Monday, June 18, 2018

Attorney General Sessions laments state recidivism data and impact of Johnson ACCA ruling

Attorney General Jeff Sessions today delivered these remarks to the National Sheriffs' Association Annual Conference, and his comments covered lots of criminal justice ground that I do not recall him previously speaking about directly. The speech is worth reading in full because of all it reveals about how AG Sessions' looks at crime and criminals, and here are just some of the comments that caught my attention:

This is a difficult job, but when rules are fairly and consistently enforced, life is better for all — particularly for our poor and minority communities.  Most people obey the law. They just want to live their lives. They’re not going to go out and commit violent crimes or felonies.

As my former boss, President Reagan used to say, “Most serious crimes are the work of a relatively small group of hardened criminals.”  That is just as true today as it was back then.  That’s why we’ve got to be smart and fair about how we identify criminals and who we put behind bars and for how long....

I want to call your attention to something important.  A few weeks ago, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new report on the recidivism rate of inmates released from state prisons in 30 states.  This is the longest-term study that BJS has ever done on recidivism and perhaps the largest.  It was designed by the previous administration. The results are clear and very important. The results are of historic importance.  The reality is grim indeed.

The study found that 83 percent of 60,000 state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested again within nine years.  That’s five out of every six.  The study shows that two-thirds of those — a full 68 percent — were arrested within the first three years. Almost half were arrested within a year — one year — of being released.

The study estimates that the 400,000 state prisoners released in 2005 were arrested nearly 2 million times during the nine-year period — an average of five arrests each.  Virtually none of these released prisoners were arrested merely for probation or parole violations: 99 percent of those arrested during the 9-year follow-up period were arrested for something other than a probation or parole violation.

In many cases, former inmates were arrested for an offense at least as serious — if not more so — as the crime that got them in jail in the first place. It will not surprise you that this is often true for drug offenders.

Many have thought that most drug offenders are young experimenters or persons who made a mistake.  But the study shows a deeper concern.  Seventy-seven percent of all released drug offenders were arrested for a non-drug crime within nine years.  Presumably, many were arrested for drug crimes also.  Importantly, nearly half of those arrests were for a violent crime. We can’t give up....

This tells us that recidivism is no little matter.  It is a fact of life that must be understood.  But overall, the good news is that the professionals in law enforcement know what works in crime.  We’ve been studying this and working on this for 40 years.

From 1964 to 1980, the overall violent crime rate tripled.  Robbery tripled. Rape tripled.  Aggravated assault nearly tripled. Murder doubled.  And then, from 1991 to 2014, violent crime dropped by half. Murder dropped by half.  So did aggravated assault.  Rape decreased by more than a third, and robbery plummeted by nearly two-thirds.

That wasn’t a coincidence.  Between that big rise in crime and that big decline in crime, President Reagan and the great Attorney General Ed Meese went to work.  There was the elimination of parole, the Speedy Trial Act, the elimination of bail on appeal, increased bail for dangerous criminals before trial, the issuing of sentencing guidelines, and in certain cases, mandatory minimum sentences.

We increased funding for the DEA, FBI, ATF, and federal prosecutors. And most states and cities followed Reagan’s lead.  Professionalism and training dramatically increased in local law enforcement.  These were the biggest changes in law enforcement since the founding of this country.  These laws were critical to re-establishing public safety.

When a criminal knows with certainty that he is facing hard time, he is a lot more willing to confess and cooperate with prosecutors.  On the other hand, when the sentence is uncertain and up to the whims of the judge, criminals are a lot more willing to take a chance....

The certainty of a significant and fixed sentence helps us get criminals to hand over their bosses, the kingpins and the cartel leaders — and helps remove entire gangs and criminals from the street.  Left unaddressed these organizations only get richer, stronger, more arrogant and violent placing whole neighborhoods in fear.

Law enforcement officers understand that. Sheriff Eavenson and NSA have been critical allies in the fight to preserve mandatory minimums for a long time — and I want to thank you for your strong advocacy.  Many doubt their value.  Maybe this is obvious, but a recidivist can’t hurt the community if he is incarcerated.  A lot of people who would have committed crimes in the 1990s and 2000s didn’t because they were locked up.  Murders were cut in half after 1980....

Look, our goal is not to fill up the prisons.  Our goal is to reduce crime and to keep every American safe.  We should not as a policy keep persons in prison longer than necessary. But clear and certain punishment does in fact make America safer....

One of the most important laws that President Reagan signed into law was the Armed Career Criminal Act.  That’s the law that requires a minimum 15- year sentence for felons caught with a firearm after their third robbery or burglary conviction.

These are not so-called “low-level, nonviolent drug offenders” who are being picked on.  These are criminals who have committed multiple serious offenses.  In 2015 — after 30 years on the books — one critical line of the law was struck down by the Supreme Court as being too vague.

But because of this impactful ruling, every federal prosecutor lost one of their most valuable tools and they ask me for help regularly.  Just one example is Jeffrey Giddings of Oregon.  He had more than 20 convictions since 1991. He was let out of jail after the Court ruling and only 18 days later shot a police officer and held two fast food employees hostage.  He has now been sentenced to another 30 years in prison.  And the last thing he did before being put back in jail was to lash out in a tirade of profanity at police....

More than 1,400 criminals — each convicted of three felonies — have been let out of jail in the three years since the Court ruling.  And so far, more than 600 have been arrested again.

On average, these 600 criminals have been arrested three times since 2015.  A majority of those who have been out of prison for two years have already been arrested again. Here in Louisiana, nearly half of the released ACCA offenders released because of this court ruling have already been rearrested or returned to federal custody....

In this noble calling, all of us in this room are leaders. The NSA is fulfilling its responsibility in this regard. We must communicate sound principles to our policy leaders and to the American people when it comes to reducing crime:

  • A small number of people commit most of the crimes;
  • Those who are jailed for crimes are very likely to commit more crimes—often escalating to violent crimes — after their release; and
  • Congress and our legislatures must consider legislation that protects the public by ensuring that we incapacitate those criminals and deter others

And so the point is this: we should always be looking for effective and proven ways to reduce recidivism, but we must also recognize that simply reducing sentences without reducing recidivism unfairly creates more victims.

This Department of Justice under President Trump is committed to working with you to deliver justice for crime victims and consequences to criminals. We want to be a force multiplier for you.

The President has ordered us to back the women and men in blue and to reduce crime in America. And that’s what we intend to do. We embrace that mission and enforce the law with you.

There is a bit of rich irony to the Attorney General extolling the importance and value of "clear and certain punishment" just before lamenting a SCOTUS ruling that struck down a punishment as too vague to be clear or certain in any way.  That irony aside, I am not at all surprised to see him highlight the depressing new data, first blogged in this prior post, revealing terrible recidivism numbers among those released from state prisons in 2005.  I am not sure from where the ACCA-post-Johnson-release recidivism data comes, but I am sure all these numbers fuel the AG's belief that we should always be inclined to (over-)incarcerate in efforts to improve public safety.

June 18, 2018 in Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, June 03, 2018

"Equal Protection Under the Carceral State"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by Aya Gruber now available via SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

McCleskey v. Kemp, the case that upheld the death penalty despite undeniable evidence of its racially disparate impact, is indelibly marked by Justice William Brennan’s phrase, “a fear of too much justice.” The popular interpretation of this phrase is that the Supreme Court harbored what I call a “disparity-claim fear,” dreading a future docket of racial discrimination claims and erecting an impossibly high bar for proving an equal protection violation. A related interpretation is that the majority had a “color-consciousness fear” of remedying discrimination through race-remedial policies.  In contrast to these conventional views, I argue that the primary anxiety exhibited by the McCleskey majority was a “leniency fear” of death penalty abolition. Opinion author Justice Lewis Powell made clear his view that execution was the appropriate punishment for McCleskey’s crime and expressed worry that McCleskey’s victory would open the door to challenges of criminal sentences more generally. 

Understanding that the Court’s primary political sensitivity was to state penal authority, not racial hierarchy, complicates the progressive sentiment that McCleskey’s call-to-action is securing equality of punishment. Derrick Bell’s “interest convergence” theory predicts that even conservatives with an aversion to robust equal protection law will accept racial-disparity evidence when in the service of crime-control values.  Indeed, Justice Powell may have been more sanguine about McCleskey’s discrimination claim had mandatory capital punishment been an option.  Accordingly, I caution that, outside of the death penalty context, courts and lawmakers can address perceived punishment disparities through “level-up” remedies, such as mandatory minimum sentences or abolishing diversion (which is said to favor white defendants).  There are numerous examples of convergence between antidiscrimination and prosecutorial interests, including mandatory sentencing guidelines, aggressive domestic violence policing and prosecution, and the movement to abolish Stand-Your-Ground laws.

June 3, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

"Retributivist Theories' Conjoined Twins Problems"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper on SSRN authored by Brittany Deitch.  Here is its abstract:

This Article expands a previously published article, which introduced a novel problem to the centuries-old debate on the retributivist justification of punishment.  The first article applied the problem of conjoined twins, where one commits a crime and the other is innocent, to pure retributivism.  The conjoined twins problem showed that pure retributivism, which holds absolute duties to punish all who are guilty and none who are innocent, fails as a complete theory of punishment.  This Article broadens the application of the conjoined twins problem by applying the problem to other versions of retributivism, including deontological, consequentialist, threshold, negative/weak, victim-conscious, and mixed retributivist theories.  Exploring each version in turn, this Article uses the conjoined twins problem to show that no version of retributivism can serve as a complete theory of punishment.

May 31, 2018 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Examining thoughtfully modern trend to prosecute overdose deaths as homicides

The New York Times has this lengthy new article headline "They Shared Drugs. Someone Died. Does That Make Them Killers?".  The subheadline highlights the basic theme of the piece: "Prosecutors are increasingly treating overdose deaths as homicides, but they aren’t just going after dealers.  Friends, family and fellow users are going to prison."  To its credit, the Times here tried to dig into qualitative and quantitative stories here, and I recommend this piece in full.  Regular readers know that I have lamented, such as in prior posts here and here, that reporting on the decision to use homicide laws in overdose cases often fails to note that many states punish unintentional homicide less severely than the feds punish basic drug dealing.  Though the Times fails in this regard as well, it still provides the most thoughtful account of what surrounds these cases.  Here are excerpts:

As overdose deaths mount, prosecutors are increasingly treating them as homicide scenes and looking to hold someone criminally accountable. Using laws devised to go after drug dealers, they are charging friends, partners and siblings. The accused include young people who shared drugs at a party and a son who gave his mother heroin after her pain medication had been cut off. Many are fellow users, themselves struggling with addiction.

Such cases are becoming more common even as the role of the criminal justice system in combating drug abuse has become hotly contested, and even as many prosecutors — including those who pursue overdose death cases — say they embrace the push to treat addiction as a public health crisis rather than a crime.

Overdose prosecutions, they say, are simply one tool in a box that should include prevention and treatment. But there is no consensus on their purpose. Some believe they will reduce the flow of drugs into their communities, deter drug use or help those with addiction “hit bottom.” To others, the cases are not meant to achieve public policy goals, but as a balm for grieving families or punishment for a callous act. “I look at it in a real micro way,” said Pete Orput, the chief prosecutor in Washington County outside Minneapolis. “You owe me for that dead kid.”

Who owes whom for what is less clear in the case of the Malcolm family in Breckenridge, Colo., where Michael Malcolm’s younger son was charged in the overdose death of his older brother, with whom he shared drugs purchased on the internet. The cost of prosecution and incarceration, Mr. Malcolm said, would have been better spent on addiction treatment that the family could not afford. “It’s kind of like blaming the leaves on the tree, you know?” he said. “What about the roots?”

In 15 states where data was available, The New York Times found more than 1,000 prosecutions or arrests in accidental overdose deaths since 2015. Between 2015 and 2017, the number of cases nearly doubled. Dozens more cases were documented in news reports. In all, overdose prosecutions were found in 36 states, with charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder. In Minnesota, the number of such cases — sometimes referred to as “murder by overdose” — quadrupled over a decade. Pennsylvania went from 4 cases in 2011 to 171 last year after making it easier to prosecute....

Many of those convicted are serving hard time: A Long Island woman whose best friend texted her from a business trip asking for heroin was sentenced to six years after he died taking the drugs she sent him. A former pipe fitter in Minnesota who shot speedballs with a mother of three got 11 years. A Louisiana man who injected his fiancée — both were addicted, his lawyer said — got life without parole....

The concept of overdose prosecutions took hold after the cocaine-related death in 1986 of Len Bias, the college basketball star, two days after he was drafted by the Boston Celtics. A friend, who called 911 when Mr. Bias collapsed, was accused of providing the cocaine, but was acquitted. Soon after, states began passing so-called Len Bias or “drug delivery resulting in death” laws. Louisiana made it second-degree murder. Pennsylvania created a crime punishable by up to 40 years in prison. Congress passed the sweeping 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which included a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years for federal cases in which drugs resulted in death or serious injury.

The Len Bias laws were supposed to go after drug dealers — “greed-soaked mutants,” Howell Heflin of Alabama called them on the Senate floor. But the role of dealer is far less clear cut than lawmakers envisioned. The legal definition of drug dealing, or “distribution,” typically covers behavior that is common for even casual users, including sharing, giving drugs away or getting reimbursed for a buy. Under complicity laws, helping to arrange a deal can be treated the same as dealing....

Despite the high cost of imprisonment — $33,000 a year on average, compared with roughly $5,000 to $7,000 for treating addiction with methadone — new Len Bias laws have begun to appear. Delaware enacted one in 2016, and West Virginia did so last year. In Rhode Island, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has proposed a mandatory life sentence....

In order to gain a better sense of where defendants fit on the user-dealer continuum, The Times looked to Pennsylvania, where overdose prosecutions have soared since a change in the law in 2011 made it unnecessary to prove that the accused had malice toward the victim. The Times examined drug-related death cases filed in criminal court in the first half of last year — 82 cases in all, with 80 defendants. At least 59 of the accused were drug users themselves, according to police reports, court filings and interviews with law enforcement officials and defense lawyers. Roughly half had a relationship with the victim other than that of dealer. That group included six boyfriends, one girlfriend, a cousin, a brother and a son. A few of those charged had tried to save the victims. (Good Samaritan laws protect those who call for help from drug possession charges, but generally not homicide charges.)...

Overdose prosecutions picked up steam under the Obama administration. In 2015, the National Heroin Task Force recommended that cases against heroin dealers whose drugs proved fatal should be prioritized for three reasons: the product might be particularly potent, the prosecutions would serve as a deterrent, and the attention would educate the public about the “severe harm caused by heroin.”...

Even hard-liners like John Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George W. Bush, question the use of overdose homicide prosecutions without more systematic proof that they reduce drug use and emergency room visits. “In the absence of that, this is all gestures,” Mr. Walters said.

But many law enforcement officers hope that the cases act as a deterrent. When five people overdosed in two months in Twin Lakes, Wis. (population 6,000), the police charged 10 with reckless homicide. “We kind of want to put a bubble around our community and say we don’t — we’re not going to accept this here,” said Adam Grosz, the chief of police. But one of his detectives, Katie Hall, said that the arrests had little effect on supply and demand: “If we can take one off, well, then they just go to the next one.”

Paradoxically, the punitive approach to overdoses is underpinned by the same rationale as the push to treat addiction as a public health issue. In the prosecutorial worldview, a criminal investigation dignifies victims by treating their deaths as crimes instead of sad inevitabilities. “The analogy for me is the dead prostitute,” Mr. Orput said. “You know, years ago, the cop would look and go, ‘Well, that’s what happens,’ and that’s what they’d say with the junkie: ‘That’s why we don’t do drugs.’”

Some of many prior related posts:

May 27, 2018 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Capitalizing on Criminal Justice"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Eisha Jain now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

The U.S. criminal justice system “piles on.”  It punishes too many for too long.  Much criminal law scholarship focuses on the problem of excessive punishment.  Yet for the low-level offenses that dominate state court workloads, much of the harm caused by arrests and convictions arises outside the formal criminal sentence.  It stems from spiraling hidden penalties and the impact of a criminal record.  The key question is not just why the state over-punishes, but rather why so many different institutions — law enforcement institutions as well as civil regulatory agencies and private actors — find it valuable to do so.

