Monday, December 22, 2014
"A Simple Model of Optimal Deterrence and Incapacitation"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper on SSRN authored by Steven Shavell (who taught me about law and economics over a score ago when I was in law school). Here is the abstract:
The deterrence of crime and its reduction through incapacitation are studied in a simple multiperiod model of crime and law enforcement. Optimal imprisonment sanctions and the optimal probability of sanctions are determined.
A point of emphasis is that the incapacitation of individuals is often socially desirable even when they are potentially deterrable. The reason is that successful deterrence may require a relatively high probability of sanctions and thus a relatively high enforcement expense. In contrast, incapacitation may yield benefits no matter how low the probability of sanctions is — implying that incapacitation may be superior to deterrence.
Friday, December 19, 2014
"Regulating Sexual Harm: Strangers, Intimates, and Social Institutional Reform"
The title of this post is the title of this timely paper authored by Allegra McLeod now appearing on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
The criminal regulation of sexual harm in the United States is afflicted by deep pathology. Although sexual harm appears before the law in a variety of forms — from violent rape, to indecent exposure, to the sexual touching by an older child of a younger child — the prevailing U.S. criminal regulatory framework responds to this wide range of conduct with remarkable uniformity. All persons so convicted are labeled “sex offenders,” and most are subjected to registration, community notification, and residential restrictions, among other sanctions. These measures purport to prevent the perpetration of further criminal sexual harm by publicizing the identities and restricting the residential opportunities of persons presumed to be strangers to their victims.
But even as these measures render many subject to them homeless and unemployable, sexual abuse remains pervasive and significantly underreported in our schools, prisons, military, and between intimates in families. Thus, at once, the U.S. criminal regulatory regime constructs a peculiarly overbroad category of feared persons, compels a misguided approach to this population, and neglects the most prevalent forms of vulnerability to sexual predation and assault.
This essay argues that an alternative social institutional reform framework could address pervasive forms of sexual harm more meaningfully and with fewer problems than attend the prevailing criminal regulatory framework. This alternative framework would depart in large measure from purportedly preventive post-conviction criminal regulation, focusing instead on institutional, structural, and social dynamics that enable sexual violence and abuse.
"Six Reasons the Death Penalty is Becoming More Expensive"
The title of this post is the headline of this effective piece from The Marshall Project whihc served as something of a companion piece to its effective coverage (noted here) of how localities struggle with the economic realities of pursuing capital cases. Here are excerpts:
We know the basic reasons why death penalty cases are expensive: more lawyers, more experts, more time. Prosecutors and defense attorneys often spend more than a year preparing for death penalty trials. Every successful conviction is appealed to several state and federal courts, meaning the government pays for both prosecutors and defenders to pick over the trial transcript and for judges and clerks to spend hours reading appeals. While this is going on, it costs more to house prisoners on death row than in the general population....
But the death penalty is also growing more expensive with each passing year. A 2010 report prepared for the Judicial Conference of the United States found that between 1989 and 1997 the median cost of a federal death penalty case that went to trial was $269,139; between 1998 and 2004 it had grown to $620,932.
Nobody has methodically studied how costs have been growing in state death penalty cases, but in interviews with more than 30 prosecutors, defense attorneys and other experts the consensus was that costs are going up fast. Here are the main reasons they cited:
1. Attorney Pay...
A few recent and older related posts:
- Detailed examination of how local costs may slowly kill the death penalty
- Nevada completes detailed accounting of costs of death penalty cases
- Detailing the dysfunction of Pennsylvania's death penalty system
- "Could Abolishing the Death Penalty Help States Save Money?"
- Georgia struggles to pay for a costly capital syste
- Great new (though still dated) examination of the death penalty and plea bargaining
- "Opponents Focus On Cost In Death Penalty Debate"
- NY Times editorial assails "High Cost of Death Row"
- New DPIC report assails costs (and opportunity costs) of death penalty administration
- Is it true that nobody's view on the death penalty can be influenced by its costs?
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Notable NPR coverage of the "Human Casualties Of Mandatory Sentencing"
I am pleased and intrigued to see that National Public Radio seems to be starting a deep dive into some of the personal stories surrounding the debate over federal mandatory minimum. This introduction, headlined "From Judges To Inmates, Finding The Human Casualties Of Mandatory Sentencing," sets up the discussion this way:
This year, everyone from Attorney General Eric Holder to Tea Party Republicans in Congress has argued those stiff mandatory minimum prison sentences do more harm than good for thousands of drug offenders. Legislation to cut the tough-on-crime penalties has stalled on Capitol Hill, but it's likely to be reintroduced in 2015. Meanwhile, the White House and the Justice Department have taken the unprecedented step of asking for candidates who might win early release from prison through presidential pardons or commutations in the final years of the Obama presidency. That effort, known as Clemency Project 2014, is moving slowly.
Amid the backdrop of debate inside Washington and across the country, NPR decided to focus on the human toll of these mandatory prison sentences. We talked with judges who expressed tearful misgivings about sending people away for the rest of their lives for crimes that involved no violence and a modest amount of drugs. We found a newly-released inmate trying to reacquaint herself with her community in the Florida panhandle and rebuild ties with her grieving children after 17 years away from home. And we went inside a medium-security prison in New Jersey to find a lifer who says he deserves another chance. These people acknowledge they broke the law and accept the need for punishment. But they say their decades-long incarcerations cast a shadow that lingers over their families, damage that far outweighs the wrongs they did to put them in prison.
The series' first lengthy piece here is titled "Judge Regrets Harsh Human Toll Of Mandatory Minimum Sentences," has lots of good content and quotes from Judge John Gleeson and Professors Rachel Barkow and Bill Otis.
December 16, 2014 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Monday, December 15, 2014
NJ Supreme Court clarifies legitimacy and importance of considering post-offense conduct at sentencing
This local article, headlined "Court: ‘Post-offense conduct’ must be gauged at sentencing," provides an effective summary of a notable New Jersey Supreme Court ruling today. Here is the start of the article:
A man who pleaded guilty to a drug offense was entitled to have the positive changes he made in his life between the time of his plea and sentencing considered by the judge determining punishment, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The state’s highest court ruled that sentencing judges must consider relevant, post-offense conduct when they weigh aggravating and mitigating factors during their sentencing analysis. In the Morris County case involving Joseph M. Jaffe, now 42, and last of Brick, the sentencing judge told his lawyer in 2012 that New Jersey law precluded him from considering Jaffe’s conduct in the year-long span between his guilty plea in August 2011 and sentencing in August 2012.
