Friday, September 27, 2013
"The New Asylums: Jails Swell With Mentally Ill"
The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new investigative report published in The Wall Street Journal. Here are excerpts from the important article:
America's lockups are its new asylums. After scores of state mental institutions were closed beginning in the 1970s, few alternatives materialized. Many of the afflicted wound up on the streets, where, untreated, they became more vulnerable to joblessness, drug abuse and crime.
The country's three biggest jail systems — Cook County, in Illinois; Los Angeles County; and New York City — are on the front lines. With more than 11,000 prisoners under treatment on any given day, they represent by far the largest mental-health treatment facilities in the country. By comparison, the three largest state-run mental hospitals have a combined 4,000 beds.
Put another way, the number of mentally ill prisoners the three facilities handle daily is equal to 28% of all beds in the nation's 213 state psychiatric hospitals, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute Inc. "In every city and state I have visited, the jails have become the de facto mental institutions," says Esteban Gonzalez, president of the American Jail Association, an organization for jail employees.
Correctional systems define mental illness differently. Generally, the term is used to describe prisoners who require medication for serious issues ranging from major depressive disorders to schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. Also included are inmates with diagnoses that warrant overnight stays in a mental hospital or who demonstrate serious functional impairment.
To get a snapshot of how the U.S. is grappling with such an explosive societal issue, The Wall Street Journal surveyed all 50 states about issues of mental health within their prison populations. Of the 22 states that provided detailed responses, their mental-health patient ratios ranged from one in 10 inmates to one in two. Inmates in all 23 responding states account for 55% of the prisoners in the U.S. under state jurisdiction.
In Oregon, the trend is particularly acute. Officials there estimate that half the state's 14,000 prison inmates suffer from some type of mental-health issue. Several states with large inmate populations, like Michigan and Illinois, reported to the Journal that about 8% to 10% of their inmates suffered from serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Smaller states, like Montana, said as many as 15% of their inmates suffered from serious mental illness.
Roughly 5% of all adult Americans suffer from a serious mental illness, according to a 2012 report by a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Caring for such distressed inmates is costly. National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the leading advocacy research groups, estimates that prisoners with mental illness cost the nation $9 billion annually. Other challenges are evident. In Los Angeles, for example, the U.S. Department of Justice found in 1997 that mentally ill inmates were abused and endured conditions that violated their federal civil rights.
Earlier this month the DOJ sent a letter to L.A. officials saying that despite some apparent progress, there is "a growing number" of mentally ill inmates housed in general population quarters at Men's Central Jail, as well as a "recent increase in suicides." Assistant Los Angeles County Sheriff Terri McDonald said the growing population of mentally ill inmates "certainly strains the system." She said they would continue to work with DOJ officials "and we welcome their thoughts."
Some facilities have attempted to cope by hiring psychiatric staff and retraining prison officers. Few, however, claim to be adequately equipped to handle some of the nation's most mentally frail. A seeming revolving door compounds the problem: Upon their release, the mentally ill tend to find scant resources and often quickly fall back into the system, says Mr. Gonzalez.
Even in some areas that have seen reductions in the general inmate population, the mentally ill constitute a growing share of correctional space. For example, New York City's total prison population has fallen to 11,500, down from 13,576 in 2005. Yet the number of mentally ill prisoners has risen, to 4,300 from 3,319, says Dora Schriro, commissioner of corrections for the city. That means the city's percentage of mentally ill prisoners grew from 24% to 37%.
The picture echoes the past. Two centuries ago, reformers were disturbed to find large numbers of the mentally ill in jails, paving the way for the development of state-run institutions. In the 1950s and 1960s, complaints about abuses, advances in medication and a push to give the patients more independence led to another change, this time toward community settings. The weaknesses of that concept—a lack of facilities, barriers created by privacy laws and tightened local and state funding—has brought the picture full circle.
"Society was horrified to warehouse people in state hospitals, but we have no problem with warehousing them in jails and prisons," says Thomas Dart, sheriff of Cook County.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Federal judges give California officials a little more time to unpack overcrowded prisionsAs reported in this local piece, headlined "California prisons: Judges give state more time to deal with inmate release order," Governor Jerry Brown and other California officials have succeeded in getting the court-ordered deadline for prison reform pushed back a bit. Here are the basics:
Giving California prison officials a temporary reprieve to deal with the state's overcrowding crisis, a federal court on Tuesday ordered the Brown administration and inmates' lawyers to discuss whether the latest legislative plan will solve the long-running prison problem.
In the order, a special three-judge panel gave the state until the end of January to report back to the court, for now dissolving a December deadline to rid California's prisons of nearly 10,000 more inmates. The judges indicated that the state and inmates' lawyers could ask for further extensions, suggesting the court may be willing to give California more time to end a decades-long legal battle. At the same time, the judges ordered California to stop transferring inmates to private or out-of-state prisons while the latest proposal is considered....
Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature agreed recently to address the court's overcrowding orders by trying to use mental health and drug treatment programs to limit the number of inmates being sent to the state's prisons for new crimes, asking the judges to give the state three more years to meet the latest goals. State officials have said they would otherwise spend more than $300 million to ship inmates to private prisons and prisons in other states if the judges would not agree to that solution.
In Tuesday's order, the judges did not indicate whether they would accept the proposal, but instructed state officials and inmates' advocates to focus on several categories, including elderly and juvenile inmates, immigration violators, the seriously ill and those serving three-strikes sentences.
The order calls for the two sides to meet in the coming months with San Francisco state appeals court Justice Peter Siggins, formerly a top lawyer in the Brown administration. Siggins is expected to report to the judges on the progress of the negotiations in late October....
The federal judges previously found that the state's prisons are so overcrowded that they fail to give inmates adequate medical and mental health care. The court determined there are still enough problems to require the release of more inmates.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Lengthy discussion of "Why Scandinavian Prisons Are Superior"The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this notable lengthy new article at The Atlantic by Doran Larson. The piece carries the subheading "'Open' prisons, in which detainees are allowed to live like regular citizens, should be a model for the U.S." Here is a snippet from the piece:
Nordic prisons are not all open facilities. Closed prisons here date to the mid-19th century, copied from Philadelphia’s Eastern State, or New York’s Auburn, back when those prisons represented models of humane treatment. To an American eye, these prisons look like prisons: 10-meter walls, cameras, steel doors. I’ve heard men describe Scandinavian closed-prison conditions in ways that echo those of the American prison where I have led a writing workshop since 2006: officials intent on making life onerous, long hours in lockup, arbitrarily enforced rules.