This Article argues that the reach of the criminal justice system is not just the product of overly punitive laws, but also the product of institutions capitalizing on criminal law decisions for their own ends.  Criminal law is meant to serve a public purpose, but in practice, key institutions create, disseminate, and rely on low-level criminal records because they offer a source of revenue or provide a cost-effective way of achieving discrete administrative objectives.  These incentives drive and expand the reach of the criminal justice system, even as they work in tension with the state’s sentencing goals.  This dynamic creates obvious harm.  But it also benefits key actors, such as municipalities, privatized probation companies, background check providers, employers, and others who have incentives to maintain the system as it is.  This Article identifies how organizational incentives lead a host of institutions to capitalize on criminal law decisions, and it argues that reform efforts must, as a central goal, recognize and respond to these incentives.

May 23, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Two new short essays providing ideas in criminal justice administration to think about for a long time

I have noticed these two notable new essays on SSRN that have the benefit of both being short reads with ideas worth thinking long and hard about:

"Classical Liberal Criminal Law" by Rachel Barkow

Abstract: This essay, written for a festschrift for Richard Epstein, argues that classical liberals should support robust constitutional protections in criminal matters.  It specifically highlights the need for robust Eighth Amendment review.

"Approaches to Federal Judicial History: The Federal Courts and Criminal Justice" by Sara Mayeux

Abstract: Mass incarceration has long constituted not only a sociological fact and a moral disaster in the United States, but also a major sector of the public and private economy; a significant component of ideologies of race, gender, and sexuality; and a distorting influence upon electoral processes and deliberative democracy.  What role has the federal judiciary played in this complex history?  This short historiographical essay provides a brief and necessarily selective introduction to exemplary scholarship addressing the relationship between the federal courts and criminal justice in U.S. history, and seeks to encourage historians of the carceral state — even or especially those who do not define themselves primarily as legal historians — to join the conversation.  The essay is structured around three of the most significant ways in which the federal judiciary has historically made and enforced criminal justice policy: by adjudicating federal criminal prosecutions; by reviewing state-court convictions, via federal habeas jurisdiction; and by reforming state prisons and local jails, via constitutional conditions-of-confinement litigation.  This essay was prepared at the invitation of the Federal Judicial History Office for a forthcoming volume.

May 22, 2018 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Against Life Without Parole"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Judith Lichtenberg available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Over 40,000 people in the United States today are serving life without parole sentences (LWOP) — more than triple the number in 1992.  This figure understates the case, since parole has become increasingly rare for the 140,000 prisoners serving life sentences that ostensibly permit parole. I argue that LWOP sentences should be abolished.

After reviewing the facts about LWOP, I show that of the standard reasons for punishment only retributivism can hope to justify it.  I investigate the varieties of retributivism and argue that plausible versions do not entail or even recommend it.  So, we can reject LWOP without abandoning retributivism — an important point, strategically and perhaps morally as well.

I then make the positive case for abolition, on three main grounds.  First, few (if any) people are fully culpable for their criminal acts; we should mitigate their punishment accordingly.  Second, abolishing life without parole — and indeed all life sentences — is likely to bring many benefits: to prisoners, their loved ones, the community in general, and to those who decide for abolition and who carry it out.  Among these is the promotion of certain attitudes it is good for people to have, including faith in humanity.  Finally, there’s a certain pointlessness in continuing to punish a person who has undergone changes of character that distance them greatly from the person who committed the crime many decades earlier.

May 22, 2018 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (12)

Monday, May 21, 2018

In shadow of Parkland, a notable discussion with victim families about capital prosecutions in Florida

This local article from Florida, headlined "For victims' families, no easy answer on whether the ordeal of a death penalty case is worth it," take a thoughtful look at what a death penalty prosecution can mean for the families of murder victims. I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

The parents of the murdered students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been asked — directly by prosecutors, indirectly by defense lawyers, and while talking amongst themselves — whether the young man responsible for mercilessly slaughtering their children should be executed for the crime.

At stake is more than just the life of the killer, Nikolas Cruz.  Whenever the death penalty is ordered in Florida, the case is automatically appealed, guaranteeing the victims’ families will be locked with Cruz in a lengthy process that can take years or even decades to resolve. It’s a position no one envies, but some who have been through similar ordeals say the Parkland parents cannot give a wrong answer, no matter what they decide.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel talked to family members of three victims whose accused killers faced the death penalty. They agreed that the process is long, grueling and takes an emotional toll. Yet none regret their decisions to ask prosecutors to seek a death sentence.

The Broward State Attorney’s Office already announced that it plans to seek the death penalty against Cruz, 19, who killed 14 students and three staff members at the Parkland high school.  Prosecutors won’t say whether the families’ input could change the strategy.  And Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, whose office is representing Cruz, has offered to have him plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison.

Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was among the dead, said Finkelstein’s offer is tempting. “I support the death penalty,” he said. “But I don’t want to pursue it in the case of my daughter’s killer. … If there’s a chance Cruz is willing to take a plea deal, I say go for it.”  Guttenberg said his main concern is having to relive the case at every stage — a trial, followed by a penalty phase, followed by appeals, the specter of a retrial, repeating the process from the beginning, “only to end up at what is likely to be a life sentence anyway.”...

For Chris Crowley, staying away wasn’t an option.  Crowley waited 27 years to see his sister’s killer executed in 2013. William Frederick Happ confessed in the execution chamber and begged for forgiveness before he was put to death by lethal injection.  His victim, Angela Crowley, had lived in Lauderdale Lakes for just a few months and was working at a travel agency in the spring of 1986.  She was on her way to visit a friend in Citrus County when she was abducted and murdered by Happ.

Chris Crowley, 61, said watching Happ die gave him a kind of closure he never could have gotten had he known the killer was in a cell getting three meals a day. “He would have had the possibility to kill again,” Crowley said. “The possibility of escape. The possibility of a commuted sentence. With the death sentence, there’s finality.”...

Deborah Bowie calls her situation “the textbook case for everything that is dysfunctional about capital punishment.”  Bowie’s sister, Sharon Anderson, was murdered in 1994 along with two others in what became known as the Casey’s Nickelodeon murders.  The other victims were Casimir "Butch Casey" Sucharski, former owner of the popular Pembroke Park bar that gave the case its nickname, and Marie Rogers....  “It’s a marathon every time,” said Bowie. “I feel for any family that is starting a death penalty case at the beginning. They have no idea what they’re in for.” 

May 21, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

"Punishing Risk"

The title of this post is the title of this new article on SSRN authored by Erin Collins.  Here is the abstract:

Actuarial recidivism risk assessments — or statistical predictions of the likelihood of future criminal behavior — drive a number of core criminal justice decisions, including where to police, who to release on bail, and how to manage correctional institutions.  Recently, this predictive approach to criminal justice has entered a new arena: sentencing.  Actuarial sentencing has quickly gained a number of prominent supporters and is being implemented across the country.  This enthusiasm is understandable.  Its proponents promise that actuarial data will refine sentencing decisions, increase rehabilitation, and reduce reliance on incarceration.

And yet, in the rush to embrace actuarial sentencing, scholars and policy makers have overlooked a crucial point: actuarial risk assessment tools are not intended for use at sentencing.  In fact, their creators explicitly warn that these tools were not designed to aid decisions about the length of a sentence or whether to incarcerate someone.  And yet, that is precisely how those who endorse actuarial sentencing — including the American Law Institute in the recently revised Model Penal Code for Sentencing — suggest they should be used.

Actuarial sentencing is, in short, an unintended, “off-label” application of actuarial risk information.  This Article re-examines the promises of actuarial sentencing in light of this observation and argues that it may cause a number of equally unintended and detrimental consequences.  Specifically, it contends that this practice distorts, rather than refines, sentencing decisions.  Moreover, it may increase reliance on incarceration — and for reasons that undermine the fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system.

May 20, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

"How should we deal with wrongdoing? And you can’t say ‘prison.’"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Washington Post commentary authored by Danielle Allen. I recommend the full piece, and here are excerpts:

How should a kid like Michael [involved in multiple armed robberies at age 15] be sentenced? How, more generally, should we respond to wrongdoing? Here’s my challenge to you: In my thought experiment, you can’t answer “prison.”

Given that constraint, what punishment should Michael receive? Here are our goals: We want to respond to wrongdoing so as to ensure that victims are made whole, that society is made whole, and that the wrongdoer, too, becomes whole and, having paid recompense, is prepared to contribute productively to society.

Does your mind draw a blank? If so, you are like most of us, accustomed to a system that thinks incarceration is the only way to respond to wrongdoing.

In the United States, 70 percent of our criminal sanctions consist of incarceration.  That’s why it’s all we can think of. But a world that operates without an extensive reliance on prison is not a utopia; it is only a plane ride away.  In Germany, incarceration is used for 6 percent of sanctions; in the Netherlands, it’s 10 percent, according to a 2013 Vera Institute report comparing our criminal-justice system with theirs.

Germany and the Netherlands rely predominantly on fines, linked to the offender’s ability to pay, and “transactions” or community sanctions — for instance, work orders that benefit the community, or training orders, or a combination. Halfway houses connect residential oversight with supervised work opportunities, which can be connected to paying restitution to victims and the community.  The penal systems are built around the principles of rehabilitation, re-socialization and “association.”  This is the idea that a criminal sanction is more likely to result in a wrongdoer’s successful reentry to society if it works to strengthen, not damage, the wrongdoer’s positive connections to family and community....

Currently, two criminal-justice-reform strategies are moving through Congress. Last fall, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act.  The act tackles the problem of mandatory minimums and seeks to “improve fairness in sentencing of low-level, nonviolent offenders,” so as to permit law enforcement to focus on “violent offenders, major drug traffickers and criminal masterminds.” This month, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), alongside Reps. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), introduced a prison reform bill called the First Step Act.  This bill would offer individualized recidivism-reduction plans to all people incarcerated in federal prisons, and increase access to vocational training and educational support, as well as substance-abuse and mental-health resources. The bill would also introduce halfway houses or home confinement for the final phase of incarceration.

These bills have wrongly been cast as competitors.  If we are to undo mass incarceration, we have to envision viable alternatives to incarceration.  By making halfway houses and rehabilitative strategies central to our sanctioning system, the First Step Act would help the American public see new possibilities.  It could thereby lay the foundation for true transformation of sentencing.

Policymakers too often forget that three-quarters of their work should be winning the hearts and minds of the public.  To win sustainable, unwavering, widespread support for meaningful sentencing reform, we have to show that strategies of rehabilitation and restorative justice work.  Lawmakers should embrace the First Step Act as a necessary part of painting that new picture.  The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act would benefit from our collective ability to imagine alternatives to incarceration.  

May 17, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (15)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"The Right to Two Criminal Defense Lawyers"

the title of this post is the title of this notable new article authored by Bruce Green now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

In conjunction with a symposium on “disruptive innovation in criminal defense,” this article proposes that indigent defendants be assigned two lawyers each of whom would have primary responsibility for different functions -- the “settlement lawyer” would have responsibility for the counseling and negotiating roles while the “trial lawyer” would be the principal advocate. 

The proposal to divide defense representation between two lawyers, as a potential “disruptive innovation”, provides an occasion to consider various problems associated with indigent defense apart from underfunding and excessive caseloads.  These problems relate to how some defense lawyers think about and structure their work, where they choose to direct their energy and how they prioritize their time, how they respond to incentives, preferences and even unconscious motivations, and how they relate to prosecutors, clients or others in the criminal process.  Whether or not a right to two lawyers is realistically achievable, the proposal provides a vehicle for contemplating deficiencies in criminal defense representation and potential responses.

May 16, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Interesting accounting of history and modern realities of victims' rights

The New Yorker has this notable lengthy new article authored by Jill Lepore under the headline "The Rise of the Victims’-Rights Movement: How a conservative agenda and a feminist cause came together to transform criminal justice."  The article covers lots history (with a particular focus on the importance of the Oklahoma City bombing) along with considerable law and policy (taking mostly a jaundiced view on victim rights). I recommend the piece in full, and here are a few excerpts:

Because victims’ rights is a marriage of feminism and conservatism, the logic behind its signal victory, the victim-impact statement, rests on both the therapeutic, speak-your-truth commitment of a trauma-centered feminism and the punitive, lock-them-up imperative of law-and-order conservatism.  Arguably, this has been a bad marriage....

Some of the things admitted as victim-impact evidence, including testimony that the victim was an excellent piano player, was “good honest hardworking God fearing people,” was a “smart person with higher IQ than others in her family” or had “a 3.8 grade point average,” would appear to advance the fundamentally anti-democratic notion that the lives of the eloquent, the intelligent, the beautiful, the cherished are more worthy of the full protection of the law than others.

How much evidence is enough, or too much?  Challenges in some states have sought to limit admissible victim-impact witnesses to numbers that range from three to eleven, but, effectively, the number is limitless.  What kind of evidence is allowed?  Courts have admitted poems, “handcrafted items made by the victim,” “letters children wrote to their murdered mother,” and “photographs of the stillborn child victim dressed in clothes that the victim-mother had intended him to wear home from the hospital.”  Judges often report that they themselves find it difficult to recover their emotional equilibrium after hearing victim-impact statements.  Sorrow knows no bottom....

Thirty-two states have passed victims’-rights amendments; five more ballot initiatives may pass in November. Once enough states have acted, activists will again press for a federal amendment.  The last time the measure reached Congress, one of the prosecutors in the Oklahoma City bombing case argued against it (victims had tried to prevent one of McVeigh’s associates from signing a plea agreement in exchange for his testimony against McVeigh, which proved crucial in the trial).  [Paul] Cassell believes that there is much more work to be done.  The movement’s latest campaigns would expand the range of victim-impact evidence allowed in both capital and non-capital cases, and more strictly enforce victims’ rights that are already on the books.  In the age of #MeToo, victims’ rights are making remarkable political headway, for many of the same reasons they did after the Oklahoma City bombing.  Tragedy is a fierce tailwind.  And, as Susan Bandes puts it, “Nobody really wants to have to tell victims, or survivors of violent crime, that they cannot be heard.”

Critics remain.  Nancy Gertner, a former district-court judge from Massachusetts, is among those who have questioned Judge Aquilina’s conduct at Larry Nassar’s sentencing. Gertner told me, “The question is whether the victims needed that, as bloodletting, and the question is should the justice system allow that?  Or is it a throwback to public hanging?” Scott Sundby, a former prosecutor who studies capital juries, told me that the Nassar sentencing reminded him of Biblical punishments.  “Hey, we all get to pick up a rock and throw it at this person!”

May 14, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

"Are Elderly Criminals Punished Differently Than Younger Offenders?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new piece at HowStuffWorks.  The question is prompted by the upcoming sentencing of 80-year-old Bill Cosby, and I had the pleasure of speaking to the reporter on the topic.  Here are excerpts from the piece (with a few links from the original):

After Bill Cosby's recent conviction in a Montgomery County, Pennsylvania court on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, the judge in the case rejected the prosecution's request that the 80-year-old comedian and actor, who his attorneys say is legally blind, be sent immediately to jail pending sentencing.   "With his age, his medical condition, I'm not going to simply lock him up right now because of this," Judge Stephen T. O'Neill explained when he allowed Cosby to remain at home on bail as he awaits sentencing, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Some think that decision gives a hint of how Cosby's sentencing will go.  Under the law, he could receive as much as 30 years in prison, and the state's sentencing guidelines recommend between five-and-a-half and nine years.  But as CNN reports, many legal experts suspect that Cosby may get a lesser sentence, at least in part because of his age and health.

The Cosby case raises a discomforting question.  Should elderly offenders be treated more leniently by the courts than younger criminals, because they have less time left to live, and because their physical frailty might make it more difficult for them to survive a prison term?....

The relatively few studies on the subject suggest that judges do often give older offenders a break.  One study published in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B in 2000 found that in Pennsylvania courts, offenders in their 60s were 25 percent less likely to be sentenced to prison than those who were in their 20s, and their sentences were eight months shorter on average.  Those who were in their 70s got an even sweeter deal — they were 30 percent less likely to end up behind bars than 20-somethings, and those who were incarcerated served 13 months less on average.

More recently, a study by Arizona State University researchers, published in 2014 in the journal Criminal Justice Studies, similarly found that in the federal court system, judges gave older offenders a "senior citizen discount" when it came to jail time.

Prior related posts:

May 8, 2018 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9)

In latest speech, AG Jeff Sessions calls "war on crime and drugs ... a roaring success"

Today, Attorney General Jefferson Sessions delivered this speech at the Gatlinburg Law Enforcement Training Conference.  The use of the phrase "roaring success" to describe the "war on crime and drugs" caught my attention, and here is some context and some more notable passages from what AG Sessions had to say today:

My best judgement is that working together we have an historic opportunity to make our country better, safer, and more prosperous. We don’t come to this conference with a blank slate. We are experienced. We are professional. We are trained to do that which the times demand.