“In conclusion, the trial court should view a defendant as he or she stands before the court on the day of sentencing,” the Supreme Court said in its opinion, released Monday. “This means evidence of post-offense conduct, rehabilitation or otherwise, must be considered in assessing the applicability of, and weight to be given to aggravating and mitigating factors,” the court said.
The full unanimous opinion in New Jersey v. Jaffe, No. A-12-13 (N.J. Dec. 15, 2014), is available at this link. Here is how the opinion gets started:
Defendant Joseph M. Jaffe received a three-year state prison sentence almost a year after pleading guilty to an accusation charging him with third-degree conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute. At sentencing, defense-counsel asked the court to consider defendant’s rehabilitative efforts since he was arrested and charged. The trial court declined to weigh such evidence in assessing mitigating factors, concluding that applicable law did not allow him to consider “post[-]offense conduct.” In light of our recent holding in State v. Randolph, 210 N.J. 330 (2012), that a defendant should be assessed as he stands before the court on the day of sentencing, we conclude that the sentencing court must consider a defendant’s relevant post-offense conduct in weighing aggravating and mitigating factors.
A judge’s sentencing analysis is a fact-sensitive inquiry, which must be based on consideration of all the competent and credible evidence raised by the parties at sentencing. Because we decide here that the trial court must consider at sentencing evidence of a defendant’s post-offense conduct, we are compelled to remand for resentencing to ensure consideration of all of the facts relevant to the applicable aggravating and mitigating factors.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Detailing the dysfunction of Pennsylvania's death penalty system
This lengthy local article, headlined "Capital punishment in Pennsylvania: When death means life: Commonwealth's death penalty system called expensive and dysfunctional," provide a review of how the Keystone State has a capital punishment system that seems to function as if it were operated by the Keystone Cops. Here are excerpts from the article, which is the first is an extended series:
Pennsylvania's death penalty has cost taxpayers more than $350 million for a dysfunctional system that has sentenced hundreds but hasn't executed anyone in 15 years, a Reading Eagle analysis has found. The newspaper analysis comes three years after state lawmakers called for an intensive report on Pennsylvania's death penalty, and as a Montgomery County lawmaker maps out a proposal to abolish the system.
The long-overdue report is at least several months away from being issued. There still has been no reckoning of the system's massive financial or psychological cost — including the immeasurable agony of justice-seeking family members and the pain of families waiting for condemned relatives to be executed. "My sister didn't have a choice about when her life ended. Why should he?" said Diane Moyer of Robesonia, referring to convicted killer Glenn Lyons of Reading.
Lyons is one of 185 condemned inmates, making Pennsylvania's death row the fifth largest in the nation. He's also one of 12 death row inmates prosecuted for murders committed in Berks County, which along with York County has the second-highest number of death row inmates in the state behind Philadelphia's 69. It was 1937 when Pennsylvania last executed someone for a murder that took place in Berks.
Observers of the state's system both locally and nationally agreed it is deeply flawed. It is likely to get even more scrutiny as prosecutors move ahead with a death penalty case against Eric Frein, accused of ambushing and murdering a state trooper this year....
The newspaper's cost estimate is likely a conservative number. That's because the estimate, which relies on a 2008 Maryland study by the Urban Institute, was calculated using the Pennsylvania inmates now on death row. The estimate does not account for unsuccessful death penalty cases tried by prosecutors, nor does it include death row inmates whose sentences were overturned on appeal.
The 2008 study — which produced findings similar to other state studies — found that Maryland spent an average of $1.9 million more on cases that led to death sentences than on cases where the death penalty could have been sought but was not. At least two experts, including the researcher of the Maryland report, said the study was a fair comparison for estimating the cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers. Applying the Maryland per-case figure to Pennsylvania's current 185 death row inmates yields a Pennsylvania cost of $351.5 million....
The state has executed three men, all of whom gave up their appeals, since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. But with so few executions among the 429 death warrants Pennsylvania governors have signed since 1985, experts say it's critical lawmakers know the cost to justify budget expenses with a projected $1.85 billion state shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year. So far, the death penalty hasn't been part of the budget debate.
For the loved ones of the victims, like Moyer, the financial cost of the death penalty is outweighed by the emotional toll of likely never having the killer's execution carried out. Lyons used two kitchen knives to stab Leibig, 45, of Millcreek Township, Lebanon County, again and again, investigators said. The brutal attack lasted up to 15 minutes. Lyons, now 49, was convicted and sentenced to death by a Berks jury, but claims he didn't kill Leibig.
The state Supreme Court denied his appeal in 2013, and his execution was set for August, but a federal judge granted him a stay in July, and his appeal process continues. Leibig's family is frustrated and disappointed, knowing the state may never follow through with his execution. "He'll keep fighting and playing the system," Moyer said. "He had a fair trial, and he was guilty. Put him to death. Give him the injection."...
A death penalty that doesn't actually execute people frustrates those on both sides of the debate. Death penalty proponents blame an endless and costly appeals process. Opponents criticize a system with too little funding for poor defendants....
At least one Berks judge who once supported the death penalty has had a change of heart. The judge, who asked not to be identified, had thought execution was a just punishment for the state's worst offenders and a deterrent to others. But after seeing how cases continuously circle the courts, the judge now thinks the death penalty is a waste of time and money and is unnecessarily difficult on the victim's loved ones holding out hope for an execution.
"It's horrible for the families," the judge said. Death penalty rulings aren't foolproof and should be scrutinized, but there should also be a limit on appeals, the judge said. "Now there is hearing after hearing. It never ends," the judge said....
"There is a problem with a law that is never carried out," he said. State Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone, a Reading Democrat, said he's heard from victims' families how hard it is to sit and wait for the death penalty to be carried out. "They say: 'We lost a loved one. Why is he still living? Where is the justice?'" Caltagirone said. "And victim's rights groups are livid about the endless appeals." But Caltagirone also said he wonders whether it's appropriate for the state to execute someone. "I'm kind of torn on it," he said.
More than a dozen states have analyzed death penalty costs. Some states found the costs nearly 50 percent to 70 percent higher than non-death penalty cases. While the costs vary across the U.S., all found capital trials more expensive. The reason? Mostly because the process is more complicated at every point in the case. A death penalty case involves more attorneys, witnesses and experts. Jury selection is long, as are the trials. Also the cases usually have more pre-trial motions and require a separate trial for sentencing.
