Thursday, October 31, 2013

"Sentencing and Prison Practices in Germany and the Netherlands: Implications for the United States"

The title of this post is the title of a notable new report from The Vera Institute of Justice available at this link.  Here is a synopsis of the report's coverage via the Vera website:

Germany and the Netherlands have significantly lower incarceration rates than the United States and make much greater use of non-custodial penalties, particularly for nonviolent crimes.  In addition, conditions and practices within correctional facilities in these countries — grounded in the principle of “normalization” whereby life in prison is to resemble as much as possible life in the community — also differ markedly from the U.S.

In February 2013 — as part of the European-American Prison Project funded by the California-based Prison Law Office and managed by Vera — delegations of corrections and justice system leaders from Colorado, Georgia, and Pennsylvania together visited Germany and the Netherlands to tour prison facilities, speak with corrections officials and researchers, and interact with inmates.  Although variations in the definitions of crimes, specific punishments, and recidivism limit the availability of comparable justice statistics, this report describes the considerably different approaches to sentencing and corrections these leaders observed in Europe and the impact this exposure has had (and continues to have) on the policy debate and practices in their home states.  It also explores some of the project’s practical implications for reform efforts throughout the United States to reduce incarceration and improve conditions of confinement while maintaining public safety.

October 31, 2013 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Gimme Shelter: Mass Incarceration and the Criminology of the Housing Boom"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new short paper by the always intriguing Jonathan Simon from a book intriguingly titled "Architecture and Justice." Here is the abstract:

Mostly when we think about the intersection of architecture and justice we think of the connections between buildings, like courts, prisons, jails, and the ideas, ideologies, and policies that shape both the scale and aspirations of these buildings.  Here I want to propose a different kind of connection. Just as buildings belong to a ‘built environment’, and policies emerge not directly from interest groups but out of broader ‘political rationalities’.  We can learn something by reflecting on how these influence each other.

October 30, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Do lead exposure realities continue to best explain modern crime-rate realities?

Every time I see reports new reports about crime rates in the United States or in certain regions, I cannot avoid continuing to think about the interesting research connecting crime rates and childhood exposure to lead.  Against that backdrop, I was pleased that Rick Nevin, a Senior Economist at ICF International, sent me this lengthy e-mail discussing his research and writing on this topic:

I want to thank you for yourJanuary blog about the Mother Jones article discussing my lead and crime research.  I also want to let you know that I have several posts at www.ricknevin.com that update my earlier analyses, and are closely related to recent posts:

Your October 28 post about the NYT editorial on "Why Prisons Are Shrinking" is related to my paper on The Plummeting USA Incarceration Rate showing that the recent incarceration rate decline reflects much steeper declines for younger adults (ages 18-30) born across years of declining lead exposure, partly offset by rising incarceration rates for older adults born across years of pandemic lead poisoning. 

Your October post on NYC murder rates is directly related to my post on Why is the Murder Rate Lower in New York City?

You had two posts in October about 2012 FBI and BJS data showing relatively stable crime rates related to my recent Lead Poisoning and Juvenile Crime Update paper showing that juvenile arrest rates are falling to record lows since 1980, reflecting ongoing declines in lead exposure over the 1990s, while arrest rates since 1980 have increased for older adults.  This paper also updates my crime trend graphs for Britain and Canada showing the predictive power of earlier lead exposure trends, with the same relationship between lead exposure and crime trends and the same shifts in arrest rates by age observed in the USA.  I also have a recent paper showing how lead exposure trends can explain Juvenile Arrest Rate Trends by Race and Gender

I also have a post on Lead Exposure and Murder in Latin America and a longer paper called The Answer is Lead Poisoning that updates and integrates findings from several of my related peer-reviewed studies.  All of the questions at The Questions link to this same paper.

I know the Kevin Drum story in Mother Jones seemed new and speculative to most readers, but there is actually a large body of research now supporting this relationship, and I have links to many peer-reviewed studies in my posted papers.  I don’t know of any other criminology theory that can explain both the rise and fall of crime in so many places -- and different trends by age, race, and gender -- or any theory that has so accurately predicted ongoing crime trends in so many different places for so many years.  I hope you will consider bringing some of this information to a broader audience through your blog, and I would welcome your use of any text or graphs from my posted papers.