Yet inside the four high-security prisons I’ve visited in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland, common areas included table tennis, pool tables, steel darts, and aquariums. Prisoner art ornamented walls painted in mild greens and browns and blues. But the most profound difference is that correctional officers fill both rehabilitative and security roles. Each prisoner has a “contact officer” who monitors and helps advance progress toward return to the world outside—a practice introduced to help officers avoid the damage experienced by performing purely punitive functions: stress, hypertension, alcoholism, suicide, and other job-related hazards that today plague American corrections officers, who have an average life expectancy of 59.
This is all possible because, throughout Scandinavia, criminal justice policy rarely enters political debate. Decisions about best practices are left to professionals in the field, who are often published criminologists and consult closely with academics. Sustaining the barrier between populist politics and results-based prison policy are media that don’t sensationalize crime—if they report it at all. And all of this takes place in nations with established histories of consensual politics, relatively small and homogenous populations, and the best social service networks in the world, including the best public education. Standing outside a Nordic closed prison, the American son would have felt perfectly at ease. But inside, northern Europe’s closed facilities operate along the lines of humanism that American prisons abandoned early, under a host of pressures -- such as overcrowding, the push to make prisons profitable by contracting out collective labor, the use of unpaid prisoners as private farmhands, and, since 1973, the rise of an $80 billion mass incarceration industry. There is also the matter of scale. The prison population of Sweden (6,900) is less than half the population of Rikers Island at its height (14,000). Several prisons in the U.S. each hold nearly twice the prison population of Finland. This is not simply the difference between large and much smaller countries. U.S. incarceration rates are the highest in the world, about 10 times those throughout Scandinavia, which are among the world’s lowest.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
"The Modern Chain Gang: How Convict Leasing Can Help Repair the California Prison System"The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new article by Ryan Minarovich now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Inmates who work while incarcerated are less likely to succumb to the common negative effects of prison life both during their incarceration and after their release. Both the federal government and California, which have inmate labor programs already in place, realize the benefits and importance of inmate labor to the government, the individual inmate, prisons systems, and society. Labor as a means to reform served as the backbone of early private prison labor programs. These problems were vastly successful until opposition from organized labor caused their dissolution.
This article proposes a regulated and humane return to the convict leasing system. Because the private sector cannot currently utilize the benefits of inmate labor, using laws, regulations, and doctrine from both private prisons and labor, I propose a cooperation program between private industry and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). This program will see private companies permanently house, secure, and care for inmates who produce goods or services for the companies on-site, or transport inmates between the prisons and the production facilities and secure and care for inmates who are in their custody while paying the state a fee for each inmate assigned a position with the company. This system will help defray the per inmate cost to the California prison system by requiring private industry to internalize inmate expenses while in their care and will also secure a recurring revenue stream for the CDCR while adhering to current political, cultural, societal, and legal standards that will insulate inmates from the problems of early convict leasing systems and current private prisons.
Friday, September 20, 2013
NY Times debates "Reconsidering Young Lifers’ Sentences"
The Room for Debate section of the New York Times has this new set of pieces discussing whether all juve murderers should get the retroactive benefit of the Supreme Court's Miller Eighth Amendment ruling. Here is the section's set up:
In the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama that juveniles may never receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole, The Times editorial board has called for courts and legislators to apply this principle regardless of the date of conviction.
Courts in some states agree. Earlier this month, the Louisiana Supreme Court took on this question in the case of Darryl Tate, who was 17 when he robbed two men and killed one of them in 1981.
Should all people in prison for life without parole who committed their crimes before their 18th birthday be eligible for a new sentencing hearing?
Here are the contributions, with links via the commentary titles:
"Give Them Another Chance" by Jody Kent Lavy, Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth
"Judgments Should Remain Intact" by Kent Scheidegger, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation
"The Problem With Retroactivity Rules" by William Baude, Volokh Conspiracy
"It Won’t Be Easy, But It Must Be Done" by R. Daniel Okonkwo, D.C. Lawyers for Youth
"Time to Affirm What We Mean by ‘Juvenile’" by Annie Salsich, Vera Institute of Justice
September 20, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Second Amendment issues, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
New report assails "lockup quotas" in private prison industry
The organization In the Public Interest (ITPI), which bills itself as "a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting," has just released this new report on the private prison industry titled "How Lockup Quotas and 'Low-Crime Taxes' Guarantee Profits Guarantee Profits." Here is 17-page report's introduction:
In 2012, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest for-profit private prison company in the country, sent a letter to 48 state governors offering to buy their public prisons. CCA offered to buy and operate a state’s prison in exchange for a 20-year contract, which would include a 90 percent occupancy rate guarantee for the entire term. Essentially, the state would have to guarantee that its prison would be 90 percent filled for the next 20 years (a quota), or pay the company for unused prison beds if the number of inmates dipped below 90 percent capacity at any point during the contract term (a “low-crime tax” that essentially penalizes taxpayers when prison incarceration rates fall). Fortunately, no state took CCA up on its outrageous offer. But many private prison companies have been successful at inserting occupancy guarantee provisions into prison privatization contracts, requiring states to maintain high occupancy levels in their private prisons.
For example, three privately-run prisons in Arizona are governed by contracts that contain 100 percent inmate quotas. The state of Arizona is contractually obligated to keep these prisons filled to 100 percent capacity, or pay the private company for any unused beds.
These contract clauses incentivize keeping prison beds filled, which runs counter to many states’ public policy goals of reducing the prison population and increasing efforts for inmate rehabilitation. When policymakers received the 2012 CCA letter, some worried the terms of CCA’s offer would encourage criminal justice officials to seek harsher sentences to maintain the occupancy rates required by a contract. Policy decisions should be based on creating and maintaining a just criminal justice system that protects the public interest, not ensuring corporate profits.