Incarcerating death row inmates in solitary confinement is also expensive — about $10,000 more a year than inmates serving a life sentence, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. And, the majority of death penalty trials on appeal are found to be flawed, some significantly, and must be redone, adding to the price tag.
The state has been studying a laundry list of issues since 2011 when lawmakers directed the Joint State Government Commission to research capital punishment. Berks officials did not know what the costs of trying capital cases are to taxpayers. "Definitely, the death penalty extremely strains our resources," Adams said. "There's no way that we can put a financial number to that."...
"You can't choose to do it and not pay for," said Marc Bookman, a former public defender and director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation in Philadelphia, a nonprofit resource center. "It's really expensive to do it properly and it's even more expensive to do it incorrectly," he said.
Last year, Maryland became the 18th state to abolish capital punishment. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley cited the cost — roughly three times as much as life without parole — as one of the factors for repealing the death penalty. John Ramon, author of "The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland," said the costs to Pennsylvania taxpayers are likely comparable, assuming trial and incarceration expenses are similar. "It's not as big as an assumption as it sounds," Ramon said....
Knowing the cost, Ramon and others said, changes the conversation on a very polarizing issue. "I think it changes the nature of the debate because what it's saying is let's not just ask if the death penalty is better than not having the death penalty," Ramon said. "It's saying, given the death penalty is far more expensive, is it still worth having?"
December 14, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Victims' Rights At Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Repeat drunk-driver tells fishy story to explain erratic driving
This local story from Wisconsin tells a funny story about what (as regular readers know) I do not think is a very funny crime often committed again and again and again by certain violent career criminals. The story is headlined "Man charged with 10th OWI; tells officer he'd eaten beer battered fish," and here are the details:
An Adams County man will be charged with his 10th OWI. 75-year-old John Przybyla was pulled over October 12. He was driving north on State Highway 13 in the Township of Dell Prairie. Officers pulled him over because he crossed the center line and had a broken tail light.
The officer asked Przybyla if he had been drinking. He said that he hadn't, and that he'd only eaten beer battered fish.
The officer conducted field sobriety tests and Przybyla's preliminary breath alcohol test was .062. He can't have a PBT over .02 because of earlier convictions.
He faces an additional charge of driving with a revoked license after a 3rd OWI and three other traffic citations. Przybyla was first convicted for an OWI in 1995.
The repeat offender's amusing excuse for his crime is, of course, what drew me to this story. But I also think it is significant and telling that a person can be a violent menace to innocent people on the roads over and over again and yet as a society we still general fail to impose serious sanctions likely to incapacitate this kind of violent career criminal. But if someone is caught selling even a relatively small quantity of illegal drugs even a few times, our laws will frequently threaten or mandate very lengthy prison terms.
"As Though They Were Not Children: DNA Collection from Juveniles"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Kevin Lapp now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Law enforcement craves data. Among the many forms of data currently collected by law enforcement, perhaps none is more potentially powerful than DNA profiles. DNA databasing helps law enforcement accurately and efficiently identify individuals and link them to unsolved crimes, and it can even exonerate the wrongfully convicted. So alluring is DNA collection that the practice has rapidly expanded to juveniles. The federal government and every state but Hawaii mandate DNA collection from juveniles as a result of some contact with the criminal justice system. A conviction in criminal court, a delinquency adjudication in juvenile court, and even a mere arrest can trigger compulsory DNA collection. Law enforcement also seeks DNA samples from juveniles based on their consent.
This Article provides a comprehensive accounting of current juvenile DNA collection legislation and case law. It then situates DNA collection from juveniles within the law’s longstanding and renewed emphasis on special treatment of children both generally and with particular attention to criminal law and juvenile justice. Bringing to bear Supreme Court jurisprudence, neuroscientific and psychosocial research, juvenile court history, and the critical lens of childhood studies, it argues that DNA collection from juveniles based on contact with the criminal justice system is not reasonable and cannot withstand scrutiny. The government interests served by DNA profiling are reduced with respect to juveniles, and the privacy interests are enhanced. Many of its benefits, including deterrence, are lost with regard to juveniles. The Article calls for the prohibition on DNA collection following an adjudication of delinquency or an arrest, and a ban on consent collection from juveniles. This will protect children, and their childhood, while preserving law enforcement’s ability to exploit genetic databasing and aggregate data collection where its rationale justifies its application.
Thursday, December 04, 2014
"The True Legacy of Atkins and Roper: The Unreliability Principle, Mentally Ill Defendants, and the Death Penalty's Unraveling"
The title of this post is the title of this notable and timely new paper by Scott Sundby now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
In striking down the death penalty for intellectually disabled and juvenile defendants, Atkins v. Virginia and Roper v. Simmons have been understandably heralded as important holdings under the Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence that has found the death penalty "disproportional" for certain types of defendants and crimes. This Article argues, however, that the cases have a far more revolutionary reach than their conventional understanding. In both cases the Court went one step beyond its usual two-step analysis of assessing whether imposing the death penalty violated "evolving standards of decency." This extra step looked at why even though intellectual disability and youth were powerful mitigators, juries were not able to reliably use them in their decision making.
The Court thus articulated expressly for the first time what this Article calls the "unreliability principle:" if too great a risk exists that constitutionally protected mitigation cannot be reliably assessed, the unreliability means that the death penalty cannot be constitutionally imposed. In recognizing the unreliability principle, the Court has called into serious question the death penalty for other offenders to whom the principle applies, such as mentally ill defendants. And, unlike with the "evolving standards" analysis, the unreliability principle does not depend on whether a national consensus exists against the practice.
This Article identifies the six Atkins-Roper factors that bring the unreliability principle into play and shows why they make application of the death penalty to mentally ill defendants unconstitutional. The principle, which finds its constitutional home in the cases of Woodson v. North Carolina and Lockett v. Ohio, has profound implications for the death penalty, and if taken to its logical endpoint calls into question the Court's core premise since Furman v. Georgia, that by providing individualized consideration of a defendant and his crime, the death penalty decision will be free of arbitrariness.
December 4, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack
Fourth Circuit find LWOP + 60 month sentence (!?!) for drug offenses substantively unreasonable
Thanks to a few helpful readers, I was alerted to a notable opinion from a Fourth Circuit panel today in US v. Howard, No. 13-4296 (4th Cir. Dec. 4, 2014) (available here). Here are excerpts from the start, middle and end of the lengthy opinion:
In appeal No. 13-4296, a jury convicted Dennis Ray Howard on one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, phencyclidine (“PCP”), nine counts of distribution of PCP, and one count of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense. The district court sentenced Howard to a term of life imprisonment plus 60 months.... For the reasons set forth within, we affirm the convictions, vacate the sentence as substantively unreasonable, and remand for resentencing....