The problem is that we got away from the proven policies that reduced crime all over this country: community-based policing, incarcerating serious repeat criminals, new technologies, more officers, and more prosecutors. The war on crime and drugs did not fail. It was a roaring success. The success came as a direct result of rejecting the criticism and policies of the progressive left. The country gave its attention to the American people and crime victims for a change. High school drug use rates and homicide rates fell by half after the dreamland policies of the fuzzy-headed left were rejected, and sound professional policies were adopted....

Of course we don’t need anyone in jail that doesn’t need to be there. But revolving prison doors that allow dangerous criminals to prey on the innocent will not produce safety. Indeed homicide increased by 12 percent in 2015 and 8 percent in 2016 after 22 years of decline. Drug use, addiction and overdoes deaths have surged. We must work resolutely to stop those trends and to reverse them. We know how. We have proven what works. Science proves what works. We share good practices at conferences like this all the time.

My goal is to support you, to empower you, and to unleash you and your law enforcement partners to apply the good and lawful policies that are proven to make our communities safer.

This point was given a powerful support just a few weeks ago when Paul Cassel and Richard Fowles of the University of Utah analyzed the dramatic surge in Chicago homicides in 2016. Homicides went from 480 in 2015 to 754 in 2016 — a stunning event. They asked why. They considered numerous possible causes. They concluded the 58 percent increase was caused by the abrupt decline in “stop and frisks” in 2015. There had been a horrific police shooting, protests, and an ACLU lawsuit. The settlement of that lawsuit resulted in a decline in stops from 40,000 per month to 10,000 per month. Arrests fell also. In sum, they conclude that these actions in late 2016, conservatively calculated, resulted in approximately 236 additional victims killed and over 1,100 additional shootings in 2016 alone. The scholars call it the “ACLU effect”.

Look, this does not surprise you experienced professionals. If you want crime to go up, let the ACLU run the police department. If you want public safety, call the professionals. That is what President Trump believes and that is what I believe. Let’s put our focus on what works.

These are our explicit goals for 2018: to bring down violent crime, homicides, opioid prescriptions, and overdose deaths....

We have tolerated and winked at the illegality in our immigration system for far too long. It’s time that we put ourselves on the path to end illegal immigration once and for all. And, that will be one step towards reducing crime. And it will build on the centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy: Project Safe Neighborhoods, or PSN.

Here’s how it works. I want our U.S. Attorneys to target and prioritize prosecutions of the most violent people in the most violent areas. And I’ve directed that they engage with a wide variety of stakeholders – our state and local law enforcement partners, as well as others like community groups and victims’ advocates – in order to identify the needs specific to their communities and develop a customized violent crime reduction plan.

This approach has been proven to work. One study showed that, in its first seven years, PSN reduced violent crime overall by 4.1 percent, with case studies showing reductions in certain areas of up to 42 percent. PSN has the flexibility necessary for it to work in every district. PSN is going to build on the results we have achieved across America over the past year.

In 2017, the Department of Justice brought cases against the greatest number of violent criminals in a quarter of a century. We charged the most federal firearm prosecutions in a decade. We convicted more than 1,200 gang members. We have already charged hundreds of people suspected of contributing to the ongoing opioid crisis — including more than 150 doctors for opioid-related crimes. Sixteen of these doctors prescribed more than 20.3 million pills illegally. Our Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Forces have also indicted more than 6,500 defendants in opioid-related investigations and forfeited more than $150 million in the past year.

From 2016 to 2017 our fentanyl prosecutions more than tripled. And in the past month and a half, the DEA has seized nearly 200 pounds of suspected fentanyl in cases from Detroit to New York to Boston. Fentanyl is 50 times as powerful as heroin, and it’s the killer drug. It’s got to be a priority for all of us. All of this hard work is paying off. There are some good signs in the preliminary data that the increases in murder and violent crime appear to have slowed and violent crime may have actually begun to decrease. Publicly available data for the rest of the year suggest further progress.

May 8, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (7)

Saturday, May 05, 2018

"A Rational Approach to the Role of Publicity and Condemnation in the Sentencing of Offenders"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting article recently posted to SSRN authored by Mirko Bagaric and Peter Isham. Here is the abstract:

The punishment imposed on criminal offenders by courts often does not exhaust the hardship they experience.  There are a number of collateral forms of punishment that many offenders are subjected to as a result of their offending.  Some of these deprivations are institutional, such as being dismissed from employment or being disqualified to vote. Other hardships are less predictable and harder to quantify.  Public scorn, often directed towards high profile offenders, such as O.J. Simpson and Anthony Weiner, can be the cause of considerable additional suffering to offenders.  It can engender feelings of shame, embarrassment and humiliation.  At the same time, the high profile nature of the cases provides courts with an opportunity to demonstrate to the wider community the consequences of violating the law.

There is no established jurisprudence regarding the role that public criticism of offenders should have in sentencing decisions.  Some courts take the view that it should increase the penalty imposed on high profile offenders in order to deter others from committing similar offences.  By contrast, it has also been held that public condemnation should reduce penalties because the offender has already suffered as a result of the public condemnation.  On other occasions, courts have held public condemnation is irrelevant to sentencing.  The issue is increasingly important because the internet and social media have massively increased the amount of publicity that many criminal offenders receive. Simultaneously, this is an under-researched area of the law.

In this Article, we develop a coherent jurisprudential and evidence-based solution to the manner in which public opprobrium should be dealt with in sentencing decisions.  We argue that sentencing courts should neither increase nor decrease penalties in circumstances where cases have attracted wide-ranging media attention.  The hardship stemming from public condemnation is impossible to quantify and in fact causes no tangible suffering to some offenders.  Thus, the extent of publicity that an offender receives for committing a crime should be an irrelevant consideration with respect to the choice of punishment. In proposing this reform, we carefully analyze the jurisprudence in the United States.  We also consider the position in Australia, where the issue has been considered at some length.

May 5, 2018 in Celebrity sentencings, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (9)

Thursday, May 03, 2018

"The Opioid Crisis and Federal Criminal Prosecution"

The title of this post is the title of this timely new article recently posted to SSRN authored by Rachel Rothberg and Kate Stith. Here are parts of its introduction:

An opioid crisis has swept the United States, ravaging communities across the country. In this Article we examine how federal law enforcement has responded to the crisis, both nationally and in a variety of locales.  We focus in depth, however, on federal investigators and prosecutors in the District of Connecticut, where the epidemic has hit hard....

What role can criminal law — and those who enforce it — play in combatting the opioid crisis?  The Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office’s shift in policy represents just one of many federal law enforcement reactions to alarming increases in opioid abuse and overdose deaths.  As opioid users’ tolerance increases and their access to prescription pills dwindle, they often transition to cheaper heroin, and then again to the more powerful synthetic opioids — sometimes unwittingly.  In general, law enforcement has struggled to keep up with the epidemic and the opioid market’s evolving characteristics.

In Part II of this Article we provide an overview of the nationwide, interagency efforts initiated by the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.  In Part III, we briefly survey a number of strategies pursued by various U.S. Attorney’s Offices.  There are ninety-three U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the United States, and although all of them are part of the Department of Justice, each one is semi-autonomous in deciding which cases to investigate and prosecute.

Then, in Part IV, we narrow our focus to the federal prosecutorial efforts of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut.  We focus on the Office’s two main strategies— (1) charging the supplier of an illicit substance resulting in death with the crime of drug distribution; and (2) educating the community, particularly high-school students, about opioid usage — and discuss whether they have implications for the national role of federal law enforcement.  Lastly, in Part V, we address what more might be needed from federal law enforcement going forward to protect communities nationwide from the devastation wrought by opioid proliferation.

May 3, 2018 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

"Revisiting the Role of Federal Prosecutors in Times of Mass Imprisonment"

The title of this post is the title of this recent article authored by Nora Demleitner recently posted to SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The article highlights how the Department of Justice and its leadership can change even long-standing prosecutorial orthodoxy and prevailing approaches when they set out a clear mission and empower and guide prosecutors in implementing it.  To decrease the number of federal prisoners, the Obama administration adopted a tri-partite strategy that included prevention and re-entry, co-equal with prosecutions.  Yet the collection and analysis of relevant data continued to fall short which privileged old practices that emphasized the number of convictions and prison years imposed.

A substantial investment in data is needed to support and reinforce a shift away from prison terms.  Perhaps most importantly, the article questions the role federal prosecutors should play at a time prisons remain overcrowded despite a historically low crime rate.  The criminal justice paradigm may not be an appropriate avenue for addressing social problems.

May 2, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"Punishment and Human Dignity: Sentencing Principles for Twenty-First Century America"

The title of this post is the title of this paper by Michael Tonry recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

A new conception of justice in punishment is needed that is premised on respect for offenders’ human dignity. It needs to acknowledge retributive and utilitarian values and incorporate independently important values of fairness and equal treatment.  Punishment principles, policies, and practices lined up nicely in mid-twentieth century America. Utilitarian principles implied a primary goal of crime prevention through rehabilitation and avoidance of unnecessary suffering by offenders.  Judges and parole boards were empowered to tailor decisions to fit offenders’ circumstances and interests.  Corrections officials sought to address rehabilitative needs and facilitate achievement of successful, law-abiding lives.  The system often did not work as it should, but its ideals, aspirations, and aims were clear.  In our time, there are no commonly shared principles, sentencing laws and practices are unprecedentedly rigid and severe, judges and parole boards often lack authority to make sensible or just decisions, corrections officials are expected simultaneously to act as police officers, actuaries, and social workers, and injustice is ubiquitous.

April 28, 2018 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Recommended reading | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

"All Bathwater, No Baby: Expressive Theories of Punishment and the Death Penalty"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Susan Bandes now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

In Courting Death: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment, Carol Steiker and Jordan Steiker offer a richly textured and fair-minded account of the fraught relationship between capital punishment and the United States Supreme Court.  As the book convincingly illustrates, capital punishment doctrine often serves as little more than window dressing, providing a false sense of coherence and legal legitimacy to prop up a regime that is both arbitrary and discriminatory. Although the book is clear-eyed and appropriately unsentimental, the authors hold out hope that a principled capital jurisprudence is possible.  They seek to distinguish the factors that ought to animate the Court’s jurisprudence from those that are illegitimate.

This review of Courting Death proceeds in three parts.  Part I describes the book’s main arguments. Part II explores the limits of employing legal doctrinal tools to shed light on the forces that shape and sustain capital punishment in the United States. In particular, it explores the implicit question underlying the Steikers’ critique: is there a path toward a principled capital jurisprudence?  Part III focuses on so-called “expressive” theories of punishment, which emphasize the symbolic, communicative importance of the death penalty. It argues that expressive punishment theory has become a grab bag of poorly differentiated concepts that too often obfuscate rather than illuminate the death penalty debate.  It then returns to the topic of Part II, exploring the difficulty of distinguishing “off-limits” or “extra-legal” political and emotional influences from appropriate legal influences on the death penalty debate.  The review concludes that once all these arguably illegitimate influences are stripped away, a coherent, principled doctrinal capital punishment doctrine is not possible.

April 24, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Techno-Policing"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new piece authored by I. Bennett Capers now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

In July 2017, the New York Times reported that Three Square Market, a Wisconsin based technology company, was asking its employees to have a microchip injected between their thumb and index finger.  More than half of the employees consented to the implant, which would function as a type of swipe card.  As one employee put it, “In the next five to 10 years, this is going to be something that isn’t scoffed at so much, or is more normal.  So I like to jump on the bandwagon with these kind of things early, just to say that I have it.”

What might the implanting of microchips portend for criminal justice issues?  Might we one day implant chips in convicted felons, or arrestees?  Or if not all arrestees, perhaps those released on bail?  Indeed, at a time when many scholars and legislators are rethinking bail, might the availability of removable chips strengthen the argument against pretrial detention, and against money bail?  And what are the implications for sentencing, especially algorithmic risk-based sentencing?  Or perhaps a closer fit, what are the implications for releasing defendants who have completed their sentences and are eligible for parole? 

At a time when the Court has given its blessing to civil commitment for sex offenders, how might the availability of microchips to monitor the coming and going of individuals — like a wireless fence — change the analysis?  Finally, and perhaps most central to this essay, what are the possibilities when we couple the availability of microchips with access to Big Data?  This short essay, written for the “Big Data and Policing” symposium issue of the Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, begins a conversation about these and other questions.

April 21, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 13, 2018

US District Judge explains why he believes "the scales of justice tip in favor of rejecting plea bargains"

A helpful reader made sure I saw a remarkable new opinion from US District Judge Joseph Goodwin of the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in US v. Stevenson, No. 2:17-cr-00047 (S.D. W. Va. April 12, 2018) (available here). The starts of the 19-page opinion should readily reveal why criminal justice fans why this opinion is today's must-read:

On June 26, 2017, I rejected the proffered plea agreement in United States v. Charles York Walker, Jr. after determining that it was not in the public interest.  On October 10, 2017, I rejected the proffered plea agreement in United States v. Antoine Dericus Wilmore after determining that it also was not in the public interest.  In both opinions, I stated that it is the court’s function to prevent the transfer of criminal adjudications from the public arena to the prosecutor’s office for the purpose of expediency at the price of confidence in and effectiveness of the criminal justice system.

I have further reflected upon the near-total substitution of plea bargaining for the system of justice created by our nation’s Founders, and I FIND that I should give great weight to the people’s interest in participating in their criminal justice system when considering whether to accept or reject a proffered plea bargain in a particular case.  I FIND that the scales of justice tip in favor of rejecting plea bargains unless I am presented with a counterbalance of case-specific factors sufficiently compelling to overcome the people’s interest in participating in the criminal justice system.

Therefore, in each case, I will consider the case-specific factors presented to me and weigh those competing factors against the people’s participatory interest and then determine whether to accept or reject the plea bargain. Because I FIND that the presented justifications for the bargain in this case are insufficient to balance the people’s interest in participating in the criminal justice system, I REJECT the proffered plea agreement.

Wowsa! #morejurytrials?

April 13, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (16)

Sunday, April 08, 2018

George Will commentary assails felon disenfranchisement in Florida

I am very pleased to see this effective commentary by George Will under the headline "There’s no good reason to stop felons from voting." I recommend the short piece in full, and here are parts that struck me as especially effective:

Intelligent and informed people of good will can strenuously disagree about the wisdom of policies that have produced mass incarceration. What is, however, indisputable is that this phenomenon creates an enormous problem of facilitating the reentry into society of released prisoners who were not improved by the experience of incarceration and who face discouraging impediments to employment and other facets of social normality.  In 14 states and the District , released felons automatically recover their civil rights.

Recidivism among Florida’s released felons has been approximately 30 percent for the five years 2011-2015.  Of the 1,952 people whose civil rights were restored, five committed new offenses, an average recidivism rate of 0.4 percent.  This sample is skewed by self-selection — overrepresentation of those who had the financial resources and tenacity to navigate the complex restoration process that each year serves a few hundred of the 1.6 million.  Still, the recidivism numbers are suggestive.

What compelling government interest is served by felon disenfranchisement? Enhanced public safety?  How?  Is it to fine-tune the quality of the electorate?  This is not a legitimate government objective for elected officials to pursue.  A felony conviction is an indelible stain: What intelligent purpose is served by reminding felons — who really do not require reminding — of their past, and by advertising it to their community?  The rule of law requires punishments, but it is not served by punishments that never end and that perpetuate a social stigma and a sense of never fully reentering the community.

April 8, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, April 05, 2018

"Cast into Doubt: Free Will and the Justification for Punishment"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting-looking new paper available via SSRN authored by Stephen Koppel, Mark Robert Fondacaro and Chongmin Na.  Here is the abstract:

Criminal punishment is justified on either retributive or consequential grounds.  The retributive justification is premised on a commonsense view of free will: offenders can freely choose to commit crimes and so deserve blame for their actions.  The consequentialist justification, in contrast, is not necessarily premised on the free will concept, but rather justifies punishment when it is the most cost-effective way of preventing crime.  Science elucidating the mechanistic causes of human behavior has thrown the notion of free will into doubt, leading some to predict a shift in public support away from retribution towards consequentialism.  Past research shows that free will doubt weakens support for retribution, but less is known about its effects on support for consequentialism, or about whether these effects differ across the crime severity spectrum.