Bed guarantee provisions are also costly for state and local governments. As examples in the report show, these clauses can force corrections departments to pay thousands, sometimes millions, for unused beds — a “low-crime tax” that penalizes taxpayers when they achieve what should be a desired goal of lower incarceration rates. The private prison industry often claims that prison privatization saves states money. Numerous studies and audits have shown these claims of cost savings to be illusory, and bed occupancy requirements are one way that private prison companies lock in inflated costs after the contract is signed.
This report will discuss the use of prison bed occupancy guarantee clauses in prison privatization contracts and explore how bed occupancy guarantees undermine criminal justice policy and democratic, accountable government. Section 1 explains the for-profit private prison industry’s reliance on high prison populations, and how these occupancy guarantee pr ovisions directly benefit its bottom line. Section 2 discusses the prevalence of bed guarantee clauses, drawing on a set of contracts that ITPI obtained through state open records requests. Section 3 describes how occupancy guarantees have harmed states, focusing on the experiences of Arizona, Colorado, and Ohio — three states that have agreed to these provisions to detrimental consequences. Lastly, Section 4 will discuss our recommendation that governments can and should reject prison occupancy guarantees.
Some related posts:
- "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prison Industry"
- ACLU of Ohio releases new report assailing Governor's plan to sell state prisons
- Might private prisons actually cost taxpayers more than public prisons?
- "Who Benefits When A Private Prison Comes To Town?"
- New ACLU report critical of private prisons
- "Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America"
- "Hustle and Flow: Prison Privatization Fueling the Prison Industrial Complex"
- "International Trends in Prison Privatization"
- Notable review of Kentucky's (now-ending) experiences with private prisons
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
The Sentencing Project releases "Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America"
I received an email alerting me to an important new publication about life and LWOP sentence just released by The Sentencing Project. Here is the text of the email, which includes links to the publication as well as a summry of its key findings:
While serious crime rates in the U.S. have been declining for the last 20 years, the number of prisoners serving life sentences has more than quadrupled since 1984. As documented in our new report, Life Goes On: The Historic Rise in Life Sentences in America, by senior research analyst Ashley Nellis, over 159,000 people were serving life sentences in 2012, with nearly 50,000 serving life without parole.
Key findings from the report include:
In order to reshape our crime policies to facilitaterehabilation, promote public safety, and reduce the high cost of massincarceration, the report recommends eliminating life without parole,increasing the use of executive clemency, preparing persons sentenced to lifefor release from prison, and restoring the role of parole in prisoner release.
- One of every nine individuals in prison is serving a life sentence.
- The population of prisoners serving life without parole (LWOP) has risen more sharply than those with the possibility of parole: there has been a 22.2% increase in LWOP since just 2008.
- Approximately 10,000 lifers have been convicted of nonviolent offenses.
- Nearly half of lifers are African American and 1 in 6 are Latino.
- More than 10,000 life-sentenced inmates have been convicted of crimes that occurred before they turned 18 and nearly 1 in 4 of them were sentenced to LWOP.
- More than 5,300 (3.4%) of the life-sentenced inmates are female.
September 18, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
"Brown seeks 3-year delay on easing prison crowding"The title of this post is the headline of this new article from the Los Angeles Times, which gets started this way:
Following through on a deal struck with legislative leaders, Gov. Jerry Brown told federal judges Monday that he is prepared to spends hundreds of millions of dollars moving inmates out of crowded prisons — but would rather use the money to rehabilitate prisoners so they don't come back.
To do that, the state is asking for a three-year delay in meeting the inmate population caps the judges ordered in 2010. "For prison population reduction measures to be effective and lasting, they cannot be unilaterally imposed," the governor's lawyers said in a late-night filing, arguing that "state prisons are just one part of the larger, interconnected criminal justice system."
The proposal Brown submitted is based on a compromise hammered out with lawmakers who opposed his plan to reduce crowding by sending thousands of inmates to privately owned prisons and other detention facilities.
If judges agree to delay the deadline, Brown will still move 2,500 inmates out of state lockups and into alternative facilities within California, according to the court filing. And he will set aside $150 million next year for treating drug abuse and mental illness and other rehabilitation programs.
If the judges say no, the state proposes to meet their Dec. 31 deadline by spending $315 million this year — and more the next — to move more than three times as many prisoners, primarily to private lockups as far away as Mississippi.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Notable review of Kentucky's (now-ending) experiences with private prisonsThe (Louisville) Courier-Journal has this intriguing review of Kentucky's modern experiences with private prisons. The extended piece is headlined "Private prisons' legacy in Kentucky is mixed," and it gets started this way:
For decades, Kentucky officials looked at private prisons as a cost-effective solution to an inmate population that exploded under “tough on crime” policies in the 1980s and ’90s.
Even some critics of the industry acknowledged a need for private facilities as Kentucky’s incarceration rates soared past most other states’ and consumed an increasingly larger share of the state budget — more than $487 million in 2012.
But this month, as the Department of Corrections cuts ties with the largest prison company in the country and moves all remaining inmates to publicly run institutions, Kentucky’s 28-year venture with for-profit prisons is ending with a mixed legacy.
Officials say recent penal reforms and declining prisoner counts are behind the state’s decision not to renew its contract with Corrections Corp.of America, a Nashville-based firm that has operated three private prisons and held thousands of inmates in Kentucky since 1998, most recently at the Marion Adjustment Center in St. Mary. “Our decision wasn’t based on an opinion of private prisons,” said Kentucky Justice Secretary J. Michael Brown. “CCA was a great partner. We could not have operated without that partnership while our (inmate) population was trending up.”
CCA estimates that it has saved the state millions of dollars — 12 percent to 24 percent in corrections costs, according to an industry-backed study — while employing hundreds of workers and boosting local economies.
Still, critics argue that outsourcing a key function of government to a private company raised significant issues, including criminal charges of sexual misconduct, poor health care and lawsuits at the CCA-run Otter Creek Correctional Center in Eastern Kentucky.
And they say those concerns have defined Kentucky’s partnership with private prisons in ways that a cost analysis cannot show. “I think it became a blight on the state,” said Dr. Mark Hovee, a clinical psychologist who worked at Otter Creek for about six years before resigning in 2007. “I think it was like a stain, allowing a prison to come in from the outside and run things the way they did.”