The district court reached its life imprisonment sentence by making an upward departure based on Howard’s de facto career offender status, and by reasoning that the § 3553(a) factors supported a sentence at the top of the Guidelines range determined after the departure. Because we are persuaded that the extent of the upward departure is unwarranted and amounts to an abuse of discretion, and because, in any event, a sentence of life in prison on this record is not justified by consideration of the § 3553(a) factors as articulated by the district court, we conclude that the sentence imposed is substantively unreasonable....
By declaring Howard a serial recidivist dedicated to dispensing “poison” with no hope of redemption, and by basing this judgment on stale criminal history, the bulk of which was non-violent and committed when Howard was a juvenile, the district court failed in its effort to comply with the aims of sentencing prescribed by § 3553(a)(2)....
The district court plainly sought to intone all of the principles underlying § 3553(a)(2) when it announced its sentence. It stated the need for individual and general deterrence, incapacitation, and just punishment. There is no doubt that the sentence sent a “message” of deterrence to the people of Wilson and the Eastern District of North Carolina. The district court made those intentions clear. But we simply fail to see, on the whole record, how the life-plus-60-months sentence reasonably reflects the seriousness of the offense or just punishment. Manifestly, it is a sentence “greater than necessary,” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a), to achieve the purposes of § 3553(a)(2).
Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Praise for Texas justice embracing "Right on Crime" from across the pond
This new BBC article, headlined "Why Texas is closing prisons in favour of rehab," provides a notable example of the rest of the world taking note (and praising) the "right on crime" movement. The piece is authored by a Danny Kruger, a former speechwriter for UK's prime minister David Cameron, and here are excerpts:
Coming from London to spend a couple of days in Texas last month, I was struck most of all by how generous and straightforward everyone was. Talking to all sorts of different people about crime and punishment, the same impression came across: We expect people to do the right thing and support them when they do. When they don't we punish them, but then we welcome them back and expect good behaviour again. It's not naive, it's just clear.
For years that straightforward moral outlook translated into a tough criminal justice system. As in the rest of the US, the economic dislocations of the 1970s, compounded by the crack epidemic in the 1980s, led to a series of laws and penal policies which saw the prison population skyrocket. Texas, for instance, has half the population of the UK but twice its number of prisoners.
Then something happened in 2007, when Texas Republican Congressman Jerry Madden was appointed chairman of the House Corrections Committee with the now famous words by his party leader: "Don't build new prisons. They cost too much." The impulse to what has become the Right on Crime initiative was fiscal conservatism — the strong sense that the taxpayer was paying way too much money to fight a losing war against drugs, mental ill-health and petty criminality.
What Madden found was that too many low-level offenders were spending too long in prison, and not reforming. On the contrary, they were getting worse inside and not getting the help they needed on release. The only response until then, from Democrat as well as Republican legislators, was to build more prisons. Indeed, Mr Madden's analysis suggested that a further 17,000 prisoners were coming down the pipe towards them, requiring an extra $500m (£320m) for new prisons.
But he and his party didn't want to spend more money building new prisons. So they thought of something else — rehab. Consistent with the straightforward Texan manner, the Congressional Republicans did not attempt to tackle what in Britain are known as "the causes of crime" — the socio-economic factors that make people more disposed to offend. Instead, they focused on the individual criminal, and his or her personal choices. Here, they believe, moral clarity and generosity are what's needed.
Though fiscal conservatism may have got the ball rolling, what I saw in Texas — spending time in court and speaking to offenders, prison guards, non-profit staff and volunteers — goes way beyond the desire to save money. The Prison Entrepreneurship Programme, for instance, matches prisoners with businesspeople and settles them in a residential community on release. Its guiding values are Christian and its staff's motives seem to be love and hope for their "brothers", who in turn support the next batch of prisoners leaving jail.
The statutory system is not unloving either. Judge Robert Francis's drugs court in Dallas is a well-funded welfare programme all of its own — though it is unlike any welfare programme most of the 250 ex-offenders who attend it have ever seen. Clean and tidy, it is staffed by around 30 professionals who are intensely committed to seeing their clients stay clean and out of jail, even if that means sending them back to prison for short periods, as Judge Francis regularly does when required....
Immediate, comprehensible and proportionate sanctions are given for bad behaviour, plus accountability to a kind leader and supportive community. This is the magic sauce of Right on Crime.
Far from having to build new jails for the 17,000 expected new inmates, Jerry Madden and his colleagues have succeeded in closing three prisons. I visited one by the Trinity River in Dallas, now ready for sale and redevelopment. They spent less than half the $500 million earmarked for prison building on rehab initiatives and crime is falling faster than elsewhere.
This, then, ticks all the boxes - it cuts crime, saves money and demonstrates love and compassion towards some of the most excluded members of society. It is, in a sense, what conservatives in America and Britain dream of — a realistic vision of a smaller state, where individuals are accountable for their actions and communities take responsibility for themselves and their neighbours. It is a more positive version of the anti-politics — anti-Washington, anti-Westminster — tide that seems to be sweeping the West.
December 3, 2014 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sentencing around the world, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
"Actually, Blacks Do Care About Black Crime"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Slate commentary by Jamelle Bouie. Here are excerpts:
In cities across the country, crowds are protesting police violence against unarmed black men. Demonstrators want justice, not just for Michael Brown, but for Eric Garner, John Crawford, and Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy killed by Cleveland police last month. To that end, they’ve stopped parades and blocked highways in an effort to show the value of a black life.
But to some critics, this outrage is misplaced. “Somebody has to tell me, something somebody needs to tell me why Michael Brown has been chosen as the face of black oppression,” said MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on Monday morning, during his daily show. His co-panelist, Donny Deutsch, agreed. “It’s not a black-white situation. It’s a thug-police officer situation,” he said. “Where are the angry crowds demanding justice for blacks such as these, who were wiped out in St. Louis by other blacks in recent memory?” wonders Deroy Murdock in a column for National Review. “One can hear birds chirp while listening for public outcry over the deaths of black citizens killed by black perpetrators. Somehow, these black lives don’t seem to matter,” writes Murdock, who doesn’t note that — in those cases — perpetrators are usually caught and convicted. And then there’s former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who—after President Obama spoke on Ferguson — told CNN that “[Obama] also should have spent 15 minutes on training the [black] community to stop killing each other.”