Some recent related posts:

October 30, 2013 in National and State Crime Data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (32) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Jesse Jackson Jr. unable to check in early to federal prison system

This new story from the Chicago Tribune about the failed attempt by a fallen prominent politician provides some further evidence that few get special treatment from the federal Bureau of Prisons. The piece is headlined "Jackson Jr. turned away after showing up at prison early," and here are the (amusing?) details:

Convicted former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. tried to report Monday to a federal prison in North Carolina but was turned away, a prison spokesman said this morning.

Chris McConnell, executive assistant at Butner Federal Correctional Complex near Durham, declined to specify why Jackson was not allowed to surrender to the prison, but the ex-congressman did appear at Butner days earlier than expected. The sentencing judge had told Jackson to report no earlier than Friday, court documents show.

McConnell said the former lawmaker was turned away during the afternoon hours. He said press accounts in which Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., described a paperwork problem being worked out at the prison were “very accurate.” Butterfield reportedly accompanied Jackson to the prison.

At the Bureau of Prisons in Washington, spokesman Ed Ross said this morning he could confirm that Jackson was not in bureau custody. He declined to elaborate on what occurred Monday or to say what is expected to happen next. It was not immediately clear when Jackson would be able to start his 30-month prison sentence.

Jackson was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after pleading guilty. Sheldon Snook, the administrative assistant to its chief judge, said today that he reviewed Jackson’s court docket and saw no change from a judgment entered in August indicating the former congressman shall surrender “no earlier than Nov. 1, 2013.” That is Friday....

The confusion over Jackson's whereabouts began Monday when his lawyer's spokeswoman said the ex-congressman had reported to prison. Bunnie Jackson-Ransom, an Atlanta publicist for Jackson lawyer C.K. Hoffler, said Jackson arrived at the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina sometime after 2 p.m. Chicago time Monday. But McConnell, contacted late Monday afternoon, denied Jackson was in custody. And Ross cited the "inmate locator" on the prison system's website, which listed Jackson as "not in BOP custody" -- a status that remained as of 7 a.m. today Chicago time....

Jackson, 48, who was convicted of looting his campaign fund of $750,000, has been given an inmate number: 32451-016. Jackson is expected to join other high-profile felons at Butner. It is home to rogue financier Bernard Madoff; spy Jonathan Pollard; Omar Ahmad Rahman, the "blind sheik" convicted for plotting to blow up New York City landmarks; and Jon Burge, the former Chicago police commander under whose watch African-American suspects were tortured into making false confessions to rape and murder, records show....

Jackson, the son of civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson, reportedly has depression and bipolar disorder. Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty to stealing $750,000 from his campaign from 2005 to 2012 to pay for vacations, furs, celebrity memorabilia and even two elk heads. He was ordered to pay $750,000 in restitution. According to a court filing last week, the ex-congressman will pay $200,000 by Friday and then sell his Washington home. By May 15, attorneys will give the judge a report on how much he has paid.

Some prior related posts on Jackson prosecution and sentencing:

October 29, 2013 in Celebrity sentencings, Prisons and prisoners | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Michigan Senate passes (prospective-only) Miller fix proposal

As reported in this local article, headlined "Michigan juvenile lifers: Senate moves to fix unconstitutional law, not offer resentencing," the Michigan legislature is finally making some progress on reforming unconstitutional aspects of its juvenile sentencing scheme.  Here are the details:

The Michigan Senate on Thursday unanimously approved legislation that would allow some minors convicted of murder to avoid life in prison -- unless they are already behind bars and have exhausted appeal.

Senate Bills 318 and 319, now headed to the House for consideration, would update Michigan laws that currently allow mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for offenders who were under 18 at the time of their crime....

Under the Senate proposal, prosecutors could still seek life sentences without the possibility of parole for minors.  But judges, after considering aggravating and mitigating circumstances, would be given new discretion to impose a prison term of between 25 and 60 years.  With good behavior, an individual convicted at 15 could have the chance to request a parole hearing and make their case for release when they reached 40.

The bills would not apply retroactively, meaning that "juvenile lifers" already behind bars and out of appeals would not have the opportunity for parole.  Michigan is home to more than 360 juvenile lifers, the second-highest total in the nation.

State Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, proposed an amendment that would have added retroactivity to the legislation, but sponsoring Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, argued against it, and the amendment was shot down.  "The bill brings us into compliance with the Supreme court ruling," said Jones. "It does not go into retroactivity because they didn't address that."

Advocates say that juvenile lifers deserve the same opportunities for release as future convicts, but victim families have argued that opening old cases would also open old wounds.