Some related posts:
- "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prison Industry"
- ACLU of Ohio releases new report assailing Governor's plan to sell state prisons
- Might private prisons actually cost taxpayers more than public prisons?
- "Who Benefits When A Private Prison Comes To Town?"
- New ACLU report critical of private prisons
- "Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America"
- "Hustle and Flow: Prison Privatization Fueling the Prison Industrial Complex"
- "International Trends in Prison Privatization"
Saturday, September 14, 2013
"No Prisoner Left Behind? Enhancing Public Transparency of Penal Institutions"The title of this post is the title of this intriguing looking new paper by Andrea Armstrong available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Prisoners suffer life-long debilitating effects of their incarceration, making them a subordinated class of people for life. This article examines how prison conditions facilitate subordination and concludes that enhancing transparency is the first step towards equality. Anti-subordination efforts led to enhanced transparency in schools, a similar but not identical institution. This article argues that federal school transparency measures provide a rudimentary and balanced framework for enhancing prison transparency.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
California legislature quickly approves new plan to deal with prison overcrowdingThe old saying is "Where there is a will, there is a way." The proper saying in California concerning prison overcrowding might be "Where there is a prisoner-release federal court order, there becomes the will needed to find a way." I say this based on this latest legislative news via the Los Angeles Times coming from the Golden State, headlined "Legislators give bill on prisons quick passage: Measure aimed at easing crowding by rehabilitating offenders goes to the governor." Here are excerpts:
A plan to ease prison crowding is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown after winning swift approval Wednesday from both houses of the Legislature. The fast-tracked bill, announced Monday, addresses a federal court order requiring the state to shrink its prison population by about 9,600 inmates by the end of the year.
Lawmakers also completed work on measures that would further restrict firearms, increase penalties for sex offenders who remove their GPS monitoring devices and relax rules on billboard advertising.
Under the prison deal, brokered by the governor and legislative leaders, the state will seek extra time to comply with the court. If an extension is granted, officials will use it to expand rehabilitation programs aimed at keeping offenders from returning to prison after they have served their time.
If judges reject the request, the state will relocate thousands of inmates to privately owned prisons and other detention facilities. Moving the prisoners would cost $315 million in the current fiscal year and is projected to cost $415 million in each of the two subsequent years.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who initially had clashed with Brown and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) over how to meet the court's demand, called passage of the bill a "pivotal moment," potentially shifting California's efforts toward a long-term solution to prison overcrowding.
Senate minority leader Robert Huff (R-Diamond Bar) said the proposal was needed to avoid the possible release of inmates before their sentences were up. "It gives us certainty that there is no early release," Huff told his colleagues.
Some Democrats pushed back on the price tag for housing in the bill, SB 105, by Steinberg and Huff. One of those Democrats, Sen. Noreen Evans of Santa Rosa, said during the debate that after years of state belt-tightening, "I simply cannot in good conscience give a $315 million blank check to the director of our corrections system. "I don't believe it is fiscally responsible," Evans said. "It will not provide the reforms that we want."
If the state does not relocate prisoners, at least $75 million of that money will go to rehabilitation programs such as drug treatment and mental health services. The rest of the $315 million will be divided between rehab programs and the state's general fund....
On another law-enforcement issue, legislators approved a measure, spurred by reports in The Times, about a growing number of sex offenders cutting off the electronic monitoring devices the law requires them to wear. Those who do so would face a mandatory 180 days in jail under SB 57 by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), which went to Brown. Many such offenders get little or no time behind bars now.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Could GOP Senator John Cornyn be the next big advocate for reducing federal prison terms?The question in the title of this post is prompted by this very interesting new piece by Greg Sargent via the Washington Post under the headline "Where are Republicans on sentencing reform?." Here are excerpts:
When Eric Holder announced recently that he is pursuing an ambitious package of sentencing reforms, including proposals to reduce “mandatory minimum” sentences, there was a widespread sense it could attract broad bipartisan support. The thinking was that agreement cuts across party lines that our decades-long experiment in mass incarceration has been a huge policy failure.
Now Dem Congressional aides are asking: Will leading Republicans step forward and support reform?...
I can report a new development on this front. I’m told GOP Senator John Cornyn is working on a separate but related package of prison-reform legislation that could help bring more attention to the overall debate. According to his office, Cornyn is developing proposals designed to reduce recidivism rates and time served in prison. The ideas are not sentencing reform and would not reduce the sentences themselves — as would Holder’s proposals — but instead would give prisoners ways to reduce already-doled-out sentences.
The policies, which are modeled on similar reforms in Texas, would allow certain types of non-violent prisoners to do various programs — such as recidivism reduction programming, work programs, or other productive activities. Prisoners at low risk of recidivism could trade in the time they do in such programs to convert their remaining time in prison into time in halfway houses or home confinement.
While these ideas don’t attack the problem in precisely the same way the ideas pushed by Holder and Dems do, there is overlap. As Cornyn’s office notes, their goal would be to reduce the amount of time people spend in prison, reduce recidivisim, and reduce costs. Cornyn’s office says he will try to round up Republican and Democratic support for them and possibly introduce them this fall. If that happens, it could help ignite a conversation on the broader set of issues here....
But we have yet to hear from leading Republicans whose support would be required to push this debate forward, such as Senators Orrin Hatch and Jeff Sessions, both of whom are on the Judiciary Committee and (to my knowledge) have not seriously weighed in on Holder’s push. The question is whether establishment Republicans are going to have a real voice on this issue this fall. Let’s hope so.
I am pretty sure there are more than a few folks within the Justice Department who have advocated (both formally and behind the scenes) for expanding "good time" credits and creating "earned time" credits in order to make it much easier for nonviolent federal prisoners "to reduce already-doled-out sentences." Consequently, it is not so much the specifics of Senator Cornyn's working plan that are such a big deal, but rather that someone without a obvious Tea Party history is working on a federal prison reduction plan at all. Kudos to Senator Cornyn, and I hope joins the ever-growing chorus of GOP voices calling for federal criminal justice reforms.