This basic question — “Where is all the outrage over black-on-black crime?” — is raised whenever black Americans protest a police shooting, or any other violence against unarmed black men. “Nationally, nearly half of all murder victims are black,” wrote conservative commentator Juan Williams after Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012, “And the overwhelming majority of those black people are killed by other black people. Where is the march for them?”...
[L]et’s look directly at the question raised by Murdock, Giuliani, and Williams — “Do black people care about crime in their neighborhoods?” They treat it as a rhetorical concern — a prelude to broad statements about black American concerns. But we should treat it as an empirical question — an issue we can resolve with some time and research.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. While blacks are more likely to face criminal victimization than other groups, that doesn’t tell us how black Americans feel about crime and where it ranks as a problem for their communities. For that, we have to look to public opinion surveys and other research. And while it’s hard to draw a conclusive answer, all the available evidence points to one answer: Yes, black people are concerned with crime in their neighborhoods....
[W]hile black neighborhoods are far less dangerous than they were a generational ago, black people are still concerned with victimization. Take this 2014 report from the Sentencing Project on perceptions of crime and support for punitive policies. Using data from the University of Albany’s Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, the Sentencing Project found that — as a group — racial minorities are more likely than whites to report an “area within a mile of their home where they would be afraid to walk alone at night” (41 percent to 30 percent) and more likely to say there are certain neighborhoods they avoid, which they otherwise might want to go to (54 percent to 46 percent). And among black Americans in particular — circa 2003 — “43 percent said they were ‘very satisfied’ about their physical safety in contrast to 59 percent of Hispanics, and 63 percent of whites.”
More recent data shows a similar picture. In 2012, Gallup found that, compared to the general public, blacks were more worried about “being attacked” while driving their car, more worried about being the victim of a hate crime, and — most salient for our discussion — more worried about “being murdered.” Likewise, according to a 2013 survey for NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health, 26 percent of black Americans rank crime as the most important issue facing the area they live. That’s higher than the ranking for the economy (16 percent), housing (4 percent), the environment (7 percent), social issues (4 percent), and infrastructure (7 percent). And in a recently published survey for Ebony magazine and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 13 percent rank violent crime as a top issue — which sits in the middle of the rankings — and 48 percent say that the black community is losing ground on the issue.
Finally, Atlantic Media’s “State of the City” poll — published this past summer—shows an “urban minority” class that’s worried about crime, and skeptical toward law enforcement, but eager for a greater police presence if it means less crime. Just 22 percent of respondents say they feel “very safe” walking in their neighborhoods after dark, and only 35 percent say they have “a lot” of confidence in their local police. That said, 60 percent say hiring more police would have a “major impact” on improving safety in their neighborhoods. And while “urban minority” includes a range of different groups, there’s a good chance this is representative of black opinion in some areas of high crime and victimization, given the large black presence in many American cities.
It’s important to note that this concern with crime doesn’t translate to support for punitive policies. Despite high victimization rates, black Americans are consistently opposed to harsh punishments and greater incarceration. Instead, they support more education and job training.
Beyond the data, there’s the anecdotal evidence. And in short, it’s easy to find examples of marches and demonstrations against crime. In the last four years, blacks have held community protests against violence in Chicago; New York; Newark, New Jersey; Pittsburgh; Saginaw, Michigan; and Gary, Indiana. Indeed, there’s a whole catalog of movies, albums, and sermons from a generation of directors, musicians, and religious leaders, each urging peace and order. You may not have noticed black protests against crime and violence, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t happened. Black Americans — like everyone else — are concerned with what happens in their communities, and at a certain point, pundits who insist otherwise are either lying or willfully ignorant....
To that point, it’s worth noting the extent to which “what about black-on-black crime” is an evasion, an attempt to avoid the fundamental difference between being killed by a citizen and being killed by an agent of law.
Friday, November 28, 2014
Texas Justice calls for state's death penalty to be abolished
As reported in this local article, "Texas Court of Appeals Justice Tom Price on Wednesday denounced the death penalty, saying that Texas' 2005 life without parole law makes it unnecessary and that the possibility of executing a wrongfully convicted person is an 'irrational risk' that should not be tolerated by the criminal justice system." Here is more about this notable development which emerged in a legal challenge to a notable planned execution:
The Dallas Republican's comments, thought to be the first time such views have been voiced by a judge on the state's highest criminal appeals court, came in a strongly worded dissent to the court's Wednesday rejection of an appeal on behalf of Scott Panetti, a Fredericksburg double-killer said to suffer from schizophrenia. Panetti, 56, is scheduled to be executed next Wednesday.
"Based on my specialized knowledge of this process," Price wrote, "I now conclude that the death penalty as a form of punishment should be abolished because the execution of individuals does not appear to measurably advance the retribution and deterrence purpose served by the death penalty; the life without parole option adequately protects society at large in the same way as the death penalty option; and the risk of executing an innocent person for a capital murder is unreasonably high, particularly in light of procedural-default laws and the prevalence of ineffective trial and initial habeas counsel."
Price, 61, a former Dallas County state district judge, has served on the high appeals court since 1996. His term ends this year and he has said he will not seek re-election. In his statement, Price asserted that "society is now less convinced of the absolute accuracy of the criminal justice system."...
"In my time on this court I have voted to grant numerous applications for writs of habeas corpus that have resulted in the release of dozens of people who were wrongfully convicted," Price wrote. "I conclude that it is wishful thinking to believe that this state will never execute an innocent person for capital murder. ... I am convinced that, because the criminal justice system is run by humans, it is naturally subject to human error. There is no rational basis to believe that this same type of human error will not infect capital murder trials."
Price's comments were greeted with surprise by law professors and appellate attorneys active in death penalty cases. "I'm still absorbing it. It wasn't expected," said Maurie Levin, a former clinical law professor at the University of Texas who now is based in Philadelphia. "It's long overdue." While the concerns raised by Price have been "discussed and decried around the country for a number of years now ... for a high court judge, a CCA judge, to articulate them so forthrightly is extraordinary."...
Jani Maselli Wood, an assistant Harris County public defender, an adjunct professor at the University of Houston law school and a former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals staff attorney, said she doubts Price's statement will influence legislators or incoming juries. But, "it will impact his legacy for what he wants us to remember," Wood said. "He says we have life without parole, why do we need death convictions. He is remarkably brave. I think it is heroic."