The Supreme Court did not address the retroactivity question, and state and federal courts have offered different answers. U.S. District Court Judge John Corbet O'Meara has said Michigan juvenile lifers deserve a "fair and meaningful possibility of parole," but he has not yet determined what that possibility should look like.

State Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, has introduced House measures that include retroactivity for juvenile lifers.  But those bills, the subjects of an emotional hearing in August and opposition from Attorney General Bill Schuette, have not advanced out of committee.

October 24, 2013 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Can Obamacare Reduce the Cost of Corrections?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this intriguing new piece by Graham Kates over at The Crime Report. Here are excerpts:

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has the potential to dramatically reduce costs associated with incarceration and prisoner re-entry, a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) official said today at a conference on health care and corrections at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

Local and federal governments spend about $80 billion annually on corrections — about $35,000 per inmate, but Amy Solomon, an advisor to the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, noted that those receiving continuing healthcare beyond incarceration are significantly less likely to be re-arrested.

Beginning in 2014, Americans who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line and reside in 25 states that have agreed to a Medicaid expansion will qualify for access to the government insurance program. Those who earn up to four times the poverty line will qualify for federally subsidized insurance. For impoverished former inmates re-entering their communities, Solomon said that could mean their first opportunities to pursue healthcare beyond bars. “Continuity of care is essential if we want to see health and safety benefits,” Solomon said....

And for communities struggling with the ravages of addiction, mental illness and other issues often relegated to the corrections system, it could mean opportunities to find less costly alternatives to incarceration. “I hope that judges will have viable community-based treatment options, so they won’t feel compelled to lock up someone with mental health issues,” Solomon said.

The key to diverting would-be inmates is separating low-risk offenders from those who are a high-risk, according to Elizabeth Glazer, former deputy secretary for public safety at the New York State Office of Criminal Justice Services. In New York State, 8 percent of offenders account for 80 percent of crime, Glazer said at the conference....

But for both low- and high-risk inmates currently in prison, the task of meeting healthcare needs upon release can be tricky. Few continue care with the provider they had in prison and healthcare often drops off entirely. New York recently unveiled a program called Medicaid Health Homes, which is designed to facilitate communication between all of an individual’s caregivers. For inmates re-entering local communities after prison stays, Glazer said the result will be an increased continuity of care. “Done right, fewer people are going back to jail and prison, and that’s sort of where the bigger incentive is,” Glazer said.

October 22, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Monday, October 21, 2013

"Federal judges extend Gov. Brown's prison crowding deadline -- again"

The title of this post is the headline of this afternoon report from the Los Angeles Times concerning the latest development in the long-running dickering over how California is dealing with a federal court order to reduce its prison population.  Here are the details:

A panel of federal judges has given Gov. Jerry Brown an additional 28 days to come up with long-term solutions to the state's prison crowding problems.

In an order issued Monday, the judges moved the deadline for California to remove about 9,600 inmates from state lockups to Feb. 24, adding almost a month to their last deadline of Jan. 27. It previously was Dec. 31. They also ordered the state to continue negotiating for solutions with lawyers representing California's 134,000 prisoners.

Monday was the deadline for a state appeals judge, Peter Siggins, who was assigned to mediate those confidential talks, to report on the two sides’ progress. Based on Siggins' confidential update and recommendations, the federal panel ordered the negotiations to continue, with another update due Nov. 18, the jurists said in their signed order. The judges extended their first deadline and ordered the discussions after Brown asked them last month for three more years in which to reduce inmate numbers.

October 21, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Louisiana prisons expand inmate medical care through video conferencing"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new article discussing an interesting technocorrections development in the bayou.  Here is how the piece begins:

The Louisiana Department of Corrections has drastically expanded an online medical program in which doctors treat prisoners through video conferencing.

The department plans to take the number of offenders treated by telemedicine from 3,500 to 20,000 in the coming year. The shift is part of Gov. Bobby Jindal's push to privatize state-run hospitals and medical clinics. Inmates traditionally received their more advanced or specialized treatment at those charity facilities.

The Department of Corrections provides primary physician care to offenders on site at state prisons. But officials now use video conferencing and other online services when inmates need to see medical specialists, like cardiologists and neurologists.

For example, an inmate who had recovered from a heart attack or cancer, and only needs routine check-ups to monitor their health, could seek treatment through telemedicine.