Some old and newer related posts about AG Holder's speech and the "new politics" of sentencing reform:
- "With Holder In The Lead, Sentencing Reform Gains Momentum"
- Lots of (mostly positive) reactions to AG Holder's big sentencing speech
- Notable inside-the-Beltway discussion of modern sentencing politics
- "NAACP, right-wing foes get friendly" when it comes to prison costs
- "Conservatives latch onto prison reform"
- NAACP head recognizes Tea Party favors some progressive criminal justice reforms (and sometimes more than Democrats)
- "Prison-Sentence Reform: A bill to give judges flexibility to impose shorter sentences deserves conservatives’ support."
- Wall Street Journal pitch for the Prez to get behind the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013
- Justice Safety Valve Act gets bipartisan introduction in House of Representatives
- "Bipartisan Legislation To Give Judges More Flexibility For Federal Sentences Introduced"
- Rand Paul begins forceful pitch in campaign against federal mandatory minimums
- Another notable GOP member of Congress advocating for federal sentencing reform
- "As Prisons Squeeze Budgets, GOP Rethinks Crime Focus"
- Could significant federal criminal justice reforms become more likely if the GOP wins Senate in 2014?
September 11, 2013 in Criminal justice in the Obama Administration, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Reformers claim California three-strikes reform is reducing excessive imprisonment without endangering publicI am very pleased to see this new story out of California following up on an important example of voters directly embracing "smart" versus "tough" sentencing reform. The piece is headlined "Prop. 36's '3 strikes' change working, lawyers say," and here are excerpts:
Ten months after Californians voted to ease the state's "three strikes" law by exempting lesser offenders from life sentences, drafters of the ballot measure said Monday it's working just as they predicted -- reducing unnecessary imprisonment without endangering the public.
In fact, the 1,000 inmates released so far under Proposition 36 are committing new crimes at a far lower rate than other newly freed inmates in California, lawyers at Stanford's Three Strikes Center and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said at a media briefing.
Those three strikes prisoners have been free for an average of four months, and fewer than 2 percent have been charged with new crimes, mostly misdemeanors and all relatively minor offenses, the report said. By contrast, it said, 16 percent of newly freed inmates in California are charged with new crimes in the first 90 days.
Opponents' prediction of "blood in the streets was hyperbole," said David Mills, a Stanford law professor who founded the Three Strikes Center. "Millions of dollars have been saved and many lives changed, hopefully for the better." He said the state provides some support for rehabilitation and training of other released prisoners, but offers no such assistance to those released under Prop. 36.
More than 2,000 additional people with third strikes have asked a judge for release under Prop. 36, including more than 850 in Los Angeles County, which is processing the cases slower than other counties, said Mike Romano of the Three Strikes Center.
The report was released on the same day that Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders announced agreement on a proposal to reduce California's prison population by nearly 10,000 inmates over three years, rather than the Dec. 31 deadline set by a federal court. The plan would cost $200 million a year for local drug treatment and other rehabilitation programs, which are designed to lower the prison population over time, if the court agreed to extend the deadline. If not, Brown plans to spend $315 million a year to lease cells in jails and private prisons where current prison inmates would be transferred....
Prop. 36, passed with a 69 percent majority in November, abolished life terms for criminals whose third strikes were neither serious nor violent and instead sentenced them to twice the normal term. Those reductions did not apply, however, to defendants who had previous convictions for sexual assaults and some other crimes or violence or drug trafficking.
Inmates serving 25 years-to-life terms for third strikes that were neither violent nor serious can seek to have their sentences reduced. Before release, a judge must decide, based on the prisoner's record and prison conduct, that he or she does not pose an unreasonable risk to the public. Prosecutors can object to release but cannot veto it.
Though not made so clear in this article, the Stanford Law School Three Stikes Project has released this effective (and short) Progress Report (which was co-published by the NAACP Legal Defense and Eduction Fund) to mark the 1,000th inmate released under the Three Strikes Reform Act of 2012 ("Proposition 36"). Here is part of the report's abstract:
Fewer than ten months after the California electorate voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 36 in November 2012, over 1,000 inmates have been resentenced and released pursuant to its provisions. Although many prisoners have been resentenced, there are still more than 2,000 eligible cases outstanding, including over 800 unresolved eligible claims in Los Angeles County alone.
This Report shows that the recidivism rate of prisoners released under the Proposition 36 (2 percent) is well below California's statewide average (16 percent). The Report also presents individual success stories of some of those resentenced and released.
Finally, this report proposes recommendations to address outstanding issues regarding the proposition’s implementation, including expediting the review of over 2,000 prisoners still waiting for their cases to be resolved under Proposition 36; ensuring that prosecutors and public defenders have adequate resources to litigate those cases; and providing better housing, drug treatment, and job training opportunities for prisoners reentering the community.
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
Another effective review of the messy Miller aftermathThis morning's Wall Street Journal has this new article reviewing all the legal uncertainty which persists in state courts more than a year after the Supreme Court's Miller ruling declared unconstitutional mandatory LWOP sentences for juvenile murderers. (Regular readers may recall similar recent AP and Stateline piecesfocused mostly on legislative responses to Miller discussed here and here.) This new WSJ piece is headlined "Courts Split Over Ruling on Juvenile Life Sentence: Confusion on 2012 Decision Creates a Legal Limbo for Inmates, Their Lawyers," and here are excerpts:
Jeffrey Ragland, sentenced to life without parole in 1986 for his involvement in the killing of a fellow teen with a tire-iron blow to the head, could soon be a free man. That outcome is the result of a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court last month that found the sentence handed down to Mr. Ragland, now 44 years old, unconstitutional. The court concluded that a June 2012 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court outlawing mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles should be applied retroactively, rather than only to future cases.
Other high-level courts, including the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, have ruled otherwise, finding the Supreme Court's ruling in Miller v. Alabama shouldn't reach backward in time. Inmates challenging their sentences in those cases had their appeals denied.
This schism over the Miller ruling has helped sow deep confusion among inmates, their lawyers, lawmakers and sentencing-policy advocates. More than a year after the high court ruling, many of the approximately 2,100 people sentenced as juveniles to mandatory life-without-parole sentences before June 2012 are being held in a sort of legal limbo — with few answers in sight.