In this study, we explore the effects of free will doubt on support for retribution and consequentialism in response to three different categories of crime — drug crime, property crime, and violent crime — which have been shown to evoke varying levels of emotion.  We find clear inconsistencies across the crime spectrum.  For high affect crime, free will doubt weakens support for retribution via blame, and increases support for consequentialism.  For low affect crime, free will doubt weakens support for retribution to an even greater extent, yet also decreases support for consequentialism via blame. These findings suggest that, as science reveals the mechanistic causes of criminal behavior, support for criminal punishment will decrease, especially with respect to less serious crimes.

April 5, 2018 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

"The Expansion of Child Pornography Law"

The title of this post is the title of this new essay authored by Carissa Byrne Hessick now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This symposium essay identifies two dramatic expansions of child pornography law: Prosecutions for possessing images of children who are clothed and not engaged in any sexual activity, and prosecutions for possessing smaller portions of artistic and non-pornographic images.  These prosecutions have expanded the definition of the term child pornography well beyond its initial meaning.  What is more, they signal that child pornography laws are being used to punish people not necessarily because of the nature of the picture they possess, but rather because of conclusions that those individuals are sexually attracted to children.  If law enforcement concludes that a person finds an image of a child to be sexually arousing, then these laws can subject that individual to punishment, even though the image would have been perfectly innocuous had it been possessed by someone else.

April 4, 2018 in Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

"The Excessive Fines Clause: Challenging the Modern Debtors' Prison"

The title of this post is the title of this new article by Beth Colgan now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

In recent years, the use of economic sanctions-statutory fines, surcharges, administrative fees, and restitution-has exploded in courts across the country.  Economic sanctions are imposed for violations as minor as jaywalking and as serious as homicide, and can range from a few dollars to millions.  When a person is unable to immediately pay off economic sanctions, "poverty penalties" are often imposed, including interest and collections fees and probation.  Failure to pay economic sanctions can result in serious consequences, including prohibitions on obtaining or suspensions of driver's and occupational licenses, restrictions on public benefits, and even incarceration.  Even when poverty penalties are not employed, an inability to pay off criminal debt means that the punishment imposed, even for very minor offenses, can effectively be perpetual. Desperate to avoid these repercussions, people go to extremes to pay. In an alarming number of cases people report having to forego basic necessities like food, housing, hygiene, or medicine, in order to pay what little they can, even if just a few dollars at a time.  These and countless other stories of people trapped in persistent debt are becoming ubiquitous, and have raised the specter that current practices amount to modern day debtors' prisons.

Constitutional challenges to such practices have primarily focused on the narrow window of the post-sentencing collections context, relying on a series of Fourteenth Amendment cases prohibiting the automatic conversion of economic sanctions to incarceration where a debtor has no meaningful ability to pay.  While these challenges can provide an important post hoc protection against the use of incarceration as a penalty for the failure to pay, they do not address the financial instability exacerbated by and ongoing threat of incarceration raised by debt from unmanageable economic sanctions.

A separate, albeit underdeveloped, constitutional provision that may be better suited to addressing the debtors' prison crisis lies in the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause, which provides protection at sentencing.  To date, the United States Supreme Court has only determined that criminal and civil forfeitures constitute fines.  This Article examines the key concerns underlying those determinations, explicating the Court's interest in treating economic sanctions as fines where they are used by the government to punish-evidenced by a link to prohibited conduct or treatment of economic sanctions like other recognized forms of punishment-as well as the Court's desire that the Clause serve as a bulwark against the risk that the prosecutorial power will be abused due to the revenue generating capacity of economic sanctions.  Applying these core concerns supports the conclusion that common forms of economic sanction (including statutory fines, surcharges, administrative fees, and restitution) constitute fines for purposes of the Clause.

In addition, this Article examines the meaning of excessiveness, arguing that one's ability to pay is relevant to the question of whether a fine is constitutional.  The Court has adopted the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause's gross disproportionality test for measuring excessiveness.  Attending to financial circumstances in the excessiveness inquiry is in harmony with key principles animating the proportionality doctrine: equality in sentencing, comparative proportionality between offenses of different seriousness, the expressive value of punishment, concern for the criminogenic effect of and other social harms caused by punishment, and the prohibition on punishments that unreasonably infringe on human dignity.

March 29, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Fines, Restitution and Other Economic Sanctions, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Judge Jed Rakoff sentences rapper DMX to one year in federal prison for tax fraud

US District Court Judge Jed Rakoff has long been a vocal advocate against mass incarceration and other problems he seeing is the operation of the federal criminal justice system. But that view did not preclude him from thinking he needed to send a notable white-collar criminal to federal prison yesterday as reported in this local article (which provides a nice short review of the parties' sentencing arguments):

Embattled rapper DMX was sentenced Wednesday to one year in prison for tax fraud — but insisted he wasn’t “like a criminal in a comic book” trying to scheme against the government.  DMX, real name Earl Simmons, admitted in November to evading $1.7 million in taxes. He was also given three years of supervised release.

The 47-year-old performer, whose top songs include “Party Up (Up in Here),” stood accused of hiding money from the IRS from 2010 to 2016 — largely by maintaining a “cash lifestyle.” “I knew that taxes needed to be paid,” Simmons said shortly before Manhattan Federal Judge Jed Rakoff handed down his sentence. “I hired people but I didn’t follow up. I guess I really didn’t put too much concern into it.

“I never went to the level of tax evasion where I’d sit down and plot . . . like a criminal in a comic book,” said Simmons, who grew teary at points during the proceeding.

Prosecutors had pushed for Rakoff to hit Simmons with a sentence ranging from four years and nine months up to five years in prison. In their sentencing papers, prosecutors urged Rakoff to "use this sentencing to send the message to this defendant and others that star power does not entitle someone to a free pass, and individuals cannot shirk the duty to pay their fair share of taxes."

Simmons' lawyers, Murray and Stacey Richman, asked Rakoff for a sentence of in-patient rehab. With treatment — and strict supervision — Simmons could keep performing, allowing him to repay his whopping tax debt, they insisted. They also floated the idea Rakoff could appoint a trustee who would oversee Simmons' business dealings — making sure the tax man got paid. They maintained that Simmons' traumatic and impoverished upbringing led him astray as an adult, including toward addiction and bad financial decisions — but that he has a talent to "make beauty out of ugliness."

The Richmans played the music video for Simmons' 1998 song "Slippin'", claiming lyrics such as "If I'm strong enough I'll live long enough to see my kids/Doing something more constructive with their time than bids" indicate his search for redemption through art. "He is the American dream, and sometimes the American dream takes you to court," Stacey Richman said. "He has been able to raise himself from the ghetto."

Rakoff sympathized with Simmons, saying he was another example of how "the sins of the parents are visited upon their children" — but felt prison was necessary to deter would-be tax fraudsters....

Other performers have done time for tax raps.

Former Fugees singer Lauryn Hill got a three-month sentence in federal lockup for not paying taxes on $1.5 million in income from 2005 to 2007.

Fat Joe, whose legal name is Joseph Antonio Cartagena, got four months in federal prison after he didn't file tax returns on more than $3 million in income.

Ja Rule, who is legally named Jeffrey Atkins, received a 28-month sentence for not filing tax returns that ran concurrently with a two-year weapons sentence, according to reports.

March 29, 2018 in Booker in district courts, Celebrity sentencings, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, White-collar sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

"What If Prosecutors Wanted to Keep People Out of Prison?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this lengthy New York Magazine article, which is primarily focused on Scott Colom, a 35-year-old district attorney in northeast Mississippi.  But the article also covers how Colom is part of a new focus on prosecutors within efforts to reform criminal justice systems.  Here are excerpts from a long article:

By mid-October, with the [2016] election a few weeks away, Colom knew he was gaining traction. Then a colleague sent him a text message complimenting his new TV commercial. “I was like, What are you talking about?” Television hadn’t fit into his budget. Later in the week, his aunt managed to record the ad on her DVR, and he watched it at her house. A voice at the end said it was paid for by a group called Mississippi Safety & Justice.

He looked it up online and discovered it was a PAC funded by liberal hedge-fund billionaire George Soros, who lives in Westchester County, New York. Bemused, Colom sought advice from consultants in Washington, D.C., who’d been helping him with marketing. They advised Colom to post photos and videos on his website for the PAC to borrow for future ads but warned him not to reach out to the group. Campaign-finance laws forbid direct contact between candidates and independent funders. Colom followed the advice, then went back to knocking on doors....

In the end, Mississippi Safety & Justice had spent $716,000 on the election, dwarfing both the $49,000 Allgood had raised and the $150,000 Colom collected himself. Allgood groused that the money had created an uneven playing field, and Colom himself is defensive about it, even now. But whatever the donation’s impact on the race, it put Colom at the center of a national experiment to remake the criminal-justice system.

For almost three decades, Soros has been quietly funding efforts to end the drug war and reduce the inmate population. Throughout the ’90s and 2000s, he was behind almost every state ballot initiative to legalize marijuana and has given millions in grants for liberal legal scholarship. It was Colom’s luck that in 2015 he’d adopted a new strategy: backing progressives in local elections, specifically DAs, who every day make decisions about whom to charge, with how serious of a crime; whether to engage in plea negotiations; how much prison time, if any, to recommend. In other words, unlike legislators, government lawyers have the power to push down incarceration rates with the stroke of a pen, or a word to a judge. Colom was one of his first test cases....

By the end of his first year in office, Colom had doubled, to 218, the number of defendants in the alternative sentencing program, where if you stay clean and get a job or go to school your charges will eventually be cleared. The scope of the program’s services has expanded too; the administrator, a former social worker, helps participants get into rehab, GED programs, and vocational training, and even arranges rides when necessary, since the area has no bus system.

While alternative sentencing isn’t revolutionary — there are similar programs across the country — it’s a scale model of what Colom has in mind when he dreams of a system built on different incentives. “What we’ve got to do is deal with the addiction that causes people to use drugs,” he says, musing that maybe prisons should be scored on how effectively they rehabilitate people, the way public schools are scored on student achievement. More immediately, Colom is strategizing with Tucker Carrington, a law professor who runs the University of Mississippi’s innocence project, to establish a conviction-review unit, as DAs in Brooklyn, Chicago, Dallas, and other metropolises have done.

March 28, 2018 in Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 26, 2018

"The War on Drugs Breeds Crafty Traffickers"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new op-ed in the New York Times authored by Sanhoe Tree. I recommend the piece is full, and here are excerpts:

Politicians often escalate drug war rhetoric to show voters that they are doing something. But it is rare to ignore generations of lessons as President Trump did earlier this month when he announced his support for the execution of drug traffickers. This idea is insane. But the war on drugs has never made any sense to begin with.

Executing a few individual smugglers will do little to stop others because there is no high command of the international drug trade to target, no generals who can order a coordinated surrender of farmers, traffickers, money launderers, dealers or users.  The drug trade is diffuse and can span thousands of miles from producer to consumer. People enter the drug economy for all sorts of reasons — poverty, greed, addiction — and because they believe they will get away with it.  Most people do.  The death penalty only hurts the small portion of people who are caught (often themselves minorities and low-level mules).

Indeed, on the ground, the threat of execution will even help those who aren’t caught because they can charge an increased risk premium to the next person in the smuggling chain. The risk of capture and punishment increases as drugs move from farm to processing lab, traversing jungles, through cities, across oceans, past borders, distributed by dealers and purchased by consumers.  The greater the risk to smugglers in this chain, the more they can demand in payment....

An overreliance on intensive policing over the decades has also produced a rapid Darwinian evolution of the drug trade.  The people we have typically captured tend to be the ones who are dumb enough to get caught.  They may have violated operational security, bragged too much, lived conspicuous lifestyles or engaged in turf wars.  The ones we usually miss tend to be the most innovative, adaptable and cunning. We have picked off their clumsy competition for them and opened up that lucrative economic trafficking space to the most efficient organizations.  It is as though we have had a decades-long policy of selectively breeding supertraffickers and ensuring the “survival of the fittest.”

To support his case for executions, Mr. Trump cites draconian penalties in other countries. Iran has used the death penalty extensively in drug cases, but more than 2.8 million Iranians still consume illicit drugs.  Earlier this year, the Iranian government even repealed the use of executions in most drug cases which could spare up to 5,000 people on death row.

Mr. Trump often praises President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war in the Philippines, which has claimed 12,000 to 20,000 lives in mostly extrajudicial killings.  But there is little indication that drug use has actually decreased.  In fact, as the killings have increased, so too have the government’s drug use estimates.  What began as 1.8 million users at the beginning of 2016 grew to three million and later four million.  Last September, the Philippine Foreign Secretary, Alan Peter Cayetano, even raised that estimate to seven million. The higher numbers are likely inflated, but more killings do not appear to reduce the number of users.

Singapore notoriously refuses to publish reliable drug-use statistics, so there is no way to show whether executions have any measurable effect on drug consumption.  As Harm Reduction International pointed out, however, Singapore’s seizures for cannabis and methamphetamine increased 20 percent in 2016 while heroin seizures remained stable. Moreover, 80 percent of Singapore’s prisoners are incarcerated for drug-related offenses.  All of this suggests, Singapore’s famous panacea to solve the drug problem is not as miraculous as it seems....

Mr. Trump is not advancing a new strategy to deal with opioids.  It was President Clinton who put these death penalty statutes on the books as part of the 1994 crime bill, but they remain unused.  Mr. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are trying to change that.  They want to use those laws in racketeering cases and ones involving large quantities of drugs even though the Supreme Court has ruled that capital punishment should be reserved only for crimes resulting in death.

The Donald Trump of 2018 should take a lesson from the Donald Trump of 1990 when he told the Miami Herald: “We are losing badly the war on drugs. You have to legalize drugs to win that war.”

March 26, 2018 in Death Penalty Reforms, Drug Offense Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Prison Crime and the Economics of Incarceration"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Ben Gifford now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

As America’s prison and jail populations have skyrocketed, a wealth of empirical scholarship has emerged to measure the benefits and costs of incarceration.  The benefits, from an empirical perspective, consist of the amount of crime prevented by locking people up, as well as the value of that prevented crime to society.  The costs consist of direct state expenditures, lost inmate productivity, and a host of other collateral harms.  Once these benefits and costs are quantified, empirical scholars are able to assess whether it “pays,” from an economic perspective, to incarcerate more or fewer criminals than we currently do.

Drawing on this academic literature, policymakers at all levels of government have begun using cost-benefit analysis to address a wide range of criminal justice issues. In addition to evaluating broader proposals to increase or decrease incarceration rates, policymakers are assessing the costs and benefits of myriad narrower reforms that implicate the economics of incarceration.  In each of these areas, policymakers rely heavily on empirical scholars’ work, whether by adopting their general methods or incorporating their specific results.

While these economic analyses of incarceration offer important insights, they suffer from a near-universal flaw: they fail to account for crime that occurs within prisons and jails. Instead, when scholars and policymakers measure the benefits of incarceration, they look only to crime prevented “in society.”  Similarly, when they measure the costs, they ignore the pains of victimization suffered by inmates and prison staff.  This exclusion is significant, as prison crime is rampant, both in relative and absolute terms.

To address this oversight, this Article makes several contributions: First, it provides a comprehensive review of the literature on the benefits and costs of incarceration, and it explores a range of ways in which policymakers are applying this economic framework.  Second, it makes a sustained normative argument for the inclusion of prison crime in our economic calculus.  Third, it draws on the scarce available data to estimate the impact that the inclusion of prison crime has on our cost-benefit analyses.  As might be expected, once prison crime is accounted for, the economics of incarceration become significantly less favorable.

March 25, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

"Measuring Change: From Rates of Recidivism to Markers of Desistance"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Cecelia Klingele now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Reducing the incidence of crime is a primary task of the criminal justice system, and one for which it rightly should be held accountable.  The system’s success is frequently judged by the recidivism rates of those who are subject to various criminal justice interventions, from treatment programs to imprisonment.  This Article suggests that, however popular, recidivism alone is a poor metric for gauging the success of the criminal justice interventions, or of those who participate in them.  This is true primarily because recidivism is a binary measure, and behavioral change is a multi-faceted process. Accepting recidivism as a valid stand-alone metric imposes on the criminal justice system a responsibility outside its capacity, demanding that its success turn on transforming even the most serious and intractable of offenders into fully law-abiding citizens.  Instead of measuring success by simple rates of recidivism, policymakers should seek more nuanced metrics. 

One such alternative is readily-available: markers of desistance. Desistance, which in this context means the process by which individuals move from a life that is crime-involved to one that is not, is evidenced not just by whether a person re-offends at all, but also by increasing intervals between offenses and patterns of de-escalating behavior.  These easily-obtainable metrics, which are already widely relied on by criminologists, can yield more nuanced information about the degree to which criminal justice interventions correlate to positive (or negative) life change.  They also resemble more closely the ways in which other fields that address behavioral change, such as education, attempt to measure change over time.

Measuring the success of criminal justice interventions by reference to their effects on desistance would mean seeking evidence of progress, not perfection.  Such an approach would allow criminal justice agencies to be held accountable for promoting positive change without asking them to do the impossible, thereby creating new pathways by which the criminal justice system could be recognized for achieving real and measurable progress in crime reduction.

March 21, 2018 in Data on sentencing, National and State Crime Data, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, March 19, 2018

"Informed Misdemeanor Sentencing"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper authored by Jenny Roberts now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

There is no such thing as a low-stakes misdemeanor. The misdemeanor sentence itself, which can range from time served to up to twelve years in some jurisdictions, is often significant.  But the collateral consequences of such a conviction can be far worse, affecting a person’s work and home lives for decades, and sometimes for the rest of their lives. As a result of misdemeanor convictions, defendants can be fired from their jobs, barred from future employment in many fields, deported, evicted from public housing together with their entire family, and refused housing by private landlords.

Under most theories of punishment, a judge at sentencing does not simply look back to the crime and its circumstances but also looks forward at the defendant’s future.  Judges imposing sentences in misdemeanor cases should focus forward much more heavily than back, and should consider the collateral effects of a misdemeanor conviction on the defendant’s future.  Viewed through that more expansive lens, and given the broad discretion of judges in misdemeanor sentencing and lack of existing guidance for that discretion, the sentencing function of judges in misdemeanor cases is in serious need of study and reform.

This Article’s goal is two-fold.  First, it contextualizes judicial responsibility for misdemeanor sentencing in the realities of the lower criminal courts, where a number of structural and systemic barriers — including violations of the right to counsel and pressures on judges to move cases along rapidly — affect but do not excuse the way judges go about sentencing.  Second, the Article calls for judges to undertake “informed misdemeanor sentencing,” which draws on principles of proportionality and parsimony in determining the just sentence in a misdemeanor case.  Accordingly, judges should explicitly acknowledge the many serious collateral consequences an individual suffers after any penal sanction, and incorporate those into the sentencing process to ensure that punishment is proportionate.  In addition, judges should bring parsimony into the sentencing process by making more use of deferred adjudication as well as expungement and related mechanisms for mitigating the unintended effects of a misdemeanor conviction.

March 19, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Legal Punishment and Free Will: An Epistemic Argument Against Retributivism"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Gregg Caruso recently posted to SSRN. Here is its abstract:

Within the United States, one of the most prominent justifications for legal punishment is retributivism.  This retributivist justification for punishment maintains that punishment of a wrongdoer is justified for the reason that she deserves something bad to happen to her just because she has knowingly done wrong — this could include pain, deprivation, or death.  For the retributivist, it is the basic desert attached to the criminal’s immoral action alone that provides the justification for punishment.  This means that the retributivist position is not reducible to consequentialist considerations nor in justifying punishment does it appeal to wider goods such as the safety of society or the moral improvement of those being punished.  A number of sentencing guidelines in the U.S. have adopted desert as their distributive principle, and it is increasingly given deference in the “purposes” section of state criminal codes, where it can be the guiding principle in the interpretation and application of the code’s provisions.  Indeed, the American Law Institute recently revised the Model Penal Code so as to set desert as the official dominate principle for sentencing.  And courts have identified desert as the guiding principle in a variety of contexts, as with the Supreme Court’s enthroning retributivism as the “primary justification for the death penalty.”

While retributivism provides one of the main sources of justification for punishment within the criminal justice system, there are good philosophical and practical reasons for rejecting it.  One such reason is that it is unclear that agents truly deserve to suffer for the wrongs they have done in the sense required by retributivism.  In Section 1, I explore the retributivist justification of punishment and explain why it is inconsistent with free will skepticism.  In Section 2, I then argue that even if one is not convinced by the arguments for free will skepticism, there remains a strong epistemic argument against causing harm on retributivist grounds that undermines both libertarian and compatibilist attempts to justify it.  I maintain that this argument provides sufficient reason for rejecting the retributive justification of legal punishment.  I conclude in Section 3 by briefly sketching my public health-quarantine model, a non-retributive alternative for addressing criminal behavior that draws on the public health framework and prioritizes prevention and social justice.  I argue that the model is not only consistent with free will skepticism and the epistemic argument against retributivism, it also provides the most justified, humane, and effective way of dealing with criminal behavior.

March 19, 2018 in Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 16, 2018

New Philly DA puts forward new policies intended to "end mass incarceration and bring balance back to sentencing"

Web-larry-krasner-winner-1024-x-576This Slate article, headlined "Philadelphia’s New Top Prosecutor Is Rolling Out Wild, Unprecedented Criminal Justice Reforms," reports on the remarkable new policies put forward by the former defense attorney who is the newly elected Philly DA.  Here are highlights:

On Tuesday, Krasner issued a memo to his staff making official a wave of new policies he had announced his attorneys last month. The memo starts: “These policies are an effort to end mass incarceration and bring balance back to sentencing.”

The most significant and groundbreaking reform is how he has instructed assistant district attorneys to wield their most powerful tool: plea offers. Over 90 percent of criminal cases nationwide are decided in plea bargains, a system which has been broken beyond repair by mandatory minimum sentences and standardized prosecutorial excess. In an about-face from how these transactions typically work, Krasner’s 300 lawyers are to start many plea offers at the low end of sentencing guidelines. For most nonviolent and nonsexual crimes, or economic crimes below a $50,000 threshold, Krasner’s lawyers are now to offer defendants sentences below the bottom end of the state’s guidelines. So, for example, if a person with no prior convictions is accused of breaking into a store at night and emptying the cash register, he would normally face up to 14 months in jail. Under Krasner’s paradigm, he’ll be offered probation. If prosecutors want to use their discretion to deviate from these guidelines, say if a person has a particularly troubling rap sheet, Krasner must personally sign off.

“It’s the mirror of a lot of offices saying, ‘If you don’t ask for the max you’ve got to get my permission,’ ” says David Rudovsky, a prominent Philadelphia civil rights attorney. For longtime career prosecutors, this will take some getting used to. “You want to be sure your assistants are actually doing it,” Rudovsky says.

Krasner’s lawyers are also now to decline charges for marijuana possession, no matter the weight, effectively decriminalizing possession of the drug in the city for all nonfederal cases. Sex workers will not be charged with prostitution unless they have more than two priors, in which case they’ll be diverted to a specialized court. Retail theft under $500 is no longer a misdemeanor in the eyes of Philly prosecutors, but a summary offense—the lowest possible criminal charge. And when ADAs give probation charges they are to opt for the lower end of the possible spectrum. “Criminological studies show that most violations of probation occur within the first 12 months,” the memo reads, “Assuming that a defendant is violation free for 12 months, any remaining probation is simply excess baggage requiring unnecessary expenditure of funds for supervision.” When a person does break the rules of probation, minor infractions such as missing a PO meeting are not to be punished with jail time or probation revocation, and more serious infractions are to be disciplined with no more than two years in jail.

In a move that may have less impact on the lives of defendants, but is very on-brand for Kranser, prosecutors must now calculate the amount of money a sentence would cost before recommending it to a judge, and argue why the cost is justified. He estimates that it costs $115 a day, or $42,000 a year, to incarcerate one person. So, if a prosecutor seeks a three-year sentence, she must state, on the record, that it would cost taxpayers $126,000 and explain why she thinks this cost is justified. Krasner reminds his attorneys that the cost of one year of unnecessary incarceration “is in the range of the cost of one year’s salary for a beginning teacher, police officer, fire fighter, social worker, Assistant District Attorney, or addiction counselor.”

The policies memo is available at this link, and all sentencing fans will want to check out the entire document.

March 16, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"Principles of Risk Assessment: Sentencing and Policing"

The title of this post is the title of this new essay by Christopher Slobogin recently posted to SSRN. Here is the abstract:

Risk assessment — measuring an individual’s potential for offending — has long been an important aspect of criminal justice, especially in connection with sentencing, pretrial detention and police decision-making.  To aid in the risk assessment inquiry, a number of states have recently begun relying on statistically-derived algorithms called “risk assessment instruments” (RAIs).  RAIs are generally thought to be more accurate than the type of seat-of-the-pants risk assessment in which judges, parole boards and police officers have traditionally engaged.  But RAIs bring with them their own set of controversies.

In recognition of these concerns, this brief paper proposes three principles — the fit principle, the validity principle, and the fairness principle — that should govern risk assessment in criminal cases.  After providing examples of RAIs, it elaborates on how the principles would affect their use in sentencing and policing.  While space constraints preclude an analysis of pretrial detention, the discussion should make evident how the principles would work in that setting as well.

March 13, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, March 09, 2018

"The Reintegrative State"

The title of this post is the title of this timely paper authored by Joy Radice that has just been posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract

Public concern has mounted about the essentially permanent stigma created by a criminal record. This is no small problem when the U.S. criminal history database currently stores seventy-seven million criminal records, and poor people and people of color constitute a severely disproportionate number of them.  A criminal record makes it harder for people to find housing, get hired, attend college, and reunite with their families.  Yet these very things have the greatest chance of helping people lead law-abiding lives and reducing recidivism.  Scholars, legislators, and advocates have confronted this problem by arguing for reforms that give people with a conviction a second chance.  States have responded.  By one count, from 1994 to 2014, over forty state legislatures passed 155 statutes to mitigate the civil collateral consequences of a criminal record.  Although states have recognized that they have an interest in reintegrating their citizens with convictions, most people with criminal records cannot return to full citizenship.  The stigma of a conviction follows them for a lifetime, even for the most minor crimes.

This Article takes a systematic look at state reforms and integrates them into a more workable and effective whole, which I call the Reintegrative State.  It makes four contributions to the growing literature on collateral consequences and criminal records.  First, it argues that there is a state interest, if not obligation, to create an intentional and sequenced process to remove civil legal disabilities triggered by a conviction and to mitigate the permanency of public criminal records.  Second, this Article argues that reintegrating people with convictions back into society is consistent with the state’s interest in punishment and public safety, especially in light of criminology research showing that a significant number of people stop committing crimes.  Third, it critiques current state experiments with reentry initiatives as piecemeal, discretionary, inadministrable, and limited to a narrow segment of people with criminal records.  Fourth and finally, this Article argues that the state can and should be the external force that destigmatizes a person with a conviction by reestablishing that person’s legal status.  To do so effectively, the state must incorporate reintegration approaches throughout the criminal justice system — not just after sentencing or after release.  The Reintegrative State envisions a holistic framework for helping those with criminal records re-assimilate into society.

March 9, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 08, 2018

You be the sentencing juror: what punishment for deadly drunk driving by Texas State college student?

UntitledThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this local article in Texas, headlined "‘I’m guilty’: Former Texas State student testifies in deadly DWI crash," which highlights that in the Lone Star State jurors are sometimes called to serve as primary sentencers in non-capital cases.   Here are some case particulars via the local press piece:

When Shana Elliott took the stand Thursday morning, she admitted: “I’m guilty.” Elliott, 22, says she was intoxicated and should not have been driving the evening of Aug. 2, 2016, after a day of tubing on the San Marcos River. “We decided to go float the river, we weren’t thinking ahead, we didn’t plan who was going to be driving,” Elliott said on the stand. “The float ended around 5 and that’s when nobody else was going to drive and I decided that I would.”

On that day, Elliott, who was 21 years old at the time, allegedly drove drunk and ran head-on into a car on State Highway 21 killing 23-year-old Fabian Guerrero Moreno and injuring his pregnant wife, Kristian Nicole Guerrero. Guerrero was five months pregnant. The unborn child did not survive.

Elliott says before the crash she dropped her friends off at their homes then decided to drive home herself. “It’s really blurry, I just remember as soon as the accident happened, I know that I made the worst decision ever.”

She says she got out of her car at the scene of the crash and ran to the other vehicle. “I just remember fighting, I wanted to go to make sure they were okay,” she said. “I’m sorry. I accept responsibility and I know what I did was wrong.”

At Elliott’s home, investigators found meth, heroin and a large bag of marijuana.  On the stand Elliott admitted to being addicted to heroin at one time, she said she smoked marijuana, but never did meth. She says after a previous arrest for drugs she had plans to sober up.

While Elliott was on the stand, prosecutors presented a large bottle of alcohol that was found at the crash site.  Elliott told the jury it was hers, adding it was full before she and her friends began floating the river.

Prosecutors also played recordings of phone calls Elliott made from jail. In one of the recordings, Elliott is talking with her boyfriend, speculating the other victims of the crash were part of the cartel. In another recording, Elliott can be heard joking and laughing with her friends about getting her eyebrows threaded in jail just four days after the crash.

Elliott’s grandmother Eleanor Brumley also took the stand Thursday morning. “She was determined to make something of herself,” said Brumley. “I’ve always been proud of her.” Brumley describes Elliot’s childhood as difficult. She says her father died of a heart attack and her stepdad was an alcoholic and was abusive mentally and emotionally. “Shana would deal with that and walk out the door with a smile on her face. She didn’t complain. She’s always thinking of everybody else,” said Brumley.

Elliott says she tried to deal with the abuse herself, but when she arrived at college she sought psychiatric help through a doctor at Texas State University.  She claims the doctor diagnosed her with depression, anxiety and slight PTSD stemming from her difficult childhood.

At the time of the crash, Elliott was a senior at Texas State University. Records show her blood alcohol content was .199 at the hospital.  On Monday, Elliott entered a plea of guilty for two counts of intoxication manslaughter and intoxication assault. The jury is expected to decide her punishment this week.

UPDATE: This local article reports on the jury's sentencing decision:

Shana Elliott, a former Texas State University student, was sentenced to seven years in prison Friday afternoon on each count in the deaths of a man and his unborn child.... Elliott, who pleaded guilty Monday, received seven years in prison each for two counts of intoxication manslaughter with a vehicle in the deaths of Fabian Guerrero-Moreno and his unborn child, who were killed in a drunk driving crash in August 2016.

March 8, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (22)

Highlighting that registries are not only for sex offenders in many states

This new Marshall Project piece, headlined "Convicted of a Drug Crime, Registered with Sex Offenders," focuses on the broad reach of the offender registry employed in Kansas and debate over its reform.  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts from the piece:

Lawmakers have long justified sex offender registries as a way to notify people about potentially dangerous neighbors or acquaintances, while critics say they fail to prevent crime and create a class of social outcasts.  Over the years, several states have expanded their registries to add perpetrators of other crimes, including kidnapping, assault, and murder.  Tennessee added animal abuse.  Utah added white collar crimes.  A few states considered but abandoned plans for hate crime and domestic abuse registries.  At least five states publicly display methamphetamine producers.

But Kansas went furthest, adding an array of lesser drug crimes; roughly 4,600 people in the state are now registered as drug offenders.  As deaths from opioids rise, some public officials have focused on addiction as a public health issue.  Kansas offers a different approach, as law enforcement officials argue that the registry helps keep track of people who may commit new offenses and cautions the public to avoid potentially dangerous areas and individuals.  At the same time, many registrants say it can be hard to move on when their pasts are just a click away for anyone to see.

The Kansas legislature is currently considering a bill proposed by the state’s sentencing commission that would remove drug offenders from the registry.  “It is a drain on resources with no science, studies, or data to justify it,” defense lawyer Jennifer Roth told lawmakers at an early February hearing.

The Kansas law, first passed in 2007, now requires anyone convicted of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing “with intent to distribute” drugs other than marijuana to remain on the registry for a minimum of 15 years (and a maximum of life, for multiple convictions.)  During that time, they must appear at their county sheriff’s office four times a year, as well as any time they move, get a new job, email address, vehicle, or tattoo.  Most of this information is online, searchable by name or neighborhood, and members of the public can sign up to be emailed when an offender moves in or starts work near them.  (In 2013, when businesses expressed fear of vigilantes targeting registrants at work, lawmakers removed employment addresses from the website.)  During the quarterly sheriff visits, they must pay $20 and have their picture retaken; if they work or go to school in another county, they must register there as well.  “Any time I get a new job, I have to say, ‘Sorry, I need time off’ in the first 72 hours,” said Juston Kerns, 35, arrested for involvement in the sale of methamphetamine in 2014.

A few years ago, Wesley Harden — convicted in 2008 of selling methamphetamine after he led police on a high-speed chase — was arrested and charged with “failure to register.” Harden, 35, showed up as required, but he’d recently failed to report a jet ski as a new vehicle.  He doesn’t know for sure how the authorities discovered the jet ski, but thinks it has to do with pictures he posted on Facebook.  Harden received three years of probation, but the punishment for failing to register can include prison time, even if the original conviction was handled without incarceration.  Last year, 38 people were sent to prison over their failure to register for drug crimes, and the Kansas Sentencing Commission estimates that removing drug crimes would save the state roughly a million dollars each year....

Many law enforcement officials support the registry on public safety grounds. “People who sell drugs, there tends to be dangerous activity that takes place around their residence,” said Ed Klumpp, a retired Topeka police chief who lobbies for law enforcement at the legislature and opposes the current bill. “If you’re raising children in the neighborhood, it’s good to know there is someone down the street convicted of selling or manufacturing, so maybe they won’t send the kids to get candy there on Halloween.”

In recent years, lawyers around the country have argued to increasing success that registration requirements are unconstitutional.  One county in Colorado recently took its registry offline after a judge found it to be cruel and unusual punishment. California recently passed a law allowing sex offenders to be removed from the registry after 10 to 20 years if they have not committed another serious or violent felony or sex crime.

But beyond the legal questions are practical ones.  Little is known about whether registries prevent crime, and University of Michigan law professor J.J. Prescott has speculated that they may even facilitate crimes that involve buyers and sellers.  “Imagine I move to a new city and I don't know where to find drugs,” he said.  “Oh, I can just look up people on the registry!”

Evidence to support this theory is scant — and law enforcement leaders in Kansas say they have not encountered the problem — but at the February legislative hearing, Scott Schultz, the executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, said he had learned of one registrant who found people at her door, looking to buy drugs.  They’d seen her address online. “I’ve called it, tongue in cheek, state-sponsored drug-dealing,” Schultz said, describing the registry as an “online shopping portal for meth and other drugs.”

March 8, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (4)

"Turn Prisons Into Colleges" ... and urging colleges to invest in prisoner education

The quoted portion title of this post is the headline of this recent New York Times commentary authored by Elizabeth Hinton.  Here are excerpts (with a little commentary at the end from me):

Imagine if prisons looked like the grounds of universities. Instead of languishing in cells, incarcerated people sat in classrooms and learned about climate science or poetry — just like college students.  Or even with them.

This would be a boon to prisoners across the country, a vast majority of whom do not have a high school diploma. And it could help shrink our prison population. While racial disparities in arrests and convictions are alarming, education level is a far stronger predictor of future incarceration than race.

The idea is rooted in history. In the 1920s, Howard Belding Gill, a criminologist and a Harvard alumnus, developed a college-like community at the Norfolk State Prison Colony in Massachusetts, where he was the superintendent. Prisoners wore normal clothing, participated in cooperative self-government with staff, and took academic courses with instructors from Emerson, Boston University and Harvard. They ran a newspaper, radio show and jazz orchestra, and they had access to an extensive library....

Researchers from the Bureau of Prisons emulated this model when they created a prison college project in the 1960s. It allowed incarcerated people throughout the country to serve their sentences at a single site, designed like a college campus, and take classes full-time. Although the project was never completed, San Quentin State Prison in California created a scaled-down version with support from the Ford Foundation, and it was one of the few prisons then that offered higher education classes.

Today, only a third of all prisons provide ways for incarcerated people to continue their educations beyond high school. But the San Quentin Prison University Project remains one of the country’s most vibrant educational programs for inmates, so much so President Barack Obama awarded it a National Humanities Medal in 2015 for the quality of its courses.

The idea of expanding educational opportunities to prisoners as a way to reduce recidivism and government spending has again gained momentum. That’s partly because of a study published in 2013 by the right-leaning RAND Corporation showing that inmates who took classes had a 43 percent lower likelihood of recidivism and a 13 percent higher likelihood of getting a job after leaving prison.

Lawmakers have rightly recognized the wisdom in turning prisons into colleges. In 2015, Mr. Obama created the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, which has enrolled more than 12,000 incarcerated students in higher education programs at 67 different schools. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is considering permanently reinstating Pell Grants for incarcerated students, who lost access to federal scholarships under the 1994 crime bill. Even Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calls providing prisoners with the chance to earn a degree “a very good and interesting possibility.”...

Mass incarceration is inextricably linked to mass undereducation in America. Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Georgetown, Wesleyan and New York University are among a handful of institutions that realize this and have begun to create ways for incarcerated people to take college classes.  These universities recognize that they have a moral responsibility to pursue educational justice for prisoners, a group that has disproportionately attended under-resourced public schools.

College presidents across the country emphasize the importance of “diversity, inclusion and belonging,” and they are reckoning with their institutions’ ties to slavery.  Expanding prison education programs would link those two ventures in a forward-thinking way.  It’s clear that education will continue to be a central part of criminal justice reform.  The question we should ask ourselves is not “Will incarcerated students transform the university?” The better question is, “Will colleges begin to address and reflect the world around them?”

I very much like that this commentary is not merely suggesting prisons ought to foster educational opportunities, but also that it calls upon "college presidents across the country" to commit to "expanding prison education programs."  I blogged here last month about the new program in New York through which the company JPay will provide all New York state prison inmates with a electronic tablet, through which prisoners can purchase programming. I know many colleges and universities have a range of on-line degree programs and ample on-line education content.  I would love to see some higher education institutions partnering with JPay or other like companies to provide education content to prisons for free or at the lowest possible cost. 

As I see it, lots of the needed infrastructure and substantive content already exists to make college-level educational opportunities available to more prisons, if university administrators and prison official are truly committed to making a difference in this way.  In other words, I think there already is a way, the only question is whether there is the will.

March 8, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6)

Via executive order, Prez Trump creates new Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry

Images (8)As reported in this Axios piece, "President Trump on Wednesday launched, by executive order, the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry." Here is more:

The president enacted the council with the aim of reducing crime while looking for ways to "provide those who have engaged in criminal activity with greater opportunities to lead productive lives."...

“We applaud President Trump for following through on his stated commitment to reducing crime, reforming our prisons and rehabilitating individuals who are hungry for a second chance,” [said] Mark Holden, general counsel at Koch Industries who recently launched the Safe Streets and Second Chances prison reform initiative, told Axios. Holden said he is particularly encouraged that Jared Kushner will be one of the co-chairs.

While she thinks this is a good step from the administration, Inimai Chettiar, director of the justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice told Axios, "there can be no real criminal justice reform without reducing the number of people entering prison. The President and Attorney General are attempting to kill bipartisan sentencing reform in Congress, and offering incremental reentry reforms instead."...

The executive order calls for "mental health, vocational training, job creation, after-school programming, substance abuse, and mentoring," for inmates. "Incarceration is necessary to improve public safety, but its effectiveness can be enhanced through evidence-based rehabilitation programs." The order asks for a report from the council within 90 days that will outline a timeline for ways to reduce crime and recidivism.

The council will be co-chaired by Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Assistant to the President of Domestic Policy Andrew Bremberg.  The council will include the heads of: The Department of the Treasury, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

The executive order asks for ways to reduce recidivism and better re-entry for those coming out of the criminal justice system, but does not suggest looking at changes to sentencing guidelines. 

The full Executive Order creating the Federal Interagency Council on Crime Prevention and Improving Reentry can be accessed at this link. The first section of the EO provides as follows:

Section 1. Purpose. The Federal Government must reduce crime, enhance public safety, and increase opportunity, thereby improving the lives of all Americans. In 2016, the violent crime rate in the United States increased by 3.4 percent, the largest single-year increase since 1991. Additionally, in 2016, there were more than 17,000 murders and nonnegligent manslaughters in the United States, a more than 20 percent increase in just 2 years. The Department of Justice, alongside State, local, and tribal law enforcement, has focused its efforts on the most violent criminals. Preliminary statistics indicate that, in the last year, the increase in the murder rate slowed and the violent crime rate decreased.

To further improve public safety, we should aim not only to prevent crime in the first place, but also to provide those who have engaged in criminal activity with greater opportunities to lead productive lives.  The Federal Government can assist in breaking this cycle of crime through a comprehensive strategy that addresses a range of issues, including mental health, vocational training, job creation, after-school programming, substance abuse, and mentoring. Incarceration is necessary to improve public safety, but its effectiveness can be enhanced through evidence-based rehabilitation programs.  These efforts will lower recidivism rates, ease incarcerated individuals’ reentry into the community, reduce future incarceration costs, and promote positive social and economic outcomes.

I am not going to get too excited by this new Council until I see what kind of "recommendations for evidence-based programmatic and other reforms" appear in the various reports it is tasked to issue. But this order provides still more reason to believe that the Trump White House wants to (and wants to be able to claim) it is doing something productive in the arena of criminal justice reform.

Notably, President Barack Obama formally acted in a fairly similar manner via this Presidential Memorandum in late April 2016 discussing "Federal Interagency Reentry Council." That memorandum noted that "in 2011, the Attorney General formed the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, a Cabinet-level working group dedicated to the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals returning to their communities from prisons and jails" and said the 2016 memorandum was being issued to "ensure that the Federal Government continues the important work of this council and builds on its successes." This new Executive Order by Prez Trump formerly states that it revokes Prez Obama's 2016 memorandum, but in substance it looks quite similar.

March 8, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Another sad account of how US Bureau of Prisons administers compassionate release program

The Marshall Project and the New York Times have this lengthy new piece about the ugly administration of the federal compassionate release program by the US Bureau of Prisons. At the Marshall Project, the piece has this full headline summarizing its content: "Old, Sick and Dying in Shackles: 'Compassionate release' has bipartisan support as a way to reduce the federal prison population and save taxpayer money. New data shows that it’s rarely used." Here are excerpts:

Congress created compassionate release as a way to free certain inmates, such as the terminally ill, when it becomes “inequitable” to keep them in prison any longer.  Supporters view the program as a humanitarian measure and a sensible way to reduce health care costs for ailing, elderly inmates who pose little risk to public safety.  But despite urging from lawmakers of both parties, numerous advocacy groups and even the Bureau of Prisons’ own watchdog, prison officials use it only sparingly.

Officials deny or delay the vast majority of requests, including that of one of the oldest federal prisoners, who was 94, according to new federal data analyzed by The Marshall Project and The New York Times.  From 2013 to 2017, the Bureau of Prisons approved 6 percent of the 5,400 applications received, while 266 inmates who requested compassionate release died in custody. The bureau’s denials, a review of dozens of cases shows, often override the opinions of those closest to the prisoners, like their doctors and wardens.

Advocates for the program say the bureau, which oversees roughly 183,000 inmates, denies thousands of deserving applicants. About half of those who died after applying were convicted of nonviolent fraud or drug crimes. “It makes sense to release prisoners who present very little danger to society. It’s the humane thing to do, and it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, a Democrat. “The Bureau of Prisons has the theoretical authority to do this, but they basically do none of it.”

Case files show that prison officials reject many prisoners’ applications on the grounds that they pose a risk to public safety or that their crime was too serious to justify early release. In 2013, an inspector general reported that nearly 60 percent of inmates were denied based on the severity of their offense or criminal history. The United States Sentencing Commission has said that such considerations are better left to judges — but judges can rule on compassionate release requests only if the Bureau of Prisons approves them first.

Late last month, Schatz introduced legislation — co-sponsored with Senators Mike Lee of Utah, a Republican, and Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Democrat — that would let prisoners petition the courts directly if the bureau denies or delays their requests.

Many are turned down for not meeting medical requirements. [Kevin] Zeich, who was serving 27 years for dealing methamphetamine, requested compassionate release three times, but was repeatedly told he was not sick enough. On his fourth try, his daughter, Kimberly Heraldez, finally received a phone call in March 2016 saying her father would soon be on a plane, headed to her home in California. Early the next morning, she was awakened by another call. Her father had died....

Compassionate release dates back to an overhaul of federal sentencing laws in the 1980s. While abolishing federal parole, Congress supplied a safety valve, giving judges the power to retroactively cut sentences short in “extraordinary and compelling” circumstances. But a court could do so only if the Bureau of Prisons filed a motion on an inmate’s behalf. For years, the agency approved only prisoners who were near death or completely debilitated. While nonmedical releases were permitted, an inspector general report found in 2013, not a single one was approved over a six-year period.

The report said the program should be expanded beyond terminal illness cases and used more frequently as a low-risk way to reduce overcrowding and health care spending. The Bureau of Prisons widened the criteria to explicitly include inmates over 65 and those who are the sole possible caregiver for a family member.  Then Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., promoted the changes as part of his “Smart on Crime” initiative to “use our limited resources to house those who pose the greatest threat.

”But the bureau, which is part of the Justice Department, has yet to fully embrace those changes. Of those inmates who have applied for nonmedical reasons, 2 percent (50 cases) have been approved since 2013, according to an analysis of federal prison data.  And although overall approval numbers increased slightly between 2013 and 2015, they have since fallen.

At a 2016 sentencing commission hearing, Bureau of Prisons officials said they believed the program should not be used to reduce overcrowding.  And even the principal deputy assistant to Holder, Jonathan Wroblewski, said the program was not an “appropriate vehicle for a broad reduction” in the prison population.  “Every administration has taken the position that part of our responsibility is to ensure that public safety is not undermined,” he said.

After the hearing, the commission released new guidelines encouraging prison officials to determine only whether inmates fit the criteria for release — that is, if they are old enough, sick or disabled enough, or if they are the sole possible caregiver for someone on the outside. Whether the prisoner poses a risk to the public should be left to a judge to decide, the commission said.

Mark Inch, who was appointed director of the Bureau of Prisons by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last August, has made no public statements about the program. The bureau declined to make Inch available for an interview and did not respond to emailed questions.

As this article indicates, there are bills now pending in Congress that would in various ways address deficiencies in the current compassionate release mechanisms. This is on of many reasons I am hopeful (but not optimistic) that folks on both sides of the aisle in Congress will try hard in the coming weeks to get at least some form of prison reform legislation to Prez Trump's desk. A revised and expanded compassionate release mechanism could and should help hundreds, perhaps thousands, of federal prisoners, particularly those who have likely already served a very long time in federal prison and who pose little or no risk to public safety.

A few recent of many prior related posts:

March 7, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What a difference a DA can make: new Philly District Attorney taking new approach to juve lifer resentencings

This recent local article, headlined "Why Philly DA Krasner could let 180+ juvenile lifers out of prison early," reports on the impact the recently elected Philadelphia prosecutor is having local cases demanding resentencing in the wake of the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment ruling in Miller. Here are the details:

Philadelphia has sentenced more teens to life in prison with no chance of parole than any other jurisdiction in the world — and that meant it had the largest number to resentence after the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago ruled that its 2012 ban on mandatory life-without-parole sentences for minors must be applied retroactively.

As of this week, 127 out of approximately 315 juvenile lifers from Philadelphia have been resentenced. For those whose cases are still in process, the election of District Attorney Larry Krasner appears to have immediately and dramatically changed the outlook.

It means new deals are already on the table for 17 who had rejected offers made under the previous District Attorney’s Office, which mostly stuck close to current state sentencing guidelines that set minimums at 35 years to life for first-degree murder and 30 to life for second-degree murder. The latest offers make all but two of the lifers eligible for parole right away; it would also keep them all on parole for life. Some set minimums as low as 21 years for first-degree murder.

As for the remaining resentencings, Krasner said he intends to consider each case individually. Rather than relying on the sentencing guidelines, he said he would look to the historical, national and international context that has made Pennsylvania second in the nation in imposing life-without-parole sentences. “We are being consistent as we do our duty, which is to consider all these unique factors in resentencing,” he said. “It’s worth bearing in mind that Pennsylvania is an extreme outlier in excessive sentencing, and the United States is an extreme outlier in excessive sentencing.”

What’s unclear, however, is whether a Philadelphia judge will sign off on those agreements. At a recent status hearing, Common Pleas Judge Kathryn Streeter-Lewis, who is in charge of approving agreements in juvenile-lifer cases, asked the district attorney to submit briefs defending the deals’ legality in light of precedent-setting rulings by Pennsylvania’s appellate courts in the case of Qu’eed Batts, an Easton man who was 14 when he participated in a gang-related execution. In his case, the court acknowledged each judge has discretion to craft individualized minimum sentences, but said “sentencing courts should be guided” by current state law. “I understand that there is a different administration,” she said, but added, “Some of these [offers] are very much below the guidelines the decision required. … I’m going to need some reasons.”

One such case involved Avery Talmadge, who’s been locked up 22 years and was offered a time-served deal that — in a departure from past practice for the District Attorney’s Office — contemplates whether the original conviction was even appropriate. “The case was a street fight that turned into a shooting,” Assistant District Attorney Chesley Lightsey told Streeter-Lewis. “The [DAO’s internal resentencing] committee believes this is closer to a third-degree, though it was a first-degree conviction.” She said he also had an excellent prison record, reflecting the Supreme Court’s underlying rationale that kids, while impulsive and immature, also have a great capacity for rehabilitation.

Bradley Bridge of the Defender Association, which represents many of the lifers, believes the new offers will withstand judicial scrutiny — and that of the public. Krasner, he said, “sees the dangers of overincarceration and has come up with a meaningful solution.  He has reevaluated offers and, consistent with the protection of the public, has recognized that new offers can take into account to a more significant degree the juvenile’s growth while in prison.”...

Krasner said offers he’s approved so far have included minimums ranging between 40 years and just under 20 years.  He declined to specify a floor for minimum sentences. “I see no arbitrary number. We are approaching this the way the Anglo-American court system has approached these for centuries: on a case-by-case basis.”

February 25, 2018 in Assessing Miller and its aftermath, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (10)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Notable advocate for clemency on behalf of next condemned to die in Texas

According to this Death Penalty Information Center page, Alabama, Florida and Texas all have executions scheduled for February 22.  This new Los Angeles Times story, headlined "Texas father seeks clemency for son who tried to kill him," discusses the notable person making a notable pitch for clemency for the killer scheduled to be executed.  Here are excerpts:

In a week, Thomas "Bart" Whitaker, 38, is scheduled to be executed for plotting a 2003 attack that left his mother and brother dead and almost killed his father. That father, Kent Whitaker, is doing everything he can to halt the execution. Inspired by his Christian faith and his son's repentance, the 69-year-old retired construction firm comptroller hopes to have his son's sentence commuted.  "The death penalty in this case is the wrong punishment," he said.

Kent Whitaker forgives his son. He paid for lawyers to fight the death sentence at trial in 2007, and got down on his knees and begged prosecutors to seek a life sentence.

Texas is known for capital punishment, executing more inmates than any other state in the country — three this year, seven last year. But Kent Whitaker notes that it is also a victims' rights state, meaning his wishes should be taken into account. "Juries routinely defer to victims in cases to spare the life of a killer," he said.

Thomas Whitaker's last chance is a clemency petition filed with the seven-member Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which makes a recommendation to the governor by majority vote.  Clemency is rare.  One of Whitaker's attorneys won it for another convicted murderer, Kenneth Foster, hours before he was scheduled to die in 2007, based on arguments drawn from Scripture.  Parole board members in Texas are bound by their consciences, not the law, and some told the lawyer afterward that his biblical arguments had influenced their votes.

So in Thomas Whitaker's clemency petition, his attorney cited the Old Testament story of Cain, who after murdering his brother Abel was marked — but not killed — by God. He also cited the New Testament parable of the prodigal son, forgiven and accepted by his father after he strayed because he repented. "You have a collision between two interests. Every one of those board members is a death penalty supporter. A nd every one of them is there to protect victims' interests. They have to decide if it is more important to execute Thomas Whitaker or spare Kent Whitaker," attorney Keith Hampton said.

Board members don't confer about clemency: They send their votes to the state individually. Condemned inmates and their families can request to meet a member of the board, but it's not guaranteed.   Last week, board member James LaFavers, a former Amarillo detective, met Whitaker's son on death row. They spent two hours talking. On Tuesday, the chairman of the board, former Lubbock County Sheriff David Gutierrez, met with Kent Whitaker, his new wife and brother in Austin for half an hour.  The chairman didn't ask any questions, just listened as Kent Whitaker made his case for clemency. He said his son had been a model prisoner for 11 years, that the family had asked prosecutors not to seek the death penalty at trial and "it ought to mean something when a victim asks for mercy."

Thomas Whitaker has confessed to plotting the murder of his family. His father believes he has reformed behind bars. Prosecutors disagree.

Whitaker was a troubled teenager.  After he was arrested for breaking into his high school with friends to steal computers, his parents sent him to a private Christian school, then Baylor University and Sam Houston State University. But he stopped attending.  The night of the attack, the family went out to dinner to celebrate his graduation, unaware that it was a lie — he had missed too many classes....

As they entered their house in the Houston suburb, an accomplice shot them, fatally wounding his mother, Tricia, 51, and 19-year-old brother, Kevin. A bullet passed just inches from Kent Whitaker's heart. Thomas Whitaker was shot in the arm to make it appear he too was a victim.  He then called 911.  It would be years before he admitted his role in the crime. A thousand people attended the funeral at the largest church in the family's conservative suburb, Sugar Land — including Thomas Whitaker. "He sat there smiling, acting as victim, knowing that he killed them," prosecutor Fred Felcman said.  Shortly before Whitaker was to be charged in 2004, he fled to Mexico, where he was caught a year later.

Felcman argued at trial that Whitaker planned to kill his family for a million-dollar inheritance. He had two accomplices — the gunman, who pleaded guilty in exchange for a life sentence, and a getaway driver, who got 15 years in prison. Although Whitaker was not the triggerman, Felcman argued, he "was the ringleader. He literally led his family back to be assassinated."

Felcman said Kent Whitaker has been used by his son. "Most people have a conscience so they don't try to manipulate people outright. He does," Felcman said.  The prosecutor has tried 13 capital cases. About half resulted in death sentences. "There's certain crimes you have to forfeit your life for," he said, in part because it's the will of the people. "As soon as Bart Whitaker gets executed I will feel safer, and there are other people who feel that way, too."...

If the board doesn't grant clemency, Whitaker plans to attend his son's execution. When his son looks out of the glassed-in chamber, he wants him to see a caring face among the crowd. Kent Whitaker already has nightmares about what he will witness.   "I hope the board will focus on how this execution will affect those of us who are living," he said. "We've all worked hard to get past our grief, and we're all going to be thrown back into that, realizing that Bart's gone too, that he was the last member of my immediate family. It looks like I'm going to be victimized all over again. What kind of justice is that?"

February 14, 2018 in Clemency and Pardons, Death Penalty Reforms, Offense Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Reentry Court Research: An Overview of Findings from the National Institute of Justice’s Evaluation of Second Chance Act Adult Reentry Courts"

The title of this post is the title of this new report on findings about eight programs that received funding and technical assistance from the Bureau of Justice Assistance under the Second Chance Act of 2007.  Here is part of the report's abstract:

Background: There are myriad challenges associated with the reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals, coupled with a dearth of rigorous research examining reentry courts. It is well known that formerly incarcerated individuals face overwhelming obstacles, such as limited occupational or educational experiences to prepare them for employment, drug and alcohol addictions, mental and physical health challenges, strained family relations, and limited opportunities due to the stigma of a criminal record.  Reentry courts seek to address these challenges by assessing the individuals for risks and needs; linking them to appropriate community-based services; and overseeing the treatment process through ongoing court oversight, probation or parole supervision, and case management.  Under the Second Chance Act (SCA) of 2007 (Pub. L. 110-199), the Bureau of Justice Assistance funded reentry programs including the eight sites participating in this National Institute of Justice Evaluation of SCA Adult Reentry Courts.  This document provides a summary overview of the evaluation and complements three annual reports that provide more detailed information on the program processes and populations, research methods, and findings....

Results: Results were mixed across sites.  One site consistently demonstrated positive outcomes across the interview, recidivism, and cost analyses with the reentry court successfully delivering more substance abuse treatment and other services than what was received by the comparison group.  In addition, reentry court participants out-performed the comparison group in reduced recidivism (re-arrests and re-conviction) and reincarceration (revocation and time in jail or prison).  Two sites had neutral, trending toward positive, results with reduced participant re-arrests but with other outcomes (such as convictions and re-incarceration) not significantly different between the participants and the comparison group.  Two other sites had mixed results (e.g., participants had significantly fewer re-arrests but significantly increased re-incarceration) and two had negative results (e.g., participants had significantly more re-arrests and incarceration while other outcomes were no different between groups).  Cost findings were similarly mixed with two sites experiencing cost savings due mainly to lower recidivism costs and fewer victimization costs for reentry court participants ($2,512 and $6,710 saved per participant) and the remainder experiencing loss (ranging from just over -$1,000 to almost -$17,000 loss per participant). The research protocol and process evaluation findings are documented in three annual project reports; research caveats include a lack of detailed treatment service data. Also, reentry court program investment costs are described, but the comparison of cost estimates is limited to outcomes and does not include net benefits based on investment in non-reentry court case processing in the comparison group.

Conclusions: Key processes that set the one site with positive outcomes apart from the other sites was the high level of consistency and intensity of substance abuse treatment, wraparound services for multiple criminogenic needs, high intensity supervision, as well as an increased use of praise from the judge along with other incentives and sanctions.  In addition, the eligibility criteria for this site required that participants have a substance use disorder with risk levels ranging from moderate to high (based on their local risk assessment with a three point scale that ranged from low to high).  In contrast, other site eligibility criteria did not require a substance use disorder and participant risk levels were mostly high to very high (depending on the assessment tool used and their specific scoring and risk category criteria).  It is possible that the sites with less positive results did not have the appropriate level and type of services consistently available to best serve the varying risk levels of their participants.

This detailed report reinforces yet again the conclusion I often, somewhat depressingly, reach when looking at careful research on an important topic: many of our most pressing criminal justice problems are really complicated and lack simple solutions.

February 14, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

"Brain Development, Social Context and Justice Policy"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper available via SSRN authored by Elizabeth Scott, Natasha Duell and Laurence Steinberg. Here is its abstract:

Justice policy reform in the past decade has been driven by research evidence indicating that brain development is ongoing through adolescence, and that neurological and psychological immaturity likely contributes in important ways to teenagers’ involvement in crime.  But despite the power of this trend, skeptics point out that many (perhaps most) adolescents do not engage in serious criminal activity; on this basis, critics argue that normative biological and psychological factors associated with adolescence are unlikely to play the important role in juvenile offending that is posited by supporters of the reform trend.  This Article explains that features associated with biological and psychological immaturity alone do not lead teenagers to engage in illegal conduct.  Instead the decision to offend, like much behavior in adolescence, is the product of dynamic interaction between the still-maturing individual and her social context.  The Article probes the mechanisms through which particular tendencies and traits linked to adolescent brain development interact with environmental influences to encourage antisocial or prosocial behavior.

Brain development in adolescence is associated with reward-seeking behavior and limited future orientation.  Further, as compared to adults, adolescents are particularly sensitive to external stimuli (particularly peers), easily aroused emotionally, and less able to regulate strong emotions.  The Article shows how these tendencies may be manifested in different teenagers in different ways, depending on many factors in the social context.  By analyzing this intricate relationship, the Article clarifies how social environment influences adolescent choices in ways that incline or deter involvement in crime and in other risky behavior.  Thus a teenager who lives in a high-crime neighborhood with many antisocial peers is more likely to get involved in criminal activity than one in a neighborhood with few such peers, even though the two may not differ in their tendencies and propensities for risk-taking.

The Article’s interactive model offers powerful support for laws and policies that subject adolescent offenders to more lenient sanctions than adults receive and that tailor dispositions to juveniles’ developmental needs.  Our examination confirms and illuminates the Supreme Court’s conclusion that juvenile offenders differ in important ways from adult counterparts; juveniles deserve less punishment because their offenses are driven by biological and psychological immaturity, and also because, as legal minors, they cannot extricate themselves from social contexts (neighborhoods, schools and families) that contribute- to involvement in crime.  The model also confirms that correctional facilities and programs, which constitute young offenders’ social settings, can support healthy development to adulthood in individual offenders, or affect their lives in harmful ways.

February 13, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, February 12, 2018

"Yes, Trump is embracing criminal justice reform"

The title of this post is the headline of this new opinion piece that struck me as notable for any number of reasons: the piece appears in the right-leaning Washington Examiner and is authored by well-known conservatives Ken Blackwell and Ken Cuccinelli.  The piece also ends with a call for Congress to catch up to states in the criminal justice reform arena.  Here are excerpts:

Throughout the last election cycle, there came fevered predictions from many commentators on the Left that, given candidate Donald Trump’s frank messaging about returning to "law and order" and confronting violent crime in American cities, criminal justice reform efforts were officially dead in the water.  Criminal justice reform appears “bleak in the age of Trump,” stated one article. “How Criminal Justice Reform Died,” intoned another.

Such fatalism was both misplaced and inaccurate. Misplaced, because the lion’s share of successful criminal justice reforms over the last ten years have advanced at the state and local levels, not in D.C.— mainly by southern red states. With oversight over roughly 90 percent of the country’s incarcerated population, the states will always be the primary mover of criminal justice policies, not the federal government.

But such predictions have now been proven inaccurate as well, given recent remarks made by now-President Trump about the need for federal prison reform....

Society is justified in expecting individuals to take ownership not just for their actions, but also for their reformation. This is hampered, however, when the weight of accumulated barriers to re-entry becomes a millstone. Research has been clear that getting a job upon release is among the most critical steps to reducing a person’s likelihood for recidivism. When President Trump and others say society has a “great interest” in helping ex-offenders get on the path of self-sufficiency, he’s speaking a well-established truism.

Fortunately, conservative states have long since begun helping ex-offenders land on their feet upon release. Chief among them: Texas, long known as a “tough on crime” stalwart. In 2007, state lawmakers passed a $241 million “justice reinvestment” package to increase capacity for substance abuse and mental health treatment and expand probation and parole services, as well as community-based diversion programs. This avoided the immediate need for $2.1 billion in spending just to meet their expected needs for new prison capacity.

More recently, Texas has passed indemnity laws to insulate employers and landlords from liability when they extend a job or lease to ex-offenders.  This makes it less likely that a criminal record will be an insuperable barrier to work or finding a place to live. Communities in Texas have been getting safer at the same time.  Crime rates have fallen by 31 percent, while incarceration rates have fallen by more than 20 percent. Eight prisons have been shuttered even as Texas’ population has soared, saving millions in annual operating costs.

In 2012, Georgia began investing in efforts aimed at reducing recidivism, including an expansion of in-prison educational resources.  They’ve since reduced their prison population and nearly eliminated its backlog of inmates awaiting transfer, all the while reducing crime by 8 percent and saving $25 million.  A large reform package passed in Louisiana last year has similar aims of steering less serious offenders away from incarceration and into more effective community-based programs. South Carolina, Utah, Alaska, Kentucky, and others have passed comprehensive reforms, as well.

As we mentioned above, the states are the natural gatekeepers for criminal justice reform.  But Congress has shortcomings within its own prison system to address, and is quickly running out of excuses for doing so.  President Trump, whom so many on the Left falsely assumed would spell the end of reform, has instead sounded a clarion call to advance it. He was right for doing so, as many conservative states have proved, and it's time Congress took up that challenge as well.

February 12, 2018 in Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

"Bail Reform and Risk Assessment: The Cautionary Tale of Federal Sentencing"

The title of this post is the title of this new Note appearing in the latest issue of the Harvard Law Review.  Here is how it starts:

Across the country, from New Jersey to Texas to California, bail reform is being debated, implemented, and litigated at the state and local levels.  Lawmakers and the public are learning that cash bail is excessive, discriminatory, and costly for taxpayers and communities.  With promises to replace judicial instincts with validated algorithms and to reserve detention for high-risk defendants, risk assessment tools have become a hallmark of contemporary pretrial reform.  Risk assessment tools have proliferated despite substantial criticisms that the tools depend upon and reinforce racially biased data and that the tools’ accuracy is overblown or unknown.  Part I of this Note examines contemporary bail practices, recent reforms, and risk assessments’ promises and shortcomings. Part II discusses federal sentencing reform, which originally sought a more empirical approach to criminal justice but failed.  Part III applies the lesson of sentencing reform to bail reform today.  Despite endorsing empirical tools, legislatures are prone to interfering with the evidence that informs those tools or with the tools themselves.  Even after reforms, system actors retain misaligned incentives to incarcerate too many people.  Technocratic instruments like risk assessments may obscure but cannot answer tough, fundamental questions of system design. But recent pretrial reforms have shown early signs of progress. If risk assessments are paired with adequate safeguards, sustained reductions in incarceration and progress toward equal treatment may be possible.

February 10, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Should there be (and will there be) an appeal of federal judge's imposition of "shorter sentence because ... of [defendant's] decision to be sterilized"?

Mf-law-day-bbf-3-5-4-15-300x160In this post a couple of days ago, I noted the remarkable federal sentencing story out of Oklahoma in which a defendant was seemingly seeking a reduced sentence in a fraud case because she followed a judge's suggestion in this order that she consider taking steps to be "rendered incapable of procreation."  This follow up article, headlined "Oklahoma woman gets shorter prison sentence because she got sterilized," the defendant's decision to follow the judge's suggestion seemingly reduced her sentence a few months. Here are the details:

A judge Thursday showed leniency to a drug-using mother of seven because she had surgery to prevent further pregnancies.  Summer Thyme Creel, 34, was sentenced to a year in federal prison and three years on supervised release for passing counterfeit checks.  She was ordered to pay $15,246 in restitution.

Creel voluntarily underwent the medical procedure in November after the Oklahoma City federal judge suggested it in a scheduling order. "She will receive a shorter sentence because she made that decision," U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot said before announcing the punishment.  Friot on Thursday also defended his sterilization suggestion, saying the U.S. Supreme Court "has yet to recognize a constitutional right to bring crack- or methamphetamine-addicted babies into this world."

In his order last June, the judge called Creel a habitual user of crack cocaine and methamphetamine. He wrote in that order she had given up her parental rights to six of her seven children and likely had used illegal drugs while pregnant.  He then wrote he would consider at sentencing medical evidence Creel had undergone a sterilization procedure "if (and only if) she chooses to do so."

Creel had faced up to 16 months in federal prison under sentencing guidelines intended to keep punishments uniform across the country.  Judges do not have to follow the guidelines, though, and the maximum possible punishment for Creel's offense was 10 years in prison.  The unusual order — first reported by The Oklahoman — attracted national and international attention.  The judge has been both praised and condemned.

"When I read the order, I was horrified,” Lynn Paltrow, founder of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told The Washington Post. "We find it highly unlikely that this judge has asked any man how many children he fathered and used that in his sentencing determination."  The judge Thursday did not directly comment on the public criticism.

He did state his order last year had made clear that "the decision as to whether to be sterilized would be for Ms. Creel and Ms. Creel alone to make." He also explained he would not have counted it against Creel if she had decided against the procedure. "She would have come before the court in the same posture as any other habitual criminal," he said. "Her fertility would have been a non-issue."

The judge chided a prosecutor for telling him in a sentencing memorandum Creel has "a fundamental constitutional right to procreate." The prosecutor in the memo had cited a 1942 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found unconstitutional Oklahoma's Habitual Criminal Sterilization Act. "This is rather curious," the judge said of the prosecutor's position on the issue. The judge then pointed out the 1942 decision had involved involuntary sterilization. He said the prosecutor apparently overlooked that fact.

Creel was punished Thursday for her involvement in a fraudulent check-cashing ring that used information from stolen mail to manufacture counterfeit checks. "Theirs was a systematic and successful identity theft scheme," the judge said.  She pleaded guilty last year to one federal counterfeiting offense.  She admitted she had passed a $202.22 counterfeit check in 2014 at a Walmart in Moore.

She has prior theft and counterfeit check convictions in county courts but always received probation.  She originally had sought probation in her federal case. That possibility ended when she was arrested for passing a $121.71 counterfeit check at a Hobby Lobby in Midwest City a month after pleading guilty.

She also has tested positive for methamphetamine use — twice — since her guilty plea. The second time, the judge had her jailed pending sentencing. Her defense attorney, Brett Behenna, told the judge Creel has had a tough life and became caught in a cycle of poverty. He said she turned to illegal drugs as an escape....

"I'm sorry for the mistakes that I made," Creel told the judge. Another participant in the scheme, Amber L. Perkins, 43, was sentenced last March to five years in prison and ordered to pay $159,753 in restitution.

This five-page order that the Judge Friot issued in conjunction with the sentencing leaves no doubt that the defendant's sterilization decision was a consequential factors in his sentencing decision. Here are the closing paragraphs of the order:

If anything was clear from the court’s June order, it was that the decision as to whether to be sterilized would be for Ms. Creel and Ms. Creel alone to make.  The short of the matter is that Ms. Creel will get the benefit of her decision to be sterilized.  She will receive a shorter sentence because she made that decision.  But a decision not to be sterilized would not have counted against Ms. Creel for sentencing purposes — she would have come before the court in the same posture as any other habitual criminal. Her fertility status would have been a nonissue.  Moreover, if we assume, as the government urges, that the court’s approach to sentencing in this case might raise a constitutional issue, the court will note that the Supreme Court has yet to recognize a constitutional right to bring crack or methamphetamine addicted babies into this world.

Accordingly, in determining the sentence to be imposed upon Ms. Creel, the court will take into account all of the factors spelled out in 18 U.S.C. § 3553, a determination which will give Ms. Creel the benefit of her decision to be sterilized.

As federal sentencing gurus know, any appeal of this sentencing proceeding would be generally subject to a reasonableness standard of review. Though I have not read the full record, I am still inclined to consider Judge Friot's work here unreasonable because he unduly suggested that sterilization was an essential (and perhaps exclusive) way for this defendant to "earn" a below-guideline sentence. 

I generally believe (and often have argued) that a wide range of considerations can and should be brought to bear as a federal sentencing judge considers, under 18 U.S.C § 3553(a), what sentence will be "sufficient, but not greater than necessary, to comply with the purposes set forth" by Congress.  But it strikes me as highly problematic for a judge, prior to sentencing, to tell a defendant that a reduced sentence will be possible if (and perhaps only if) the defendant engages in specific life-altering personal behavior.  The procreation dynamics here are particularly concerning in light of some ugly history on this front; but I would also be troubled if a judge said to a defendant, for example, I will likely cut you a sentencing break only if you divorce that spouse who pressured you into criminal activity or only if you contractually commit to giving 50% of all future salary to charity.

That all said, and as my post title suggests, I suspect that there will not be an appeal of this sentence by the federal government (or the defense) and so we will not likely see a higher court reviewing Judge Friot's work here.  But, of course, that should not prevent the court of public opinion from chiming in, perhaps using the comments here.

Prior related post:

February 10, 2018 in Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Race, Class, and Gender, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Should (encouraged!?!) sterilization be a permissible federal sentencing factor in mitigation?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by a remarkable federal sentencing story out of Oklahoma reported in this local article headlined "Woman underwent sterilization procedure at judge’s suggestion." Here are the details:

At a judge's suggestion, an admitted drug user involved in a counterfeit check ring underwent a medical procedure preventing her from having more children.

Summer Thyme Creel, 34, had the elective procedure in November after the judge wrote he could consider it at her sentencing if she chose to do so. Her sentencing is now set for Thursday in Oklahoma City federal court.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot made the unusual suggestion in an order last June. He noted in the order Creel had given up her parental rights to six of her seven children and likely had used illegal drugs while pregnant with some of them. "I spoke with her in detail about it and she voluntarily wanted to do it," her court-appointed defense attorney, Brett Behenna, said.

A prosecutor is urging the judge not to consider the procedure as a factor at sentencing. "Creel not only has a fundamental constitutional right to procreate ... but she admits that she had an interest in an elective sterilization procedure even before the court's order of June 16," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Perry told the judge in a sentencing memo.

"Furthermore, Creel's decision to have (or not have) additional children is sufficiently removed from the type of criminal activity involved in this case that such a factor is irrelevant to determining a sentence," the prosecutor wrote.

Creel has a lengthy criminal record involving theft and counterfeit check crimes. She is listed in court records over the last two years at addresses in Oklahoma City, Checotah and Lawton. She was charged for the first time in federal court in 2016. A federal grand jury alleged she and others participated in a counterfeit ring that relied on mail stolen from mailboxes.

Creel pleaded guilty a year ago to a single count in the indictment for using a $202.22 counterfeit check at a Walmart in Moore in 2014. Her sentencing has been delayed for a number of reasons, the first time because she couldn't show up in court. She was in the Oklahoma County jail for using a counterfeit check at a Hobby Lobby in Midwest City....

In delaying the sentence the first time, the judge made note of both Creel's criminal past and her history as a mother. "By virtue of a series of relationships with various sires over approximately the last 14 years, Ms. Creel has given birth to seven children out of wedlock," the judge wrote in the June order.

"Comparing the dates of Ms. Creel's periods of habitual use of crack cocaine and methamphetamine ... with the dates of birth of her seven children, it appears highly likely that some of Ms. Creel's children were conceived, carried and born while Ms. Creel was a habitual user of these illicit substances," the judge wrote.

"It comes as no surprise, therefore, that, in 2012, Ms. Creel relinquished her parental rights with respect to six of her seven children 'after an Oklahoma Department of Human Services investigation for failure to protect the children from harm.' Her seventh child was born in 2016," the judge wrote.

The judge then pointed out he can consider at sentencing any information concerning the background, character and conduct of an offender. Finally, he told Creel in his order that at her sentencing she "may, if (and only if) she chooses to do so, present medical evidence to the court establishing that she has been rendered incapable of procreation."

The June order referenced in this story, which runs only two pages, can be accessed at this link.  It closes by noting that Congress has provided via 18 U,S.C § 3661 that "No limitation shall be placed on the information concerning the background, character, and conduct of a person convicted of an offense which a court of the United States may receive and consider for the purpose of imposing an appropriate sentence." I am inclined also to note that in 18 U.S.C § 3553(a)(1) Congress ordered federal judges to consider "the history and characteristics of the defendant" at sentencing.  So there is certainly a statutory basis for Judge Friot to defend his approach to Ms. Creel's case.  I am eager to hear readers' thoughts as to whether Judge Friot's approach is sound and wise even if it may be statutorily defensible.

February 8, 2018 in Booker in district courts, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Two notable and timely commentaries on prison reform

A couple of columns about prison reform caught my attention today. Here are headlines, links and excerpts:

From The Advocate, authored by Mark Holden and Brooke Rollins, "Ways to help failing prison system":

We are proud to be part of a new initiative, Safe Streets and Second Chances, which will work to combine policy reforms and evidence-based re-entry programs that will measure success not by incarceration rates but by whether former inmates are rehabilitated and capable of redemption.  Researchers will initially examine four states — Louisiana, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas — and work to prepare people for re-entry beginning on day one of their prison sentence, and have an individualized plan in place within two months of incarceration.

The numbers indicate the scope of the challenge.  More than three out of four former inmates return to prison within five years of release, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  That is a moral crime and a fiscal disaster.  And, worst of all, it is an unforgivable waste of human potential.  Nationally, more than 600,000 former inmates re-enter society every year. More than 100,000 of those are in our four targeted states.

Safe Streets and Second Chances will work with states to institute substance abuse and psychiatric counseling for individuals with mental illnesses or drug addictions; educational and literacy programs; vocational programs that teach usable job skills, and mentoring capabilities.  Such programs should involve faith leaders and public-private partnerships, so the comparative advantages of these sectors can be brought to bear on the rehabilitation and redemption of individuals.  Emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation is costly — $80 billion a year for incarceration at last count, and an even higher cost in the diminution of the human spirit.

The system traps individuals in a soul-crushing cycle of poverty and prison, while doing next to nothing to make our streets safer.  Proposals to address these challenges are not pie-in-sky do-gooderism.  They are a clear-eyed assessment based on evidence and experience.  In 2007, Texas projected it would need 17,000 new prison beds over the next five years.  After implementing these and many other reforms, including expanded drug courts and mental health programs, crime dropped 31 percent — to levels not seen since the 1960s.  Texas closed four prisons with plans to close four more, and saved $3 billion in the process.

South Carolina enacted similar reforms and cut its prison population by 14 percent, closed six prisons and saved $491 million . Other states have seen the results and are instituting programs focusing on education and training that are showing success in rehabilitating individuals and reducing recidivism.  If three out of four patients were dying in our hospitals, or three out of four combat soldiers were ill-prepared to face the enemy, we’d do something about it. I n a hurry.

Three out of four people in jail today will probably be back there if we don’t do something about it. In a hurry.

From USA Today, authored by Francis Cullen and Erik Luna, "Evaluate corrections officials not just on the state of prisons, but on rate of recidivism":

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans agree it is important to try to rehabilitate those who have committed crimes and are in the correctional system.  The public also demonstrates high support for formal “rehabilitation ceremonies” that would restore full citizenship to offenders who completed treatment programs, apologized and stayed crime-free for several years. A growing readiness exists to reinvent corrections.  Bold thinking and experimentation are needed. And that experimental approach could appeal to criminal justice reformers and hard-line supporters of harsher sentencing alike.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has touted a return to "law and order" crackdowns, is right to be concerned about "a vicious cycle of crime, poverty and more crime."  But activists who believe in rehabilitation also support "smarter policies based on sound research."

So, how can prisons be improved? Here are three general ideas:

► Corrections officials should be evaluated more diligently not just on their ability to manage institutions but also to reform the inmates who are in them, and that must include inmates who have re-entered society and recidivated.  There's an expectation that wardens will maintain peace within their prisons.  They are held responsible if, for example, a riot breaks out.  Some aspects of police reform occurred because, among other things, law enforcement leadership was made responsible not only for solving cases but also for reducing crime.  Officials must be held equally responsible for recidivism rates.

► Prisons must be regarded as behavioral-change institutions, not warehouses for wrongdoers.  Being nasty to offenders by, for instance, exposing them to harsh prison conditions risks making them more criminal.  Prisons must be therapeutic and focus on rehabilitation.  This does not mean going easy on offenders, but instead insisting that they learn pro-social values and how to act responsibly.  Rehabilitative interventions require inmates to engage in the difficult work of changing their thinking and behavior.

► Corrections must become a true science.  If medical standards were applied, many correctional practices and programs would be seen as quackery worthy of malpractice lawsuits.  Evidence suggests that a therapeutic or human-service approach to corrections is most likely to reduce recidivism by helping offenders acquire the cognitive abilities, problem-solving and coping skills, and human capital needed to overcome the deficits that place them at risk of criminal conduct in the first place.  Sustained research is required — as is done in medicine — to give correctional workers more and better tools for inmate rehabilitation.

February 7, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"Focused Deterrence Strategies and Crime Control"

The title of this post is the title of this new article in the latest issue of Criminology & Public Policy authored by Anthony Braga, David Weisburd and Brandon Turchan. Here is its abstract:  

Research Summary

Focused deterrence strategies are increasingly being applied to prevent and control gang and group-involved violence, overt drug markets, and individual repeat offenders.  Our updated examination of the effects of focused deterrence strategies on crime followed the systematic review protocols and conventions of the Campbell Collaboration.  Twenty-four quasi-experimental evaluations were identified in this systematic review.   The results of our meta-analysis demonstrate that focused deterrence strategies are associated with an overall statistically significant, moderate crime reduction effect.  Nevertheless, program effect sizes varied by program type and were smaller for evaluations with more rigorous research designs.

Policy Implications

The available empirical evidence suggests these strategies generate noteworthy crime reduction impacts and should be part of a broader portfolio of crime reduction strategies available to policy makers and practitioners.  Investments still need to be made, however, to strengthen the overall rigor of program evaluations and improve our understanding of key program activities associated with observed crime reduction impacts.

Those unfamiliar with "Focused deterrence strategies" may want to check out this Crime Solutions webpage discussing the concept starting with this description:

Focused deterrence strategies (also referred to as “pulling levers" policing) are problem-oriented policing strategies that follow the core principles of deterrence theory.  The strategies target specific criminal behavior committed by a small number of chronic offenders who are vulnerable to sanctions and punishment.  Offenders are directly confronted and informed that continued criminal behavior will not be tolerated.  Targeted offenders are also told how the criminal justice system (such as the police and prosecutors) will respond to continued criminal behavior; mainly that all potential sanctions, or levers, will be applied.  The deterrence-based message is reinforced through crackdowns on offenders, or groups of offenders (such as gang members), who continue to commit crimes despite the warning.  In addition to deterring violent behavior, the strategies also reward compliance and nonviolent behavior among targeted offenders by providing positive incentives, such as access to social services and job opportunities.

January 31, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (3)