Dr. Raman Singh, medical director for the Department of Corrections, said telemedicine is supposed to supplement the traditional patient-doctor encounter. Offenders can go off site for doctor visits if needed, but a larger telemedicine program should cut back on the need for many outside medical trips.

Transporting prisoners to a clinic or hospital can be a complicated affair. Offenders require a secure vehicle and guards to accompany them on the journey, and the travel can also take several hours, since state prisons and medical facilities aren't necessarily near each other. In the case of one north Louisiana facility, offenders, had to make a three-hour round trip every time they needed more than very basic medical attention, said Singh.

Singh knows telemedicine works because LSU has been running an online doctor-offender program in south Louisiana facilities for years. Starting this month, Texas-based US Telehealth is providing online medical care to state prisons in central and north Louisiana, helping to cover the state's whole correctional system. The LSU School of Medicine had wanted to operate the prison contract statewide, but US Telehealth offered a better prices for its services, prompting the Department of Corrections to sign a partial system contract with the company.

October 15, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Parole precogs: computerized risk assessments impacting state parole decision-making

PrecogsPredicting who is likely to commit a crime in the future is no easy task, as fans of "Minority Report" know well.   But states that retain discretionary parole release mechanisms to some extent require its officials to do just that.  And, as this lengthy Wall Street Journal article explains, state officials are (in my view, wisely) relying more and more on computerized risk assessment instruments when making parole decisions.  The WSJ piece is headlined "State Parole Boards Use Software to Decide Which Inmates to Release: Programs look at prisoners' biographies for patterns that predict future crime," and here are excerpts:

Driven to cut ballooning corrections costs, more states are requiring parole boards to make better decisions about which convicts to keep in prison and which to release. Increasingly, parole officials are adopting data- and evidence-based methods, many involving software programs, to calculate an inmate's odds of recidivism.

The policy changes are leading to a quiet and surprising shift across the U.S. in how parole decisions are made. Officials accustomed to relying heavily on experience and intuition when making parole rulings now find they also must take computerized inmate assessments and personality tests into account.

In the traditional system, factors like the severity of a crime or whether an offender shows remorse weigh heavily in parole rulings, criminologists say. By contrast, automated assessments based on inmate interviews and biographical data such as age at first arrest are designed to recognize patterns that may predict future crime and make release decisions more objective, advocates of the new tools say.

In the past several years, at least 15 states including Louisiana, Kentucky, Hawaii and Ohio have implemented policies requiring corrections systems to adopt modern risk-assessment methods, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project. California is using computerized inmate assessments to make decisions about levels of supervision for individual parolees. This year, West Virginia began requiring that all felons receive risk assessments; judges receive the reports before sentencing with the option to incorporate the scores into their decisions.

Such methods can contradict the instincts of corrections officials, by classifying violent offenders as a lower recidivism risk than someone convicted of a nonviolent robbery or drug offense. Criminologists say people convicted of crimes like murder often are older when considered for release, making them less likely to reoffend. Inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes like property theft, meanwhile, tend to be younger, more impulsive and adventurous—all predictors of repeat criminality....

Wider acceptance of computerized risk assessments, along with other measures to reduce state corrections budgets, has coincided with the first declines in the national incarceration rate in more than a decade.

The number of inmates in state and federal facilities fell nearly 1% in 2011 to 1.6 million, after edging down 0.1% in the prior year. The 2011 decline came entirely from state prisons, which shed 21,600 inmates, offsetting an increase of 6,600 federal prisoners. Preliminary 2012 data shows an even larger fall in state inmates of 29,000.

Experts say one reason for the decline is that fewer parolees are returning to prison. About 12% of parolees were re-incarcerated at some point in 2011 compared with 15% in 2006, representing the fifth straight year of decline, according to Justice Department data.

Texas, by reputation a tough-on-crime state, has been consistently using risk assessment longer than many states and is boosting the number of prisoners it paroles each year. With its current system, in use since 2001, it released 37% of parole applicants in 2012 versus 28% in 2005 — some 10,000 more prisoners released in 2012.

Officials in Michigan credit computerized assessments, introduced in 2006 and adopted statewide in 2008, with helping reduce the state's prison population by more than 15% from its peak in 2007 and with lowering the three-year recidivism rate by 10 percentage points since 2005.

Still, experts say it is difficult to measure the direct impact of risk prediction because states have also taken other steps to rein in corrections costs, such as reducing penalties for drug offenses and transferring inmates to local jails.