"The situation is an absolute mess," said Wendell Sheffield, a criminal defense lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., who represents a juvenile being held in jail on capital murder charges. "We got an opinion from the highest court in the land, but nobody knows how to implement it."... [S]o far, courts have largely divided over a highly technical question of constitutional law: whether the rule established in Justice Kagan's opinion is "substantive" in nature, and therefore should apply retroactively, or "procedural," which would only alter the method of determining a sentence going forward.
Several Supreme Court rulings in recent years in regard to sentencing, such as the 2002 decision that banned the death penalty for the mentally disabled, were in the former category and applied to sentences already imposed. Justice Kagan's opinion didn't explicitly label the new rule as procedural or substantive....
Advocates for overhauling the juvenile-justice system hailed the Ragland ruling. "An incentive to rehabilitate should be part of most juvenile sentences," said Jody Kent, director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. "So often we have no idea what a child is going to be like in 10, 20 or 30 years."
A spokesman for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican whose office had argued against Mr. Ragland's new sentence, said victims "must never be re-victimized and can never be forgotten from the process." It is a concern echoed by other victims' rights supporters, who think renewed parole hearings, with their promise of springing convicted murderers from prison, would open old wounds.
Since the Miller ruling, a handful of the 28 states with mandatory life-without-parole sentences for at least some juveniles have changed their laws. Some, like Delaware and Texas, scrapped the option of such sentences entirely. Others, like Arkansas and Nebraska, still allow judges to impose the sentence, but also let them consider a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
But the majority of states have yet to change their laws, leaving the status of scores of inmates and defendants up in the air. Mr. Sheffield said his client in Alabama is "completely stuck in a holding pattern" until the legislature or the Alabama courts give some clarity. "I think the [U.S.] Supreme Court was hopeful that state legislatures would deal with this fairly quickly," he said. "But they haven't — and it's just adding to the chaos."
I suspect the US Supreme Court will eventually feel compelled to take up the issue of whether and how the Miller ruling is to apply retroactively to long ago final cases. If (and when?) the Justice take up this matter, I think the case could end up being one of the most significant SCOTUS retroactivity decisions since Teague.
A few recent related posts:
- Effective press review of some state responses to SCOTUS Miller ruling
- Terrific Stateline review of states' varied applications of and reactions to Miller
- A year after Miller confirmed kids are different, how may kids have different sentences?
- Iowa Supreme Court rules in favor of juve defendants in three post-Graham appeals
- In lengthy split opinion, Minnesota Supreme Court concludes Miller should not apply retroactively
September 4, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack
Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro gives himself death penalty (finding way to use hanging as execution protocol)As reported in this ABC News piece, a final chapter of the summer saga concerning Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro was written by the offender himself: "Ariel Castro, who was convicted of kidnapping, torturing and imprisoning three young women for over a decade, has died after being found hanged in his prison cell, the Ohio Department of Corrections said." Here is more:
Castro, 53, was found hanging in his cell at Correctional Reception Center in Orient, Ohio, Tuesday night at 9:20 p.m. local time, corrections spokeswoman JoEllen Smith said.
Facility staff tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate the prisoner, according to Smith. Castro was taken to Ohio State University Medical Center and was pronounced dead at 10:52 p.m. Officials didn't provide further details on the apparent suicide.
"Inmate Ariel Castro was found hanging in his cell this evening at 9:20 p.m. at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient. He was housed in protective custody which means he was in a cell by himself and rounds are required every 30 minutes at staggered intervals," Smith said in a statement. Castro was not on a suicide watch, which would have required constant observation. "A thorough review of this incident is underway and more information can be provided as it becomes available pending the status of the investigation," the statement concluded.
Castro was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years by an Ohio judge Aug. 1. Castro, a former school bus driver, kidnapped Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus between 2002 and 2004 and imprisoned them, sometimes restrained by chains, in his Cleveland home.
Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including kidnapping, rape, assault and aggravated murder. The plea deal spared Castro the death penalty because he was accused of the aggravated murder of a fetus after forcibly causing an abortion in one of his victims that he is accused of impregnating....
Castro was also watched closely in the Cuyahoga County Jail in the weeks after his arrest. He was taken off county jail suicide watch in early June after authorities determined he was not a suicide risk.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
"Clemency, Parole, Good-Time Credits, and Crowded Prisons: Reconsidering Early Release"The title of this post is the title of this paper recently posted to SSRN and authored by Paul Larkin Jr. Here is the abstract:
For most of our history, clemency, parole, and good-time credits have offered prisoners an opportunity for early release. Over the last 40 years, however, clemency has fallen into disuse, and many jurisdictions have repealed their parole laws in favor of determinate sentencing. Given our increasingly crowded prisons and expanding correctional budgets, governments are beginning to rethink our approach to punishment. It is unlikely that clemency or parole will come back into fashion any time soon, however, or that severe sentencing laws will quickly disappear.
But the federal and state governments have continued to use good-time credits as a means of rewarding inmates for positive, in-prison behavior, and legislators may believe that expanding the current good-time laws is the best solution. That approach is reasonable as a policy matter and sellable as a political matter because prisoners must earn good time credits. We therefore may see legislators seek to address prison overcrowding through an expanded good-time system.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
California Gov Brown finding monies for prisons seeking to avoid court-ordered prisoner releaseAs reported in this new Los Angeles Times article, California Governor Jerry Brown is now finally taking major new steps to deal with enduring prison crowding issues in his state. The piece is headlined, "Jerry Brown has plan to ease prison crowding without early releases; To comply with judges' order, Jerry Brown proposes to spend from state's reserve to house excess prisoners in alternate facilities." Here are excerpts:
Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers pledged Tuesday to ease prison crowding without releasing inmates early, laying out a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for alternate housing.
The proposal, which has divided Democratic leaders, would pay for enough beds in privately owned prisons and other facilities to shed more than 9,600 inmates from state lockups by the end of the year, as federal judges have ordered. "This is the sensible, prudent way to proceed," Brown said at a Capitol news conference. "The plan is to find as many cells as needed."
Paying for the extra housing would drain $315 million from the state's $1.1-billion reserve over the next year. The price tag is expected to increase to $415 million for each of the following two years.