Price's statement came in a dissent to the court's 6-3 vote not to consider a new appeal on behalf of Panetti that argues his mental condition "renders him categorically ineligible for the death penalty under the Eighth and 14th Amendments, because imposition of the death penalty on offenders with severe mental illness offends contemporary standards of decency." The court found the petition failed to meet requirements for applications of post-conviction writs of habeas corpus.
Judges Elsa Alcala and Cheryl Johnson issued a separate dissenting opinion, saying they would stay Panetti's execution to allow for an examination of his claim that the Eighth Amendment prohibits execution of seriously mentally ill individuals.
The full six-page "Dissenting Statement" by Justice Price can be accessed at this link, and here is one of a number of notable paragraphs from the opinion:
Some might argue that a victim’s family deserves the finality that comes with the execution of an offender. This is a misguided sentiment as the instant case demonstrates. Applicant has been on death row for about twenty years. The victims’ family has not gotten finality after twenty years due to the numerous appeals and writs filed by applicant in which he has contended that his mental status makes him ineligible for execution. And, perhaps, one would say that the answer is speeding up executions. But creating a more restrictive temporal limitation would only increase the risk of executing a wrongfully convicted person. In my experience, a victim’s family is more likely to quickly experience finality through the criminal justice system when an offender is sentenced to life without parole than when he is sentenced to death.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
"The Neuroscientific Case Against Retributive Justice"
The title of this post is the title of this interesting new article by Stephen Morris and Robert Robinson available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Retributive Justice is the theory of justice according to which individuals are either rewarded or punished as payback for the moral rights/wrongs they have committed. Consequentialist considerations such as deterrence and prevention do not figure into justifications for treatment from this perspective. This theory also holds that the severity of the punishment ought to be in proportion to the severity of the crime. The central tenant of the retributive model of justice — namely, that reward/punishment gives people what they deserve — relies crucially upon the intuition that people are sometimes accountable for their actions in some strong metaphysical sense. In particular, we may intuitively feel justified in holding someone morally responsible if her actions were intentional, rather than accidental or coerced. This common view is captured by what we call the "Principle of Retribution": i.e., the view that it is fair to hold an agent morally responsible, and therefore punish her for her crimes, only if her actions were freely willed, intentional, and uncoerced. It follows from this that unless free will exists for human beings, retributivist justice (at least insofar as human beings are concerned) cannot be justified.
We begin by looking back at how theories of retributive justice grew up alongside theories of distributive justice and we describe how those theories have subsequently grown apart. From there we argue that current empirical research in the field of neuroscience casts doubt on the legitimacy of the retributive model of justice insofar as it undermines a particular understanding of free will that appears necessary for its own justification. Much of the recent work on neuroscience's impact on the subject of free will has centered on the work of Benjamin Libet, whose experiments provided evidence that people's actions were initiated by unconscious brain processes that occurred prior to any conscious awareness of decision making on the part of the actor. We argue that the strongest case that neuroscience makes against the type of free will at issue comes not from Libet's work, but rather from more recent studies indicating that human behavior can be predicted with a high degree of accuracy based on unconscious neural processes. Furthermore, the case against the relevant sort of free will is bolstered by extensive research suggesting that much, if not all, of the explanations for human behavior involving conscious causes are no more than confabulations that attempt to put a conscious narrative upon actions that have strictly unconscious origins. Finally, we provide empirical evidence that determinism is — for all intents and purposes — the correct position with regard to human cognition, decision making, and choice. We then argue that insofar as retributive justice seems to require that some actions depend on actions that are non-determined, neuroscience suggests that retributive justice is unjustifiable.
We conclude by providing insight for revising our thinking about criminal justice and what we owe to those who commit crimes. In particular, we discuss how the common theory of distributive justice — which remains intact and includes principles guaranteeing individual liberty and equality of opportunity — gives advice on how we have failed people antecedent to their crimes, and how a person is best dealt with after her crime has been committed.
Some unusual suspects working to stop Texas from executing mentally ill condemned murderer
This new Mother Jones article reports on some of the interesting persons who are eager to prevent Texas from carrying out a notable death sentence next week. The article is headlined "Can Ron Paul and Conservative Evangelicals Save a Texas Death-Row Inmate? A rightwing crusade aims to stop the execution of Scott Panetti, a mentally ill convicted murder." Here are excerpts:
When Scott Panetti represented himself in a Texas capital murder case in 1995, wearing a purple cowboy suit and calling himself "Sarge," he called as a witness a veterinarian who once lived across the street from him. Panetti questioned the vet about the time he euthanized Little Blue, Panetti's old dog. The episode had nothing to do with the case. Other witnesses Panetti tried to call to the stand: John F. Kennedy and Jesus.
Trial transcripts, medical records, and expert witness testimony have documented that Panetti suffers from severe schizophrenia. He believes Texas is going to execute him to stop him from preaching the gospel — not because he shaved his head, donned camo fatigues, and shot and killed his in-laws in 1992. The Supreme Court has declared that executing the mentally ill violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, but several Texas and federal courts — including the US Supreme Court — have reviewed Panetti's case, and each one has ruled that the state can proceed with his lethal injection. Now, with Panetti’s execution scheduled for December 3, the only thing that might save him is a national campaign being mounted by conservatives, including former Texas Republican congressman and libertarian icon Ron Paul.
Panetti's lawyers have filed a clemency petition with the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole, which can recommend that Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, commute Panetti's sentence to life in prison without parole. That petition has received an outpouring of support from conservatives and evangelicals. In addition to Paul, this group includes Jay Sekulow, an evangelical lawyer famous for pressing religious liberties cases on behalf of social conservatives.
Paul's involvement in the case is unusual. Last year, he publicly endorsed a new advocacy group, Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, saying, "I believe that support for the death penalty is inconsistent with libertarianism and traditional conservatism." This was the result of a years-long evolution....
It’s also unusual for conservative Christians to support a clemency petition like Panetti's. The last time evangelicals really rallied en masse to prevent a pending execution was in 1998, in the case of Karla Faye Tucker, who converted to Christianity in prison and became a conservative cause celebre. Despite the pleadings of evangelicals such as Pat Robertson, the Texas governor at the time, George W. Bush, went ahead with the execution, and Tucker became the first woman executed in the state since 1863.
The Panetti case is different. His religious fervor is the product of a brain disorder, and the evangelicals' opposition to his execution is not related to his religious proclamations. It is more of a reflection of the shift in public attitudes regarding capital punishment that has been driven by the growing number of exonerations of death-row inmates, the high number of mentally ill and disabled people sentenced to die, and the inefficient and expensive administration of capital punishment. "A lot of conservatives are late to realize that the whole criminal justice system is part of the government," says Richard Viguerie, a prominent conservative leader and an ardent opponent of the death penalty.
Religious conservatives are increasingly joining those who would like to see the end of the death penalty, citing their movement’s commitment to a "culture of life," which has traditionally focused primarily on restricting abortion. Conservative evangelicals, says Beaudoin, have been animated by the Panetti case over the past few weeks. Her outfit has opposed other executions, but, she says, the Panetti case has hit a nerve. She has been surprised by the number of influential Christians who have signed on to the clemency petition, especially Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition, who's on Time magazine's 2013 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director who now runs a pro-life ministry for former abortion clinic employees, wrote an editorial in the Dallas News calling on Texas to spare Panetti.
"This is the largest outpouring of support on a death penalty case we've seen from evangelicals, and you can see why, given the ridiculous nature of this case," Beaudoin says. "A lot of folks who signed this [clemency] letter might have given pause about signing on to a letter opposing the death penalty generally, but they think we have no business executing Scott Panetti." She adds, "As Christians, we're called protect the most vulnerable. And there's just no question that Scott Panetti is in that number as someone who's suffered from severe mental illness. We all want to keep society safe, but I'm thankful there are other ways to do that than executing people."
Monday, November 24, 2014
"Will Texas Kill an Insane Man?"
The question in the title of this post is the headline of this lengthy New York Times editorial. Here are excerpts:
On Dec. 3, Texas plans to execute an inmate named Scott Panetti, who was convicted in 1995 for murdering his in-laws with a hunting rifle. There is no question that Mr. Panetti committed the murders. There is also no question that he is severely mentally ill, and has been for decades.
During his capital murder trial, at which he was inexplicably allowed to represent himself, Mr. Panetti dressed in a cowboy suit and attempted to subpoena, among others, John F. Kennedy and Jesus Christ. A standby lawyer said his behavior was “scary” and “trance-like,” and called the trial “a judicial farce.”
It was not an act. Mr. Panetti, now 56, was first diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 20, and in the years before the murders he was hospitalized several times for delusions and psychotic episodes.
In this respect, he is no different from the estimated 350,000 inmates around the country with mental illness — 10 times the number of people in state psychiatric hospitals. But Mr. Panetti is not just another insane prisoner; his name is synonymous with the Supreme Court’s modern jurisprudence about mental illness on death row. In Panetti v. Quarterman, decided in 2007, the justices held that it is not enough for a defendant simply to be aware that he is going to be executed and why — the previous standard the court had used in permitting the execution of the mentally ill....
But the justices refused to set precise guidelines for determining whether someone is competent enough to be executed, and they did not overturn Mr. Panetti’s sentence. Instead, they sent the case back to the lower courts for a fuller reconsideration of his current mental state.
By any reasonable standard — not to mention the findings of multiple mental-health experts over the years — Mr. Panetti is mentally incompetent. But Texas, along with several other stubborn states, has a long history of finding the loopholes in Supreme Court rulings restricting the death penalty. The state has continued to argue that Mr. Panetti is exaggerating the extent of his illness, and that he understands enough to be put to death — a position a federal appeals court accepted last year, even though it agreed that he was “seriously mentally ill.”
Mr. Panetti has not had a mental-health evaluation since 2007. In a motion hastily filed this month, his volunteer lawyers requested that his execution be stayed, that a lawyer be appointed for him, and that he receive funding for a new mental-health assessment, saying his functioning has only gotten worse. For instance, he now claims that a prison dentist implanted a transmitter in his tooth.
The lawyers would have made this motion weeks earlier, immediately after a Texas judge set Mr. Panetti’s execution date. But since no one — not the judge, not the district attorney, not the attorney general — notified them (or even Mr. Panetti himself), they had no idea their client was scheduled to be killed until they read about it in a newspaper. State officials explained that the law did not require them to provide notification.
On Nov. 19, a Texas court denied the lawyers’ motion. A civilized society should not be in the business of executing anybody. But it certainly cannot pretend to be adhering to any morally acceptable standard of culpability if it kills someone like Scott Panetti.
November 24, 2014 in Death Penalty Reforms, Offender Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Reviewing the potential and pitfalls in a notable problem-solving court in NYC
Today's New York Times has this terrific lengthy account of the work of a unique "problem-solving court" in New York. The piece is headlined "In a Queens Court, Women in Prostitution Cases Are Seen as Victims," and here are small excerpts from an article that merits a read in full:
The Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens, which is marking its 10th anniversary next month, ... serves as a model for a statewide 11-court program that began last year. The intention is to change the legal conversation around the multibillion-dollar sex trade by redefining the women in it as victims instead of criminals. Most are offered a deal: Take part in a set number of counseling sessions, usually five or six, and the charges will be dismissed and the record sealed.
After 13 months, the five New York City courts are still a work in progress, their success tracked more in individual stories than statistics. “This court is not devised to solve the problems of trafficking,” Judge Serita said of the program, “but to address one of the unfortunate byproducts, which is the arrest of these defendants on prostitution charges.”
All defendants in the specialized courts are presumed to be victims at risk, the first of many assumptions made, in part, because of the silence surrounding sex trafficking. That silence also makes it tougher to shift social mores. Not only do the police and the justice system still treat prostitution as a crime, but the women themselves, most undocumented, often don’t define themselves as having been trafficked — whether out of fear, shame or choice....
At no point in the proceedings does the judge, the prosecutor or the defense lawyer ask if the defendants have been trafficked; nor is there a quid pro quo to give up a trafficker. It is rare, but the hope is that the women, perhaps after working with counselors, will feel comfortable describing the conditions that led them to prostitution....
On Fridays, Judge Serita usually hears more than 40 cases in three hours. “How are you today?” she asks each of the women, inquiring whether they take English classes and praising their progress. Several defendants said they noticed less that she was an Asian woman and more that she had a warm demeanor. On other days, she presides over the drug treatment and mental health courts in Queens.
The trafficking court, she acknowledged, is a Catch-22: For people to feel less like criminals, they must first go through the criminal justice system. Leigh Latimer, the Legal Aid Society lawyer assigned to Judge Serita’s court, agreed. “There is a somewhat more recent view that clients are potentially victims, but we’re still arresting them at a very rapid pace,” she said. “We’re trying to solve their problems through being arrested, which is not an affirming process.”...
On several Fridays, nearly a dozen women said during interviews in Mandarin that they did not feel like trafficking victims, but victims of the police. The women all spoke on the condition of anonymity because their cases were still pending. “My name has been tarnished,” said one woman, who was upset that her case was “lumped with all those others.” She denied performing a sex act, but the police report contradicted that, Ms. Affronti said.
Another woman explained that she was arrested at 4 a.m. on her sixth day of work. She and her sister, who quit after the second day because she sensed “something was not right,” owed more than $80,000 to friends and family members who raised the money for them to come to the United States from Fuzhou. That type of pressure to pay back smuggling agents — often with interest as high as 12 percent — is considered “debt bondage.” It is a more subtle condition of human trafficking, but is pervasive in New York’s Asian communities, lawyers say.
November 23, 2014 in Offender Characteristics, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences? | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Notable comments from AAG about Justice Reinvestment
Earlier this week, Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason delivered these interesting remarks for DOJ's Office of Justice Programs at a big Justice Reinvestment Summit. The full speech is worth review, and here are a few excerpts I found noteworthy:
I think it can legitimately be said that justice reinvestment has transformed the way we approach public safety in this country. It is no exaggeration to say that it has helped to redefine the missions of our criminal and juvenile justice agencies. Thanks in great part to the focus that your work has given to justice policies, corrections leaders, law enforcement officials and prosecutors have begun to measure their performance, not just by the narrow metrics of arrests, convictions and confinement, but by actual improvements to public safety.
And this shift in attitude and approach is paying off. Many states that have engaged in Justice Reinvestment have seen drops in crime rates and imprisonment — and substantial taxpayer savings.
Having just emerged from the recent mid-term elections, it’s worth remarking on another important aspect of justice reinvestment: it’s an approach to justice policy that resonates on both sides of the aisle. We’ve seen lawmakers who disagree on just about every other policy matter rally around data-driven analysis focused on investing increasingly scarce public resources in programs and policies that work.
State and local governments, representing all political persuasions, have taken on major reforms designed to reduce prison-building costs and redirect precious public funds to programs aimed at reducing crime. It can honestly be said that, in a climate of intense partisanship, we are witnessing the growth of a broad, bipartisan consensus in city halls, state capitals and Congress around crime and justice policy, thanks in great measure to justice reinvestment....
This progress is reflected in a general downward trend in both crime and incarceration rates throughout the country. Before the FBI released its most recent data last week, crime had declined nationally by more than 11 percent since President Obama took office. The new FBI data show additional drops in 2013. On top of that, the rate of incarceration has gone down by more than eight percent since 2009. It’s the first time these two measures have fallen together in more than 40 years. This is truly historic! We’re experiencing a moment of public safety unprecedented in most of our lifetimes.
But this is no time to relax. Those of you who’ve been in this business for a while know that the winds of justice and sentencing policies have always blown hot and cold. If we don’t take advantage of the momentum we’ve built through Justice Reinvestment and embed this data-driven mindset into mainstream practice, we risk a return to the counterproductive practices of the past.
In fact, truth be told, we are still two nations when it comes to prison trends. The extraordinary success in reducing incarceration that we’ve been able to realize in many states has been offset by continued increases in others. Now, to be sure, these figures don’t reflect that some of the states with increases are now working through justice reinvestment to change course. And I’m confident that now we have the wind at our back. But we will have to remain vigilant.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
"The Racist Origins of Felon Disenfranchisement"
The title of this post is the headline of this recent New York Times commentary by Brent Staples. Here are excerpts:
The state laws that barred nearly six million people with felony convictions from voting in the midterm elections this month date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Southern lawmakers were working feverishly to neutralize the black electorate. Poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and cross burnings were effective weapons in this campaign. But statutes that allowed correctional systems to arbitrarily and permanently strip large numbers of people of the right to vote were a particularly potent tool in the campaign to undercut African-American political power.
This racially freighted system has normalized disenfranchisement in the United States — at a time when our peers in the democratic world rightly see it as an aberration. It has also stripped one in every 13 black persons of the right to vote — a rate four times that of nonblacks nationally. At the same time, it has allowed disenfranchisement to move beyond that black population — which makes up 38 percent of those denied the vote — into the body politic as a whole. One lesson here is that punishments designed for one pariah group can be easily expanded to include others as well....
Maine residents vigorously debated the issue last year, when the Legislature took up — and declined to pass — a bill that would have stripped the vote from some inmates, whose crimes included murder and other major felonies. Families of murder victims argued that the killers had denied their loved ones the right to vote and therefore should suffer the same fate.
Those who opposed the bill made several arguments: That the franchise is enshrined in the state Constitution and too important to withdraw on a whim; that voting rights keep inmates connected to civic life and make it easier for them to rejoin society; that the notion of restricting rights for people in prison was inconsistent with the values of the state.
A former United States marshal and police chief argued that revoking inmate voting rights would strip imprisoned people of dignity and make rehabilitation that much more difficult. The editorial page of The Bangor Daily News argued against revocation on the grounds that, “Removing the right of some inmates to exercise their legal responsibility as voters in a civilized society would undermine that civilized society.”
The fact that most states view people who have served time in prison as beyond the protection of the bedrock, democratic principle of the right to vote shows how terribly short this country has fallen from achieving its ideals.
"Overcriminalization: Administrative Regulation, Prosecutorial Discretion, and the Rule of Law"
The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper by Ronald Cass now available on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Recently, both practical and doctrinal changes have significantly reduced the degree to which criminal punishment fits rule-of-law ideals. Although far from the only cause, the expansion of criminal sanctions as a by-product of an extraordinary explosion in administrative rulemaking that is backed by criminal liability has helped propel this change. While there are reasons to support criminal enforcement of administrative decision-making, the ways in which administrative rules are adopted, applied, and enforced and the scale of governmental law-making (including administrative rule-making) that has provided the grounds for potential criminal penalties have produced a massive increase in government power that risks serious erosion of individual liberty.
This change cries out for immediate attention ― and for changes to the law. This article explores differences between criminal law and administrative law, and between statutory and administrative rule generation and application, explaining how differences between administrative law and criminal law play out (problematically) with respect to much criminal enforcement of administrative rules.