Michigan's assessments withstood a legal challenge in 2011, when prosecutors sought to reverse the parole of Michelle Elias, who had served 25 years for murdering her lover's husband. A lower court, siding with the prosecutor, ruled the parole board hadn't placed enough weight on the "egregious nature of the crime," court documents say. The Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the decision and upheld Ms. Elias's release.

Yet earlier this month, the same appeals court ruled the Michigan parole board had abused its discretion by releasing a man convicted of molesting his daughter. He hadn't received sex-offender therapy while in prison, but three assessments, including one using [the computer program] Compas, had deemed him a low risk of reoffending. The appeals court, in an unpublished decision that echoed a lower court, said that Compas could be manipulated if presented "with inadequate data or individuals who lie."

The Compas software designer, Northpointe Inc., says the assessments are meant to improve, not replace, human intelligence. Tim Brennan, chief scientist at Northpointe, a unit of Volaris Group, said the Compas system has features that help detect lying, but data-entry mistakes or inmate deceptiveness can affect accuracy, he said. The company says that officials should override the system's decisions at rates of 8% to 15%.

P1-BN518_PAROLE_G_20131011180304Many assessment systems lean heavily on research by criminologists including Edward Latessa, professor at the Center for Criminal Justice Research at the University of Cincinnati. Parole boards, typically staffed with political appointees, have lacked the information, training and time to make sound decisions about who should be released, Dr. Latessa said. The process, he said, is one factor contributing to the population surge in the nation's prisons, including a fivefold increase in the number of prisoners nationwide from 1978 to 2009, according to the Department of Justice.

"The problem with a judge or a parole board is they can't pull together all the information they need to make good decisions," said Dr. Latessa, who developed an open-source software assessment system called ORAS used in Ohio and other states. Ohio adopted ORAS last year as the result of legislation aimed at addressing overcrowded prisons and containing corrections spending. Dr. Latessa does paid consulting work with state corrections agencies but isn't paid for use of the system. "They look at one or two things," he said. "Good assessment tools look at 50 things."

Some assessments analyze as many as 100 factors, including whether the offender is married, the age of first arrest and whether he believes his conviction is unfair. In Texas, a rudimentary risk-assessment measures just 10 factors. Data gathered in interviews with inmates is transmitted to the offices of Texas parole board members, who vote remotely, often by computer.

Parole officials say assessment scores are just one factor they consider. Some experts say relying on statistics can result in racial bias, even though questionnaires don't explicitly ask about race. Data such as how many times a person has been incarcerated can act as an unfair proxy for race, said Bernard Harcourt, a University of Chicago professor of law and political science. "There's a real connection between race and prior criminal history, and a real link between prior criminal history and prediction," Mr. Harcourt said. "The two combine in a toxic and combustive way."

Christopher Baird, former head of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, said statistical tools are best used to help set supervision guidelines for parolees rather than determine prison sentences or decide who should be released. "It's very important to realize what their limitations are," said Mr. Baird, who developed one of the earliest risk-assessment tools, for the state of Wisconsin in the late 1970s. "That's lost when you start introducing the word 'prediction' and start applying that to individual cases."

October 13, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

"Prison Accountability and Performance Measures"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Alexander Volokh now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

A few decades of comparative studies of public vs. private performance have failed to give a strong edge to either sector in terms of quality.  That supposed market incentives haven’t delivered spectacular results is unsurprising, since by and large market incentives haven’t been allowed to work: outcomes are rarely measured and are even more rarely made the basis of compensation, and prison providers are rarely given substantial flexibility to experiment with alternative models.

This Article argues that performance measures should be implemented more widely in evaluating prisons.  Implementing performance measures would advance our knowledge of which sector does a better job, facilitate a regime of competitive neutrality between the public and private sectors, promote greater clarity about the goals of prisons, and, perhaps most importantly, allow the use of performance-based contracts.

Performance measures and performance-based contracts have their critiques, for instance: (1) the theoretical impossibility of knowing the proper prices, (2) the ways they would change the composition of the industry, for instance by reducing public-interestedness or discouraging risk-averse providers, and (3) potentially undesirable strategic behavior that would result, for instance manipulation in the choice of goals, distortion of effort away from hard-to-measure dimensions or away from hard-to-serve inmates, or outright falsification of the numbers.  I argue that these concerns are serious but aren’t so serious as to preclude substantial further experimentation.

