, Moncrieffe [v. Holder, which concerns whether state conviction that covers distribution of a small amount of marijuana without remuneration constitutes an "aggravated felony" for deportation purposes]...

First opinion: 10-788, Rehberg v. Paulk (Alito), affirmed 9-0. A governmental grand jury witness has the same absolute immunity as a trial witness. The opinion in Rehberg is here.

[Second opinion:] 10-945, Florence -- affirmed.  Justice Kennedy writes the opinion, except as to Part IV.  Roberts, Scalia, and Alito join the Kennedy opinion in full; Thomas in part. Breyer writes the lead dissent.  The search procedures at the jails strike a reasonable balance.  Roberts and Alito write concurring opinions.  The part of the opinion that Thomas does not join says the Court leaves open what to do when the inmate will not be admitted into the general jail population.  Here is the opinion.

The Alito concurrence joins the opinion but says it is limited to admission to the general population without physical contact.  The Roberts concurrence draws attention to the fact that Florence was arrested on a warrant and had to be admitted to the general jail population. It's unclear how much the Court has decided.

Final opinion: 11-199, Vasquez [concerning harmless error review] -- dismissed as improvidently granted.

There is much of criminal justice interest in all of these ruling, though arguably nothing that significant to hard-core sentencing fans.  Still, I suspect the ruling, the voting particulars and the dicta of Florence is a matter on which I will have later commentary.  In the meantime, here is part of Lyle Denniston's first take on the Court's work regarding jails and strip searching:

Insisting that it has no expertise in how to run a jail or prison, the Supreme Court divided 5-4 Monday in ruling that every person arrested and held temporarily can be subjected to a routine strip search, so long as it involves only a visual inspection without touching or abusive gestures.  The prisoner, however, may be told to manipulate some part of the body.  A partial split within the five-Justice majority made it appear that the decision did not authorize jail officials to conduct a strip search unless the prisoner was to be placed among other prisoners at the facility. Two Justices wrote separately in an effort to narrow the ruling, and their votes were essential to the 5-4 result.

The decision was a clear defeat for challengers to strip searches as a general policy.  The Court explicitly refused to limit the authority to use such searches only to situations in which a specific individual gave officers a reason to consider that prisoner to be dangerous or likely to be carrying a concealed weapon or drugs.  The same kind of visual inspection of an arrestee’s naked body, the Court declared, can be applied to anyone placed in the general population of a jail or prison, even if only temporarily.

The ruling also was a personal defeat for a Burlington County, N.J., man, Albert W. Florence, who was subjected to strip searches at two county jails over a six-day period of confinement after he had been arrested while driving on a state highway, based upon an out-of-date warrant.  The warrant was for failure to pay a fine, but he had actually paid the fine; court records had not been updated.  Florence has contended in public comments that he believed he had been targeted because he was a black man driving an expensive car.

As if somehow to help justify its ruling against his challenge to the strip searches, the Court’s main opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy opened with a description of Florence’s earlier run-in with police, seven years before the arrest that led to the strip searches.... Although the Kennedy opinion would later say that police need not make a strip search policy depend upon an arrested individual’s prior history in crime, the inclusion of the background material about Florence’s history appeared to be aimed at showing that police could not know the character of any individual they had brought in, and thus needed a policy applying to all to ensure that no threat would enter the facility with that prisoner.

April 2, 2012 in Pot Prohibition Issues, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack