Wednesday, October 17, 2018

"Expanding the Vote: Two Decades of Felony Disenfranchisement Reform"

The title of this post is the title of this new report by The Sentencing Project.  Here is its "Overview":

More than 6 million citizens will be ineligible to vote in the midterm elections in November 2018 because of a felony conviction.  Nearly 4.7 million of them are not incarcerated but live in one of 34 states that prohibit voting by people on probation, parole, or who have completed their sentence.  Racial disparities in the criminal justice system also translate into higher rates of disenfranchisement in communities of color, resulting in one of every thirteen African American adults being ineligible to vote.

Despite these stark statistics, in recent years significant reforms in felony disenfranchisement policies have been achieved at the state level.  Since 1997, 23 states have amended their felony disenfranchisement policies in an effort to reduce their restrictiveness and expand voter eligibility. 

These reforms include:

• Seven states either repealed or amended lifetime disenfranchisement laws

• Six states expanded voting rights to some or all persons under community supervision

• Seventeen states eased the restoration process for persons seeking to have their right to vote restored after completing sentence 1.4 million people have regained the right to vote as a result of felony disenfranchisement reforms

These policy changes represent national momentum for reform of restrictive voting rights laws.  As a result of the reforms achieved during the period from 1997-2018, an estimated 1.4 million people have regained the right to vote.

This report provides a state by state accounting of the changes to voting rights for people with felony convictions and measures its impact.  These changes have come about through various mechanisms, including legislative reform, executive action, and a ballot initiative.

October 17, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 08, 2018

Highlighting efforts by some prosecutors to help with expungements

Today's New York Times has this notable new article under the headline "Convicts Seeking to Clear Their Records Find More Prosecutors Willing to Help." Here are excerpts:

[A]lthough law enforcement officials have traditionally opposed [broadened expungement and sealing laws] for an array of reasons — including accountability, a belief that records are vital to public safety, and unstinting support for crime victims — a growing number of them have begun to recognize that criminal records can be enduring obstacles to self-sufficiency and even help trap people in cycles of crime.  Increasingly, they are overtly endorsing mercy through record suppression.

“It’s just a matter of trying to remove obstacles that would make it more difficult for someone to become a productive member of the community,” said Terry Curry, the elected prosecutor in Marion County, which includes Indianapolis and has a population approaching 1 million residents.  “If an individual has stayed out of the criminal justice system, then why should they continue to have that stain forever?”

Though in most places the paperwork burden for expungements has fallen on private lawyers and nonprofit legal clinics, South Florida prosecutors now routinely hold events intended to help people wipe away records of arrests but not convictions.  A district attorney in rural Louisiana leads information sessions about expungements for some felony convictions after a 10-year waiting period; a Vermont prosecutor recently held a record-clearing clinic; and the authorities near Fort Bragg, N.C., attracted about 500 people to an expungement event last year.  Last month, the Brooklyn district attorney promoted “Begin Again” events, where, one advertisement said, people were invited to “clear your record of a misdemeanor marijuana conviction or warrant.”

But there is still a national patchwork of policies and terminologies, from destroying records to sealing them to simply noting that a conviction is effectively vacated. States have imposed various waiting periods, conditions and fees.  Some places have made their processes deliberately simple, while others have complicated approaches that may require legal assistance or court hearings.

The proliferation of new laws, and newfound enthusiasm on the part of some prosecutors, has hardly erased all doubts about the wisdom of suppressing records.  Many prosecutors, especially in rural areas, remain skeptical of any action to show mercy for a person’s past, and some judges engage in measured resistance, holding hearings more to complain about an expungement law than to weigh an application’s merits.  “You have prosecutors and judges who just think it’s wrong: ‘You’ve caused trouble in this county, you’re a wrongdoer and you shouldn’t get a blank slate,’” said Bernice Corley, the executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.

But Margaret Love, the executive director of the Collateral Consequences Resource Center and a former United States pardon attorney, said that clemency and expungements are part of the criminal justice process for a reason.  “It ought to be something that prosecutors welcome and use to their advantage to create criminal justice success stories, to advertise criminal justice success stories,” she said.

The nuanced approach in Indiana, where officials hoped that expungements would improve people’s job prospects, is increasingly seen as a model.  Under its so-called Second Chance law, the state has a tiered system in which the offense, and the outcome of the case, determines the waiting period and the exact relief.  Indiana does not destroy records, but can limit access to them and mark them as expunged, and crime victims are permitted to express their views before any decision is made.  “Indiana should be the worst place in America to commit a serious crime and the best place, once you’ve done your time, to get a second chance,” Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president, said when he signed the records measure into law in 2013.

I am glad to see this topic garner the attention of the Times, though I am a bit disappointed not to see any mention of the particularly notable marijuana-reform developments on this front. Specifically, as I discussed briefly in this recent paper for the Federal Sentencing Reporter, a number of prosecutors in California began taking proactive steps to clear prior marijuana convictions after the state enacted marijuana legalization in 2016.  

October 8, 2018 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Highlighting the importance of policies that support families values for the incarcerated

The group R Street has this notable new policy paper titled "The importance of supporting family connections to ensure successful re-entry" authored by Emily Mooney and Nila Bala.  Here is the paper's introduction and conclusion:

As of the latest estimates, approximately two million individuals are currently incarcerated in the United States. Each of these has a family, which broadens the impact of incarceration to millions of family members across the nation. This brings negative repercussions: incarcerated parents are separated from children, interpersonal relationships become strained and financial support disappears.  Furthermore, federal, state and local policies often present barriers to meaningful and continued family connections while incarcerated. Yet, paradoxically, it is during this time that positive family connections are so key.  Indeed, they are critical to successful re-entry after a person’s time is served, as they help encourage individual transformation, mitigate the negative impact of incarceration on children and other loved ones, and support stronger families in general.  This, in turn, makes communities safer.  For these reasons, society can benefit by understanding the importance of these connections and creating policies that help to bolster them for the good of incarcerated individuals, their families and their communities at large....

Behind most incarcerated individuals is a family that is critical to encouraging positive change on the inside and supporting them as they prepare for life on the outside.  Despite this, government policies and family circumstances often impede the ability of families to stay connected during incarceration.  However, changes to government policies, community-based partnerships and the expansion of family-oriented programming can help families overcome these obstacles, with great benefit both to individuals and to society as a whole.

October 8, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Excited to hear Shon Hopwood speak about earned prison credit as Ohio considers ballot initiative known now as Issue 1

For months I have been flagged here and elsewhere the interesting and intricate drug sentencing and prison reform initiative on the November 2018 ballot here in Ohio.  Originally called the "Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment," the initiative now is just known within Ohio as Issue 1.   With early voting in Ohio now just days away, the new Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law has its latest Issue 1 program  taking place today. 

Specifically, at the College of Law at 12noon, is the second of our five public panels under the title Ballot Insights.  (Registration for these panels is available at this link, where you can also find more details on the focus for each of the panels.)  Today's panel is focused on the Issue 1 provisions expanding "earned time credit" for Ohio prisoners to reduce their sentences through rehabilitative programming, and we have the pleasure of hosting Shon Hopwood as one of the panelists. 

In addition to the panels, DEPC has also created a Resources Page for Issue 1, which includes links to the ballot language, position statements from various groups and select media coverage.  DEPC is also building out a Commentary Page on Issue 1 for publishing original commentary that the Center has solicited. 

 Prior related posts:

October 4, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

New Pew issue brief reviews probation and parole in the US

The folks at Pew have this interesting new Issue Brief titled "Probation and Parole Systems Marked by High Stakes, Missed Opportunities: 1 in 55 adults is under community supervision." Here are excerpts from its "Overview":

Incarceration has long dominated the national conversation on criminal justice, because the U.S. prison population skyrocketed between the 1980s and late 2000s.  Starting in 2007, policymakers seeking to protect public safety, improve accountability, and save taxpayer dollars initiated a wave of bipartisan reforms that has reduced the number of people behind bars in many states.  Yet this movement has largely overlooked the largest part of the correctional system: community supervision.

Nationwide, 4.5 million people are on probation or parole—twice the incarcerated population, including those in state and federal prisons and local jails.  The growth and size of the supervised population has undermined the ability of local and state community corrections agencies to carry out their basic responsibilities to provide the best public safety return on investment as well as a measure of accountability.  Although research has identified effective supervision and treatment strategies, the system is too overloaded to implement them, so it sends large numbers of probationers and parolees back to prison for new crimes or for failure to follow the rules.

As part of a collaborative effort to improve the nation’s community corrections system, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation analyzed the leading research and identified the most pressing problems and some promising solutions.  The available data leave many questions unanswered, but this review reveals key insights and challenges many assumptions about supervision.  Among the findings:

Community corrections is marked by considerable growth and scale, disproportionate representation of men and people of color, and a majority of people who committed nonviolent offenses....

Improvements in supervision offer opportunities to enhance public safety, decrease drug misuse, and reduce incarceration....

Policy changes can reduce correctional control and improve public safety.

These findings demonstrate the need for greater scrutiny of the community corrections system by policymakers and the public.  They also reinforce an emerging consensus among leading practitioners for a fundamental change in the vision and mission of supervision: from punishing failure to promoting success.

September 25, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Data on sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 24, 2018

"Extending 'Dignity Takings': Re-Conceptualizing the Damage Caused by Criminal History and Ex-Offender Status

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Jamila Jefferson-Jones now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

The consequences of a criminal conviction extend far beyond “time served”: Ex-offenders often face social and civil stigmas and disabilities that continue for the rest of their lives.  These collateral consequences cause real harm to the reputation, dignity, and livelihood that can be difficult to quantify in the strictly economic analysis used in traditional constitutional takings analysis.  These collateral consequences are a form of dignity taking which deprive the ex-offender of their status as a full member of society.  Bernadette Atuahene originated the idea of “dignity takings”, eventually settling on a definition that combines a traditional government taking of property with an outcome of dehumanization or infantilization.  Scholars have applied this analysis to a number of cases of tangible property, but have only just begun to expand it into the criminal justice and reputational harm cases.

By applying the framework of dignity takings to the difficulties faced by ex-offenders in their reentry to society, I will demonstrate how we can better express the harms caused by the collateral consequences of conviction.  By doing so, we can focus our attention not on economic damage and restitution, but the restoration of lost dignity and humanity.

September 24, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

"Misdemeanor Records and Employment Outcomes: An Experimental Study"

The title of this post is the title of this new empirical research available via SSRN and authored by Peter Leasure. Here is its abstract:

Objectives:  This study examined whether misdemeanor drug convictions impact entry-level employment outcomes.

Methods:  A multifactor between subjects correspondence design was used whereby fictitious resumes are sent to employers.  Resumes were randomly assigned to one of three groups: no criminal record, one-year-old misdemeanor record, and a one-year-old felony record.  Resumes were also randomly assigned with a distinctively White or African American name. Job type was used as an additional predictor.

Results:  Results indicate that a misdemeanor conviction significantly hinders early employment outcomes for both African American and White applicants.  However, results did not show statistically significant differences in callbacks between races.

Conclusions:  These results should be utilized to better inform defendants, practitioners, and policy-makers on the negative impacts of low-level convictions.

September 12, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

"Digital Expungement"

The title of this post is the title of this paper I just saw on SSRN authored by Eldar Haber.  Here is its abstract:

Digital technology might lead to the extinction of criminal rehabilitation.  In the digital era, criminal history records that were expunged by the state remain widely available through commercial vendors (data brokers) who sell this information to interested parties, or simply through a basic search of the Internet.  The wide availability of information on expunged criminal history records increases the collateral consequences a criminal record entails, thereby eliminating the possibility of reintegration into society. Acknowledging the social importance of rehabilitation, policymakers attempted to regulate the practices of data brokers by imposing various legal obligations and restrictions, usually relating to the nature and accuracy of criminal records and the purposes for which they may be used.  These regulations have been proven insufficient to ensure rehabilitation. But regardless of future outcomes of such regulatory attempts, policymakers have largely overlooked the risks of the Internet to expungement.  Many online service providers and hosting services enable the wide dissemination and accessibility of criminal history records that were expunged.  Legal research websites, websites that publish booking photographs taken during an investigation (mugshots), social media platforms, and media archives all offer access to expunged criminal histories, many times without charge, and all with the simple use of a search engine. Without legal intervention, rehabilitation in the digital age in the U.S. has become nearly impossible.

This Article offers a legal framework for reducing the collateral consequences of expunged criminal records by offering to re-conceptualize the public nature of criminal records. It proceeds as follows.  After an introduction, Part II examines rehabilitation and expungement as facets of criminal law.  Part III explores the challenges of digital technology to rehabilitation measures.  Part IV evaluates and discusses potential ex-ante and ex-post measures that could potentially enable rehabilitation in the digital age.  It argues that while ex-post measures are both unconstitutional and unrealistic for enabling digital expungement, ex-ante measures could be a viable solution.  Accordingly, this Article suggests implanting a graduated approach towards the public nature of criminal history records, which would be narrowly tailored to serve the interests of rehabilitation-by-expungement. Finally, the last Part concludes the discussion and warns against reluctance in regulating expunged criminal histories.

September 11, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Technocorrections | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Events and resources covering Ohio sentencing and prison reform ballot initiative known now as Issue 1

Depc_testA few months ago, I flagged here the interesting and intricate drug sentencing and prison reform initiative headed for the November 2018 ballot here in Ohio.  Originally called the "Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment," the initiative now is just known within Ohio as Issue 1.   With early voting in Ohio now just a month away and Election Day 2018 not much more than 50 days away, the new Drug Enforcement and Policy Center (DEPC) at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law has a lot of Issue 1 programming about to begin and has a lot of resources already assembled on its website.

This Thursday, September 13 at 12noon, starts a series five public panels under the title Ballot Insights.  Registration for these panels is available at this link, where you can also find more details on scheduled speakers and on which aspects of the Issue 1 will be the focus for particular panels (e.g., a first panel in October is focused on the Issue 1 provisions expanding "earned time credit" for Ohio prisoners to reduce their sentences through rehabilitative programming; a second panel in October looks at how to ensure any increased funding for drug treatment is utilized effectively). 

I have the pleasure of moderating the first Issue 1 panel this coming Thursday, which is titled simply "Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Amendment: Step in the Right Direction."  This panel will include a leading proponent of Issue 1 (Steven JohnsonGrove of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center), a leading opponent of Issue 1 (Louis Tobin of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association), and a leading Ohio criminal justice reform expert (Daniel Dew of The Buckeye Institute).  The bios of the presenters are detailed at this link.

In addition to all the panels, DEPC has also created a Resources Page for Issue 1, which includes links to the ballot language, position statements from various groups and select media coverage.  DEPC is also building out a Commentary Page on Issue 1 for publishing original commentary that the Center has solicited. (A pair of public health scholars submitted this first commentary for publication on the DEPC site.)

 Prior related posts:

September 10, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling completes his time in federal prison

The name Jeff Skilling still stirs up a lot of sentencing thoughts for me because, 15 years ago, he was portrayed as one of the "worst-of-the-worst" white-collar offenders and he was one of the first very high-profile white-collar defendants to be sentenced after Booker made the guidelines advisory.  Consequently, this new article caught my eye under the headline "Former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling released from prison and sent to a halfway house." Here are the particulars and context:

Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former Enron CEO sentenced to a long prison term for his role in one of most notorious corporate fraud cases in history, was recently released from a minimum security federal prison camp in Alabama to a halfway house at an undisclosed location.

Enron's spectacular collapse cost investors billions of dollars and wiped out the retirement savings — not to mention the jobs — of thousands of employees.  Skilling, 64, was convicted of 12 counts of securities fraud, five counts of making false statements to auditors, one count of insider trading and one count of conspiracy in 2006 for his role in hiding debt and orchestrating a web of financial fraud that ended in the Houston company's bankruptcy.

He was sentenced to 24 years in prison and fined $45 million, the harshest sentence of any former Enron executive.  Five years ago, Skilling's sentence was reduced to 14 years by U.S. District Judge Sim Lake.  He is scheduled to be released Feb. 21, 2019, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Federal prisoners are often released from prison several months early to a halfway house, a highly restricted dormitory-like setting that helps inmates ease back into society. They must maintain curfews, find work and stay out of trouble.  A. Kelley, assistant residential re-entry manager for the Bureau of Prisons in San Antonio, said the bureau would not say where Skilling is living.

The Bureau of Prisons typically sends inmates to a halfway house in their home city where they resided before incarceration.  It helps them re-acclimate to a more normal life and re-establish relationships with their families, said Philip Hilder, a white-collar defense lawyer who represented Sherron Watkins, a former vice president at Enron who went to then-Enron chairman Kenneth Lay to warn him of accounting irregularities she discovered while reviewing Enron's assets.

Inmates are typically required to get a job while they're at a halfway house and to report regularly to the federal probation department for up to three years, Hilder said. Skilling's lawyer could not be reached for comment.

September 4, 2018 in Celebrity sentencings, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, White-collar sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Prison chief explains his "non-political approach" to sentencing and prison reforms

John Wetzel, who serves as chair of The Council of State Governments Justice Center, president of the Association of State Correctional Administrators and Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections, has this new Hill commentary under the headline "A non-political approach focused on what works is key to solving prison crisis."  I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

[W]hile criminal justice reform currently occupies the rarified airspace of being mutually appealing to both sides of the political spectrum at the macro level, there remains a split on whether sentencing reform — the front end of the criminal justice system — should be included as a component of the First Step Act.  As written, the legislation focuses solely on reforms to back end within the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

With the caveat that any improvements to the federal corrections system – even incremental improvements — should be welcomed with open arms, the factual answer is that to realize actual, quantifiable improvement, sentencing reform is essential. It’s easy and common to embrace the notion that recidivism reduction is a back end issue and one owned solely by corrections professionals like me.  This notion is dead wrong.

As a Republican appointed as Secretary of Corrections by a Republican governor (Tom Corbett) and who was asked to continue in the role by a Democratic governor (Tom Wolf), I would argue that good sentencing, and by extension, prison policy, can rise above party politics.

I believe the formula for recidivism reduction is this: Incarcerate the right people for the right amount of time and provide them with the programming they need that specifically addresses the criminogenic factors that led to them committing a crime and, finally, provide the individualized reentry support to start them on a path to good citizenship....

Governor Tom Wolf, in kicking off Pennsylvania’s most recent criminal justice reform initiative, exemplifies the outcomes measure: less crime, fewer victims.  Achieving that goal requires our system to make good decisions every step of the way — from who we incarcerate to how long, including what conditions we incarcerate them in through what supports we offer to restore them to society.

August 30, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

"Summonsing Criminal Desistance: Convicted Felons' Perspectives on Jury Service"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting paper authored by James Binnall recently posted to SSRN.  Here is its abstract:

This exploratory study is the first to examine how convicted felons view the jury process and their role in that process.  Data derived from interviews with former and prospective felon-jurors in Maine, the only US jurisdiction that does not restrict a convicted felon’s opportunity to serve as a juror, reveal that participants displayed an idealized view of jury service, stressing a commitment to serve conscientiously.  Additionally, inclusion in the jury process affirmed their transitions from “offenders” to “non-offenders.”  In response, participants exhibited a sense of particularized self-worth, emphasizing that negative experiences with the criminal justice system make one a more effective juror.  In sum, this study suggests that among convicted felons, inclusion in the jury process may prompt conformity with the “ideal juror” role, facilitate prosocial identity shifts by mitigating the “felon” label, and help former offenders to find personal value.

August 25, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 24, 2018

A true insider's reaction to Senator Cotton's commentary about federal criminal justice reform efforts

In prior posts here and here and here, I noted the commentary from Senator Tom Cotton attacking the federal criminal justice reform bills moving through Congress and some responses it has engendered.  Today I receive an email from the son of a federal prisoner who maintains this interesting blog with postings from his father.   The blog is worth checking out and it is titled "Blue Collar Criminal: 60-something small business owner.  Screwed by the DOJ.  Now I'm in prison.  These are my thoughts."

In addition to pointing me to this blog, the prisoner's son shared his father's response to the piece Senator Cotton wrote in the Wall Street Journal and gave me permission to reprint his father's writings here:

I write this response to Sen. Tom Cotton's editorial ("Reform the Prisons Without Going Soft on Crime") from within my 8 X 10' federal prison cell I share with another medicare-eligible inmate.  We agree that Cotton's essay should have been entitled - Reform the Prisons Without Doing a Damn Thing.

Cotton bases a lot of his assertions on statistics. In lieu of rebutting them, which would be a bit hard given my current lack of access to the internet, I have to settle on "inferior" data, which is the actual experience of actual prisoners whom I know, and find every bit as credible as anyone I knew on the "outside".  The specific ones I'm bouncing Cotton's preposterous claims off of, are guys with 10+ years of incarceration, and who have experienced a wide variety of federal prisons before working themselves down to the federal camp.  Though I've only been "down" one year, I find my bullsh*t detector is pretty reliable, and comes in handy when evaluating prison stories and reading editorials such as Cotton's.  Based on these findings, I not only doubt the factuality of the statistics he uses, I gravely mistrust the motives behind them.

I came here a big fan of Sen. Cotton's.  I first knew of him when he was a soldier, serving in Iraq, who was thought for awhile to be fictitious, due to the cognitive dissonance produced by the idea of a Harvard Univ./Harvard Law School grad being an infantry officer. I was very attuned to him, since my son was also in Iraq at the same time.  He also put his pen to good use in rebutting anti-war propaganda.  I was shocked, when my "adventure" with the DOJ brought me here, to find that Cotton, along with another of my conservative heroes - Sen. Jeff Sessions - were regarded as the mortal enemies of federal inmates, at least those who followed the progress of issues related to prison reform.  My move away from fanhood has been sealed by this editorial, which has impressed me that he's traded the tools of war for the tools of sophistry.

For starters, in Cotton's mind, we are all "criminals", a word he loves to repeat. One-size-fits-all.  Excuse my sensitivity, and I leave it to friends and family to defend my name, but many of these guys are as fine individuals as any I know, and were "productive, law-abiding citizens" until the feds came after them.  (If you find that hard to swallow, you might care to read Harvey Silverglate's 'Three Felonies A Day'.)

He calls the House bill "flawed", and to the extent that it tampers with mandatory minimum sentences, or gives judges more discretion, a prescription for a "jailbreak". Why is lengthening a sentence wise, but shortening some foolish?  Why is Cotton incapable of recognizing that prison populations are comprised of both truly dangerous, bad-guy criminals, and nonviolent, non-dangerous law-transgressors (including some who are truly and factually innocent)? Many of the guys I know in here would probably only "endanger communities" by cutting their neighbors lawn while they're on vacation.  (And I'm not here making a distinction between "white-collar" and "drug offenders".  I've learned that 'drug offender' is also not a one-size-fits-all category).

In his paragraph on the current "drug epidemic", he cites a number of statistics to justify mandatory minimum sentencing, but ends by essentially admitting those statistics might not be significant or prove his point.

His statements about how very little of recidivism is attributable to parole violation, does not purport with what I've seen nor the experience of my "experts".  Most of the guys in my unit who have prior convictions are here now because their parole officer caught them 'high'.  One guy here, a farm boy, had a prior drug felony, and "caught" an 8 year sentence for a felony firearms crime.  He was deer hunting in a tree stand, having lost his right to bear arms by virtue of being a drug felon. Cotton's statistic to prove that drug convictions lead to rearrests for murder and rape 77% of the time, strikes my fellow inmates as not only false, but weird, crazy scare tactics.

Cotton's cherry-picked example of a drug dealer, Wendell Callahan, who murdered his girlfriend and her daughters, is great for demagogic purposes, but irrelevant to the debate of shortening the eligible sentences of nonviolent felons.  This has to be weighed in a context that looks objectively at good outcomes as well as negative.  Keeping families apart, and depriving children of their fathers, when its not necessary for the public good, is a social evil; and this is what mandatory minimum sentences often do.  It leads to and insures that the next generation will likely repeat the mistakes of their parents.

Cotton attacks even the term "mass incarceration" on the strange basis that it couldn't possibly be big, since it could be bigger.  I would say simply, that whichever country incarcerates the highest percentage of it's citizenry deserves the title of "mass incarcerator".  This would be the United States.  One book I've read states that the U.S. incarcerates 6 to 12 times more than the following countries: Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Italy or Australia.  Yet Cotton thinks we don't lock up enough.

But it gets worse. Cotton writes that "virtually no one goes to federal prison for "low-level, nonviolent" drug offenses.  Even I, a relative newbie, know guys who are not only here for that, but have sentences exceeding 10 years.  He says those that are here for just that have only pleaded to that, though they actually committed more serious offenses. Baloney.  Here's how that goes - they commit a crime deserving 1 year (for example) and plead "down" to a 4 year sentence, because they're being threatened with a 12 year sentence.  My friends here can't believe that Cotton doesn't know this.

It's not unusual for the feds to concoct 20 charges, and settle for 2. It happens to everyone.  It happened to me.  They are extremely creative in their use of enhancements.  (If the real crime were so heinous, why would they settle for a much lighter sentence?)

And then this - "Presidential pardons are a much better instrument of justice than broad sentencing reductions." Puh-leeze! (I think this ridiculous statement was just a set-up for his snarky shot at Trump.)

Cotton dismisses fiscal conservatives who would hope to reduce the cost of the American prison system. "The costs," he says, "of crime ... far outweigh the downsides of putting serious criminals behind bars."  That all depends on what you consider to be "serious" criminals, and how you calculate the "downsides".  At my camp, the common consensus is that the average age here is 50+.  That includes quite a few in their 70s, and about 3 or 4 in their 80s. Maybe a dozen use canes.  The financial distress on families and the negative economic impact on communities would certainly be part of the calculation of the "downsides", as would unquantifiable costs such as the loss of adult children to care for aged and debilitated parents.  Certainly also there's a tremendous cost to communities who have lost key employees and employers, volunteers to non-profits, etc.  There's a 80 yr old oncologist/researcher who's here due to a financial transgression of a side company he was a partner to.

As to his closing assertion that "mandatory minimums .... work", there is a great body of research that would show otherwise.  I, for one, would love to see a poll taken of federal judges as to the truth of that statement.

Sen. Cotton ends his diatribe against prison reform, the kind that might actually reduce the prison population, with an affirmation of "faith-based and other antirecidivism programs".  I heartily concur, in fact, I wish everyone would embrace the teaching of the Bible. In it we read this great truth - "For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumph over judgment." (James 2.13)

If that is deemed as soft on crime, we need to deeply consider where we are heading.

August 24, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (15)

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Felon-Jurors in Vacationland: A Field Study of Transformative Civic Engagement in Maine"

The title of this post is the title of this new article authored by James Binnall. Here is the abstract:

Maine is the only jurisdiction in the United States that places no limitations on a convicted felon’s juror eligibility.  Instead, Maine screens prospective felon-jurors using their normal jury selection procedures. In recent years, scholars have suggested that meaningful community engagement can help facilitate former offenders’ reintegration and criminal desistance.  From that theoretical posture, a number of empirical studies have explored the connection between participation in the electorate and the reentry of former offenders. Those studies suggest that voting has the potential to prompt pro-social changes among former offenders.  Still, to date, no research has focused on jury service as a form of civic inclusion that may foster successful reintegration and criminal desistance.

Drawing on data derived from a large-scale field study in Maine, the present article addresses this research void, arguing that the jury is perfectly positioned as a tool for change, employable by jurisdictions seeking to facilitate the successful reentry of former offenders.  This article further notes that Maine is the only U.S. jurisdiction that has exploited this transformative power of the jury process. 

August 22, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Still more on Senator Cotton's efforts to thwart significant federal criminal justice reforms and responses there to

In posts late last week here and here, I noted the commentary from Senator Tom Cotton attacking the federal criminal justice reform bills moving through Congress and some responses it has already engendered.  Now Politico has this new article on this beat headlined "Sentencing reform tests Cotton’s sway with Trump."  Here are a few highlights from a lengthy article:

Tom Cotton is going all out to defeat a last-ditch effort to pass sentencing reform before this year’s midterm elections, hoping to win a high-stakes influence campaign over President Donald Trump on the issue.

Cotton is lambasting the proposal as a “jailbreak” that would “let serious felons back on the streets,” taking on a daunting coalition fighting for the package that includes the Koch political operation, White House adviser Jared Kushner and a number of powerful GOP senators. But Cotton believes that, in the end, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will side with him.

“The president went to Singapore and agreed with the Singaporeans that we should give the death penalty to drug dealers. I can’t imagine the president wants to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers,” the Arkansas Republican said in an interview. “I believe Sen. McConnell shares my view that we should not let serious felons out of jail and we should not shorten the sentences for drug dealers.”

Even opponents of sentencing reform will privately admit it would likely pass if McConnell brings it up. But Cotton’s loud opposition may determine whether or not McConnell even allows a vote given his reluctance to summon up legislation that divides the conference — right before the election, no less....

The conflict is pitting some of Trump’s closest allies against each other. On one side are Cotton and Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who calls the sentencing component “troubling” and wants to concentrate on prison reform. On the other are Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who wants to go even further on criminal justice reform but would be willing to accept the slimmed-down proposal, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who supports it....

Though the president supports the standalone prison reform effort, no one is quite sure where exactly Trump is going to come down on the sentencing piece that’s being added by Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Advocates for sentencing reform are hoping the president will offer a crucial endorsement to get the legislation across the finish line after commuting the sentence of Alice Johnson for drug offenses, while opponents say he’s unlikely to undercut his law-and-order persona....

“There is not a constituency, certainly among Republican voters, to let serious felons out of prison or slash their prison sentences,” Cotton said in the interview. “It’s ill-advised policy and even more ill-advised timing.” Countered Paul, another close Trump ally with opposing views: “We have a lot of non-violent criminals in our prison and they’re taking up space that could be better put to use for violent criminals."

Cotton also has strong allies, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has long opposed sweeping sentencing reforms. The two have frustrated people working on the bill.

Yet many on the law enforcement side, a key Trump constituency, are working with Cotton. Jonathan Thompson, the National Sheriff Association's executive director, has spoken to the president twice about sentencing reform in the past year and half: “The president knows we’re concerned.” “We think what he’s doing is terrific. Sen. Cotton recognizes that it’s a very flawed bill,” said Larry Leiser, president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. “We’re hopeful the president won’t [endorse it].”

Unless Trump makes a major push for the legislation and takes on his critics like Cotton, there are many reasons for McConnell not to bring up the bill before the election. It would likely take at least a week for the Senate to process, time that McConnell might think is better spent processing lifetime judicial appointments ahead of an uncertain midterm outcome. Plus it would invoke an ugly intraparty foodfight, squaring Cotton off with proponents of sentencing reform like Grassley, who has been tweeting that the president “wants something done on prison/crim justice reform. So do I.”

“The consensus is the prison reform stuff,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas). “There are people who want to do more, but it’s the usual issue: Do you want try and do more and fail, or do you want to do what’s possible?”

Despite the long odds, the battle is raging behind the scenes. Internal discussions of the subject at Senate lunches have been heated, according to Republican sources, a preview of what might happen on the Senate floor if the chamber takes it up. It’s the same dynamic that kept McConnell from bringing up a larger criminal justice reform package in 2016 as Cotton railed against it and declared the United States has an "under-incarceration problem.”

Trump’s “for prison reform, I’m for prison reform. What I don’t support is sentencing reductions under the guise of prison reforms, and that’s unfortunately what many senators are moving towards,” Cotton said in the interview. A number of conservative senators have quietly expressed their opposition to the sentencing reform component, according to groups working to defeat it. But Cotton's taken a bigger gamble by getting out front to stop a bill that hasn’t even produced yet.

Meanwhile, over here at the Daily Signal, John G. Malcolm and Brett Tolman have this lengthy new commentary under the headline "Why It’s Not ‘Soft On Crime’ to Support Criminal Justice Reform." Here is a snippet focused on mandatory minimums:

Cotton and others argue that mandatory minimum charges are reserved for kingpins and other major drug dealers, and low-level dealers are rarely subjected to mandatory minimum penalties. However, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a bipartisan independent agency that collects and analyzes federal sentencing data, found that a surprisingly large number of low-level drug couriers are subjected to mandatory minimum penalties.

It is easy to see how that happens. Under federal law, a defendant charged as part of a drug conspiracy—even a low-level courier, who may be acting solely to support his own addiction—can be charged and sentenced based on the total amount of drugs sold by everyone who participated in that conspiracy. That’s true even if the courier never knew who these people were or what quantity of drugs they sold.

Of course, the courier should be punished. But how badly? Remember, we are talking about mandatory minimum penalties. A judge can always impose a higher sentence, up to the statutory maximum, for deserving drug traffickers and violent criminals. The proposed reductions are, in truth, quite modest.

Senators are currently debating the possibility of reducing the mandatory minimum penalties for second-time drug offenders from 20 years to 15 years, and for third-time drug offenders from life in prison without the possibility of parole to 25 years. Does anyone really think that minimum penalties of 15 and 25 years are not serious? 

Some of many prior recent related posts:

August 21, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Discussions of criminal justice supervision and collateral consequences that merit extended conversations

This past week I saw two notable commentaries over at The Conversation. Here are links and brief excerpts:

Vincent Schiraldi, "Parole and probation have grown far beyond resources allocated to support them"

Today, there are twice as many people supervised on parole or probation as are incarcerated in the U.S....

Thousands of probation and parole officers supervise nearly 5 million people across the U.S. However, as the number of people under community corrections has swelled, resources for officers have lagged. While twice as many people are supervised in the community as are incarcerated, 9 out of 10 correctional dollars is funneled to prisons according to a report from 2009, the most recent year with available data....

In 2017, every major community corrections association in the U.S., along with 45 elected or appointed prosecutors and 35 probation and parole officials as well as myself wrote in a statement: “Designed originally as an alternative to incarceration, community corrections has become a significant contributor to mass incarceration” that should be downsized while reinvesting the savings in “improving community based services and supports for people under supervision.”

Stanley Andrisse, "I went from prison to professor — here’s why criminal records should not be used to keep people out of college"

Beginning next year, the Common Application – an online form that enables students to apply to the 800 or so colleges that use it – will no longer ask students about their criminal pasts.

As a formerly incarcerated person who now is now an endocrinologist and professor at two world-renowned medical institutions — Johns Hopkins Medicine and Howard University College of Medicine — I believe this move is a positive one.  People’s prior convictions should not be held against them in their pursuit of higher learning.

While I am enthusiastic about the decision to remove the criminal history question from the Common Application, I also believe more must be done to remove the various barriers that exist between formerly incarcerated individuals such as myself and higher education.

August 18, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Divided We Fall: Parole Supervision Conditions Prohibiting Inter-Offender Associations"

The title of this post is the title of this new article recently posted on SSRN and authored by James Binnall. Here is the abstract:

In the United States, almost all criminal offenders who serve a term of imprisonment are subject to a period of post-incarceration supervision.  Commonly known as parole, this form of supervision requires former inmates to comply with a variety of conditions.  A nationwide survey of standard parole conditions reveals that a vast majority of jurisdictions categorically restrict parolees’ associations with other parolees, convicted criminals, and/or convicted felons.  These blanket offender no-association conditions ostensibly presume that former offenders are irreparably flawed, homogenous, and that inter-offender relationships are uniformly criminogenic.

This article questions those presumptions, suggesting that offender no-association conditions endorse an untenable conceptualization of former offenders, a rejection of evidence-based parole practices, an uninformed view of inter-offender associations, and a superficial application of criminological theory.  This article further argues that by categorically prohibiting all inter-offender associations, offender no-association conditions foreclose strengths-based approaches to reentry and inhibit mechanisms that can foster criminal desistance. In this way, such conditions unnecessarily subvert the rehabilitative goal of parole, likely making them impermissibly overbroad in their current form.

August 18, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 17, 2018

Will Trump White House soon "deploy its assets ... to stump" for federal criminal justice reform? It may be critical.

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Hill commentary authored by Holly Harris headlined "Connect Beltway to America to get federal criminal justice reform done." Here are excerpts:

When it comes to excuses to pass over federal criminal justice reform, I have heard them all, from “it takes at least 10 years to pass legislation like this” to “there is no way move a criminal justice bill in an election year.” But the one that really burns me is “you cannot point to state success because the federal system is much more complicated.”

The arrogance of the Beltway is incredible.  Of the more than 2.3 million people serving time behind bars in this country, more than 1.3 million are housed in state prisons, and about 615,000 sit in local jails.  Only 225,000 are housed in a federal facility. The Texas prison system alone holds more inmates.  State prison systems deal with overcrowding, stifling budget cuts, and drug epidemics that show no signs of abating.  Because they can see and experience this crisis first hand, governors on the left and the right are passing strong criminal justice reforms that offer alternatives to incarceration such as drug treatment programs, provide opportunities that put people back to work, and save millions of taxpayer dollars.

Now these governors are invading the federal reform effort, seeking to finally connect Beltway leaders to what is happening in their own backyards.  President Trump, in a savvy move, convened a criminal justice roundtable at his resort in New Jersey and invited Republican and Democratic governors from states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia, all of which have passed strong criminal justice reforms with bipartisan support that decrease incarcerated populations, improve reentry programs, and ultimately lower crime and recidivism.  This is all part of a strategy to take the fight to pass a federal bill straight to the people and away from the status quo in Washington....

Keenly aware that red states like Georgia, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Kentucky have made aggressive changes to their justice systems, including sentencing reforms and felony expungement laws, [Jared] Kushner has showed the president these success stories.  In this latest roundtable, Trump included the Democratic governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards, who shared that reforms implemented in his state led to a 20 percent decrease in the number of people imprisoned for nonviolent crimes, which frees up valuable resources to fight dangerous crimes and reduce recidivism.

While the public safety benefits of reform are undoubtedly impressive to a “tough on crime” president, the overwhelming public support for these issues must be equally attractive.  Voters across the country are looking to Congress to act. Polling from earlier this year shows that 75 percent of voters, a clear supermajority crossing all partisan, geographic, education, income, racial and ethnic boundaries, believe the criminal justice system needs to be reformed and support changes such as fixing our cash bail system and replacing mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

In the final stretch to a Senate vote, do not be surprised to see this White House deploy its assets to the states to stump for a bill they know the American people want.  There will be folks from every walk of life lining up behind them, from business leaders and military veterans to civil rights advocates and faith leaders.  Just this week, people from 50 organizations of all political stripes and bipartisan senior legislative staff met to talk details. When the phone lines light up in offices all over Capitol Hill demanding a vote, Washington may well be out of excuses.

Candidly, I will be quite surprised if this White House were to deploy its assets to stump for reform, but I certainly hope this will happen.  I am fairly confident that if Prez Trump were to do a series of tweets in support of a federal criminal justice reform bill, that bill would have a much greater chance of getting to his desk.  And Prez Trump does not have to change minds about pending reforms: there is already overwhelming bipartisan support for the basic substance of nearly every serious sentencing and prison reform bill. 

The current challenge is  getting congressional leadership to settle on which version of which bill will be brought up for a vote. Senate leadership has been the bottleneck lately, and the White House surely could and should focus, publicly and privately, on advocacy toward leadership to settle on a bill and finally allow a vote.  (Notably, the FIRST STEP Act got 86% approval when it got to a vote in the House of Representatives, so it seems informed legislators are even more supportive of federal reform than the poll numbers.) 

This piece by Holly Harris highlights just why passage of federal criminal justice reform could be a huge win for this Administration, and I hope Prez Trump sees the potential political value to pushing reform over the finish-line.  Presidents always have unique powers and unique opportunities to grease the legislative process, and a congressional reform discussion that has been going strong for now five years with no tangible results can certainly uses as much grease as it can get. 

Some of many prior recent related posts:

UPDATE: I have just added to the title of this post after seeing this new Politico piece headlined "Criminal justice deal faces steep Senate hurdles despite Trump’s push."  Here is an excerpts that has me thinking reform does not get done unless and until the Trump White House puts all its might behind the effort:

Trump has stepped up his own calls for a deal on the prisons overhaul that the House passed earlier this year, holding two events so far this month.  And groups off the Hill say they're closing in on a path to pass the legislation through the Senate by adding some of the sentencing changes Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) spent years negotiating with Democrats.

But interviews with a dozen GOP senators show that those talks remain in a precarious state.  That’s because the handful of Republicans who have long protested reducing mandatory-minimum sentences leave Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) without any incentive to call up legislation that would split his conference.

One of those longtime critics of adding sentencing to the House-passed prisons bill bluntly predicted Thursday that McConnell would not “bring the bill to the floor any time soon.”

“I’m not sure that we can put together a deal,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said in an interview. “I’m not sure we should.”...

Close involvement from Trump will likely be required for the GOP to get past its internal schism over reducing mandatory minimum sentences as part of a prisons package. Grassley's bipartisan package of sentencing and prison reforms boasts 15 Republican cosponsors, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions opposes even the narrower prisons-only approach the House has passed.

August 17, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

"Nowhere to Go: Homelessness among formerly incarcerated people"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Prison Policy Initiative report which gets started this way:

It’s hard to imagine building a successful life without a place to call home, but this basic necessity is often out of reach for formerly incarcerated people.  Barriers to employment, combined with explicit discrimination, have created a little-discussed housing crisis.

In this report, we provide the first estimate of homelessness among the 5 million formerly incarcerated people living in the United States, finding that formerly incarcerated people are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.  We break down this data by race, gender, age and other demographics; we also show how many formerly incarcerated people are forced to live in places like hotels or motels, just one step from homelessness itself.

August 15, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, August 03, 2018

Interesting new data suggesting important recent recidivism reduction

Changing-State-of-Recideivism_chart_650px_v1The folks at Pew have this interesting and important new data analysis under the title "The Changing State of Recidivism: Fewer People Going Back to Prison: Data show the number returning 3 years later is down by nearly a quarter." Here is the heart of the data:

The share of people who return to state prison three years after being released — the most common measure of recidivism — dropped by nearly a quarter over a recent seven-year period, according to an analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts of federal Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) data on prisoners released in 2005 and 2012.

Pew analyzed publicly accessible data from the 23 states that reported reliable prison admissions and release data to BJS from 2005 through 2015.  Among prisoners released in 2005, 48 percent returned to prison by the end of 2008. By comparison, among those released in those states in 2012, 37 percent had at least one new prison admission by the end of 2015.  That translates into a drop of 23 percent. The states included in the analysis accounted for about two-thirds of those released from state prisons nationwide each year.

Longer-term recidivism also fell.  Prisoners released in these states in 2010 were 13 percent less likely than the 2005 cohort to return to prison at least once by the end of the fifth year after release.  Included in these numbers are people sent back to prison for a new crime or for violating the terms of their post-prison supervision....

Pew undertook this research to compile and make public the most current multistate data on recidivism trends. The BJS national report on state prison recidivism released in May 2018 presents nine years of data on people released from 30 states in 2005, but it includes no information on prisoners released since then.

To obtain more recent data, Pew researchers used publicly available administrative numbers that BJS collected from states for the National Corrections Reporting Program.  State prisoners are assigned unique identifiers, enabling researchers to track when they are released and whether they return to prison — except in cases in which a prisoner is released in one state and readmitted to prison in another.  Pew analyzed data from the 23 states that consistently reported prison admissions and releases every year from 2005 to 2015.  The cohorts ranged from 392,000 to 458,000 released prisoners....

Reducing recidivism improves public safety, reduces taxpayer spending on prisons, and helps formerly incarcerated people successfully resume family and community responsibilities.  But a lack of data has complicated efforts to understand the aggregate effects of myriad federal, state, and local efforts to reduce reoffending. This analysis shows that meaningful improvements in recidivism are occurring.

August 3, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 30, 2018

Poll suggests huge public support for FIRST STEP Act with lots of other interesting findings

Over the weekend I noticed this Hill piece reporting in its headline "Poll finds broad support for House-passed prison reform bill." Here are the details via :

The poll, conducted for Freedom Partners by the Charles Koch-backed group In Pursuit Of and provided exclusively to The Hill, found that 70 percent of likely voters approve of the First Step Act, which cleared the House by a 360-59 margin earlier this year. Only 14 percent said the Senate should not pass it, according to the poll that sampled Republicans, Democrats and voters who did not affiliate with either party.

Freedom Partners has put six-figures behind an ad campaign urging senators from both parties to support the legislation. They hope the poll results will prod Senate Republicans to take the bill up.

Passing prison reform is a top priority for the Kochs. There is frustration among the network of conservative donors and activists that the Senate has not moved to take up the bill, which aims to incentivize inmates to complete prison programs that might reduce their likelihood to commit crimes again when they are released.

“Voters broadly support the FIRST STEP Act and will hold senators accountable for failing to pass the bill,” said Freedom Partners Chairman Mark Holden. “It’s time for the Senate to do its job and send this bipartisan legislation to President Trump’s desk.”

The bill has 60 percent support among registered Republicans, according to the poll. Nearly half of likely voters – 47 percent – said they would have a more negative view of Senate Republicans if they don’t move to pass the bill....

The Freedom Partners survey of 1,759 likely voters was conducted online between July 18 and July 20 and has a 2.3 percent margin of error.

This press release provides a few more details about this poll as well as this link to a summary of key findings from the poll. These findings, in particular, should be encouraging to those hoping criminal justice reform will be a salient political issue this fall:

How important is it to reduce the number of people who are in prison in America today?

72% TOTAL IMPORTANT    28% TOTAL NOT IMPORTANT

28% Very important    44% Somewhat important

19% Not very important    9% Not at all important...

 

Thinking ahead to the midterm elections this November – how important to you is the issue of criminal justice reform as you decide who you’ll be voting for?

75% TOTAL IMPORTANT    25% TOTAL NOT IMPORTANT

25% Very important    50% Somewhat important

20% Not very important    5% Not at all important...

 

Would you be more or less likely to vote for a political candidate if you knew he or she supported criminal justice reform?

60% More likely to support candidate    32% No difference in support    8% Less likely to support candidate

July 30, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

How should advocates for reduced prison populations respond to deadly actions by released violent offenders?

In response to recent posts about clemency here and about reducing prison populations here, commentator federalist has flagged two local stories of violent offenders released after relatively short periods of incarceration gong on to commit murder.  One story, out of Atlanta, and is discussed in this newspaper piece under the headlined "‘Visionary’ didn’t keep promises to help violent teenager."  Here is a snippet:

One day last August, Gwendolyn Sands stood before a Fulton County judge and promised to rehabilitate a teenage boy already well on his way to a life of violence.... Her organization, Visions Unlimited, would pair the boy with a “life coach” for “24/7 supervision,” Sands told the judge. Her staff would instruct the boy in life skills, career readiness and the perils of street gangs. They would hold “family support” meetings every month  — “and more often,” Sands said, “as necessary.”

Later, she would even agree to take the boy into her own home.  It seemed the only way to shelter him from the streets where he had stuck a pistol in a woman’s face and robbed her.

But Sands kept almost none of her promises to transform Jayden Myrick.  Now Myrick is charged with murder, accused of shooting 34-year-old Christian Broder during a robbery on July 8 outside Atlanta’s Capital City Club.  Broder, an Atlanta native who lived in Washington, D.C., died July 20.  He left behind a wife and an infant daughter.  And, at 17, Myrick faces life in prison — the very outcome the judge had hoped Sands would help prevent....

Fulton Superior Court Judge Doris Downs, who twice released Myrick into Sands’ custody, declined to comment.  Other court officials would not answer questions about why Downs or other judges trusted Visions Unlimited or whether they vetted Sands’ credentials.  In a statement, Chief Judge Robert McBurney deflected responsibility for monitoring the performance of such organizations.

Another story, out of San Francisco, is discussed in this CNN piece headlined "Officials still don't know why a white man allegedly stabbed a black woman to death in a subway station." Here is an excerpt:

Nia Wilson was standing on a Bay Area Rapid Transit station platform in Oakland, California, Sunday night when she was stabbed to death in an apparently unprovoked attack.

By Monday night, John Cowell, 27, had been arrested in connection to the stabbing, but days later, officials still haven't said what prompted the attack, which a police chief compared to a "prison yard assault."...

Cowell was convicted of second-degree robbery and assault with a deadly weapon in 2016, according to the criminal complaint.  He was paroled in May after being sentenced to two years in prison for second-degree robbery, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation....

Cowell's family released a statement extending its sympathy to Wilson's, and said Cowell had long been suffering from mental illness.  "He has been in & out of jail & has not had the proper treatment," the statement said.  He's been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, the family said, and they had to get a restraining order at one point "for our own protection."  Cowell's been living on the streets since.

In one comment, federalist not unreasonably asks "How, Doug, do we prevent mistakes like Judge Downs'?".  I do not have a fully satisfying answer: judges are imperfect at gauging risk, and the only certain way to prevent any and all released offenders from ever committing any serious future crimes is to never release any of them in the first place.  I am drawn to using actuarial risk-assessments in our criminal justice system because such tools should help reduce mistakes in forecasts of future violent behavior, but there still will be mistakes (and violent consequences) even with the use of (inevitably imperfect) risk-assessment instruments. 

As an advocate of various modern criminal justice reforms, I am in this context eager to (a) lament that we do not have been juvenile and prison programming to better rehabilitate violent persons, and (b) note that modern mass incarceration is the result of many "mistakes" of over-incarceration.  But these statements provide cold comfort to anyone reasonably inclined to call the tragic deaths of Christian Broder and Nia Wilson entirely preventable if we had just "gotten tough" with Jayden Myrick and John Cowell.

Another move, of course, is to stress that modern sentencing reform efforts are or should be particularly focused on non-violent offenses and offenders.  But sensible folks arguing for dramatic reductions in our prison populations rightly say that violent offenders should not be excluded from efforts to reduce reliance on incarceration, and there is also recidivism data showing that some non-violent offenders will go on to commit subsequent violent offenses.

So, dear readers, is there a "good" answer to the question in the title of this post?

July 29, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (27)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Interesting early information from the Safe Streets & Second Chances effort to take an evidence-driven approach to recidivism

Sssc_socialIn this post from January, I spotlighted the Safe Streets & Second Chances initiative which describes itself as an "an innovative program that takes an evidence-driven approach to the chronic issues of repeat offenders and recidivism, using academic research to craft individualized reentry plans that shift the ultimate measure of success from whether individuals are punished to whether these individuals are improved, rehabilitated, and capable of redemption."  This new Washington Post piece, headlined "Koch network project gears up to help inmates reenter society after prison," provides an interesting update on the project:

A new project funded by the network aligned with billionaire industrialist Charles Koch is tracking and monitoring 1,100 inmates in four states after they are released from prison starting Aug. 1 to help them successfully reintegrate into society.

Through the project, called Safe Streets and Second Chances, a team of researchers from Florida State University will evaluate former inmates for 15 months after their release — a volatile period that often leads to their rearrest. The project is in its $4 million pilot phase, as researchers prepare to test the effectiveness of a new reentry model that focuses on individualized plans to help inmates find healthy coping and thinking patterns, the right employment opportunities, and positive social engagement.

For the past six months, the researchers have been interviewing the men and women in the program, who are currently housed in 48 prisons in rural and urban areas in Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. They will present the early findings today in Colorado, at the twice-annual meeting of the network’s largest donors....

The network is advocating a shift in the criminal justice system toward prioritizing rehabilitation and reducing recidivism, rather than focusing on punishment. For years, the network has pushed for bipartisan support for overhauling the criminal justice system, and has teamed up with Van Jones, a former Obama administration official and CNN political commentator, for the cause....

With the research conducted through Safe Streets and Second Chances, network officials say they want to transform the way reentry programs are run in communities across the country. “What we’re trying to do is to prepare prisoners to reenter society and become productive members and taxpaying citizens, hopefully living productive lives and taking care of their families,” said Doug Deason, a Dallas businessman and Koch network donor who is on the advisory council of Safe Streets and Second Chances.

After interviewing the inmates preparing for release, researchers found these prisoners overwhelmingly felt optimistic about their chances of rehabilitation in life outside prison but generally had high levels of trauma. Nearly 70 percent of people in the program reported seeing someone seriously injured or killed. Half the inmates had seen or handled dead bodies — more than a dozen times for some male prisoners. The majority of them reported having a close friend or family member who was murdered, and 58 percent reported having a drug use disorder.

People with untreated trauma symptoms are more likely to become impulsive and incorrectly perceive threats to themselves and others, which could lead to an act of crime and recidivism, according to Carrie Pettus-Davis, a Florida State University professor and the lead researcher. It also could affect their ability to navigate the laws restricting felons from employment, housing and education opportunities, she said.

“Despite all of the positive orientations and aspirations, this population also is really dealing with some very challenging circumstances,” Pettus-Davis said. “There’s an enormous amount of trauma represented for both men and women. ... Once people become incarcerated, we need to make sure we’re appropriately responding to experiences of psychological trauma.”

Lots of information and data about and from this project can be found in this new release from Safe Streets & Second Chances under the title "New Research Shows Incarcerated Individuals Want to Be Rehabilitated and Are Hungry for Second Chances as They Reenter Society." Here are excerpts (with links from the original):

Incarcerated individuals want to be rehabilitated, are eager for a second chance, and are emotionally capable of successfully reentering society, new independent data shows.

According to statistics compiled by Florida State University (FSU) researchers, both male and female participants said they want to work more, learn more, and spend more time on personal relationships, improving their health, and practicing their faith than they currently do while incarcerated. They also reported fairly high levels of emotional well-being, suggesting that they are primed to successfully rejoin society upon their release....

According to the data, inmates want to rehabilitate themselves through work, education, and faith, and spend more time on personal relationships.

  • Respondents expressed a desire to work or improve their work situation.
    • Men reported working about two hours a day but said they would like to work almost four times that amount.
    • Women reported working almost 1.5 hours per day but said they’d like to work over three times that amount.
  • Overall, respondents said they’d like to spend twice the amount of time they currently spend on school activities.
  • Both men and women said they want to devote more time to community involvement and spend twice as much time working on personal relationships.
  • Both groups said they’d like to spend more time each week on spiritual or religious activities.

Next, while individuals said they had experienced a generally high level of trauma in life, they also reported a fairly high level of emotional well-being.

  • Nearly 70 percent of participants said they had seen someone seriously injured or killed.
  • 50 percent said they had seen dead bodies (other than at a funeral) or had to handle dead bodies. Male respondents reported experiencing this an average of over 17 times.
  • Over 40 percent said they had been attacked with a gun, knife, or some other weapon by someone, including a family member or friend.
  • About 57 percent said that a close friend or family member had been murdered.
  • Over 32 percent of female respondents said they had been forced to have intercourse or another form of sex against their will.
  • On average, females reported having experienced sexual abuse as a child 8.88 times.
  • 58 percent reported having a drug use disorder, while 35 percent reported having an alcohol use disorder.
  • While both men and women reported similar levels of childhood emotional abuse, they also reported fairly high levels of current emotional well-being, suggesting that they are emotionally resilient and fit to contribute to society in a positive way.

July 28, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, July 27, 2018

"Those in Federal Prison and Their Families Can’t Wait for the Ideal Reform Bill"

The title of this post is the title of Shon Hopwood's new entry over at Prison Professors.   This piece is styled as a response to the this lengthy Hill commentary by DeAnna Hoskins, the president and CEO of JustLeadershipUSA, which assailed the FIRST STEP Act as "a step backward [that] invites a scary future" (which I discussed critically here).  I recommend folks read everything in full, and I will here reprint how Shon's piece concludes:

I speak to and receive emails from thousands of families with someone in federal prison.  These families almost invariably support First Step.  At the Reform Now rally outside Capitol Hill in early July, many of these families explained how First Step will significantly improve their family’s lives — whether by forcing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide meaningful rehabilitation programs or housing their loved one closer to home.  The reform groups who oppose First Step weren’t present for the rally.  I wish they were. They’d have a better understanding of what makes the federal prison system uniquely harmful to those who are inside it, and how First Step will alleviate some of those harms.

The families who aren’t supportive of First Step are mostly those with loved ones serving really long sentences or life in prison, and this won’t help them get out of prison — even as it is likely to improve the federal prison system overall.  I empathize with their pain and frustration.  But retroactively applicable sentencing provisions has no chance of passing this year.  Not even the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was made retroactive when Democrats had a supermajority in Congress and the Presidency.  It is hard to imagine the current Congress somehow doing better.

First Step along with some sentencing additions is the best bill we can get now in the current political climate.  If we don’t take First Step now, we will be waiting at least another two years for any possibility of federal prison reform.  If the past thirty years is a guide, we are probably waiting much, much longer.  Given the stakes, there should be an urgency on all sides to get this done.

I understand that many people have strong feelings against the current President, and that undoubtedly drives some of the angst against First Step.  Yet there can be fights about every other issue without simultaneously rejecting a federal prison reform bill that provides meaningful help to those currently in prison and their families.

Some of many prior related posts:

July 27, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Ohio gubernatorial candidate talking up criminal justice reform while advocating for state constitutional drug sentencing initiative

A couple of week ago, I flagged here an interesting and intricate drug sentencing initiative headed for the November 2018 ballot here in Ohio.  As of earlier this week, the "Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation" amendment (in full at this link) officially qualified for the fall ballot as Issue 1.  And, as reported in this local article headlined "Cordray, Holder support diversion of drug offenders from prison," this proposal is already receiving high-profile support:

Ohio no longer can afford — both in terms of money and lives — to imprison low-level drug offenders who instead should be diverted to addiction treatment, says Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray.  “We need to be tough on violent criminals, but mass incarceration of drug addicts who should be in treatment is unwise, it wastes too much money and it wastes a lot of lives in Ohio,” Cordray said.

The former Ohio attorney general was joined by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss criminal justice reform at a Thursday campaign event at the Downtown YWCA.  The Democrat who served under former President Barack Obama spoke out against “warehousing” minor criminal offenders, saying governors and state attorneys general must steer new policy courses.

Holder chided Republican President Donald Trump and his U.S. attorney, Jeff Sessions, for “going back to the bad, old days of unthinking (criminal) sentences” for non-violent offenders who deserve another chance.

Cordray underlined his strong support for state Issue 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot that would reclassify low-level felony drug use and possession charges to first-degree misdemeanors punishable by only six months in jail, with the goal of diverting offenders to drug treatment.  It also would potentially allow the release of all current such offenders from state prisons.  “I believe It will set the way toward a policy of being smart on crime in the future, smart on how we use taxpayers’ dollars, smart on how we build people’s potential to be productive citizens in our society,” Cordray said.

Holder and Cordray agreed such a sentencing reform would be neither easier nor cheap in the short run, but provide savings and resuscitate more Ohioans from drugs and failed lives in the long run.

Comment is being sought from the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, whether he supports or opposes the statewide ballot issue.

The administration of Republican Gov. John Kasich is spending up to $58 million over two years to divert a flood of non-violent felony offenders, many convicted of drug possession amid the opioid crisis, from state prisons to local programs.  Many counties, however, are not accepting the money, saying it would not cover all local costs. More than a fourth of state inmates are non-violent drug offenders....

A Republican National Committee spokeswoman lambasted the pair.  “Richard Cordray’s decision to fund-raise with disgraced former Attorney General Eric Holder proves just how swampy and out-of-touch he is with Ohioans.  You can tell a lot about a person based on the company they keep, and if Cordray chooses Eric Holder as an ally, then Ohioans ought to be wary and steer clear of Richard Cordray,” said Mandi Merritt.

Prior related post:

July 26, 2018 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

More old-school, tough-on-crime talk and thinking from Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions delivered these remarks today at the 2018 Summer Conference for the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia.  Much of what he said will sound familiar to those who have followed his public speeches, but today I was really struck by a certain logical disconnect in some of his standard rhetoric.  Here are excerpts, with bold added to highlight key passages for follow-up comments:

From the early 1990s until 2014, the crime rate steadily came down across the country.  But from 2014 to 2016, the trends reversed.  The violent crime rate went up by nearly seven percent. Robberies went up. Assaults went up nearly 10 percent.  Rape went up by nearly 11 percent. Murder shot up by more than 20 percent!...

We’ve got to get back on track. We must take these recent developments seriously and consider carefully what can be done about them.  Yielding to these trends is not an option for America and certainly not to us in law enforcement.  We have clear goals. From day one — I plainly stated our goal at DOJ — reduce crime, reduce homicides, reduce prescriptions, and reduce overdose deaths!...

We’ve got to be smart and fair about who we put behind bars and for how long.  This is not mindless “mass incarceration”.  But prison does play a role.  Two months ago, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics released a 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 and started by the previous administration.  The results are clear and very important — historic importance. The reality is confirms what experienced professionals like yourselves have seen.

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 just 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.  Sometimes arrests lead to treatment, drug courts — often the problem is more serious.

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.

As any prosecutor in this room can tell you, when a criminal knows with certainty that he is facing real 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.

Our goal as prosecutors is not to fill up the courts or fill up the prisons.  Our goal is not to manage crime or merely to punish crime.  Our goal is to reduce crime in America....

Law enforcement is crime prevention.  When we enforce our laws, we prevent new crimes from happening.  As prosecutors, we have a difficult job, but our efforts at the federal, state, and local levels have a real impact.  With every conviction we secure, we make our communities safer.

A blog post is an imperfect forum to work through all the particulars of AG Sessions' speech.  But his extended discussion of the BJS recidivism data (which concerns only state prisoners) suggests that modern prisons — at least in the late 1990s and early 2000s — functionally operated to make a lot of criminals worse, which in turn suggests that sending more people to prison would be a recipe for making ever more aggravated criminals.  Of course, this is what "professionals" generally know: time in prison tends to be criminogenic.  As Professor Mark Kleiman puts it, brute force often fails and we ought to seek to (and likely can) achieve less crime with less punishment.  

Put another way, the BJS recidivism data suggest we were doing something quite wrong with our prison policies even as crime was dropping from the early 1990s until 2014.  And yet the tenor of this speech, and what seems to be AG Sessions' general disaffinity for any federal criminal justice reforms, suggest AG Sessions is ever eager to embrace and champion all the policies and practices that contributed to modern mass incarceration despite evidence that those "old-school" policies and practices produce startling recidivism rates.

The significant crime spike that preceded AG Sessions coming in to office will seemingly always serves as a foundation and justification for him to promote and justify ever more federal prosecutors bringing ever more federal prosecutions.  But, as the title of this post hints, his old-school talk and thinking is tired and tiring, and likely disserves his presumably genuine commitment "to reduce crime in America."

July 22, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (22)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

"Assessing the Real Risk of Sexually Violent Predators: Doctor Padilla’s Dangerous Data"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper authored by Tamara Rice Lave and Franklin Zimring now available via SSRN. Here is its abstract:

This Article uses internal memoranda and emails to describe the efforts of the California Department of Mental Health to suppress a serious and well-designed study that showed just 6.5% of untreated sexually violent predators were arrested for a new sex crime within 4.8 years of release from a locked mental facility. 

The Article begins by historically situating sexually violent predator laws and then explains the constitutionally critical role that prospective sexual dangerousness plays in justifying these laws.  The Article next explains how the U.S. Supreme Court and the highest state courts have allowed these laws to exist without requiring any proof of actual danger.  It then describes the California study and reconciles its findings with those of a well-known Washington study by explaining the preventive effects of increasing age.  Finally, the Article explains how these results undermine the justification for indeterminate lifetime commitment of sex offenders

July 19, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (6)

"Why Can’t We Redeem the Sex Offender?"

The title of this post is the title of this revised commentary appearing at The Crime Report.  Here are excerpts:

When large nonprofit organizations otherwise committed to making the American justice system less draconian hire people with violent criminal records, they send a strong message that justice-involved people change, and are capable of not only reentry but success.

But these same organizations do not have anyone on the sex offender registry on staff, regardless of qualifications or demonstrated rehabilitation.

This is unsurprising, yet tragic.  When most people think of “sex offenders,” they imagine repulsive and heinous crimes against very young children.  And in 2005, a Gallup poll suggested that Americans feared terrorists less than sex offenders.

In reality, the phrase “sex offender” describes any person convicted under a statute that requires sex offender registration, which lasts anywhere from 10 years to natural life, depending on the state and the offense.  The registry includes everyone from the mentally ill, remorseful flasher to the sexually-motivated killer, as well as the older party in a high school sweetheart relationship to a dangerous child rapist.  There are almost one million Americans on sex offender registries, including people convicted for relatively minor sex crimes as children.

And what might sound like a heinous crime based on the name alone, like the production of child pornography, can describe what Edward Marrero faces prosecution for in federal court. Mr. Marrero admitted in court that he took sexual photos of his 17-year-old girlfriend when he was only 20 years old himself.  Marrero now faces 15-to-30 years in federal prison for photos of a relationship that would be legal virtually everywhere in the world.

It is important for directly impacted people to have a say in efforts intended to help them.  For example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has pushed against employment discrimination against those with criminal records, and has more recently has hired highly qualified people who have committed serious crimes in their pasts.  But the ACLU appears to not have a single person on the registry as a part of any branch’s staff.

Is a close-in-age relationship between a young adult and a teenager morally worse than murder, kidnapping, or robbery?  What about teen sexting?  No, and the absolute dearth of otherwise-qualified sex offenders in criminal justice reform careers shows how far we have titled the scales from reality.

Criminal justice reform organizations should be able to ask these questions and answer them realistically, without putting too much credence in the byzantine and cruel state of American sex laws.  After all, we know better than anyone that the law is not always what is right.  Let us hire sex offenders when we believe in them.

July 19, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (5)

Monday, July 16, 2018

Big Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upholds "drug free" condition of probation

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down this morning a decision in the closely-watched case of Massachusetts v. Eldred, No. SJC--12279 (Mass. July 16, 2018) (available here). The opinion starts this way:

Following a probation violation hearing, a judge in the District Court found that the defendant, Julie A. Eldred, had tested positive for fentanyl, in violation of a condition of her probation requiring her to abstain from using illegal drugs. The judge ordered that the conditions of her probation be modified to require her to submit to inpatient treatment for drug addiction. The defendant appeals from that finding and disposition.  The judge also reported a question drafted by the defendant concerning whether the imposition of a "drug free" condition of probation, such as appeared in the original terms of defendant's probation, is permissible for an individual who is addicted to drugs and whether that person can be subject to probation violation proceedings for subsequently testing positive for illegal drugs.

We conclude that, in appropriate circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug free as a condition of probation, and that a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug. Accordingly, we affirm the finding that the defendant violated her probation and the order requiring her to submit to inpatient treatment for her addiction.

July 16, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Offender Characteristics, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"Out of Prison & Out of Work: Unemployment among formerly incarcerated people"

The title of this post is the title of the latest notable report by the folks at the Prison Policy Initiative.  Here is how the report gets started:

Formerly incarcerated people need stable jobs for the same reasons as everyone else: to support themselves and their loved ones, pursue life goals, and strengthen their communities. But how many formerly incarcerated people are able to find work? Answering this fundamental question has historically been difficult, because the necessary national data weren’t available — that is, until now.

Using a nationally representative dataset, we provide the first ever estimate of unemployment among the 5 million formerly incarcerated people living in the United States.  Our analysis shows that formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27% — higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression.

Our estimate of the unemployment rate establishes that formerly incarcerated people want to work, but face structural barriers to securing employment, particularly within the period immediately following release. For those who are Black or Hispanic — especially women — status as “formerly incarcerated” reduces their employment chances even more. This perpetual labor market punishment creates a counterproductive system of release and poverty, hurting everyone involved: employers, the taxpayers, and certainly formerly incarcerated people looking to break the cycle.

Fortunately, as the recommendations presented in this report illustrate, there are policy solutions available that would create safer and more equitable communities by addressing unemployment among formerly incarcerated people.

July 10, 2018 in Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Judge Jack Weinstein laments overuse of federal supervised release (and especially its revocation for marijuana use)

As regular readers know, US District Judge Jack Weinstein regularly produces interesting and important sentencing opinions, and his latest effort focuses on supervised release as well as marijuana reform. This New York Times article about this opinion, headlined "Brooklyn Judge Vows Not to Send People Back to Prison for Smoking Marijuana," starts with this accounting of the effort:

Noting that marijuana has become increasingly accepted by society, a federal judge in Brooklyn made an unusual promise on Thursday: He pledged he would no longer reimprison people simply for smoking pot.

In a written opinion that was part legal document, part mea culpa, the judge, Jack B. Weinstein, 96, acknowledged that for too long, he had been sending people sentenced to supervised release back into custody for smoking pot even though the drug has been legalized by many states and some cities, like New York, have recently decided not to arrest those who use it. Under supervised release, inmates are freed after finishing their prison time, but are monitored by probation officers.

“Like many federal trial judges, I have been terminating supervision for ‘violations’ by individuals with long-term marijuana habits who are otherwise rehabilitated,” Judge Weinstein wrote. “No useful purpose is served through the continuation of supervised release for many defendants whose only illegal conduct is following the now largely socially acceptable habit of marijuana use.”

The full 42-page opinion in US v. Trotter, No. 15-CR-382 (E.D.N.Y. July 5, 2018) (available here), is an interesting read and important for lot of reasons beyond the connections of criminal justice supervision and marijuana reform.  This first part of the introduction provides a taste for all the full opinion covers:

This case raises serious issues about sentencing generally, and supervised release for marijuana users specifically: Are we imposing longer terms than are needed for effective supervised release?  Should we stop punishing supervisees for a marijuana addiction or habit?

After revisiting and reconsidering these issues, I conclude: (1) I, like other trial judges, have in many cases imposed longer periods of supervised release than needed, and I, like other trial judges, have failed to terminate supervised release early in many cases where continuing supervision presents such a burden as to reduce the probability of rehabilitation; and (2) I, like other trial judges, have provided unnecessary conditions of supervised release and unjustifiably punished supervisees for their marijuana addiction, even though marijuana is widely used in the community and is an almost unbreakable addiction or habit for some.  As a result of these errors in our sentencing practice, money and the time of our probation officers are wasted, and supervisees are unnecessarily burdened.

In summary, in this and my future cases I will: (1) impose shorter terms of supervised release as needed; (2) give greater consideration to the appropriateness of conditions; (3) provide for earlier termination where indicated; and (4) avoid violations of supervised release and punishment by incarceration merely for habitual marijuana use.

July 7, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Drug Offense Sentencing, Marijuana Legalization in the States, Pot Prohibition Issues, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Interesting and intricate Ohio drug sentencing initiative poised to qualify for November 2018 ballot

As reported in this local Ohio article, supporters of "a proposal to reduce penalties for nonviolent drug crime offenders submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures on Wednesday to put the measure on the November ballot." Here is more about the remarkable initiative that seems likely to generate some interesting debate in the midst of a big election year in Ohio:

The "Neighborhood Safety, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation" amendment is backed by a bipartisan coalition of community, law enforcement, faith and business leaders and groups. The Ohio Safe and Healthy Communities Campaign submitted 730,031 signatures Wednesday; 305,591 valid signatures of Ohio registered voters are needed to qualify for the ballot....

Under the drug treatment and rehabilitation amendment:

  • Possessing, obtaining or using a drug or drug paraphernalia would be a misdemeanor offense, with a maximum punishment of 180 days in jail and $1,000 fine. First and second offenses within a two-year period could only be punished with probation.
  • Convicted individuals could receive a half day credit against their sentence for each day or rehabilitative work or programming, up to 25 percent of the total sentence.
  • Individuals on probation for a felony offense would not be sent to prison for non-violent violations of that probation.
  • Individuals convicted of such crimes could petition a court to reclassify the offense as a misdemeanor, which could result in their release from prison.

The provisions would not apply to convictions for the sale, distribution or trafficking of drugs or to convictions for any drug offense that, based on volume or weight, are a first-, second- or third-degree felony.

Money saved from those affected by the amendment would be diverted to substance abuse programs (70 percent) and to crime victims services (30 percent.)

Among the many remarkable elements of the ballot initiative, which can be read in full at this link, is that it proposes a state constitutional amendment; voter approval would make it nearly impossible for the Ohio General Assembly to alter the amendment's terms without another initiative vote.  Here is how the summary of the amendment explains its goals at the outset:

This Amendment would add a new section 12 to Article XV of the Ohio Constitution to reduce the number of people in state prison for low-level, nonviolent drug possession or drug use offenses or for non-criminal probation violations and by providing sentence credits for participation in rehabilitative programs and to direct the savings achieved by such reductions in incarceration to drug treatment programs and other purposes.

I have already heard a few folks express support for the initiatives substantive goals but concerns about amending the Ohio Constitution to achieve those goals. Interesting times.

July 5, 2018 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Strong safety net is crucial to Americans in life after prison"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary in The Hill authored by Bruce Western. Here are excerpts:

The House recently voted to significantly cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, which helps fight hunger in America.  New work requirements have gained the most attention, but the House bill also includes lifetime bans for people with prior convictions for several kinds of violent crimes.  People with violent convictions keep their food stamp eligibility under the bipartisan Senate bill, setting up a showdown in the conference committee.  Cutting benefits for people with criminal convictions is a particularly mean display of “tough on crime” credentials and makes little sense as public policy.

In a study I directed at Harvard, a research team followed 122 men and women from Boston over the year after their release from prison.  Unlike many other states, Massachusetts allows people with criminal convictions to receive SNAP benefits.  The study found this was essential for income support and social integration immediately after release from prison.

Income right after incarceration is very low.  In the study, the median annual income was about $6,500.  This is about half the federal poverty line for people living alone, an income level that researchers call deep poverty....  Our respondents usually contributed their SNAP benefits to the household food budget if they were living with family or were required to turn over their benefits to a common pool if they lived in a shelter or a sober house.  Supporters of the House bill think people should work for SNAP benefits, but we found that the highest rates of SNAP enrollment were among those with disabilities that limited work.  Respondents with histories of mental illness and drug addiction were also more likely to be receiving SNAP than others. Former prisoners who were older, over age 45, or suffered from chronic pain were also more likely to be receiving SNAP benefits.

We also found little evidence that SNAP benefits deterred from people from working.  SNAP recipients were no more likely to be unemployed once age and health status were accounted for in the study.  Massachusetts has relatively good safety net programs, and these made a significant difference for the men and women leaving prison in Boston.

Besides receiving SNAP benefits, nearly everyone we interviewed in the study was enrolled in Medicaid either just before they were released from prison or a few weeks later. Medicaid was critical for ensuring continuity of medical care for the many people leaving prison with chronic conditions in immediate need of medication....  A year after release from prison, the rate of SNAP enrollment in the study had fallen to 40 percent from its peak at two months of 70 percent.  SNAP provided critical support that helped stabilize life after incarceration and allowed those who were able to move into the labor market to find work. The Massachusetts safety net was one of the real success stories of the study....

As Congress considers the final bill for SNAP funding, lawmakers should take account of the research evidence. A strong safety net is indispensable for helping people find their way back in life after incarceration and is one of the best reentry programs of all.

July 5, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (3)

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

"Study after study shows ex-prisoners would be better off without intense supervision"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new Brookings commentary authored by Jennifer Doleac.  I recommend the piece in full, and here is how it starts and concludes:

Two-thirds of those released from prison are re-arrested within three years.  This incarceration cycle hurts families and communities — and also costs a lot of money. Governments and nonprofits have tried many programs to reduce recidivism, but most are not successful.  In a recent review of the literature on prisoner reentry, I summarized the best evidence on how to improve the lives of the formerly incarcerated.  One of the most striking findings was that reducing the intensity of community supervision for those on probation or parole is a highly cost-effective strategy.  Several studies of excellent quality and using a variety of interventions and methods all found that we could maintain public safety and possibly even improve it with less supervision — that is, fewer rules about how individuals must spend their time and less enforcement of those rules.  Less supervision is less expensive, so we could achieve the same or better outcomes for less money.

For instance, Hennigan, et al. (2010), measured the effects of intensive supervision using a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in Los Angeles.  Juveniles sentenced to probation were randomly assigned to intensive supervision—in the form of a community-based after-school program—or standard probation.  Five years later, there were no significant differences in outcomes between the treatment and control groups, with one exception: Low-risk boys (ages 15 or younger) who were randomized to intensive supervision were worse off. Intensive supervision for that group led to more incarceration and a higher likelihood of continued criminal justice involvement in the years ahead.  That is, intensive supervision increased criminal activity by this group, without reducing criminal activity by other groups.

Barnes, et al. (2012) used an RCT to study supervision levels in Philadelphia.  Low-risk probationers were randomized to probation as usual or low-intensity supervision by parole officers with high caseloads (which forced them to pay less attention to each individual case).  Less supervision means probationers may be less likely to get caught for technical violations, such as using drugs or breaking curfew.  But these requirements of probation are a means to an end: what really matters for public safety is the number of new offenses committed.  Eighteen months after randomization, there were no significant differences between the treatment and control groups in the likelihood of being charged for a new offense.  In other words, low-intensity supervision did not result in more recidivism....

These studies show that current efforts to reduce recidivism through intensive supervision are not working.  Why is intensive supervision so ineffective?  Requiring lots of meetings, drug tests, and so on can complicate a client’s life, making it more difficult to get to work or school or care for family members (meetings are often scheduled at inconvenient times and may be far away).  A heavy tether to the criminal justice system can also make it difficult for individuals to move on, psychologically.  Knowing that society still considers you a criminal may make it harder to move past that phase of your life.  These difficulties may negate the valuable support that probation and parole officers can provide by connecting clients to services and stepping in to help at the first sign of trouble.

It is unclear what the optimal level of supervision is for those on parole or probation, but these studies demonstrate that current supervision levels are too high.  We could reduce the requirements of community supervision — for low-risk and high-risk offenders alike — and spend those taxpayer dollars on more valuable services, such as substance abuse treatment or cognitive behavioral therapy.  This would be a good first step toward breaking the vicious incarceration cycle.

July 3, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 02, 2018

Rich new issues of Federal Sentencing Reporter covers "Managing Collateral Consequences in the Information Age"

The fine folks over at the Collateral Consequences Resource Center reminded me through this new post that the big new double issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter is right now fully available on-line here thanks to the fine folks at the University of California Press. Here is how the CCRC folks summarize the issue's coverage:

“Managing Collateral Consequences in the Information Age” is the title of a symposium issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter.  It is composed of papers prepared for a conference on criminal records issues jointly sponsored by the American Law Institute and the National Conference of State Legislatures in January 2018, and associated primary source materials. The issue’s Table of Contents shows the breadth and variety of topics covered.  An introductory essay by Margaret Love summarizes the approach to managing collateral consequences in the revised sentencing articles of the Model Penal Code, and the seemingly contrary trends in records management in state legislatures in recent years. She also describes each of the papers.

This special double issue of FSR contains so much interesting an diverse material, I recommend readers check out the TOC and Introductory essay to decide which articles they want to read first.

This issue includes the final version of of my recent paper titled "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices."  Another piece focused on particular types of offenders is authored by Nora Demleitner under the title "Structuring Relief for Sex Offenders from Registration and Notification Requirements: Learning from Foreign Jurisdictions and from the Model Penal Code: Sentencing."  But the bulk of the of the materials in the issue covers individual state reforms in states that are not often at noticed to be at the forefront of criminal justice reforms efforts.  Specifically, a set of pieces look at Indiana's new expungement laws, and other piece look closely at other states including Nevada, North Carolina and Tennessee.

July 2, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Recommended reading, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

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)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"The Impact of Proposition 47 on Crime and Recidivism"

ImagesThe title of this post is the title of this notable new report from the Public Policy Institute of California. Here is the report's conclusion:

Proposition 47 continues to be the subject of much debate.  The reform — which reduced penalties for certain lower-level drug and property offenses — has undoubtedly played a significant role in California’s recent efforts to prioritize the state’s prison and jail space for higher-level offenders. Prison and jail incarceration levels declined substantially under Prop 47.  We also observe sudden drops in arrests and jail bookings.

The reduced reliance on incarceration raised concerns among some observers about Prop 47’s impact on public safety. We find no convincing evidence that violent crime increased as a result of Prop 47.  Though there has been a recent uptick in violent crime, this trend appears to have started prior to the reform. Additional factors unrelated to criminal activity — a change by the FBI in 2014 that expanded the definition of rape, and significant under-reporting of violent crimes from 2008 to 2014 by the LAPD — contributed to the observed increase.  Excluding violent crime data from the LAPD shows that recent increases in violent crime rates in California were comparable to those of similar states.

Our analysis does find some evidence of Prop 47’s impact on property crime rates, which went up immediately after the law was implemented.  This increase has been primarily driven by larceny thefts, particularly thefts from motor vehicles and shoplifting.  We find the increase in the larceny theft rate in California to be nearly 9 percent higher than that of similar states. In 2016, reported shoplifting decreased notably, but we do not see signs of a reduction in thefts from motor vehicles. Considering the high costs of incarceration in California, this highlights the need for alternative crime-reducing strategies, consistent with our earlier research assessing the impact of realignment on crime (see Lofstrom and Raphael 2013).

The policy goals of Prop 47 are to reduce contact with the criminal justice system and to reduce recidivism for lower-level drug and property offenders.  Our analysis, using detailed data from 12 California counties, shows declines in jail bookings as well as rearrest and reconviction rates under Prop 47.  We find the policy change reduced jail bookings for Prop 47 offenses by more than one-third.  Prop 47 also lowered the number of people booked into jail by nearly 50,000 in these counties during the year following its passage.

Lower rearrest rates for individuals released after serving sentences for Prop 47 offenses were driven by a reduction in rearrests for drug possession, while lower reconviction rates were driven by a drop in reconvictions for both Prop 47 property and drug offenses.  We find evidence that Prop 47 reduced both arrests by law enforcement and convictions resulting from prosecutions by district attorneys.  Reduced levels of correctional contact — which may allow for better continuity of employment and improved family and community stability — could be a factor in these lower recidivism rates.  However, given the sudden and noticeable decline in arrests after the reform, we are not able to separate the effects of Prop 47 on individual reoffending behavior from its effects on the practices of criminal justice agencies.

Prop 47 aimed to reduce recidivism rates by shifting resources from incarceration to mental health and substance-use treatment for lower-level drug and property offenders.  This redirection of state correctional savings to treatment interventions has only recently been allocated, and thus our recidivism analysis does not capture individuals released after the implementation of these programs.  A complete assessment of the impacts of Prop 47 will need to account for how increased interventions may affect crime, criminal justice contact, and recidivism, as well as responses by law enforcement to the reform.

Substantial reductions in reoffending as a result of the treatment programs funded by Prop 47 savings seem unlikely as this funding represents a very small share of corrections spending in California.  However, the initiative offers opportunities for local agencies to create or expand promising programs.  It also requires that these programs be objectively evaluated, in hopes of identifying and scaling up successful interventions. As local agencies and the state learn more about which programs are effective in reducing recidivism, Prop 47 could provide a path toward the use of more cost-effective, evidence-based strategies within the criminal justice system.

One of several far-reaching corrections reforms, Prop 47 further decreased California’s reliance on incarceration: the state’s incarceration rate is now at levels not seen since the early 1990s.  Importantly, crime rates remain historically low, comparable to those in the 1960s.  While research so far has not revealed convincing evidence that violent crime has risen as a result of reforms, some property crimes have increased.  And though Prop 47 reduced recidivism rates for lower-level drug and property offenses, it is not clear to what extent this is driven by reduced reoffending, as law enforcement and prosecutorial changes likely contributed to the declines.  To counteract the increases in property crimes like shoplifting and thefts from motor vehicles — and to improve reentry outcomes of released offenders — policymakers and practitioners will need to work together to identify effective programs and policies that will reduce recidivism and maintain public safety

June 13, 2018 in National and State Crime Data, Offense Characteristics, Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 07, 2018

"Treatment of sex offenders depends on whether they've challenged rules"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy new Detroit Free Press article. I recommend the piece in full, and here is how it gets started and additional excerpts:

Eight months after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively upheld a decision saying parts of Michigan's sex offender registry law — one of the toughest in the nation — were unconstitutional, thousands of former sex offenders who thought they'd be off the registry by now, or facing less severe restrictions, have seen no changes.

The law remains in place, unchanged, with the state defending it in more than three dozen lawsuits — many of which it has already lost.  The controversy involves a ruling two years ago by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that said provisions enacted in 2006 and 2011 and applied to offenders convicted before then violates constitutional protections against increasing punishments after-the-fact.  Last October, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the state's challenge to that ruling, effectively upholding it.

The rules prohibit offenders — many of whom have gone years if not decades without committing any crimes — from legally living, working or even standing within 1,000 feet of a school, a regulation that many say makes it hard for them to work, or to pick up or see their kids at school, and has forced some to give up jobs and homes.  The rules also require offenders to immediately register email addresses or vehicles and report to police as often as four times a year, in some cases, for the rest of their lives.

Because the appeals court decision came in civil cases and not class action lawsuits, the state has maintained those rulings apply only to the specific plaintiffs who brought them. And with the state Legislature failing to change the law, registrants find themselves in a legal morass, with the requirements they must comply with almost wholly contingent on whether the offender has successfully gone to court.  Michigan now has the fourth-largest sex offender registry in the country, with 43,623 registrants on its database, more than the state of New York, which has 40,623.

The disparities can be wide.  One man convicted 17 years ago of eight counts of sexual contact with several girls under the age of 13 sued prosecutors, arguing that the rules keeping him on the registry — with his photo, name, address listed publicly — for life were unconstitutional.  Last November, after the Supreme Court declined to take up the 6th Circuit decision, the state Court of Appeals agreed, saying those rules no longer apply to him.

But it's different for another man convicted of touching two girls under the age of 16 while drunk 24 years ago in another state but who has had a clean record since.  Last September, as a "Tier 2" offender, he was expecting to come off the registry after nearly a quarter century. But he was abruptly told by police that his case had been reviewed and that since one of those girls was under 13, he’d stay on the list — and be listed among the worst offenders on "Tier 3" — for life.  To this day, under Michigan law, he's subject to all those restrictions from which the first man has been freed....

In Michigan, any legal certainty about what is required of thousands of sex offenders is almost nil.

While some local prosecutors — like those in Wayne and Oakland counties — no longer enforce cases involving retroactive applications of the law, it's far from certain that others are following suit. Macomb County prosecutors, for instance, declined to answer the Free Press' questions about whether they are still enforcing those restrictions. And Michigan State Police — which oversees the registry — says, legally, all restrictions remain in place.

The state’s top law enforcement official, Attorney General Bill Schuette — who is running for governor — won’t say whether the 6th Circuit Court decision should be applied statewide, his office refusing comment.

Prior related post:

June 7, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Sex Offender Sentencing, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Lamenting how federal supervised release operates and suggesting reforms

Jacob Schuman, a federal public defender, has this extended New Republic piece headlined "America’s Shadow Criminal Justice System" detailing problems with how federal supervised release operates. I recommend the piece in full, and here are excerpts:

In the federal criminal justice system, prison is just the beginning of punishment. After prison comes “supervised release,” a set of obligations and restrictions governing an ex-con’s day-to-day schedule, employment, residence, and relationships.

In the best-case scenario, two-thirds of people successfully complete their term of supervised release....  As a federal public defender, I see the remaining one-third of cases—the worst-case scenarios where people violate their supervised release and get sent back to prison for up to five years. In a recent case, I represented a first-time offender who flawlessly completed two years of a five-year term of supervision.  But after he got into a relationship with the wrong person and started using opioids, he was reported by his probation officer, arrested, and held in prison for seven months.  After a failed attempt at rehab, his probation officer reported him again, and the judge sentenced him to 18 months’ imprisonment for violating his release by failing to achieve recovery. He’s now serving that sentence in a maximum-security prison, where no addiction treatment is available.

Improving this system depends on Congress, which has now taken on the worthy task of prison reform. Recently, the House of Representatives passed the First Step Act, a bill that makes it easier for inmates to earn early release and expands their access to job training and education. The proposal won an impressively bipartisan 360-59 vote and the support of the White House.  While the FSA makes good changes, reform will be incomplete unless it also addresses supervised release, a web of restrictions that ensnares many former prisoners, making successful reentry to society more difficult, not less....

The data show that this system is incredibly strict, and that its reach is vast.  Between 2005 and 2009, federal judges imposed supervised release in approximately 300,000 cases, with an average term lasting over 40 months.  By 2010, more than 10,000 federal inmates were locked up for violating their supervised release. The supervision costs the federal government $400 million annually (not including the cost of incarcerating people for violations)....

Created by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, supervised release was supposed to reduce the monitoring of former prisoners.  Under the old “parole” system, inmates could earn early release from prison, but then had to serve the rest of their sentences in the community, subject to a parole officer’s supervision.  The SRA abolished parole and instead gave judges the option of imposing supervised release only on those defendants who needed extra support to “ease the[ir] … transition into the community.” The idea was that people would spend more of their time in prison, but would also receive less supervision after their release. Yet as the political winds shifted, Congress gradually made supervised release more expansive and more punitive.  Federal judges now impose supervised release in 99 percent of qualifying cases, and the number of people under supervision has increased five-fold.

Over the past 30 years, supervised release has transformed into a shadow criminal justice system that both reflects and perpetuates racial inequality.  In her book, The New Jim Crow, Professor Michelle Alexander examined how restrictions on former inmates, the majority of whom are Black or Hispanic, put them “at increased risk of arrest because their lives are governed by additional rules that do not apply to everyone else.”  This inequality continues into the courthouse, as unlike most defendants, people accused of violating the terms of their supervised release do not enjoy the rights to a speedy trial, a jury, confrontation of adverse witnesses, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  The upshot is that in the federal system alone, over 100,000 men and women are now subject to arrest for minor infractions and to imprisonment without the protections of the Bill of Rights....

Reforming this system will not be easy, but there are a few good places to start:

First, Congress should return to its original goal of reducing post-release supervision of former inmates by limiting supervised release only to those defendants who need it most and by reducing the punishments for violations.

Second, both Congress and the courts should ensure that people facing revocation of their supervised release receive all the fundamental protections promised by the Bill of Rights, including the right to a jury, to a speedy hearing, to cross-examine adverse witnesses, and to be proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Finally, judges should stop sending people to prison for violations that are merely symptoms of an underlying drug addiction, not bad intent.  To encourage this practice, Congress should end mandatory revocations for drug possession and prohibit imprisonment for drug-related technical infractions.

Supporters of the First Step Act say their goal is “to control corrections spending, manage the prison population, provide educational and vocational training to inmates so they can successfully reenter society once released, and reduce recidivism.” To achieve this admirable purpose, reforming the nation’s prisons is indeed only the first step. Congress must also look beyond prison walls and fix our broken supervised-release system.

June 2, 2018 in Drug Offense Sentencing, Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Fuzzy math and fuzzy logic in criticisms of federal FIRST STEP Act based in state recidivism data

Over at PoweLine, Paul Mirengoff has this extended post trying to make a case against the FIRST STEP Act under the headline "Cold Facts On Recidivism Undermine Case For Leniency Legislation."  I find some of Mr. Mirengoff's posts to be astute even though he relies often on "tough-and-tougher" rhetoric to oppose any possible form of sentencing reform. But this latest effort is full of especially fuzzy work.  Let me explain with some quotes (indented and italicized) followed by my commentary.

Last week, the Department of Justice released an updated study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showing that 83 percent of prisoners released by states are re-arrested within nine years of their release.  44 percent of released state prisoners were arrested during the first year after release, 68 percent were arrested within three years, and 79 percent within six years....  The results of the study should deter the Senate from embracing the FIRST STEP legislation passed by the House just before the BJS figures were published. Indeed, the BJS numbers undermine FIRST STEP in multiple ways. 

First, it is estimated that FIRST STEP would mandate the immediate release of at least 4,000 federal felons before they serve their full sentence. Given the recidivism numbers from the BJS study, we know that a high percentage of the 4,000 will commit crimes during the period during which, absent FIRST STEP, they would be behind bars.

Mr. Mirengoff accurately reports that the BJS study (which I noted in this prior post) concerns state prisoners, though he fails to note these are folks who were released from state prisons in 2005.  From the very outset it is very faulty to assert that recidivism data on state prisoners released in 2005 readily enables us to "know" what federal prisoners released in 2018 will do.

The US Sentencing Commission's most recent report on federal prisoner recidivism, notably, shows a much lower (though still significant) rearrest rate than state prisoners.   Here is how the USSC explains how distinct the federal population is from the state population when running prisoner recidivism numbers:  "Compared to a cohort of state prisoners released into the community in 2005 and tracked by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, federal offenders had a  lower recidivism rate.  BJS found that 76.6 percent of offenders released from state prison were rearrested within five years. The Commission, using a comparable five year follow-up period and including only federal offenders released from prison ... found the recidivism rate for these federal offenders was 44.9 percent." 

Moreover, the estimated 4000 prisoners to be getting earlier release thanks the FIRST STEP Act will be getting out mostly a few weeks or a few months earlier because of getting a little extra credit for good behavior in prison.  The proper statistics suggest, based on the nature of federal prisoners and how limited the FIRST STEP Act really is, that only a quite low percentage "of the 4,000 will commit crimes during the period during which, absent FIRST STEP, they would be behind bars."

Mr. Mirengoff goes on:

Second, the BJS study tells us that the crimes that federal drug felons will commit aren’t confined to drug crimes. According to the study, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of released drug offenders were arrested for a non-drug crime within nine years, and more than a third (34 percent) were arrested for a violent crime.  So much for the argument we hear over and over again from Team Leniency that those incarcerated for drug crimes are “non-violent offenders.”...

Again we have the problem of conflating data on state prisoners with federal prisoners.  But here we have an even bigger logical flaw because the BJS recidivism data does not show that persons who committed state drug crimes really were violent offenders before they went to state prison, rather it shows that they became violent offenders (or, more accurately, were arrested for a violent offense like assault) after spending time in prison.  This actually goes to the heart of the argument for any form of (state or federal) prison reform: we need to do a better job of making prison a place where people become better people not worse criminals.

Mr. Mirengoff continues:

Third, the numbers undermine the rational for FIRST STEP used by certain conservative Senators such as John Cornyn. They argue that some states have made great strides when it comes to rehabilitating prisoners. Thus, the argument goes, statistics about recidivism rates among federal prisoners do not provide a sound basis for opposing sentencing reform, provided the reform also includes corrections reform.  The idea is to bring model state prisoner rehabilitation programs into the federal system. This, it is said, will cause recidivism rates to plummet, making America safe for the early release of federal drug felons and for a reduction of mandatory minimums. The BJS numbers tell us that the states, collectively, are doing no better than the feds when it comes to rehabilitating prisoners. 

But what about “model” states like John Cornyn’s home state of Texas, so often touted by sentencing and corrections reform advocates? It turns out that Texas isn’t doing any better than the feds either.  The numbers that reform advocates use to calculate recidivism in Texas count only re-incarcerations, not re-arrests. By contrast, the federal system measures recidivism by re-arrests (to be sure not everyone arrested has committed a crime but then, not everyone who has committed a crime is arrested). If one compares apples to apples — federal re-arrests to Texas re-arrests — the recidivism rate in Texas is actually higher than the federal rate, according to the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys.  FIRST STEP is thus founded on a fiction — the view that enlightened states have discovered the key to the age-old problem of how to rehabilitate criminals. 

Again, a lack of context concerning time and place and prisoners makes this reasoning faulty.  The BJS data reveal that Texas and other states did a lousy job rehabilitating those prisoners who were released back in 2005 before the modern wave of reforms in Texas or anywhere else.  This Right on Crime posting highlights the reform put in place in Texas starting in 2007, and Texas was really the first state to get started on these types of "modern" reforms.   Data on state prisoners released in 2005 will never prove that state reforms started in 2007 are ineffectual.

Now that all said, neither Texas nor any other jurisdiction has all of a sudden "discovered the key to the age-old problem of how to rehabilitate criminals."  This is an age-old problem because it never has had and never will have an easy or obvious solution.  People and crime are way too complicated for magic bullet solutions.  But what Texas and other states have done, and what the FIRST STEP Act aspires to do, is move forward with reforms that have provide to help at least a little bit with the the age-old problem of how to rehabilitate criminals.  No programming ever can or ever will  miraculously drop recidivism rates to near zero, but Mr. Mirengoff wants that to be the prerequisite to any reforms:

Let’s see recidivism rates plummet on a sustained basis, using apples to apples comparisons, before the first federal prisoner is released early and the first mandatory minimum is reduced.

It would be more direct and more honest if Mr. Mirengoff simply said "Let’s never allow a federal prisoner to be released early or any mandatory minimum to be reduced."

May 31, 2018 in Assessing Graham and its aftermath, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Sentences Reconsidered | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, May 26, 2018

"Time to rethink probation and parole"

The title of this post is the headline of this recent commentary authored by Larry Krasner and Miriam Krinsky. (Kranser, as many readers surely know, is the District Attorney of Philadelphia and Krinsky is a former federal prosecutor and Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution.) Here are excerpts:

As longtime leaders in criminal justice, we have seen a deeply unsettling trend in the way probation and parole — sometimes called “community corrections” — have become overused and too often serve as a gateway to reincarceration based on the smallest of missteps.  That’s why we recently joined with 45 fellow prosecutors nationwide who believe that community corrections needs to be downsized and made rehabilitative, not only because that will make us safer, but because it will fortify trust in our justice system for millions of Americans.

When community corrections was founded in the 1800s, it was viewed as a highly individualized way to curb the purely punitive sentence of imprisonment with an alternative to incarceration (probation) or a release valve for those who did well during incarceration (parole).  But since 1980, it has grown far beyond what its founders ever could have imagined. The number of people on probation and parole has increased four-fold, peaking at 5 million individuals — or one out of every 53 adults — before declining slightly of late. That is twice as many people as are incarcerated in America, and more people than live in half of all U.S. states.

Often thought of as a grant of mercy or slap on the wrist, parole and probation are a deprivation of liberty and can serve as an unnecessary trip wire back into incarceration. Four out of 10 people entering our prisons and jails were on parole or probation at the time of their reincarceration.  Often that stay behind bars is not for a new arrest, but simply for violating a technical condition of release like missing appointments or drug use....

Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast, and the third-highest community corrections rate in the country. The number and rate of people supervised by parole in Pennsylvania is the highest in the nation — three times the national average.  An astonishing one out of 22 Philadelphians is being supervised by probation or parole....

Several states have tried to reduce both the footprint and harmful outcomes of these practices.  When Arizona gave people “earned discharge” time off their probation terms, the state not only reduced probation violations by 29 percent, but achieved a 21 percent decline in arrests of people on probation, realizing $392 million in averted costs.  When Louisiana capped the amount of time someone could receive for technical violations at between 15 and 45 days, there was a 22 percent decline in returns to incarceration for new arrests, saving over 2,000 beds and $17 million.

Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony Williams and New York Assembly Member Walter Mosely have filed legislation in their respective states to address this issue.  These proposed reforms would shorten probation and parole terms, grant people 30 days of earned discharge time for every 30 days of success under supervision, and cap the amount of time someone could receive for a technical violation.

These are the kinds of sensible policy changes needed to restore faith in our justice system, reduce the overly expansive scope of community corrections, focus assistance on those people most in need, reward people for good performance, and overall, increase public safety and rehabilitation.  We hope that prosecutors around the nation will rally around the need for reform and use their influence to help chart a more positive pathway for all members of our community.

May 26, 2018 in Criminal Sentences Alternatives, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Disconcerting updated data on state prisoner recidivism from the Bureau of Justice Statistics

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has just released this notable "Special Report" that updates its data on criminal justice interactions of a huge cohort of state prisoners released in 2005.  This new report is titled "2018 Update on Prisoner Recidivism: A 9-Year Follow-up Period (2005-2014)." Here is how the document get started:

Five in 6 (83%) state prisoners released in 2005 across 30 states were arrested at least once during the 9 years following their release. The remaining 17% were not arrested after release during the 9-year follow-up period.

About 4 in 9 (44%) prisoners released in 2005 were arrested at least once during their first year after release. About 1 in 3 (34%) were arrested during their third year after release, and nearly 1 in 4 (24%) were arrested during their ninth year.

This report examines the post-release offending patterns of former prisoners and their involvement in criminal activity both within and outside of the state where they were imprisoned.  The Bureau of Justice Statistics analyzed the offending patterns of 67,966 prisoners who were randomly sampled to represent the 401,288 state prisoners released in 2005 in 30 states.  This sample is representative of the 30 states, both individually and collectively, included in the study (see Methodology).  In 2005, these 30 states were responsible for 77% of all persons released from state prisons nationwide.

There is lots more data in this report, and the data I always want to look at closely in there recidivism settings is what type of crime or activity led to re-arrest for these released prisoners. It appears, if I am reading the data correctly, that rearrests were significantly more common for drug or property crime than for violent crime. But still the data show a significant number of rearrests for violent crimes.

As is true for any detailed criminal justice data, these latest recidivism numbers can be spun in support of all sorts of sentencing argument. Some can say (and some surely will say) that disconcerting recidivism data shows why it is so important to enact meaningful sentencing and prison reform at all levels. Others can say (and surely will say) that disconcerting recidivism data shows why any reduction in prison sentences will result in more crime sooner.

May 23, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Interesting report touts the potential economicy benefits of restoring felon voting rights in Florida

As regular readers know, I think there are an array of strong moral, social and political arguments for ending felon disenfranchisement.  But this local article from Florida, headlined "Price tag for restricting felons' rights after prison put at $385 million a year," reports on an interesting effort to make an economic argument for a ballot initiative in the state to expand the franchise. Here are the details:

Seven years after Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet voted to end the state policy that automatically restored the civil rights of nonviolent offenders after they complete their sentences, a price tag has emerged.  Florida lost an estimated $385 million a year in economic impact, spent millions on court and prison costs, had 3,500 more offenders return to prison, and lost the opportunity to create about 3,800 new jobs.

Those are just some of the conclusions of a new economic research report prepared by the Republican-leaning Washington Economics Group of Coral Gables for proponents of Amendment 4, the proposal on the November ballot that asks voters to allow the automatic restoration of civil rights for eligible felons who have served their sentences.  The report was commissioned by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a national criminal justice reform organization that works with crime survivors, to show the economic impact of approving the amendment.

But the findings show more than the economic impact of what could happen if voters approve it. They also estimate the cost of the policy that was fast-tracked into law by the governor and Cabinet a month after taking office in 2011, its impact on crime and its cost to taxpayers. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and then-Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater repealed the automatic restoration of rights that had been in place for four years and replaced it with a plan requiring a minimum five-year waiting period before offenders could start the application process to have their voting and civil rights restored.

The action reversed the policy approved by the Cabinet in 2007 at the urging of then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Now, the only way a convicted felon can regain his or her civil rights is to wait five years and apply for a review at the state Office of Executive Clemency, which has limited resources and can take years....

The proposed amendment would restore rights automatically, except for those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense. To come up with a price tag for the policy, economists looked at the data from 2007 to 2011 and compared it with current data. They focused on the recidivism rate, the number of released felons who returned to prison after being released and projected the costs and the impact those felons would have on the economy if they went to work instead.... By contrast, research shows that felons who have their voting rights restored, "have a greater ability to become full members of Florida’s society and economy, leading to a reduced rate of recidivism,'' the report said.

Before 2007, the recidivism rate for all felons was 33 percent, according to a 2011 report by the Florida Clemency Board. After Crist's policy, the average two-year recidivism rate for felons who had their rights restored was 12.4 percent, lower than the three-year average recidivism rate of all felons, which was 26.3 percent.

Under Crist, 155,315 offenders who were released got their rights restored. Under Scott, just 4,352 offenders have had their rights restored. Of those felons who have had their rights restored, less than 1 percent of them returned to crime and the average three-year recidivism rate for all felons in Florida in 2013 — the last year available — was 25.4 percent.

The governor's office disputes the claim that recividism rates dropped when more felons had rights restored. It argues the recidivism rate has been dropping in recent years in spite of the restrictive approach to rights restoration. Scott's office notes that the three-year recidivism rate has decreased from 30.5 percent for inmates released in 2007, the first year of Crist's policy, to 25.2 percent for inmates released in 2013, which is the latest data available and includes the last year of Crist's policy....

The report calculated the impact on the prison system and the courts using existing data on offenders and recidivism rates. It calculated the economic impact of their labor patterns on Florida using a model that considers the link between the demand one industry has on other industries. The report cites research that shows that felons earn less than average wages, and felons who do not have their voting rights restored earn 12 percent less than that.

"With higher incomes, eligible felons would be able to afford living in less-disadvantaged areas, which is associated with better employment outcomes after release and less recidivism,'' the report states. It estimates that employed eligible felons who had their rights restored would see an $88 million direct increase in income. That will ripple through the rest of the Florida economy, the economists said, "ultimately benefiting employment in many industries and Household Income for Florida residents, not just for the eligible ex-felon population."

The full research report referenced in this article is available at this link.

May 22, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Data on sentencing, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, May 21, 2018

On eve of planned House vote on FIRST STEP Act, NY Times editorial misguidedly asserts a "partial bill could end up being worse than nothing"

The on-going debate over competing proposals for federal statutory criminal justice reform continues to fascinate me, but I am getting ever more troubled by suggestions from certain folks that the FIRST STEP Act is so bad and that the Sentencing Reform & Corrections Act is a so much better.  This new New York Times editorial, headlined "The Right Way to Fix the Prisons," reflects this thinking, and here are excerpts with passages stressed that particularly concern me:

For more than a decade, states of every political hue — from Texas and Louisiana to Connecticut and California — have been overhauling their criminal justice systems, to reverse the effects of decades of harsh and counterproductive policies.  But Congress has watched this revolution from the sidelines, thanks to reactionary lawmakers, including Mr. Sessions when he was in the Senate.  Comprehensive federal legislation has been foiled again and again, as states forge ahead, reducing both prison populations and crime rates through bipartisan reforms....

One bill backed by the White House, known as the First Step Act, would improve some prison conditions and help smooth the path to re-entry for people behind bars. It would, for example, require that inmates be housed within 500 miles of their families, prohibit the brutal but disturbingly common practice of shackling pregnant women and expand rehabilitative programs in which prisoners can participate to earn good-time credits.  These are all important and long-overdue fixes to existing law.

But the bill would leave it up to individual prison wardens to decide who gets to use their credits and when, which means inmates would be treated differently based on where they’re locked up.  The bill also restricts early release to halfway houses, even though as many as 40 percent of people behind bars pose no risk to public safety, according to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, and would do fine with less intensive oversight, such as electronic monitoring.  On top of that, federal halfway houses are so underfunded that even inmates who are eligible for immediate release can’t go anywhere, because there aren’t enough beds available.

The biggest problem with the First Step Act, however, isn’t what’s in it; it’s what’s left out.  Specifically, sentencing reform.  Harsh sentencing laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s, like mandatory minimums of 10 or 20 years even for low-level drug crimes, have been among the main drivers of the nation’s exploding prison population....

Mr. Grassley is sponsoring the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which would reduce the harshest sentences for nonviolent drug crimes and give judges more discretion to issue lighter sentences.  The bill nearly passed Congress in 2016, only to be killed by then-Senator Jeff Sessions.... Mr. Grassley’s bill has the support of top senators of both parties, as well as law-enforcement leaders and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 civil-rights organizations.  It’s not perfect, but it’s far preferable to the First Step Act, which could get a vote in the House as soon as this week.

Meanwhile, liberal backers of the First Step Act, like Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the New York Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, argue that it’s better than nothing, especially in the current political environment. “We have a Republican president. Republicans control the House of Representatives and the Senate,” Mr. Jeffries wrote in letter to his colleagues on Friday. “Those are the facts.”

He’s right.  And yet a partial bill could end up being worse than nothing, especially if its benefits don’t live up to expectations, and if Congress, which has many other pressing matters to attend to, decides it’s had enough of the topic.  “Get a bill to my desk,” Mr. Trump said on Friday. “I will sign it.” If he means this, and if he genuinely cares about reforming the federal justice system, he’ll demand a bill that addresses the system’s most pressing problems.

Though this Times editorial references Rep. Hakeem Jeffries' extended letter defending the FIRST STEP Act, I wonder if the details of this important missive was fully understood.  That letter highlights that many of the prison reform provisions are MUCH improved in the FIRST STEP Act as compared to the SRCA.  Of particularly importance, the FIRST STEP Act includes the "Good Time Credit" fix, which serves functionally as a 2% across the board cut to prison terms for all current and all future federal prisoners.  There is no proper way to claim that a permanent and retroactive 2% cut in all federal prison terms "could end up being worse than nothing."  Moreover, it bears noting that the SRCA is anything but major sentencing reform, as it is only forecast to impact less than 5% of all cases annually under the US Sentencing Commission's estimates.  

In other words, the SRCA offers a worse version of prison reform cobbled together with a weak version of sentencing reform.  Even on the substantive merits, I am not sure I would prefer SRCA to the FIRST STEP Act.  (And of course, Congress has been trying to pass variant on the SRCA for now nearly half a decade to no avail.)   Most critically, the passage of the SRCA would be much more likely to bring what the NY Times fears, namely a reform bill that does not live up to expectations and yet allows Congress to feel it can move on after having done something "comprehensive."  In contrast, the FIRST STEP Act, if passed, will be in both name and spirit just what is needed here: a real improvement that is widely understood as only the first of many needed steps toward fixing a deeply flawed federal sentencing and prison system.

Some of many prior related posts:

UPDATE: This Politico article from Monday night, headlined "Trump-backed prisons bill DOA in the Senate," suggests that neither the FIRST STEP Act or the SRCA has much of a chance to make it through the Senate no matter what happens in the House.  Though the headline of this Politico piece is disconcerting, the full article is not quite so pessimistic and reinforces that Judiciary Chair Senator Chuck Grassley and Senate Leader Senator McConnell are the critical players for the future of any federal statutory criminal justice reforms for the foreseeable future. 

May 21, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Interesting discussions of new prison units dedicated to offenders who are veteran

The start of this local article, headlined "Allegheny County Jail designates cell block for inmates who are veterans," really struck me:

The new veterans pod at the Allegheny County Jail made David Francis feel welcome in a way he didn't experience when returning from Vietnam.  “(The pod) gives veterans hope where there hadn't been any,” Francis said.  “We were not liked when we came back from Vietnam.  We weren't welcomed in coming home.  It wasn't like other wars.  So this is a blessing.”

Here is more from the piece:

An American flag and other patriotic images are also painted near the pod's entrance — the work of three inmates over the weekend. The paintings are the only visual difference between the pod and others in the jail. It consists of two levels of cells in a circle surrounding a common area, where jail and county officials held a news conference Monday.

The difference, though, will be the specialized services offered to veterans, as well as a chance to interact with their fellow veterans on a daily basis. “We decided we need to do something for the veterans in our facility and prepare them for a successful re-entry into society,” said Warden Orlando Harper, an Army veteran himself.

At least 86 prisons and jails across the country have pods designated for veterans. Many of them have been created in the past five years, according to an Associated Press report in January. Nationally, veterans account for about 8 percent of all inmates....

Placing many of the jail's veterans all in one place makes it easier for organizations to serve them, as well as less costly for the county, officials said. “We want more veterans assistance programs,” Harper said. Many have already committed to participate.

The Allegheny Intermediate Unit will offer workforce literacy classes, including help with cover letter and resume writing, according to a county news release. Veterans Administration Veterans Justice Outreach will help the inmates apply for enrollment in the VA health care system, discuss treatment options and legal issues, along with presentations on post-traumatic stress, suicide prevention and job opportunities.

Organizations Soldier On; PAServes; the Veterans Leadership Program; the Duquesne School of Nursing; and Veterans Thinking for Change-Pittsburgh Mercy also have committed to providing services.

The AP article referenced above is available at this link and reports on some encouraging data emerging from this form of prison reform:

Inmates and officials say the Albany pod is cleaner and less troublesome than other tiers. When a guard was attacked here in 2016 by an inmate from another unit, the pod inmates ran from across the common area to the guard’s aid.

“We send all these young men and women overseas and when they come back, a lot of them with PTSD, domestic violence, drug issues,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, who started the veterans pod more than three years ago. “And I just felt we could have treated them better or done something for them.”

Apple said 6 percent of the roughly 331 participating veterans in Albany over the years have returned to jail, far better than the typical jail recidivism rates of more than 40 percent.

It helps that Soldier On also provides post-release services like housing.  So when Tommy Hartmann was released from the Albany jail last year after 90 days he had a place to go. The 29-year-old Army veteran moved into Soldier On’s transitional housing in Leeds, Massachusetts. He also got a job with Soldier On, on the resident staff.

When the group helped serve a holiday meal recently, Hartmann returned to his old block to chat up inmates he knew. This time he wore khakis and a tie. And he got to go home at the end of the night. “They set me up to succeed when I got out,” Hartmann said before his visit. “Rather than just sitting on the tier, playing cards, watching TV, doing pushups, whatever, I was doing positive stuff toward my recovery and becoming a better part in society.”

These stories lead me to want to call modern prison reform efforts another important way to support our troops.

May 19, 2018 in Offender Characteristics, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

On eve of House Committee consideration, distinct advice from criminal justice reform groups on latest federal prison reform proposal

As noted in this prior recent post, a new and improved version of a federal prison reform bill, the "Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act" or the "FIRST STEP Act, " is now slated for House Judiciary Committee markup the morning of Wednesday, May 9th.  The full text of this FIRST STEP bill is available at this link, and I am starting to wonder if this may be a significant criminal justice reform bill that ends up getting in committee even more votes from Republicans than from Democrats.  (For those keeping score, and as this official list details, there are 40 members of the House Judiciary Committee of which 23 are Republicans and 17 are Democrats.)

I do not know for sure if all 23 Republican members of the HJC will be voting for the FIRST STEP bill, but I surmise that some Democrats will be voting against it because the bill is too limited and lacks any sentencing reform elements.  Indeed, on Tuesday, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights along with 74 reform-oriented organizations sent this lengthy letter to House Judiciary Committee members titled "Vote 'No' on The FIRST STEP Act."  Here is how the letter gets started: 

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the 74 undersigned organizations, we urge you to vote “No” on the FIRST STEP Act that will be considered during the mark up.  Any effort to pass prison reform (or “back-end” reform) legislation without including sentencing reform (or “front-end” reform) will not meaningfully improve the federal system.  Across the country, states that have enacted legislation containing both front and back end reforms have reduced rates of incarceration and crime.  Any legislation that addresses only back end reforms is doomed to fail in achieving these goals.  Without changes to sentencing laws that eliminate mandatory minimums, restore judicial discretion, reduce the national prison population, and mitigate disparate impacts on communities of color, the FIRST STEP Act alone will have little impact.

Critically, though, not all leading criminal justice reform groups are urging a no vote on the FIRST STEP Act.  The President of Families Against Mandatory Minimums sent a short memo to the sponsors of the FIRST STEP Act, Representatives Doug Collins and Hakeem Jeffries, explaining why FAMM believe the bill "deserves the Judiciary Committee’s support."  That memo, which can be downloaded below, echoes many concerns of other advocacy groups, but explains why it is ultimately backing this bill in these terms: "FAMM is in contact with nearly 40,000 federal prisoners every week.  Far too many of them are serving excessive sentences.  This bill might be the only opportunity we have in the next few years to get them some overdue relief and justice."    Download FAMM Memo on First Step

Regular readers likely realize I am in the FAMM camp here, wishing that a more comprehensive bill was being considered, but resigned to the political reality that a prison reform bill looks like the only form of statutory criminal justice reform that has a serious chance of being enacted this year.  In this arena, something is always better than nothing, and Congress has delivered nothing on sentencing or prison reform for now nearly eight years despite so much talk from so many folks about a strong bipartisan interest in reform.

Some of many prior related posts:

May 9, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 07, 2018

New and improved version of federal prison reform bill to be considered by House Judiciary Committee

First-step-concept-cork-board-77226634In this post last night, I expressed my deep pessimism concerning Congress managing to pass any notable criminal justice reform.  So it is fitting kismet that this afternoon came the exciting news of a new and improved version of a prison reform bill known as the "Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act" or the "FIRST STEP Act." The full text of this bill is available at this link, and this House Judiciary Committee page indicates that this bill will be marked up this Wednesday.

This new Politico article, headlined "Kushner-backed prison reform bill finds new life," provides an account of the background politics and the critical new provisions of the new proposed legislation. Here are excerpts:

A group of bipartisan House lawmakers unveiled a new criminal justice bill Monday, with hopes it can overcome obstacles that derailed an earlier version of the legislation just two weeks ago. The House Judiciary Committee will vote on the prison reform bill Wednesday after its lead authors, Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.), spent the congressional recess working with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and others to tweak the proposal.

The bill would authorize funding for training programs to help rehabilitate prisoners. If approved by the Judiciary Committee, the bill could be on the House floor before the Memorial Day recess, according to several sources. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) introduced a companion proposal Monday afternoon.

But while Jeffries and Collins have been working to build a bipartisan coalition of support, key lawmakers including Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), top Democrat on the House Judiciary panel, and Senate Judiciary Charmain Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) remain potential obstacles.

The House Judiciary Committee scrapped plans two weeks ago to mark up an earlier version of the bill after support waned — due in part, according to House sources, from Grassley and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) privately urging members to oppose the plan because it didn't include sentencing reforms. “What we’re disagreeing on right now is how far can we go right now,” Collins said in an interview Monday. “Do you want to actually make law or do you want to make press releases?”...

Collins and Jeffries said they hope the plan’s broad support — from liberal criminal justice group #cut50 to the Koch brothers to Kushner — is enough to ensure passage in the House. Kushner is meeting with the conservative House Freedom Caucus Monday evening to rally support for the bill.

But Nadler — who still has “a lot of concerns” a spokesman said Monday — isn’t alone in his opposition to the bill. Detractors argue the proposal doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t also tackle sentencing reform, an effort Grassley and Durbin have spent months negotiating. Grassley along with several key Senate Democrats and influential civil rights groups like the ACLU and NAACP want a comprehensive criminal justice overhaul that includes both sentencing and prison reforms....

Jeffries and Collins told POLITICO they hope the changes made over the last two weeks are enough to get reluctant House lawmakers on board. Jeffries is also hopeful that Sessions will refrain from trying to sink the effort as he has in the past. “At the moment, it appears that the Department of Justice is in a position of neutrality as it relates to the bill,” Jeffries said. “To the extent that changes, that could be a complicating factor once the bill gets on the House floor.”

The bill — which they are now calling the “First Step Act,” in part to signify it’s the initial step in a longer effort to reform the justice system, including sentencing laws — has several major changes from previous versions.

The bill would authorize $50 million annually for five years to provide education and vocational training programs to prisoners; the latest version would also allow nonviolent drug offenders to participate in the programs. Jeffries and Collins also agreed to language that would allow more prisoners to take advantage of credits that would allow inmates to serve part of their sentence in home confinement or at a halfway house.

The proposal also includes several wins that liberal groups had pushed for, including language codifying prohibitions on shackling pregnant female inmates, both during their pregnancy and for 12 weeks postpartum.

And in what progressive backers are touting as another major win, the bill includes a technical fix that would allow inmates to earn up to 54 days of “good time” credit a year, up from 47 days annually under current interpretation of the law.

“We also had concerns around whether or not this was a meaningful reform. Those have been answered by including the good time credit fix,” #cut50 co-founder Jessica Jackson Sloan said, noting roughly 4,000 prisoners would immediately be eligible for release. “We’re fully on board with this bill. We’ll continue to fight for sentencing reform,” she added.

To turn up pressure on House Judiciary Democrats, the Koch brother’s Freedom Partners launched a wave of digital ads Monday encouraging lawmakers to support the bill. The Facebook and Twitter ads will run in six Judiciary Democrats’ districts, including Jeffries, Nadler and Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). The White House is also expected to increase its outreach on the Hill this week, likely through Kushner, according to sources.

For the plans’ supporters, they say now is the best time to act with the goal of getting sentencing reform down the road. “There were some who took the position that we should wait on criminal justice reform until [Hillary] Clinton is president and Democrats were in control of the Senate. How did that work out?” Jeffries said.

I will not count any congressional chickens until they have hatched in the form of a Presidential signature on enacted legislation. But, after feeling distinctly pessimistic last night, now I am peculiarly optimistic that something pretty significant could get done in the coming months.

May 7, 2018 in Aspects and impact of Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Criminal justice in the Trump Administration, Elections and sentencing issues in political debates, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (5)

Interesting complicated stories of the recidivism impact of California's big modern sentencing reforms

Via email, I received news of this notable new publication, titled "Evaluating the Effects of Realignment Practices on Recidivism Outcomes," authored by Mia Bird and Ryken Grattet emerging from their empirical work funded by the Justice Department.   Sentencing fans know that "realignment" refers to the big statutory sentencing reforms enacted by California in 2011 to address the state's unconstitutional prison overcrowding; but it is only one part of a number of dramatic changes in sentencing laws and practices in that state over the last decade.  Like the state of California, this new research publication defies easy summary, and I will here reprint its closing analysis:

To date, our research has portrayed the changes in the local correctional populations across two major reforms — 2011’s Public Safety Realignment and 2014’s Proposition 47 — and across probation systems and county jails.  Moreover, through the survey data we have compiled, we have been able to explore the way the nature of probation work has changed. And, finally, we have provided an in-depth analysis of how realignment has affected recidivism and are in the preliminary stages of identifying effective program, service, and sanction interventions.

Realignment changed major features of the correctional system by lessening deterrence and incapacitation and aiming to improve rehabilitation.  The results we see here are likely reflective of the impacts of these countervailing changes. The strongest conclusion from this work is that, in the first years under realignment, recidivism outcomes have varied substantially across realignment treatment groups and counties, with some offenders achieving much better outcomes under realignment and others faring worse in comparison to their pre-realignment counterparts.  However, analysis of the first two years of realignment is insufficient to draw policy conclusions because many counties were unprepared to take on the challenges of implementing evidence-based interventions with more serious offender groups.  Given that context, our findings show some promise that improvements can be made over time, particularly if we are able to leverage the diversity of county approaches to identify and disseminate effective practices.

Our work on changes in jail and probation populations has demonstrated that the state and counties have prioritized correctional resources for more serious offenders under Realignment and Prop 47.  This change has reduced overall incarceration levels and criminal justice contact, but has also increased the need for guidance on evidence-based practices at the local level.

May 7, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment, Who Sentences | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 30, 2018

"One in four American adults lives with a criminal record -- It's time for them to get a second chance"

The title of this post is the headline of this new Fox News commentary authored by James Ackerman, who is president and CEO of Prison Fellowship.  Here are excerpts:

This year the U.S. Senate recognized April 2018 as Second Chance Month. Fittingly, the resolution came six years after the passing of a man who embodied the importance of second chances: former Nixon “hatchet man” Charles Colson.  Today, the prison ministry Colson founded after his release from federal prison is at the head of a nationwide movement to recognize the dignity of people who have paid their debt to society and open up opportunities for them to succeed.

One in four American adults lives with a criminal record, and more than 48,000 documented legal restrictions limit their access to education, jobs, housing, and other things necessary for a productive life. But the people most directly affected are not the only ones who care.  Businesses, faith communities, government leaders, and other diverse groups recognize that second chances are not a partisan issue, but an issue key to the security and flourishing of all our neighborhoods....

The growing resonance of Second Chance Month confirms that the idea of a “clean slate” is central to most Americans’ thinking.  A recent Barna poll commissioned by Prison Fellowship found that about half of Americans agree that former prisoners should be afforded a chance to be productive members of their communities.  One quarter of Americans strongly agree that former prisoners should not face any further penalties after they are released.

While based on our deeply held national values, second chances are also sound criminal justice policy.  Nationwide, the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates that approximately two out of three people released from prison will be arrested again within three years.  In part, this is because up to 90 percent of the formerly incarcerated struggle to find employment within the first year after release; a criminal record is often enough to put their résumé at the bottom of the stack, if not straight in the waste bin.

Others are unable to find a landlord willing to rent to them, contributing to high rates of homelessness among the formerly incarcerated.  Other restrictions include obstacles to professional licensing, educational opportunities, and voting.  These official limitations, alongside heavy social stigma, can make it extraordinarily difficult to re-integrate smoothly into society. When formerly incarcerated people recidivate, it’s damaging to public safety and costly for taxpayers.

By removing restrictions that are not necessary for safety, we help people get their hands on the rungs of a ladder to a productive, law-abiding future. I am also convinced that second chances are worth giving because so many Americans stand as living proof of their effectiveness....  When given access to second-chance opportunities, many are profoundly hard-working and innovative — because they know what it’s like to live without opportunities.  Many people with a criminal record serve on the staff of Prison Fellowship.  Throughout our society, former prisoners are parents, business entrepreneurs, faith leaders, and more.  Putting unnecessary stumbling blocks in their way only deprives society of their potential contributions.

Hundreds of thousands of men and women are returning from prison every year.  If they have paid their debt to society and are ready to lead transformed lives, we must not throw obstacles into their paths.  When people have a chance to start over, it’s not just their second chance — it’s a chance for all of us to see transformed lives, safer communities, and a more just society.

My most recent article, "Leveraging Marijuana Reform to Enhance Expungement Practices," is written in the spirit of this commentary and Second Chance Month (so I figured I should promoting again here).

April 30, 2018 in Collateral consequences, Reentry and community supervision | Permalink | Comments (14)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Bureau of Justice Statistics reports 2016 declines in number incarcerated and subject to community supervision in United States

This press release from the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports on the notable data appearing in two notable new BJS publications:

The number of adults supervised by the U.S. correctional system dropped for the ninth consecutive year in 2016. The correctional population includes persons supervised in the community on probation or parole and those incarcerated in prisons or local jails. This report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics is the latest official snapshot of the state of the U.S. correctional population.

From 2007 to 2016, the proportion of the adult population under the supervision of U.S. correctional authorities decreased by 18 percent, from 3,210 to 2,640 adults under correctional supervision per 100,000 residents. The number of adults under correctional supervision per 100,000 U.S. adult residents was lower in 2016 (2,640) than at any time since 1993 (2,550). Overall, about 1 in 38 adults were under some form of correctional supervision at year-end 2016.

An estimated 6,613,500 persons were under correctional supervision on December 31, 2016, about 62,700 fewer persons than on January 1. The total correctional population declined 0.9 percent during 2016 due to decreases in both the community supervision population (down 1.1 percent) and the incarcerated population (down 0.5 percent).

The incarcerated population decreased from 2,172,800 in 2015 to 2,162,400 in 2016. All of the decrease in the incarcerated population was due to a decline in the prison population (down 21,200), while the jail population remained relatively stable. The number of persons held in prison or local jail per 100,000 U.S. adult residents (incarceration rate) has declined since 2009 and is currently at its lowest rate (860 per 100,00 in 2016) since 1996 (830 per 100,000).

During 2016, the community supervision population fell from 4,586,900 on January 1 to 4,537,100 at year-end. All of the decrease in the community supervision population in 2016 was due to a decline in the probation population (down 52,500). The parole population increased 0.5 percent in 2016 (up 4,300 persons). More than two-thirds (69 percent) of the correctional population were supervised in the community at year-end 2016, similar to the percentage observed in 2007.

These data and a whole lot more appear in these two new BJS publications:

UPDATE: Keith Humphryes has here his typically sharp WonkBlog commentary here focused on these new data under the headline "The U.S. prisoner population continued to shrink in 2016, new data show." Here concludes this way (with links from the original):

A smaller correctional population is a dividend of lower crime rates combined with a national wave of sentencing and rehabilitation reforms at the state level.  Because the current generation of adolescents and adults is committing significantly less crime than did prior generations at their age, there will be ample opportunity to shrink the correctional system even further in the coming years.

April 26, 2018 in Data on sentencing, Detailed sentencing data, Prisons and prisoners, Reentry and community supervision, Scope of Imprisonment | Permalink | Comments (2)