The proposal would avoid inmate releases while Brown continues fighting the order to reduce the population in state prisons, which the judges say are unconstitutionally crowded. Plans his administration previously considered could have forced the state to free about 1,000 inmates before their sentences were finished....
Brown faces an array of political challenges in pushing his plan through the Legislature, notably opposition from Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and Republican leaders in both houses flanked Brown for his announcement, but Steinberg was absent, saying later that he would issue his own prison plan Wednesday.
"The governor's proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope," Steinberg said in a statement. "As the population of California grows, it's only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow." The Senate leader has called for more spending on mental health and drug treatment programs that can reduce the number of ex-offenders who return to prison, helping to lower the inmate population in the long run.
Brown and Pérez said they also would consider more long-term solutions to prison crowding, such as changes in sentencing laws. Meanwhile, the funding for alternative cells is needed, they said. "We are not going to release a single additional prisoner," Pérez said.
The proposal announced Tuesday would move thousands of offenders from state facilities to privately owned prisons in and outside of California and reopen city-owned detention facilities in Shafter and Taft, in the Central Valley. More inmates could be placed in county jails.
Law enforcement groups representing district attorneys, police chiefs, county sheriffs and others are backing the plan. "The efforts by the governor will help protect our communities," said Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal.
More key support comes from the politically powerful prison guard union, which has strongly opposed outsourcing of inmate housing. But Brown's plan would use state guards in a privately owned prison in Kern County....
[O]n Tuesday, top Republican lawmakers said the governor was taking the right steps. "Our No. 1 responsibility is public safety," said Senate Republican leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar). "We can't allow dangerous inmates on our streets."
Lawmakers have less than three weeks to consider Brown's proposal before they adjourn. The Assembly budget committee is scheduled to convene Thursday to begin discussions. Brown's effort to comply with the court order has short-circuited some of his previous plans to lower prison spending and end contracts to house inmates out of state. If the Legislature approves his proposal, prison spending will outpace state funding for higher education in the current fiscal year.
Don Specter, a lawyer for inmates who have sued the state over prison conditions, said leasing more prison space would be "an incredible waste of hundreds of millions of dollars for no benefit to public safety." He said the state should consider some early releases, by expanding the credit prisoners can earn for good behavior or freeing inmates who are elderly and sick.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Might NYC save money sending folks to The Plaza instead of the pokey?The silly question in the title of this post was my first reaction to this recent piece in the New York Times headlined "City’s Annual Cost Per Inmate Is $168,000, Study Finds." Here are the pricey details:
New York City is an expensive place to live for just about everyone, including prisoners. The city paid $167,731 to feed, house and guard each inmate last year, according to a study the Independent Budget Office released [last] week.
“It is troubling in both human terms and financial terms,” Doug Turetsky, the chief of staff for the budget office, said on Friday. With 12,287 inmates shuffling through city jails last year, he said, “it is a significant cost to the city.”
Mr. Turetsky added that he was not aware of any previous studies that broke down the cost per inmate in the jails, but there have been national studies.
And by nearly any measure, New York City spends more than every other state or city. The Vera Institute of Justice released a study in 2012 that found the aggregate cost of prisons in 2010 in the 40 states that participated was $39 billion. The annual average taxpayer cost in these states was $31,286 per inmate.
New York State was the most expensive, with an average cost of $60,000 per prison inmate. The cost of incarcerating people in New York City’s jails is nearly three times as much.
Michael P. Jacobson, the director of the City University of New York Institute for State and Local Governance and a former city correction and probation commissioner, said part of the reason the city’s cost was so high was because it had a richly staffed system. “The inmate-to-staff ratio probably hovers around two prisoners for every guard,” he said. The budget office said 83 percent of the expense per prisoner came from wages, benefits for staff and pension costs.
Mr. Jacobson noted the success in bringing down the city’s jail population — from a peak of about 23,000 in 1993 to about 12,000 people today — but said the fixed costs were not likely to go down soon. Still, he said, there were things that could be done to save money, like reducing the amount of time people sat in jail awaiting trial. Some 76 percent of the inmates in the city were waiting for their cases to be disposed, according to the budget office.
In other words, New York City is spending, on average, nearly $450 per jail inmate per day. I know it costs more that this to get a room at The Plaza most times (not to mention the cost of room service), but I have to think some kind of group discount rate might be arranged. Jokes aside, these are really eye-popping numbers and now I better understand why the toll roads and bridges in NYC seem to go up a few more dollars every time I visit.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
New York Times editorial board rightly highlights "Pardon Rates Remain Low"I was pleased to see this morning that the New York Times has this new editorial discussing clemency issues under the headline " "Pardon Rates Remain Low." Here are excerpts:
Attorney General Eric Holder said many encouraging things in his important speech on the future of sentencing reform, but the most striking thing may have been what he did not say. In all his 4,000 words on America’s “broken” legal system — and particularly on its outlandishly harsh and ineffective sentencing laws — there was not one mention of executive clemency.
That power, which the Constitution explicitly grants to the president, has always served as an indispensable check on the injustices of the legal system and as a means of demonstrating forgiveness where it is called for. It was once used freely; presidents issued more than 10,000 grants of clemency between 1885 and 1930 alone. But mercy is a four-letter word in an era when politicians have competed to see who can be toughest on crime....
As ProPublica has documented, the pardon process has devolved into a mockery of itself, riven by arbitrariness, racial disparity and charges of abuse. Pardons of powerful, well-connected individuals like Marc Rich, by Bill Clinton, and Lewis Libby, by George W. Bush, have only increased cynicism about the process.
Meanwhile, President Obama’s use of the pardon power remains historically low. In four and a half years, he has received almost 10,000 applications for clemency and has granted just 39 pardons and one sentence commutation. No one seems to know why some requests are granted and others denied. To call it a lottery is unfair to lotteries; at least if you pick the right numbers, you’re guaranteed to win....
As the experience of many states shows, a functional pardon system must also be accountable. This can mean requiring the executive to publish an annual report on pardon policy and practice. Currently the president has no obligation to explain his grants or denials, which undermines public trust in the system.
In this light it is disheartening that the Obama administration continues to resist calls to remove the current head of the pardon office, Ronald L. Rodgers, despite a finding by the Justice Department’s inspector general that in 2008, Mr. Rodgers misrepresented material information in recommending that the president deny a petition for clemency.
In a 2003 speech, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that “a people confident in its laws and institutions should not be ashamed of mercy.” In the 10 years since that speech, requests for mercy have increased even as the prospects for reform have not. In the first 10 months of fiscal 2013, 2,000 inmates applied for commutations, more than in any single year in history.
Executive clemency may not be the ideal way to ameliorate the system’s excesses, but for many people stuck with an unjustly long sentence or a conviction that prevents them from getting jobs, business licenses or even public housing, it remains the only way....
Mr. Holder was right to call for a substantial overhaul of our criminal justice system. But any meaningful reform must include the clemency process, by which we temper our most punitive tendencies. It is long past time for the president to heed the words of Justice Kennedy and reinvigorate this fundamental executive prerogative.
Kudos to the New York Times editorial board for giving this issue significant attention in the wake of AG Holder's speech (and for the great line "[t]o call it a lottery is unfair to lotteries...."). The Obama Administration's record on this issue is truly abysmal, especially given that President Obama rode into the White House in 2008 by stressing the themes of hope and change into the White House.
Especially disconcerting is Obama's failure to date to use his clemency powers (or really to do anything of significance) to help the many thousands of low-level crack offenders still serving (now-repealed) severe mandatory minimum prison sentences based on the old 100-1 crack/powder sentencing ratio. Back in 2007 on the campaign trail in his speech to Howard Univesity (as I discussed in this 2010 law review article), then-candidate Barack Obama had this to say about those federal prisoners:
When I'm President, we will no longer accept the false choice between being tough on crime and vigilant in our pursuit of justice.... We can have a crime policy that's both tough and smart. If you're convicted of a crime involving drugs, of course you should be punished. But let's not make the punishment for crack cocaine that much more severe than the punishment for powder cocaine when the real difference between the two is the skin color of the people using them. Judges think that's wrong. Republicans think that's wrong. Democrats think that's wrong, and yet it's been approved by Republican and Democratic Presidents because no one has been willing to brave the politics and make it right. That will end when I am President.
Though I suppose President Obama deserves some credit for the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, even the revised federal penalties under that law with its new 18-1 ratio still mean that "the punishment for crack cocaine [is] much more severe than the punishment for powder cocaine." And, more to the point of this post, the only reason I can surmise to explain why President Obama has not been willing to grant commutations to some significant number of the thousands of prisonder serving sentences that judges and Republicans and Democrats all think are wrong is because President Obama even in his second term is still , in fact, NOT "willing to brave the politics and make it right."
I know that there are at least 2000 federal prisoners who applied for clemency just this last year who continue to reasonably hope that President Barack Obama remembers that his clemency powers provide one of the very best ways for him to be "vigilant in our pursuit of justice." But, as the NY Times highlights, in this arena many now have been hoping for nearly five years to see any real change.
Some recent and a few older posts concerning federal clemency practices:
- "How to Awaken the Pardon Power"
- New Slate pitch for Prez to use clemency powers to address crack sentencing disparities
- "Clemency Reform: We're Still Waiting"
- "Clemency for the 21st Century: A Systemic Reform of the Federal Clemency Process"
- Will Prez Obama's clemency record ever match his inaugural rhetoric?
- "Why Has Obama Pardoned So Few Prisoners?"
- "Barack the Unmerciful: Obama's amazingly stingy clemency record"
- New York Times editorial assails Prez Obama's considerable clemency failings
- "Obama Has Granted Clemency More Rarely Than Any Modern President"
- Updated numbers on President Obama's disgraceful clemency record
- Noting President Obama's (still) stingy clemency record
- ProPublica reveals more ugliness in federal clemency process
- "A no-pardon Justice Department"
- Effective USA Today coverage of President Obama's clemency stinginess
- "Obama should exercise the pardon power"
- NYTimes op-ed assailing Obama's pathetic pardon practices
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
"It's Not Just Federal Prisons: State Prisons Are a Mess, Too"The title of this post is the headline of this notable new National Journal piece. Here are excerpts:
In Arkansas, there aren't enough prison beds for all the inmates. Tasked with housing 14,753 people, the state's prisons have fallen around 280 beds short, with 1,400 state inmates being held in county jails as of Monday. Arkansas's state prison director told the corrections board that there are 300 beds ready for use, but it would cost $8 million to hire new employees and run the new facilities.
Arkansas isn't the only state with a bed problem: Arizona has been relying on temporary beds to make up for only having 37,000 beds for 41,000 inmates.
When U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to the American Bar Association about the economic and moral costs of the U.S. criminal justice system last week, he was mainly talking about federal prisons. But prisons at the state and local level aren't in any better shape....
If you need more proof of how bleak things are, just look at some of what's happened in the last few weeks.
On July 8, a hunger strike broke out in California prisons over a policy that allowed inmates associated with gangs to live in isolation for long periods of time.... When the strike began, it included almost 30,000 of the state's 133,000 inmates. That number is down to around 130. On Monday, a federal judge ruled that California will be able to force-feed the remaining strikers.
California's prison problem is also fundamentally economic. In May, a judge ordered California to reduce its inmate population by 9,600 to prevent overcrowding. California unsuccessfully appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday said that California wouldn't "do a mass release" and a spokesman said the administration is "working with the Legislature to avoid the prospect of inmate releases." That could mean spending hundreds of millions of dollars to stem overcrowding. But even just releasing prisoners can come at a huge cost. According to the LAPD, it costs about $18 million to keep track of felons who are released from state prisons to the counties, and more than half of the thousands who are already released annually are eventually sent back to prison.
Then there's the violence. Five prisons have been placed on lockdown in Illinois in the last week for unrelated incidents after a wave of violence. That includes violence against prison guards. Then there's the rise in suicides. In Washington, D.C., there have been four suicides at the Central Detention Facility in less than a year. In the last decade, there have only been eight suicides total at that facility. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report released this month shows a recent uptick in suicides at local prisons.
Renewing focus on federal prisons is a start, but it doesn't totally address all of the problems in the U.S. criminal justice system.