October 13, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, October 07, 2013

"Evidence, Ideology, and Politics in the Making of American Criminal Justice Policy"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN authored by the prolific and profound Michael Tonry. Here is the abstract:

The development of a large and productive community of criminal justice programs, scholars, and researchers in the United States since the 1970s has not led to the emergence of a general norm of evidence-based policy making. Nor on many subjects have accumulations of improved knowledge had much influence. On a few they have.

The two best examples of influence are policing and early childhood prevention programs. Concerning policing, a plausible story can be told of an iterative process of research showing that police practices and methods do and do not achieve sought-after results, followed by successive changes in how policing is done. Concerning early childhood programs, a conventional scientific process of hypothesis testing and repeated pilot projects with strong evaluations led to widespread adoption of improved programs and techniques.

Concerning sentencing, sanctioning policies, firearms and violence, and drug policy, by contrast, strong bodies of accumulating evidence have consistently been ignored. Correctional rehabilitation research is a hybrid. Eclipsed in the 1970s by a gloomy view that “nothing works,” research on correctional treatment in the 1980s and 1990s demonstrated that a wide variety of programs can improve offenders’ lives and reduce reoffending. The findings have influenced the development of reentry and other programs that focus primarily on risk classification and reduction of recidivism rates, but only incidentally on addressing offenders’ social welfare needs.

October 7, 2013 in Data on sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Noting the shame of prison rape in incarceration nation

David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow have this notable new article in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books headlined "The Shame of Our Prisons: New Evidence." Here is how it begins:

As recently as five years ago, American corrections officials almost uniformly denied that rape in prison was a widespread problem.  When we at Just Detention International — an organization aimed at preventing the sexual abuse of inmates — recounted stories of people we knew who had been raped in prison, we were told either that these men and women were exceptional cases, or simply that they were liars.  But all this has changed.

What we have now that we didn’t then is good data.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), an agency within the Justice Department, has conducted a series of studies of the problem based on anonymous surveys that, between them, have reached hundreds of thousands of inmates.  Those who agreed to take the surveys, without being informed in advance of the subject, spent an average of thirty-five minutes responding to questions on a computer touchscreen, with synchronized audio instructions given through headsets. The officials in charge either positioned themselves so they couldn’t see the computer screens or left the room.

The consistency of the findings from these surveys is overwhelming.  The same factors that put inmates at risk of sexual abuse show up again and again, as do the same patterns of abuse involving race and gender, inmates and guards.  Prison officials used to say that inmates were fabricating their claims in order to cause trouble.  But then why, for example, do whites keep reporting higher levels of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse than blacks? Is there some cultural difference causing white inmates to invent more experiences of abuse (or else causing blacks to hide what they are suffering)?  If so, then why do blacks keep reporting having been sexually abused by their guards at higher rates than whites?  The more closely one looks at these studies, the more persuasive their findings become.  Very few corrections professionals now publicly dispute them.

The BJS has just released a third edition of its National Inmate Survey (NIS), which covers prisons and jails, and a second edition of its National Survey of Youth in Custody (NSYC). These studies confirm some of the most important findings from earlier surveys — among others, the still poorly understood fact that an extraordinary number of female inmates and guards commit sexual violence.  They also reveal new aspects of a variety of problems, including (1) the appalling (though, from state to state, dramatically uneven) prevalence of sexual misconduct by staff members in juvenile detention facilities; (2) the enormous and disproportionate number of mentally ill inmates who are abused sexually; and (3) the frequent occurrence of sexual assault in military detention facilities.

According to the latest surveys, in 2011 and 2012, 3.2 percent of all people in jail, 4.0 percent of state and federal prisoners, and 9.5 percent of those held in juvenile detention reported having been sexually abused in their current facility during the preceding year. (Jails, which are usually run by county governments, typically hold people who have recently been arrested and are awaiting trial or release, or else serving sentences of less than a year; prisons are for those serving longer sentences.)  The rate of abuse in prisons is slightly lower than has been reported in previous years, but the difference is too small to be statistically significant.  For those in jail, the number has not shifted at all.  The rate of abuse in state-run juvenile facilities has declined significantly since the 2008–2009 youth survey, in which 12.6 percent of juveniles reported sexual victimization.  However, this finding doesn’t have much impact on the total number of people victimized since many fewer are held in juvenile detention than in prisons and jails.

October 5, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

NY Times editorial laments "Writing Off Lives"

The New York Times earlier this week ran this editorial headlined "Writing Off Lives" to complain about the modern (over)use of LWOP sentences. Here are excerpts:

[T]he number of people in prison for life has more than quadrupled since 1984 and continues to grow at a startling pace. The zealous pursuit of these sentences began in the 1970s, becoming something of a fad; it is past time to revisit the practice.

A new study from the Sentencing Project, a research group, found that one in nine inmates, about 160,000 people, is serving a life sentence.  Nearly one-third of these prisoners are serving life without parole. Many of these lifers were convicted of nonviolent crimes or of crimes that occurred before they turned 18.

For much of the 20th century, a sentence as harsh as life without parole was rarely used. Instead, a person sentenced to “life” — for murder, say — could be released after 15 years when the parole board determined that he or she had been rehabilitated and no longer posed a threat. This began to change during the drug war years. Harsher sentences once reserved for people convicted of capital crimes were expanded to include robbery, assault and nonviolent drug offenses. States restricted the use of parole and governors who feared being portrayed as soft on crime began to deny virtually all clemency requests.

Research shows lengthy sentences do nothing to improve public safety. But these long sentences are turning prisons into geriatric centers where the cost of care is prohibitively high. The practice of routinely locking up people forever — especially young people — also ignores the potential for rehabilitation. The whole trend is deeply counterproductive. States need to encourage more rational sentencing, restore the use of executive clemency and bring parole back into the corrections process.

October 2, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Unusual (and cruel)?: two distinct life sentences from the same judge

Wed1_t180The title of this post is my attempt to put a humurous spin on this notable local story, headlined "Judge sentences killer, performs wedding," involving a defendant having two notable (and surely life changing) experiences on one sentencing day this week.  Here are the details:

For Danne Desbrow, Sept. 17 was a day with some bad news, and some good news.

First, the bad. He was sentenced to 53 years to life in prison by San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia Cookson, after being convicted of the murder of another man in Lemon Grove a decade ago.

Then, the good: He got married — by the same judge who had sentenced him to decades behind bars just a few minutes earlier. And he got a slice of cake to eat in the courtroom too, baked by the judge herself.

The wedding ceremony, which came minutes after what several witnesses described as an emotional sentencing hearing, was highly unusual. Judges frequently marry people, and occasionally perform marriage ceremonies for people in custody. But doing so in the courtroom after sending the groom to a lifetime behind bars is pretty much unheard of....

For Desbrow’s lawyer, whose motions for a new trial and a delay in sentencing were abruptly rejected by Cookson at the start of the court hearing, the entire event was surreal. “I didn’t know it was going to happen,” said defense attorney Steve Cline. “Obviously, it was an unusual day from start to finish. I mean, I appreciate that she honored the request for them to marry. But, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Desbrow, 36, was sentenced for the killing of Kevin Santos in 2003. Deputy District Attorney Joe McGlaughlin said the case went unsolved for years until a witness came forward and gave key information pointing to Desbrow. Cline said the defense argued the case was not murder but that Desbrow was defending himself in a fight. After a two-month trial, jurors convicted Desbrow of first-degree murder.

It was during the trial that Danne Desbrow popped the question to his wife-to-be, Destiny, 33. She said in an interview they had begun dating when she was 16, but when she got pregnant the two lost contact.

Last year she said her son wanted to meet his father. Using social media, she was able to track down Desbrow’s family and in January they met for the first time in years — when Danne Desbrow was in jail awaiting trial.

Regular visits followed and Destiny sat through each day of the trial. After the proposal she said she called Cookson’s chambers and asked if the judge would marry them at sentencing. “She called me back and sad yes, she would,” Destiny Desbrow said, adding she was somewhat surprised the judge agreed. The judge’s secretary even called two days ahead of time to make sure everything was in order — rings, notary, documents.

So, after sentencing Danne Desbrow to two consecutive 25-year to life terms (one for the use of a gun in the murder) and another three years for threatening a witness, Cookson concluded the hearing. Members of Santos’s family, who had spoken angrily to Desbrow, were escorted out of the courtroom, according to two people who saw the wedding....

“That is something that does not happen with great regularity,” said Jan Caldwell, a spokesman for Sheriff Bill Gore, who oversees the county jail system. “I’ve never heard of it.”

Weddings in jail are not uncommon, she said. They occur with some frequency during regular visiting hours. Newlyweds have to get their own justice of the peace, and the vows are exchanged through the glass separating visitors from inmates.

Desbrow intends to appeal the murder conviction. He remains in county jail pending another court hearing on a separate case in October. His wife remains hopeful. “I have faith God is going to bring him home,” Destiny Desbrow said.

October 1, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"Jailing Black Babies"

The provocative title of this post is the provocative title of this provicative new article now available via SSRN and authored by James Dwyer. Here is the abstract (the last sentence of which, I suspect, may appeal to (some? many?) readers of this blog:

In many situations of family dysfunction stemming from poverty, the interests of parents are in conflict with the interests of their offspring.  This presents a dilemma for liberals. We want to mitigate the harsh consequences and suffering that conditions we deem unjust have caused some adults, especially adults of minority race.  But we are also concerned about the welfare of children born into impoverished and troubled communities.  The predominant liberal response to this dilemma has been to sidestep it by ignoring or denying the conflict and to then take positions aimed at protecting parents’ interests, without giving serious attention to the impact on children.  The result is a set of liberal polies that effectively imprison black children in dysfunctional families and communities and so ensure that they fall into the inter-generational cycle of poverty, addiction, and criminality.

Epitomizing this phenomenon is the fast-growing phenomenon of states’ placing newborn children, predominantly of minority race, into prison to live for months or years with their incarcerated mothers.  Advocates for incarcerated women, not advocates for children, have promoted prison nurseries, and they have done so with no research support for any hope of positive child welfare outcomes.  Conservative legislators and prison officials agree to experiment with such programs when convinced they will reduce recidivism among female convicts, a supposition that also lacks empirical support.  Remarkably, states have placed babies in prisons without anyone undertaking an analysis of the constitutionality of doing so.

This Article presents a compelling child welfare case against prison nurseries, based on rigorous examination of the available empirical evidence, and it presents the first published analysis of how constitutional and statutory rules governing incarceration and civil commitment apply to housing of children in prisons.  It shows that prison nursery programs harm the great majority of children who begin life in them, and it argues that placing infants in prison violates their Fourteenth Amendment substantive and procedural due process rights as well as federal and state legislation prohibiting placement of minors in adult prisons.

This Article further challenges liberal family policy more generally.  Its final Part describes other policy contexts in which liberal advocacy and scholarship relating to persons who are poor or of minority race consistently favors the interests of adults in this population over the interests of children.  It offers a diagnosis of why this occurs, and it explains why this is both morally untenable and ultimately self-defeating for liberals committed to racial equality and social justice.  The Article’s broader thesis is that liberals bear a large share of the responsibility for perpetuation of blacks’ subordination.

October 1, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Race, Class, and Gender, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Life Without Parole as a Conflicted Punishment"

The title of this post is the title of this lengthy and notable new article available now via SSRN and authored by Craig Lerner. Here is the abstract:

Life without parole (LWOP) has displaced the death penalty as the distinctive American punishment. Although the sentence scarcely exists in Europe, roughly 40,000 inmates are serving LWOP in America today. Despite its prevalence, the sentence has received little academic scrutiny.  This has begun to change, a development sparked by a pair of Supreme Court cases, Graham v. Florida (2010) and Miller v. Alabama (2012), which express European-styled reservations with America’s embrace of LWOP.  Both opinions, like the nascent academic commentary, lament the irrevocability of the sentence and the expressive judgment purportedly conveyed -- that a human being is so incorrigible that the community brands him with the mark of Cain and banishes him forever from our midst.  In the tamer language of the Graham opinion, LWOP “forswears altogether the rehabilitative ideal.”

This Article tests whether that phrase is a fair characterization of LWOP today, and concludes that the Graham Court’s treatment of LWOP captures only a partial truth.  Life without parole, the Article argues, is a conflicted punishment.  The community indulges its thirst for revenge when imposing the sentence, but over time softer impulses insinuate themselves.  LWOP is in part intended as a punishment of incalculable cruelty, more horrible than a prison term of many years, and on par with or worse than death itself.  In practice, however, LWOP also emerges as a softer punishment, accommodating a concern for the inmate’s humanity and a hope for his rehabilitation.

September 29, 2013 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Friday, September 27, 2013

"The New Asylums: Jails Swell With Mentally Ill"

P1-BN289_JAIL_p_G_20130925182704The 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.

September 27, 2013 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Federal judges give California officials a little more time to unpack overcrowded prisions

As 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.

September 25, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

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.

September 24, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack

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.

September 21, 2013 in Prisons and prisoners, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack